June 10th, 2013
This Sunday could easily and rightfully be known as “widows’ Sunday.” The story I just read from Luke’s Gospel, although only seven verses long, is quite profound in its telling of Jesus’ raising the son of the widow of Nain from the dead. And there is absolutely no doubt that the early Church’s congregations – those from around the time that St. Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians, from which we also just read, would have heard this story of the widow of Nain and would have immediately thought of the widow of Zarephath from the book of 1 Kings, which we also just heard. You see these two stories are deeply and inextricably intertwined for St. Luke. The story of the widow of Nain reverberates or echoes with the story of widow of Zarephath, thereby making the telling of the latter story that much more powerful for its early audience. So let’s look at both stories and see what the similarities and differences might tell us.
Elijah, the great prophet of God was early in his ministry when he went to Zarephath – an area suffering under a great drought – and there he met a widow with one son. Elijah asked her to get him some water and a little bread. She told him that she had only enough meal and oil for one small cake of bread – and that after making the cake, she and her son intended to eat it and wait for death, because they had nothing left and were out of options. Elijah prayed, the woman faithfully shared with him, and her supply of meal and oil did not run out until the drought ended. That story butts up against the one we heard this morning. Sometime after Elijah’s miracle with the meal and oil, the woman’s son falls ill and dies. Elijah, who had been given deeply faithful hospitality by the widow of Zarephath, was then asked to help, and he did – perhaps because he was called by God to do so, but perhaps because he felt like he owed her that, given how she had shared with him when she had so very little. And then we have Jesus.
Jesus is walking along the road from Capernaum to Jerusalem and comes to the city of Nain. He too is early in His ministry and has just healed the slave of a Centurion in Capernaum, attracting a great crowd of people who have followed him the 20 or so miles He has walked. As they get to Nain, the funeral procession is coming out the gate of the city. Jewish funerals of the day would have included musicians, a group of mourners – the women you see in scenes from the Middle East who wail loudly and cry very vocally (they are an integral part of the process and, if they wail well enough, are sometimes paid to participate in funerals for people they don’t know); and finally would have come the Rabbi, the body and the family. This is the part of the procession that is coming out of the city as Jesus walks up. The bier-carriers, our modern pall bearers, are bringing the body out as He approaches the gate.
Elijah was told by the widow that her son had died and he cried out to the Lord. In his compassion for her situation, he cried out in prayer for the Lord to take care of her son – and thereby take care of her.
You see widows in the ancient Middle East lived very precarious lives. They had no right of inheritance from their husbands and therefore might be left with absolutely nothing. It was expected that her children would take care of a woman who had been widowed. But what of those women who had no children living – or in the case of the two women we hear about this morning – had only a single son, who died? Those women had NOTHING. They were destitute in a society with no social welfare programs. No wonder Elijah cried out to the Lord.
And Jesus, as we heard, had compassion for the widow of Nain. In the only place in Luke’s Gospel where we hear about Jesus’ emotions, Luke says that Jesus, in His compassion, told the widow, “Don’t cry.”
Elijah took the widow’s son away from everyone else. He took him up to the room where Elijah slept and laid him on the bed. Then Elijah stretched his body over the cold body of the widow’s son – three times – crying to the Lord each time for God to send the boy’s life back into him. And his life came back into him again, and “he revived.” This is where the stories really diverge from each other. Jesus tells the widow not to cry. Then, in front of both the crowd that followed Him and the funeral procession, He walks up to the bier – sort of an early coffin without a top – and Jesus lays His hand on the bier (He doesn’t have to touch the deceased, but only the coffin) and says simply and with authority, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” And the dead man sits up and begins talking. Elijah and Jesus both gave the newly risen sons to their mothers and both heard those around them say that they were great prophets of God.
But notice how the raisings were accomplished. Elijah cried out to God repeatedly and laid over the boy – ostensibly to put his own heartbeat, or his own spirit into the boy to reanimate him. And “The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” Clearly the boy was raised by God. Elijah was a great prophet and a man of God, but it was the power of God that raised the boy. Jesus, on the other hand, simply laid his hand on the side of the bier, spoke to the deceased and he was again alive. No histrionics. No calling out to the Lord. No physically repetitious acts to try to persuade the deceased to live again. Instead, Jesus spoke, the young man lived.
This God of ours – the one we heard described on Trinity Sunday, and the one we confess in the Creed as the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one being/three natures – has always been a God of compassion. When Adam and Eve had their fruit snack, God didn’t strike them dead, instead they had to live with the consequences of their actions, but they were still loved by the God who created them. When humanity had so completely separated itself from God that there was virtually no communication left, God destroyed the world with a flood – but had compassion for the goodness that was buried in human souls and had Noah save what was capable of salvation. God had compassion on a faithful Abraham and gave him a son – and then spared Isaac from possible sacrifice. King David should have been struck down for his sinfulness any number of times, but God saw something worthwhile in him and took compassion on him.
And God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to the end that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Jesus Himself IS compassion. Jesus’ very existence IS compassion. Again the world had gotten into such a horrible place that God could easily have brought on another flood. But instead God decided to become incarnate, to live and die as one of us in order show us the face of God in humanity and to show us God’s true compassion in action.
Jesus exerted the power of God’s compassion to save the widow’s son. But that stuff only happens in the Bible. Right? Wrong! Have you ever talked with someone who had been diagnosed with cancer in one doctor visit and then diagnosed as cancer-free on the next visit? How about the person who walks away from a wreck without a scratch, when the car is mangled beyond recognition? Or the person who is completely at his or her physical and emotional end because of drug or alcohol use, who finally throws up his hands and prays, “I give up! I can’t take it anymore. You have to handle this because I can’t!” and thereafter never takes another drink. What about those, and the myriad other stories just like them? God is a God of compassion – both in the Bible and now.
The fact that Jesus lived, died and was resurrected should be sufficient proof of God’s compassion. But just in case we missed the subtleties of that act, Jesus continues to act as the epitome of compassion for us today, looking in on those who suffer and bringing them comfort. It’s not always in the form that people would prefer – or would choose if they could – but for those who invite the presence of the living Christ into their lives, there will always be compassion around every corner. Whether through dramatic, miraculous events or simply in the loving, caring, helping hand of another human being, compassion will always be there. The God of all compassion and comfort will not always give us the miraculous raising from the dead – physically or metaphorically – that we might want, but God will ALWAYS be there when we need comfort and compassion. In the worst of times, we never walk alone – Jesus the definition of compassion is right there. All we have to do is ask and He will walk with us, talk with us, care for us no matter what happens. Amen.
