Monday, May 22, 2017

The Spirit of Truth

John 14: 8-17
May 21, 2017
Pentecost Sunday

This is the second part of Jesus farewell discourse,
the speech that Jesus gives to his disciples at the last supper
which is only in the book of John.
We won’t get to hear the whole thing
because it goes from chapter 14-17.
But these are some good parts.

Jesus is preparing the disciples for life after him.
How his ministry will continue
with his followers after he’s
no longer with them physically.

All through John, Jesus is telling his disciples
that he has to die, but the reason is
not like we have often thought,
to cure God’s cosmic rage against humanity,
and get God to forgive our sins.
Jesus explains that he needs to die
and go away in order to let us do his work in his place.

In chapter 12, Jesus says:
“I tell you, unless a grain of wheat
falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

We are that fruit.
Just like we heard last week,
God has built a room inside each one of us,
we will be God’s dwelling place,
and we will continue the work that Jesus started.

And today, Jesus promises that we will not
be doing that work alone,
the Holy Spirit will come and live in that room forever.
Pentecost
by Purple Whirlpool

The Spirit that Jesus promises is 
still mysterious to this day.
Christian theologians have 
lots of theories and books about
God, and about Jesus, 
but there’s not much written
about the Holy Spirit.

One big time theologian suggested that it was because we always go
Father, Son, Holy Spirit in our statement, creeds and such
So when people write about the Trinity,
they write about the Spirit last.

But it might be much more than that.
Maybe we don’t know a lot about the Spirit
because it refuses to be tied down.
We know the Spirit as a dove, a beam of light,
a violent wind, the breath that moved over the waters,
Wisdom that dances in the entrance gates,
We know the Spirit through images and notions and feelings
An encounter with the Spirit is like a dream that you
can only remember bits of when you wake up.

But we know the work of the Spirit well.
It is the thing that touches us,
That moves us, wakes us in the night,
inspires us, nudges us, it drives us crazy, and keeps us calm
it gives us peace, and agitates us to action.
The Spirit is the force that keeps
God’s word and will alive in each one of us
it is the light that overcomes the darkness.

Now Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Advocate,
and the Spirit of Truth
and that gives us more insight into the Spirit’s activity.

Remember that Satan is called “the accuser”
and in John, Jesus calls Satan “the father of lies”.
Satan is the force in the world that creates
animosity, that makes us accuse each other,
that insights anger and suspicion between people,
that divides individuals and nations,
that makes people hate, and hoard things,
and protect what they have from others.
The best outcome for Satan is violence.
Satan’s favorite project is war.

In contrast to that, Jesus calls the Spirit the Advocate.
An advocate is a defender, a supporter,
When we talk about advocates we
think of someone who walks with another person,
one that that brings peace through justice.
It’s the force of reason, calmness, reconciliation,
compassion, understanding, forgiveness.

Jesus also calls the Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.
It’s the one who keeps telling us, contrary to Satan’s lies,
that we are all tied together, that we are not enemies,
that we are all one.
The Spirit’s best outcome is friendship, love, understanding,
justice, and true peace.

The spirit is the force that makes God’s will happen in the world
The Spirit is God abiding in us, living in us
The Spirit helps us keep Jesus commandment to love one another.
And that is just what the spirit is doing
with us right now, helping us to love,
and to share love, and to heal rifts and to reconcile.
Now it might be reasonable to ask,
“how’s that going for us so far?”
Because sometimes lately it seems like
the world is about to explode with hatred and animosity and violence.

It might seem like the Advocate
and the Spirit of Truth has not been very effective
over these last two thousand years since
Jesus made that arrangement with God to send her into the world.

Now I’ve told you this before, and I tell you again,
because it bears repeating,
It might seem like we’re on the verge of disaster,
but really we are living in the least violent time in history.
There are less wars today, less murders,
less abandonment of children,
less government sanctioned genocide,
less people killing people period than ever before in our history.

It’s hard for us to see this because we’re in the middle
It still happens for sure, but it’s far less (with far more people in the world) 
than at any time in history.
It’s just now, we’re more attuned to violence,
we’re more sensitive to it, more horrified by it, less tolerant of it
and at the same time that there’s less violence,
there is more news available than ever.
So it seems like there’s more violence,
but there’s never been less in all of history.

I say this is the Advocate work in this world.