June 5th, 2013
On June 2nd we celebrated St. Barnabas' 50th Anniversary. Our Celebrant and preacher was The Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby, PhD, DD, IV Bishop of Western Louisiana.
May 28th, 2013
In the name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen One of my favorite books from a few years back is Donald Miller’s, Blue Like Jazz. In the forward to his book, Miller says, “I used to not like jazz music because it never resolved. I used to not like God, because God never resolved.” It strikes me that that statement may be at the heart of our trouble with Trinity Sunday, that Sunday after Pentecost when we “celebrate,” (or trip over) the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – One God in three Persons. Believing that jazz never resolves is - in large part - a matter of perception. Believing that the trinitarian God never resolves also depends upon what we perceive. We never seem to get to the resolution of what the Trinity is. Therefore, we don’t particularly like to talk about the Trinity. And we definitely have trouble figuring out how it applies in our daily lives. This is one of the Sundays on the Church calendar on which we celebrate a doctrine, rather than a person or an event. That is difficult for a preacher. But on top of that, the doctrine that we celebrate is one that is never explicitly explained, in the Bible. Go ahead. Look it up. You won’t find in the Book where anyone talks about the Holy Trinity, as such. Rather, what we have in the Bible – as we heard in today’s readings – are references to the experience of God as a Trinity. The reading from Proverbs speaks of a creator God, who, before time began, brought into existence wisdom (which is often equated with the Holy Spirit). In the reading from Romans, we here about the Creator God and Jesus Christ. And in the Gospel, Jesus references the Father, the Spirit and Himself in different sentences. For centuries theologians have tried to find a way of expressing the Holy Trinity that would somehow make sense to people – really grab them with its reality; help “resolve” the Trinity, like a good ending chord in a jazz composition. St. Patrick is said to have taught the Celts of Ireland about the Trinity by using the image of a shamrock, three leaves and one shamrock. The image of the Trinity in liturgical vestments is often an equilateral triangle with three interlocking circles, which, when rendered by some artists, looks for all the world like a shamrock without the stem. In later times, someone came up with the image of water to represent the Trinity. Whether it is ice, water or steam, it is still the same H2O. And there is the one that speaks most clearly to us egocentric humans: I am grandfather, father and son – but I am, in all things, me, a trinity of one. None of these images completely captures the Trinity though. It was in this struggle to find the appropriate metaphor to explain this understanding of God that I came upon the one I like the best. Donna does an excellent job of taking care of Taylor’s hair. For a soon-to-be teenager who is beginning to rebel against what we want her to do, Taylor’s hair almost always looks nice. That is because Donna understands the Trinity. Taylor’s hair is most often done in at least one braid. These braids start at one in the same place – the entire head of hair. And that head of hair is split into three equal and distinct pieces, which are then wound into and out of each other so that they remain distinct but completely intertwined, until they come back together at the end to be indistinguishable from each other again. Remove one strand and the braid collapses. Comb the hair together and the braid ceases to exist. That is Trinity. I hope that one of these images is helpful to you in grasping what we mean in the Nicene Creed when we ascribe belief in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, in Jesus, His only begotten Son, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son and together with them is worshipped and glorified. This Creedal explanation was the best our Church Fathers could do to try to express the doctrine of the Trinity. And yet, just as with every one of our metaphorical attempts, they fell short of the mark. There is always too much emphasis on unity, thereby discounting individuality; or there was too much emphasis on differentiation, thereby diminishing unity. You see, the problem we have with all of these attempts at explanation and explication is that words will never be able to express who or what God is. No matter how hard we try, no matter how eloquent or brilliant our prose might be, there is no way for human thought or communication to express God in all of God’s power and glory. But do you know what? It is OK that we cannot adequately express these things, because the Holy Trinity is not about expression, it is about experience. Even the Apostles, who lived with Jesus, had to wait until Pentecost to understand Trinity. They understood the powerful creator God because they were raised with the Yahweh of Jewish scripture. They experienced God Incarnate, the only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ. And then on Pentecost they experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had promised them. So in the end they KNEW what Trinity meant. They had experienced the very reality of Holy Trinity. Dorothy Sayers wrote an essay entitled, The Dogma is the Drama, in which she attempted to set out the problem that modern humanity has with making application of the doctrine of the Trinity because of some of our experiences of God. This is what she wrote in a tongue-in-cheek series of questions. Q: What does the Church think of God the Father? A: He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfillment; he is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferes by means of arbitrary judgments and miracles, distributed with a good deal of favoritism. He likes to be truckled to and is always ready to pounce on anybody who trips up over a difficulty in the law or is having a bit of fun. He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary. Q: What does the Church think of God the Son? A: He is in some way to be identified with Jesus of Nazareth. It is not his fault that the world was made like this, and, unlike God the Father, he is friendly to man and did his best to reconcile man to God, and if you want anything done, it is best to apply to him. Q: What does the Church think of God the Holy Ghost? A: I don’t know exactly. He was never seen or heard of till Whitsunday (Pentecost). There is a sin against him that damns you forever, but nobody knows what it is. Q: What is the doctrine of the Trinity? A: The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the whole thing incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult – nothing to do with daily life or ethics. But I am here today to tell you that Sayers’ and many of our own feelings about the application of the doctrine of the Trinity are wrong. It definitely does have something to do with daily life and ethics because the Trinity is about experience of God, specifically about experience of God in relationship. The doctrine of the Trinity reveals that relationships are at the very heart of the universe. With a few exceptions, like the noble gases, even tiny atoms do not exist unless they are in relationship with other atoms. We cannot truly exist unless we are in relationships with others. God the Father does not exist unless in relationship with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The whole created order of the world is all about God, wanting to be in relationship with creation. This means that we exist personally, communally and socially in relationship with others. Our identity is as the body of Christ in relationship with this world and there can be no greater application for the doctrine of the Trinity than Jesus’ giving of the Great Commission to the Disciples. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” In other words, “Go and be in relationship.” Let me leave you with a trinity of concrete steps that – if we choose to take them – can be for us the outward and visible sign of our relationship with the Trinitarian God. 1) To incarnate God the Creator: Work with what is at hand. What has the Father/Creator God given you that is all around you. Use it. And remember that there is no perfect job … so find purpose and delight in the small things. 2) To incarnate God the Redeemer: Like Christ, you bear wounds where you have been broken. They are part of what makes you who you are. Work with your pain; work through your pain; give your pain a purpose; and work with others who are in pain. Recognize where you have been – so that you will know where others have been. . 3) To incarnate God the Holy Spirit: Work with your passion – what do you care about? What makes your heart sing? What gets you outside yourself and into the world, in relationship with others? That is the thing you should do – regardless of what the world thinks of your decision. And now, in the Trinitarian formula of St. Paul: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, evermore.” Amen.
May 20th, 2013
In the name of one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
As I was working on my sermon this week: reading and (as my grandfather used to put it) cogitating on the Scriptures; I looked back at my previous Pentecost Day sermons, to see what I had already said on the subject of the Church’s birthday and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Last year I preached about how the Holy Spirit’s flame and fireflies are alike. Both lights are mysterious in where they land, and how they work. And the fact that recent research has concluded that fireflies may be becoming endangered because the constant lights of civilization, lights that never go out, confuse fireflies when they try to mate, thereby stopping their reproduction. The same can happen to us with the Holy Spirit’s flame. If we let other things distract us from following the light of the Spirit in the world, we too can become endangered.
Two years ago I said that we could take some cues from the movie The Wizard of Oz when it came to dealing with the Spirit, because Dorothy and her family and friends lived a very drab, black & white life (consumed by small, ordinary problems) until the big wind came and blew them into a different existence. I suggested that if we would all read the Bible, pray, and reach beyond ourselves to help others we would open ourselves to the power of the great wind – the Holy Spirit – which could then blow us into a breathtakingly beautiful existence in which we too were closer to the mysterious, powerful Oz – the God who created the world. So … an unpredictable, even dangerous wind and fire, which provides a light that we risk losing if we do not give it room to burn, and the need to read Scripture, pray and work toward the Kingdom in order to be ready to be blown into a new and radically different life: those were the issues and challenges that I have previously placed before you. In the words of that deep thinker and great American philosopher, Dr. Phil; “How’s that workin’ out for you?”
In her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard says, On the whole I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what kind of conditions we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are like children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness (she says) to wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.
Look around. Do you see any indication that there is anything dangerous or even especially nerve tingling going on around us today? To my way of thinking, that lack of an air of danger is one of the saddest things about modern American Christianity.
The Holy Spirit – that incredibly powerful, unpredictable and dangerous aspect of God – IS here today. Each of us was given the gift of that Spirit at our Baptism. Every Sunday we confess during our creed and Eucharistic prayers that Jesus is Lord. And St. Paul said in his first letter to the Church in Corinth, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Truly the Spirit is alive, well and “in da house” this morning. But I believe that we have set up barriers that keep us from truly perceiving the Spirit and more importantly keep us from exercising the power of the Spirit in our lives.
One of the barriers is simply a lack of faith. Remember that “faith” is defined as trusting in that which cannot be seen. In this post-modern age, we have “faith” in science; in mathematics; even in mass communication (ridiculous though that may be); but not in the Spirit. I’ve heard it said that, instead of being like little children – which is how Jesus told us we should approach Him – we are “above” that kind of thinking; “beyond” believing that God’s invisible power could possibly be active in our lives. In this way we are like kindling that has gotten wet. The spark provided by the Holy Spirit is present, but this soggy condition of our own making won’t allow us to catch fire.
But even if we have “faith” in the Spirit, another barrier is that we don’t expect the Spirit to enter our lives. And that which we do not expect to see, can easily be missed. Think of a time when a young person came to you with a school fundraiser. Instead of being like the well trained Girl Scout who asks how many boxes you want to buy, this child came to your door and said, “I’m selling candy for my school. You don’t want to buy any, do you?” We can be like that child. He didn’t expect to make the sale, and therefore did not. We don’t expect to experience any “real” power of the Spirit, and therefore don’t.
But for many of us, the real barrier is simply a lack of awareness or recognition. The Spirit is there – we just don’t recognize it. Or if we do recognize it, we refuse to give the Spirit credit for the work. There is a story of Jules Spach, whose plane was shot down off the coast of Italy, in World War II. He parachuted safely into the sea and he could see land, but it was very far away. Jules says that he began to swim toward the land, but very soon he felt utter exhaustion set in. As he struggled to swim, or even stay afloat (in those days before modern life preservers), he recognized that he was in real trouble and he began to wonder what it would be like to drown; what it would be like to be dead. Then, to his amazement, an unexpected, unrequested strength came into him and he began to swim again – this time effortlessly – until he reached the beach and relative safety.
Jules Spach, who prior to that day had not been a particularly deep believer in God, became convinced that it was the power of the Holy Spirit that gave him the unexplainable strength. Spach could quite easily have passed this off as some sort of cosmic coincidence and continued with his life as usual, after the war. Instead, his awareness and admission that this was God’s Spirit gave his life purpose. He became a missionary in Brazil and after his return to the U.S., he was ultimately elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church US.
God gave us all absolute free will. Our lives are therefore filled with choices. We can choose to be fearful of the power of the Spirit. If we so choose, we will snicker when our Pentecostal friends tell us about people in their congregations who have been healed through prayer and we will never pray for anyone else’s healing. We can refuse to believe in the power of the Spirit – in which case we will give more time and effort to reading romance novels or balancing our checkbooks then we will to what is in the Good Book, because what is the point of knowing what’s in the Bible when it’s all about things that happened a long time ago, not about what is happening today.
Or we can choose not to see or acknowledge the power of the Spirit at work in the world. And that is the saddest of all cases. Shane Claiborne, a modern Christian monastic and one of the founders of a group called The Simple Way, has said, We need (the) power (of the Spirit) if we’re going to be part of a church that brings life, joy and fulfillment to the world around us. The problem with traditional (by that he means, “modern”) Christianity, you see, is that it focuses more on life after death than on improving the quality of life before death. [Which brings to mind what one of my favorite seminary professors used to say, “Heaven is my home; but I’m not that homesick.”] Don’t get me wrong, (Claiborne says) I’m excited about the afterlife. And yet I am convinced that Jesus came not just to prepare us to die but to teach us how to live.