Another simple thing I noticed
A couple of weeks ago,
Bob and I  watched Saturday Night Fever in the theater,
on the 40th anniversary of the movie.
Besides some great dancing by John Travolta,
it’s a pretty gritty depiction of working class life
of young people in New York in the 1970’s.

There are things that the main characters in the
movie did that make us very uncomfortable now,
blatant racism, sexism, rape, hostility towards gay people.
Things that were acceptable at the time,
Yes, all those things still happen now,
but they just aren’t widely acceptable now.
Just 40 short years, in my span of memory,
and our sensibilities have changed.

You can watch almost any movie or TV show actually,
and something will make you cringe, I’m sure.
The road might be clunky and not direct,
but the world is changing.
That the Spirit of Truth is working.

Earlier in his conversation,
Jesus said that we would do even greater things
than he would.

Now, we can’t heal people just by touching them,
we can’t make the blind see
We can’t calm the seas, we can’t walk on water.
But all those miracles were not just magic acts,
They were not done for the sake of doing them -
they were signs of God’s love, and God’s power through love.
  
And we can show God’s love and power through love
through our words and deeds. And we have.
When Jesus was here in the flesh,
he was only able to touch one person at a time,
only able to look one person in the eye at a time.

But just in this congregation, this body of Christ,
how many people have been loved ?
how many people have been cared for?
how many hands held?
how many people have been fed?
how many children have learned about God’s love and grace?
How many minds have been changed?
How many hearts have been healed?
And that’s just at Gethsemane.
Think of all the other bodies of Christ around the world.
That is God’s Spirit, abiding in us.

We are not in this alone.
Jesus kept his promise,
he did not leave us orphaned.
The Advocate - the Spirit of Truth - lives in us,
in that little room that God has

made in our hearts, God will be with us forever.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Going Through That Gate

John 10:1-10
May 7, 2017

When we have our bible studies in Council or other meetings,
one of the questions we ask is
what is Jesus (or God, or the Holy Spirit) doing here?
Face of SheepDiane Whitehead
Why is Jesus doing or saying 
what he’s doing or saying?
So what is Jesus doing here?
Why does he tell his disciples 
and us about this sheepy stuff?
What does he mean when he says 
“I am the gate”, Jesus says
“whoever enters by me will be saved.”

Now classically in Christianity 
people have, almost without question,
seen that Jesus wants to give us an invitation or maybe a warning -
that we need to know that Christianity 
is the only true way in.
It must be followed, 
church that must be attended,
doctrine must be believed,
the sacraments – that are administered rightly –
must be taken regularly, or at the very least,
we need to have claimed Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.
That’s the gate that Jesus needs us to go through.

So we have claimed Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and savior
and we enter through that special Christian sheep’s gate
and we get ‘saved’. And what we mean when we say that
is that the believers get sent to heaven after death,
and everyone else gets send to hell, or Gahenna, or Gahanna,
or Blacklick. Wherever  the unfortunate or stubborn
experience the eternal wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But is that really what Jesus is doing here?
Was Jesus purpose in coming here to create a religion?
To establish an institution parallel to
other institutions but just a little better?
Was God’s objective to make some of us inside the club
and to leave other people outside of this
great plan of salvation that God has?

For those of us who have professed Jesus Christ as our
Lord and Savior and have a relationship with him,
we know that Jesus had bigger plans than just to make
a club with an exclusive membership.
God so loved the whole world that he sent his son.
Christ died and rose for us. It is finished.
God didn’t do that so then we would all need to
pass some litmus test to get loved by God and get into heaven.
So let’s consider eternal life a sure bet for everyone, forever.
No need to fear about that.

Jesus does tells us that the gate is the way to abundant life,
for those living in this world, today, right now.
And this world today is still in a lot of trouble and
needs some saving as far as I can tell.
So Jesus objective is for us to have an abundant life.

Now some Christians teach that when Jesus talks
about “abundant life”, he is talking about
having lots of wealth and comfort.
At least enough for us and our family.
They teach that living life the right way will result in good health,
and a large bank account, and a happy family life,
and that anything less than that
proves that you haven’t lived a good life.
There was a congressman who said just those words this week,
in defending the new insurance bill
not covering pre-existing conditions. He said,
“It will help reduce the cost for people who have led a good life”
and aren’t sick. (That’s a false gospel at work.)
Some Christians think abundant life is about
me not having to worry, and living a comfortable life.
It’s about me building my wealth by myself,
and maybe giving some of it away if I feel like it.