I agree with Shane. Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to be our advocate, comforter and our TEACHER. We have every opportunity to learn to live from the Holy Spirit. The power of the Spirit is here today. It is unpredictable. It is perhaps dangerous – at least insofar as there is no way for us to control the Spirit – and most of us really hate the idea of not being in control. And our inability to control the Spirit means that we can be very afraid of it, because it is decidedly powerful. Take a chance. Open up and let the Spirit in. Believe that it is real. Recognize its arrival. Embrace, but do not try to control, its power. Learn to live in the power of the Spirit of God. And let it teach you how to work to bring the Kingdom of God to perfection here and now. That is what Pentecost is all about. Amen.
May 14th, 2013
In the name of the unified God of the Holy Trinity. Amen
After a very long and boring sermon the parishioners filed out of the church saying nothing to the Priest. Toward the end of the line was a thoughtful woman who always commented on the sermons. “Father, today your sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God!” The Priest was thrilled. “No one has ever said anything like that about my preaching before. Tell me why you were reminded of those things.” “Well,” she said … “it reminded me of the Peace of God because it passed all understanding and the Love of God because it endured forever!” I know that that joke didn’t remind you of any of MY sermons. But on the off chance that it did, keep it to yourselves, OK?
One of the fascinating things about John’s Gospel is its use of language. This Gospel is filled with wonderful turns of phrase. For instance, what passage of scripture is as instantly recognizable and quotable as John 3:16 (For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.) But for all the beauty and poetry of his language, the author of the fourth Gospel lays out for us this morning a couple of sentences that Shakespeare, Keats or William Faulkner would struggle to understand.
“(Y)ou, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us …. (S)o that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one ….” I in them and you in me, …
Sounds like something John Lennon could have written: I’m in you and you’re in me and we are they and I am the walrus, coo coo cachoo.
But we need to persevere in looking at the meaning of these words, even if the syntax is difficult to connect with. There is some really important stuff in there – stuff that we should neither dismiss nor overlook because we will definitely be the poorer for doing so.
This part of the Gospel is commonly referred to as the High Priestly Prayer. In the portion of the prayer we get this morning, Jesus prays for unity. He prays that we all might be one. John wants us to understand that what Jesus asks from God – for us – is unity. And that is a prayer that we should pray today.
Remember that this morning’s Gospel passage comes from the night of the Last Supper, right before Jesus was arrested, beaten and crucified. Jesus had just finished telling the Disciples what was about to happen to him and he prayed for them before they were all scattered by the night’s events. He could have prayed for anything for the Disciples at that moment. He could have said, “Father, please give these servants of yours all of the money and worldly goods they will need to support them as they go about your work.” He could have said, “Father, please give your servants wisdom and discernment so that they will always know and do your will as they go about your business.” But he did not. Instead, he prayed for the thing that is most at the heart of all of God’s servants’ ability to do ministry – unity between God and human and unity among humans.
Jesus’ prayer is for us to be one, just as Jesus is one with God. But that seems like such an impossible thing to pray for. Look back at history. Just in the brief history of this country, we have seen so much division and enmity. There have been wars upon wars and humans have so badly mistreated each other. Looking around, just the people in this nave this morning have witnessed: World War II, the Korean Conflict, Viet Nam, the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom (in Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom. And there is no need to go through the litany of evils and human abuses that fill today’s newspapers and magazines – think Syria, Israel … and a non-descript house on a street in Cleveland.
And Jesus prayed for unity among people … that is impossible for humans to achieve!
Only God, through the work of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit can accomplish the unity of humanity. But … and this a major caveat … we also need to make certain that we recognize unity when we see it. I would suggest to you that if you are looking for unity in sameness, you’ll never see God’s unity.
It seems somewhat paradoxical that Jesus’ prayer would cloak a seemingly simple concept like “unity” in all those words. But that’s what unity is really like. The more we try to simplify it and make it about sameness, the less chance we have of actually achieving it. The more we want everyone to act or be alike, the more rules we have to put on each other and the more we rebel against those rules, thereby destroying our attempt at unity.
No, it is not sameness, it is not homogeneity that Jesus was praying for. Jesus knew that homogeneity – everything being just alike, without variation – was a bad thing for the church. Remember that the early church would have as its leaders such different personalities as Simon Peter, the one they called “Doubting Thomas,” James and John (the Sons of Thunder) and Paul of Tarsus. Jesus prayed for understanding and relationship; for acceptance and appreciation, each of the other. The unity that Jesus sought for us was the same unity that we have with God – complete acceptance of and love for us, even with all of our faults and foibles.
Jesus prayed for unity, but not for sameness. Paul and the Jerusalem Apostles were not the same; just as Paul and Silas were not the same; but all were unified in their faith in the risen Lord and in the power of God in the world.
Jesus prayed about relationship – ours to God and ours to each other. He did not talk about the majority being right or some test that someone would have to pass before he or she could be part of the unified Church group. That the relationship Jesus prays for could ever exclude anyone is completely unthinkable. To those who might set up such a situation in order to achieve unity, Jesus points out that the world, with its myriad expressions of diversity is the world God created and … is the object of God’s total love. Jesus says that all people – today as well as in the time of his initial prayer – come within the loving embrace of God and have the promise of basking in the loving glow of God’s desired unity.
I came across the following words recently and they say quite eloquently what we are talking about today: "These are thoughts to hold close in times of division, when deep misunderstandings keep faithful people of differing persuasions at arm's length, when honest beliefs stray from reality …. It is easy to find ways to despise what we do not understand, to hate what does not resonate with our own experience, to fear what seems alien. …. It is harder to seek ways to understand, to broaden our experience and to look with fresh eyes at those who differ from the majority in any number of possible ways. It is hard to accept that each and every one of us is a minority of one kind or another. … Yet the eyes that are sometimes fresh to us, are the experienced eyes of Jesus Christ, who calls us to unity greater than the sum of our selves. It is a unity made both possible and perfect by the extravagant and abundant love of God. "
I liken Jesus’ vision of unity to Taylor’s box of crayons. Some are new and virtually unused. Some are old with peeling paper. Some are still tall and sharp while some are worn and rounded on the end. But all of them are crayons unified in their purpose, to color the world. Jesus’ prayer was not that all the crayons be the same height, color and look just alike. His prayer was that all of the crayons might work to the very best of their ability – toward making the world a better, more colorful place.
Jesus prayed for unity of faith, not homogenized faith. Trying to make everything just alike would result in a human family tree without branches – nothing more than a tall stump. Jesus was the example of love for all sorts and conditions of persons, the agape love I spoke about last week. And it is Jesus whom we seek to emulate. God made us all different and unique and Jesus calls us to celebrate those differences and unique features, seeking unity through faith in the true and common God.
Theologian Karl Rahner said, “Only one thing can give unity in the Church on the human level: the love which allows another to be different even when it does not understand him.” May the love of Christ, which passes all understanding, abide in our hearts, in a spirit of true unity, this day and always. Amen.
May 7th, 2013
Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67 Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5 John 14:23-29; or John 5:1-9
The new priest was trying to get to know his parishioners. One day he made an unannounced visit. As he walked up to the house it seemed obvious that someone was at home, but no answer came to his repeated knocks at the door. So, he took out a card and wrote “Revelation 3:20” on the back of it and stuck it in the door. When the offering was processed the following Sunday, the Vestry member counting the money found the priest’s card and returned it. Added to what he had written on the back was this cryptic message, “Genesis 3:10.” Reaching for his Bible to check out the citation, he broke up in gales of laughter. Revelation 3:20 says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” Genesis 3:10 reads, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
The Collect of the Day for this morning says that God has, “prepared for those who love (God) such good things as surpass our understanding.” The prayer then goes on to ask God to “Pour into our hearts such love towards (God), that we, loving (God) in all things and above all things, may obtain (God’s) promises.” This prayer reflects very well a message that comes from today’s Gospel reading.
The Gospel reading comes again today from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in John. Jesus has just told the Disciples that He will be betrayed, taken away and killed. Then He says, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Sort of a cryptic commandment about love, huh? What Jesus was saying was, in the face of the knowledge that I am about to go away from you – to a place where you cannot come along; in the face of knowledge that I am about to abandon you; you need to know that doing what I tell you is how you show love for me. And showing love in this way, begets love from the Father in Heaven.
As so often happens in John’s Gospel, I have to believe that the Disciples glanced at each other and either said, “Huh? What does that mean?” or “OK. Great sentiment, but how can we possibly do that?” Either way they would have been expressing their human failings: a fear of abandonment, and a lack of understanding of what true love means.
Donna and I watched the movie Silver Linings Playbook yesterday. I had read and heard so many things about it that I was prepared to be completely let down, or at least underwhelmed by the film. I was neither. I was totally captivated by the storytelling and the acting. I laughed and I winced. I internally cheered and at times wanted to look away. But I was always involved. And that, to me, is the mark of a great film. I loved the character development in this movie and way the story unfolded through their experiences. But most of all, I was completely moved by the love that radiated out of this story.
Now make no mistake, the characters in Silver Linings Playbook are a damaged group. There is not one of them who could it make it through a psychological evaluation to get a security clearance or a law enforcement job. But that’s the beauty of the movie. We see a real portrayal of real love in the lives of real world, broken characters. Without being a complete spoiler for those of you who haven’t seen the movie, I’ll just say that I don’t know whether I was more impressed with the out-front love story of the major characters, or the sub-plot of the love between father and son. But either way, there is a lot to be said about the love that comes out of this film.
Jesus told the Disciples to love one another as He loved them – as the Father loved them. In the original Greek, this text does not refer to love as eros, or romantic love. It also does not refer to filia or the love between family members or friends. No, when Jesus told them to love one another, He told them to agápē each other. Agápē has no perfect English equivalent, but it means a love that is intentional and thought out. Love that thinks first of the well-being of another person, instead of oneself. Agápē is the type of love that Mother Theresa showed the homeless and horribly sick people of Calcutta. It is that love which cares for the unlovable – not in some “I’m better than you and I’m lowering myself to do this because I’m such a good Christian” kind of way – but rather because God loves US in this way and to love God back is to reflect that love to others. The Disciples were suffering from fear of abandonment and the sickening feeling that they would never again know the feeling of love – the feeling of agape – that they felt with Jesus, after He was gone. So Jesus told them two things.
First, He said that they should love one another with the same agápē that He loved them. And second, He promised them the Holy Spirit as their advocate, strength, guide and comforter. So as they – broken and damaged humans that they were – tried to master the art of agape, they would have the Holy Spirit to strengthen their resolve and guide them in their task … as well as to comfort them when they failed or felt alone.
We modern-day followers of Jesus have been baptized in Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit. We have been shown the agápē of Jesus in so many ways and have been given that same Spirit as we wind our way through life – being called to reflect agápē as we go. But what does that look like in practice; what do we do on a daily basis to bring agápē to one another?
We care about each other’s well being as much as, or more than we do our own. We forego some of our own gratification if it means that a brother or sister will receive our share. We desire only the best for those whom so many other people find unlovable. And we continue to show the regular, everyday affection for our friends and family – while trying to show that affection to the world at large.
The Lutheran former president of Concordia University spoke about the importance of carrying on agape practices regularly. David Zerson said in a sermon:
We need to find the words and the times to say the things which cannot be left unsaid. We cannot assume that our children and our friends somehow always knew that we loved them. We dare not assume that those who mean the most to us somehow guessed, when the moment came, that it was God’s love which motivated us in life—and gave us courage to go on when all seemed lost. Just as Jesus did, before the moment came, we need to take the time and find the place to say the words of affirmation, comfort, and faith.
The reason (Zerson said) we need to find the words and the time has nothing to do with us. It has to do with those who sometimes feel left behind, or whom we will one day leave behind. It has to do with the moment when they feel abandoned, orphaned, and alone. When that moment comes, if we have learned to hug in the dark hallways of life, the moment will take care of itself. Love knows no orphans. God’s (agape) lives on through us and those we have loved.
In Silver Linings Playbook, the main characters learn to get past all of the barriers – natural and self-made – in their lives, and to begin to open up to each other, showing agápē to each other. That’s what made this movie so powerful for me. It showed that even when it looks impossible to the untrained eye – the Holy Spirit can see love, and help to nurture it into something beautiful.
The Disciples showed how agape can literally change the world. We have been given the same tools that they were given – baptism and the Holy Spirit. We live in a world that is more in need of change than theirs was. Let’s start to love one another in new and wonderful ways, and begin to change the world around us as we go; breaking down the barriers of the world and building something truly beautiful. Amen.