But we who have a personal relationship with Jesus
know that he never said that. He didn’t live that.
All Jesus had was the sandals on his feet
and the tunic on his back. He begged for places to stay
and his disciples stole ears of corn off of farmers’ land.
He actually told us that suffering was part of
the experience of going through his gate to abundant life.
  
And we learned from Jesus that
we can’t have a lot and watch our neighbor have
nothing and call that an abundant life.
Abundance is found in making sure that other people have abundance.
Abundance is having our hearts filled with the
care that Christ showed us and sharing that.
Abundant life is found in our hearts breaking for others.
Abundant life is found in giving our abundance –
ourselves, our time, and our possessions – away.
Abundant life is not lived alone with me and my family only,
it’s lived in community with others.
And the gate that Jesus is talking about is the way
that we live our lives.

In its early days, Christianity was called “The Way”
Christians marked themselves by the way that they
acted and cared for each other and the world.
Some say that’s why the religion grew,
because Christians were different.
They went through that narrow gate,
based on the way that Jesus lived and died.

They followed that road of radical uncomfortable love.
having compassion for the hated, serving the ungrateful.
loving their enemy, welcoming the outcast,
treating society’s throwaways as equals.
Making sure that their neighbor was fed before they were.
Not taking another life, but laying down their life for others.
This is the gate. Jesus way.
This is the way to abundant life, here, now for the whole world.
  
Jesus says the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
We live in a world where many try to pass themselves off
as saviors and possessing the ‘right way’ and plenty of people follow.

We have preachers who are so convinced of their hatred,
that they call God’s children abominations.
We have rich, celebrities, with no discernible occupation,
other than to tell young people that designer labels
and selfish needs are the best way to live.

We have people in power who are convinced that
killing more people is the only viable solution to our international relations.
We have people who are actually proud of their sexist
and racist views and want more people to share them.
We have politicians who are open hostile towards poor people,
and pass laws that are designed to punish instead of help.

We live in a world of thieves and bandits,
And so many claim to be followers of Jesus, 
but they don’t want to enter the sheepfold by the gate,
they only want to jump over the fence.

And as God’s sheep, we too have often rejected the gate
and we have adapted too well to the world.
We have demanded safety for only ourselves,
and helped create more privilege for the privileged,
We build our own castles and forget about others.
We try to claim our abundant life in isolation,
and not worry about God’s other beloved sheep.

We try to jump over the gate too.
and not travel the hard road that Jesus showed us.
The road of love and sacrifice.

That is the way.
That is the way of abundant life.
That is the gate that Jesus wants us to go through.
The gate that will save this world, right here and right now.

I was reading a friends sermon on this scripture
and it quoted a farmer who said
“sheep are born looking for a way to die.”

That is a good description of the human race.
We are attracted to things that are bad for us.
We drawn to the ways of destruction rather than life.
Left on our own, we are born looking for a way to die.

We need a leader to guide us.
We need a savior in Jesus Christ to show us where the gate is,
and show us the way back to life.

Like in the reading from Acts today it says,
We devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching,
and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
That is why we come here regularly,
to return to God’s Word and to Christ’s table
and why we come together with the
Baptized body of Christ to continually
to remind us where that gate is and what the way of life is.

God loves us.
God loves the crazy, suicidal sheep.
What God is doing here is saving us all,
in a spiritual way and in a real, physical way.
The way of the world is a long, slow road to certain death.

But Jesus came that we may have life, and have it abundantly.  


Monday, May 1, 2017

Me, Cleopas, and Jesus

Luke 24 13-35
4-30-17

Two people walking along the road to Emmaus
one of them is named Cleopas.
It’s three days after Jesus crucifixion.
They meet a man they don’t recognize
who doesn’t seem to know about the events of Jesus.
So they tell him about him.
Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty
in deed and word before God and all the people, 20
and our chief priests and leaders handed him over
to be condemned to death and crucified him.”

Then they add,
But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
“We had hoped.”
They don’t just say that they hoped.
They had hoped.
The hope is in the past.
It’s almost as if they’re saying,
“Remember when we had hoped”
That was then and it was great,
 but even the hoping is over now.