April 30th, 2013
In the name of the Risen Lord, Amen. A man running through the crowded train looked very agitated, as he called out, “Is there a Catholic Priest on board?!” When he got no reply, he ran back up the train shouting, “Is there an Episcopal Priest on board?!” Still there was no reply. Now becoming very desperate, he ran down the train shouting, “Is there a Rabbi on board?” Finally, a passenger jumped up and shouted, “Can I be of any assistance, my friend? I'm a Pentecostal Preacher!” The agitated man paused, looked at him and said, “Sit down; you can’t help me. I need a corkscrew!”
“(W)ho was I that I could hinder God?” This is the question we heard St. Peter ask the leaders of the Christian Church in Jerusalem from the Acts of the Apostles reading. But what was it that made the leaders of the Church angry with Peter? What was it that had them so up in arms that it required Peter to defend himself by recounting a heavenly vision he had had – one that convinced him there was no distinction between Jewish Christian and Gentile convert? It was – in a word – change – change in the requirements for converting to Christianity. Now for us, whether or not someone had to become a Jew before he could become a Christian seems like a sort of quaint thing to argue over. Like something read in a junior high history book; an historical tale that bears no relation to our time. Much like the cost of a tea tax seems like a strange thing over which to begin a revolution that resulted in our becoming a sovereign nation; or the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand being the event that triggered World War I. We know on some level that these stories have something to do with us … but it is only in some distant, dust covered way; not in any way that is really “connected” to our lives here and now. Well … let’s look at the situation in the 11th Chapter of Acts and see if perhaps it is more closely related to our time than we think. When the Christian Church was in its infancy, in the time after Jesus Christ had Ascended into Heaven and left the Holy Spirit as the comforter and guide to the original Apostles; there was a division amongst the leaders of the Church (something we certainly never see in our age). One side – a sort of hardline group – believed that because the Jews were God’s chosen people and Jesus was a Jew, everyone who wanted to follow Jesus must become a Jew as well. This group was epitomized by the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem. But St. Paul – and in today’s passage, St. Peter –became convinced that Gentiles could be converted to Christianity by simple repentance and baptism – doing away with the requirement of circumcision and adherence to dietary restrictions. Again, this whole argument seems very far removed from us. But it really is not. You see, what the Jewish Christians were defending was what they felt was their very identity as people of God. For generations, the Jews had suffered under the regimes of different occupying nations. They had been exiled by the conquering Babylonians. During the time of the exile, the idea had been that the Jews would become “converted” by the surrounding culture – a process known as “enculturation.” But because the Jews were God’s chosen people, they kept themselves pure and separate from the surrounding peoples by strictly adhering to the cultural and dietary rules set out in the Levitical code. You see, following the law of the first five books of the Bible became like flying a national flag for the Jews. They were – and wanted to remain – completely identifiable by their adherence to the laws of Moses. And along came the Apostle Peter and this firebrand guy Paul, challenging what they knew about God and how God operated in the world. God was perhaps changing things – recreating things – and that was a big deal! In this morning’s reading from the Revelation to John, we hear the voice of the One seated on the holy throne saying, “See, I am making all things new.” I believe that we are faced with small versions of God making all things new, changing things, all the time – and that we fight back against these changes – these perceived attacks on how we understand God – with the same ferocity as did the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem when they were faced with Gentiles in their midst. How many times have things happened in the church (whether the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Western Louisiana or St. Barnabas) that constituted change, in other words “old things being made new” and you have heard it said, or perhaps said yourself, “why do things always have to change? I like things just the way they are.” Or more importantly, haven’t we seen people who perceive their religion being under attack lash out at the “offending” person (or group) and begin to demonize that person or group so as to create an “us versus them” dichotomy, thereby making it easy to begin to hate “those others” who are “not like us.” This setting up of boundaries between those who are in and those who are out is what American society excels at doing. In every American city we have gated communities – places designed to separate those who are economically in from those who are out. Our legislators in Washington passed a law a few years ago that called for the erection of a 700 mile long fence along the border between the U.S. and Mexico to make visually clear who is in and who is out. It would not stop people from breaking our immigration laws; it would really only be a visual reminder of the border between us. And in countless other areas in our society, we place those who are different from us in separate quarters so that those who are in and those who are out do not have to interact. The Church though, is supposed to be different from the culture that surrounds it. Just like the ancient Jews wanted to maintain their distinction from the pagan culture that surrounded them, so too is the modern Church supposed to be counter-cultural – but in the opposite direction. Jesus was the ultimate counter-cultural figure. But not because he walled Himself off from the culture around Him. Instead, it was because He refused to see the culture in the same way that everyone else did. He refused to be bound by what the culture told Him. See, I am making all things new. … I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another I am not a particularly wise man. I am not one of the great thinkers of this age. I don’t pretend to have simple answers to life’s complicated questions. But I do know this: if the Church – and by that I mean St. Barnabas in particular and the Episcopal Church as well as the universal Church in general – does not do a good job of acting counter-culturally by trying to make all things new and by living out the radical commandment to love one another just as Christ loves us, then the Church is going to die. When we – the Church – become happy and content with the way things are; when we say to ourselves and to the culture around us, “we’ve got a good thing right here, and we won’t change anything,” we are beginning the process of shutting down. The Holy Spirit is the wild and untamed aspect of God and to deny or resist change is to deny or resist that same Spirit – the Spirit which is life itself. Dean Will Willimon recently wrote, When we settle down and become parochial (in other words, when we settle for being “just the Church”), the Holy Spirit drifts elsewhere; Jesus leaves us as his miraculous, heavenly inspired movement keeps on the move. There is something about Jesus that refuses to bed down with the sheep who are either too unimaginative or decrepit to wander. (Willimon continues) I just closed a church after a 70-year run. Their dying words were, “There is no one anywhere near our church who might join our church.” What they meant is, “We are in the middle of great population growth that is all of a color and a language other than our own.” Church growth is an expected, essential byproduct of a Savior who is relentlessly out on the prowl for fresh disciples. Church decline is an expected result for a church that refuses to follow a Savior who is relentlessly out to grow God's reign. We can accept those things and people who are not like us and learn to adapt their attributes and our own to the work of God’s Kingdom, or we can continue to do things the way we always have – that way that is comfortable, secure and ultimately chokes off the power of the Spirit. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. See, I am making all things new. … Amen
April 23rd, 2013
In the name of Jesus – the Good Shepherd, Amen.