The two people on the road, one who was named Cleopas
had hoped that Jesus was the one to save them.
The one to make some changes, to set the world on fire,
to create justice and make things new.
Emmaus, Arcabas
We had hoped.
But then he was killed by the establishment,
like so many other prophets are
and our hope died with him.
  
It is in that state, 
that absence of hope once felt
that the Jesus comes 
up to the two people on the road.
Right where they are.
They share their 
disappointments with each other.
They talk about their unrealized hope
and share their broken hearts.

Most of us can probably relate to the two people on the road that day.
We understand completely the experience of the imperfect tense.
We understand having “had hoped”

We’ve all experienced the heart break of “had hoped”
we had hoped that this time he would have stayed sober
We had hoped that this job would have worked out
We had hoped that the laws would have changed by now
We had hoped there would be signs of peace,
we had hoped that the pain would go away
We had hoped there would be less poverty and suffering,
We had hope that Justice would prevail
We had hoped that things would have gotten better by now.

As human beings in this world, we live with this “had hoped” feeling
We get excited about the prospect of things,
the promise, the dream, and time passes,
we’re disappointed and reality hits us.
It’s never as good as it was in our vision.
Remember how we had hoped,
now we can only remember the hope that we had.

On the Emmaus road and in our lives,
this is where Jesus enters in.

The story of the Emmaus Road is a story about us,
a model of Christian community.
How we gather together as Christians.

We are all travelling on a road,
and we meet one another and
we join together in community,
to travel together.
  
We are the two traveling on the road.
We meet one another and tell our stories,
We welcome our broken hearts,
We share our joys and our disappointments with each other,
Those “We had hoped” moments.

And most of the time we don’t recognize Jesus
when we see him, in friends in strangers,
In those we welcome,
in those we help and  those who help us.

But when we gather, the scriptures are read
We read about other people that had hoped and  lost hope
and how God was still there with them and they had hope again.
We understand about God’s promises
and find that suffering and setbacks are part of
a full and meaningful life.
We make sense of Christ’s life and death and
help each other understand how we all fit in that picture
and after a time, our hope returns to us.

And finally, at the end of our time together,
Christ’s presence with us and for us is revealed to us
at the table, when we share the bread and wine,
in the breaking of the bread.
We finally recognize Jesus when we share
love with one another, and when we sacrifice for one another
We see God’s presence in Christ’s
body and blood broken and shed for us.

That moment of revelation is fleeting, but effective
and we realize, looking back at our whole journey,
that Christ has been with us the whole time.
Jesus has been there in the stranger and the friend.
Accompanying us, opening our hearts,
breaking bread with us.

And with that knowledge, we go out
to tell other people, that Christ is with us.
And God has not left us alone.
We don’t have to have “had hope” in the past.
We can have hope right now.

Two people, one of them is named Cleopas,
and the other one isn’t named at all.
I think Luke did that so that we can put our own
name in that empty space. Cleopas and me.
We walk down that Emmaus Road together.

We are the people of the road, the Way.
We are on a journey together.
A journey of joys and disappointments
of dreams demolished and then
our once-lost hope restored.
We are on that long journey.
And we whether we realize it at the moment or not,

Christ has been with us the whole time.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Jesus Laughed

John 20:19-31
Holy Hilarity
4-23-17

Groucho Marx was coming out of an elevator 
and a priest came up to him, puts out his hand and says
"I want to thank you for all the joy you've put into this world."
And Groucho shook his hand, and said
"And I want to thank you, for all the joy you've taken out of this world."

Christianity does seem to have a reputation
for trying to remove all the fun out of life.
Maybe that reputation is well earned.
Lots of theologians and church people
have written warnings against laughing, humor, frivolity.

The Rule of St. Benedict, advised
no foolish chatter, nothing just to provoke laughter

Three men who laughed during one of John Calvin’s sermons were imprisoned for three days. I wonder what they laughed at.

St. John of Chrysostomos fourth century church father,
warned Christians against laughing:
“Laughter often gives birth to foul discourse, and foul discourse to actions still more foul. Often words and laughter proceed railing and insult; and from railing and insult, blows and wounds; and from blows and wounds, slaughter and murder. If, then, you would take good counsel for yourself, avoid not merely foul words and foul deeds, or blows and wounds and murders, but unseasonable laughter itself.”

I don’t know what kind of parties he had been to.
Christ, Liberator
Willis Wheatley, 1973

And he also said  he doubted if Christ 
could have laughed at all during his earthly life.