A wealthy man decided to go on a safari in Africa. He took his faithful pet dachshund along for company. One day, the dog started chasing butterflies and before long discovered that he was lost.
As he wandered he suddenly noticed a leopard heading rapidly in his direction with the obvious intention of having him for lunch. The dachshund thought, “OK, I'm in deep trouble now!” Then he noticed some bones on the ground close by, and immediately settled down to chew on the bones with his back to the approaching cat. Just as the leopard was about to pounce, the dachshund exclaimed loudly, “Boy, that was one delicious leopard. I wonder if there are any more around here.” Hearing this, the leopard stopped in mid-stride. With a look of terror he slunk away into the trees. “Whew,” sighed the leopard. “That was close. That dachshund nearly had me.” Meanwhile, a monkey, who had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree, figured he could put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the leopard. So, off he went to tell the leopard everything.
The dachshund saw the monkey heading toward the leopard and figured that something must be up. The monkey soon spilled the beans and struck a deal for himself with the leopard. The leopard was furious about being made a fool of and said, “Here monkey, hop on my back and see what's going to happen to that conniving canine.”
Now the dachshund saw the leopard coming with the monkey on his back. But instead of running, the dog sat down with his back to his attackers, pretending he hadn't seen them yet ... and, just when they got close enough to hear, the dachshund said..................
“Where's that darn monkey? I sent him off half an hour ago to bring me another leopard.”
This week Mother Mitzi and I were away for three days at a clergy retreat at Camp Hardtner. Bishop Jake called as many of the clergy of the diocese as could make it, to attend this retreat so that we could have uninterrupted prayer and fellowship time following the rigors of Holy Week and Easter. We had a wonderful few days of quiet time and laughter, of prayer and play, of food and food – and a time of reconnecting with our sisters and brothers in Christ whom we do not often see.
I have now been in this diocese for a little over two years and I am a little ashamed to say that whenever the clergy all gather, I am acutely aware that there are still some people whose names I cannot remember. Most of these folks have been together at these gatherings for many years and they all know each other well. But for the relative newby like me, who only sees these folks occasionally, the names sometimes don’t stick.
Jesus told the Temple authorities, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” Throughout the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly tells His listeners that He is the shepherd who knows His sheep by name.
In this morning’s reading from Revelation, the author tells of a vision of heaven in which he is standing before the throne of God. He tells us, “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, ….” This great multitude – this group beyond number – this gathering of tribes, peoples and nationalities is Jesus’ flock. These are the sheep whose names are all known by Jesus. This part of John’s vision is meant to portray for us the innumerability – the vast countlessness of those who belong to Jesus; those whom He KNOWS by name.
I couldn’t help but think about this great multitude as I thought back to the difficulty I have had in learning the names and stories of the clergy in the Diocese of Western Louisiana. If every clergyperson in the diocese – priest and deacon, active and retired – was to show up at one of these events (which never happens) there would only be eighty-seven of us. And even at that, there are still a few people with whom I have had very few conversations and about whom I know almost nothing. Unlike me, Jesus knows ALL of His sheep.
It is important for us to be known by name. I ask you all to wear name tags so that we never have to go through the embarrassment and guilt that we feel when we forget someone’s name. Through all of the weeks, months and years that I have brought people up to the altar rail and blessed them on their birthdays and anniversaries, the one that stands out to me the most is the one in which I could not remember a parishioner’s name. My last church was pretty small and I usually only got one person, or couple to the altar for a blessing. So I always called them by name during the blessing. I had known this woman for years and worked very closely with her father – and I couldn’t remember her name. In all of the blessings I’ve done, that is the ONE that stands out in my memory. That is the power of a name. The guilt associated with the memory of forgetting a parishioner’s name still stings, years after the event. My forgetting that woman’s name made a difference to me, because knowing the name of members of the flock is what the Good Shepherd does, and what we “junior shepherds” are supposed to do.
Names are important. Names identify us and begin the process of letting people know who we are. Names can label us – for good or ill – for life. We all know people who, when we got to know them, made us think, “Boy is that person named correctly. He really lives up to his name.” And we all know people whose names simply make us whisper under our breath, “What was her mother thinking when she named her?” We begin to make decisions about people as soon as we learn their names. Think about it … when was the last time you heard that someone had named their baby boy Pontius – or Judas. Names are important.
In recent weeks we have had several baptisms, and we will have another next Sunday, in which a proud family from my last congregation will come to Lafayette to bring a baby into the Body of Christ. In the 1928 Prayer Book, immediately before a baby had the waters of baptism put on his or her head, the priest said, “Name this child,” and the parents and Godparents announced the name. Now the naming is done at the beginning of the baptismal part of the liturgy, when the child is presented. But either way, saying the name of the baptismal candidate aloud is an important part of the process. In it and through it we are saying, among other things that this new member of the Body of Christ is also one of Jesus’ flock – one of those whose name is known.
At the beginning of every infant baptism, the parents and Godparents stand in front of you and (somewhat nervously) announce the names, of those to be baptized, and we then perform the ritual and celebrate the sacrament of baptism – through which these people are reborn in water and the Spirit and become members of the household of God – spring lambs in this flock if you will.
Every baptismal candidate, both infants and adults, become lambs of Jesus’ flock – just like each one of you. That is the ultimate blessing of life.
Each of you is known by name. The Good Shepherd knows you and will be with you. As King David (in his beautiful 23rd Psalm) alluded; The Good Shepherd will always be with you to revive your soul. He will always be there to guide you along right pathways for his Name's sake. And though at some times (as many of us have felt with this week’s Boston bombing and West plant explosion), you will most certainly walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you never need fear any evil; because Jesus is with you; His Shepherd’s staff, will protect and comfort you. Surely His goodness and mercy shall follow each of you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
In this week of two mass casualty events, a time when, as a nation we are (yet again) brought face-to-face with untimely deaths and horrible injuries of our fellow citizens, speaking of the Good Shepherd is particularly timely.
Jesus is calling. He knows your name. You recognize His voice already. Receive the comfort and gracious love of our Good Shepherd. Take rest in that love. Amen.
April 18th, 2013
As he finished the job interview, the Human Resources Manager asked a young engineer, fresh out of MIT, “What starting salary were you looking for?” The Engineer said, “In the neighborhood of $175,000 a year, depending on the benefits package.” The interviewer said, “Well, what would you say to a package of 5 weeks of vacation, 14 paid holidays, full medical and dental, company matching retirement fund up to 50% of salary, and a company car leased every 2 years - say, a red Corvette?” The Engineer sat up straight and said, “Wow! Are you kidding?” The interviewer replied, “Yeah, … but you started it.”
The Gospel story this morning is the last resurrection appearance in John’s telling of the Jesus story and there is a lot here to look at. This account follows on the heels of last week’s telling of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas. Remember that one happened in Jerusalem in the locked upper room where the disciples were hiding after the crucifixion.
The appearance that John tells about this morning, must have happened at some later time. Not only are the disciples not hiding for fear of their lives anymore, but they have also now gone back to Galilee and have resumed their lives as commercial fishermen. Now stop and think about that for a minute.
These disciples have been with Jesus for at least a couple of years – some of them for the full three years of His ministry – and they have seen so many miraculous occurrences that they cannot even count them. They have seen Him give sight to the blind. They watched as – with words alone – He cured a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. They witnessed Jesus walk on the surface of the lake and were equally amazed the day that, simply by speaking to them, He calmed a crowd of men who intended to stone a young woman for adultery. Jesus told that crowd to look into their own hearts before the stoning and just like that, the men all went home. And the miracles of abundance – they certainly remembered those!
In Cana, at a wedding, He heard that the wine had run out before the party was ending, and he turned gallons of water into the best wine any of them had ever drunk. And there was the time that He had fed over 5,000 people with a few fish and a couple loaves of bread.
And that doesn’t even begin to describe their awe the day that He raised Lazarus from the dead – or their amazement at His own return to their midst after the resurrection.
And yet … as soon as He was gone, so were they.
Jesus appeared in that upper room in Jerusalem and breathed the Holy Spirit on them to prepare them to go out into the world in ministry. But as soon as He left, there they were, back in Galilee, back doing what they were comfortable doing – fishing – no matter what it was that He wanted them to do. Is it any wonder that we who live roughly two thousand years after Jesus’ earthly ministry sometimes seem to lose our faith and fall back into old, familiar patterns? Here were these men who had first-hand knowledge of exactly what Jesus was capable of, and they couldn’t keep the faith when He left them – what hope is there for us? I’ll tell you what hope there is. The hope we get from this story, just as the disciples did that day.
They left Jerusalem and went home to Galilee, back to what they had known before He arrived in their lives. Jesus knew that. He knew just how shaky their faith was at that point and so he miraculously appeared to them again – providing for both their spiritual and physical needs, so that they might believe and go out to do the work He gave them.
He appeared on shore after they had caught nothing throughout the night and informed them that they should throw the net over the right side of the boat. When they did, they got the catch of all catches – so many fish that the net should have broken, but it didn’t. And when they got to the shore, He already had the meal prepared and offered for them to sit and eat with Him. The disciples needed and Jesus provided.
Have you ever been at the point where your faith seemed dried up, used up, washed up or otherwise nonexistent? Have you ever had so many bad things happen to you in such a short period of time that you threw up your hands and said, “What’s the use?” “If you’re there at all God, you sure aren’t there for me.” People we love go away, or get sick, or die. We look at our jobs and think about the dead end there in front of us, with no alternative in sight. Our children act up, act out or otherwise worry us to death – or our parents have reached the point where we feel as if we’re raising a whole new batch of willful children. Our finances weigh heavy on us. It’s tax time. The amount the government extracts from us every year is painful – almost as painful as the amount the credit card and insurance companies are charging us. This nation is still in a war that seems to be taking forever to wind down, and in recent weeks we had the news that North Korea seems to be spoiling for a fight. Where is God in all this? How can we have faith? Why should we have faith? From time to time, these questions, or ones like them, come to us all. Theologians refer to those times as spiritual deserts, the times where we just spiritually run dry. So what’s the answer?
Remember a few weeks ago when I stood here and told you to keep your eyes open, because God was doing a brand new thing, right here in our midst. That is the answer to these times in which everything seems so overwhelming. Easter is behind us, life as usual is lying on our chests and it’s hard to breath. Open your eyes and look to see what is there, on the shore. IT’S THE LORD, as John tells us this morning. And He has instructions for us, and He’s ready to provide for us.
Cast your nets over the right side of the boat. That’s what He told the disciples. Cast your nets over the right side – MY side of the boat – the correct side of the boat, and I will provide for you. That is Jesus’ message, both to the disciples and to us. Don’t spend your time fishing where there are no fish. Come over to MY side of the boat and you’ll find everything you need. Now listen to that again.
Cast your nets on the RIGHT side, on Jesus’ side of the boat and there you’ll find – NOT everything you WANT – but everything you NEED.
The disciples that day NEEDED a miraculous catch of fish to put them back where they longed to be, both spiritually and emotionally. Jesus gave it to them. What is your need? Cast your net to the right side of the boat and know that Jesus will provide. But keep your eyes open, because it may not look exactly the way you expect it to. Just as the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus at first, so also do we not recognize when God is acting in our lives to offers ways out of our misery.
How will it look for you, in your life, when you receive the abundant grace and healing power of God’s love in Christ? I don’t know. I cannot answer that question for you – only you can answer it for yourself. But I know two things for certain: 1. God ALWAYS provides. It has happened throughout my life and yours – and I have absolute faith that it will continue to happen. And 2. If we’re not observant and careful, we’ll miss it when God comes in – doing God’s work, providing for our needs. And as a result, we’ll miss the blessings and possibly continue in our misery.
The disciples lost their faith and Jesus was there to help them, to support them, and to provide for them. It’s just as true today as it was two thousand years ago. See Jesus on the shore. He may look like someone you know. He may have words you’ve heard before. He may give you a gift that you didn’t expect. But He’s there, as sure as He arose on Easter morning. And if you listen to Him, He’ll tell you where and how to fish, and when you come ashore will have food enough prepared for you.
Today, give thanks that we have experienced God in Christ in our own lives. Experience it again in the food and drink of new and unending life in Christ. Look for Him in the Body and Blood. Listen for Him to call you. Then answer that call and be ready for God to do something new in you – right here today – as God provides the things you need and gives you reason again to believe in the risen Lord. Amen.