Thankfully, we’ve progressed some since then.
This picture that’s been 
projected is usually called “Laughing Christ”
or “Jesus Laughing” but the original name is 
“Christ, Liberator”
and it was one of four portraits of Jesus
drawn for some sort of publicity for the
United Church of Canada by Willis Wheatly in 1973.

It became pretty popular in the 70’s, 
it captured a lot of people’s imagination who maybe 
had thought like John Chrysotomos that Jesus had never laughed .

Of course Jesus laughed.
And Jesus was human.
Human beings laugh.
And he hung around a bunch of friends.
That’s what friends do.
It’s a way to communicate and relate.
And Jesus was God’s son, and God is funny.

Most people read the bible and
only think of serious things,
the story of God is not some dry, lifeless, humorless story.
The story of God and God’s people is comedy.

The enormity of God’s powers paired with the
stupidity and stubbornness of God’s people is a hilarious set up.
And the stories we love from the scriptures
have all of the main elements of comedy:
farce, misdirection, paradox, exaggeration, satire, irony
  
Start at the beginning:
God creates the Garden of Eden and puts Adam and Eve in it,
and gives them everything, anything they could want.
But right in the middle of the garden he puts one tree –
Whatever you do, don’t touch that tree.
It sounds like an episode of the Simpsons.

Then, when God decides to give birth to his people,
he decides to use Abraham and Sarah.
A couple of people in their nineties.
Was there no one younger around?

And when Moses leads the Israelites to Mount Sinai.
Moses says, “I’m going to the top to get the 10 commandments
You guys stay here. I’ll be back in a little while,
in the mean time, I’m putting my brother Aaron in charge.”
And by the time he gets down,
the Israelites are worshipping a golden calf.

And Jesus told the most ridiculous stories
that must have gotten some big laughs at the time:
If you lost one sheep,
wouldn’t you leave the 99 behind to find it?
no, of course not, Jesus. That’s silly.

If your youngest son leaves you and takes all your money,
and spends it all on frivolous and stupid things
and he came back looking for a meal
Wouldn’t your first reaction be to run to him
and throw him a big party?
Really, no not at all.
  
And if everyone didn’t show up for your banquet,
wouldn’t you go into the streets and invite
complete strangers to it? No, Jesus we wouldn’t.
But that is what God does.
That is how funny God’s ways are to us.

Even in the passion story,
about as serious as a story can get-
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey,
a baby donkey, his feet dangling on the ground.

His rag tag courtiers putting their frayed clothing on the ground
A satire of kings everywhere
who are full of themselves and their power.
A clown parade making fun of the high brow
pomp and circumstance.

And in the end,
the entirety of Jesus plan is to turn over everything,
is to hand himself over to the empire
and the religious leaders and die.
And the biggest laugh of all – it works!
The devil is defeated.

Even in today’s Gospel story, 
fear has gripped the disciples
their next moves are unknown, their future uncertain.
They fear for their lives.

And Thomas is like, “This tension is too much.
I’m going out for some coffee”
And of course, just at that moment he leaves,
Jesus comes in the room.

Then when Thomas comes back with everyone’s
Starbucks orders,
they all tell him what happened while he was gone.
And he said he’s just not going to believe it.
Do Jesus does come back just to show Thomas,
And it’s Thomas the skeptic who gets to deliver
the real truth about who Jesus is, he says
“My Lord and my God.”

When you think about it, our whole life with God
is just a little ridiculous.
We’re asked to devote our lives to a Jewish
carpenter who lived 2000 years ago.
Asked to help people, to love strangers,
pray for our enemies, to take up our cross and follow.
And we give our life and devotion to a man who
in the end, was killed.
If we heard about Christianity for the first time,
we might laugh at us too.

It’s funny, that the creator of everything would care for us,
it’s  crazy that God would use people like us for God’s mission.
It’s silly that the one true God would love us so much,
he would go to any lengths to reach us.

The devil would like us to think
that God was all seriousness,
all rules and regulations, all business and forms.
The devil wants us to be sour and dour and cynical and
suspicious of joy and creativity.
Suspicious of God and of one another.

But the truth is
God is an artist, God is creative,
God is joy, God is a comedian.

And the devil has no power over us anymore.
Death and sin are just silly diversions
from God’s kingdom.
And the last laugh is on the devil.
because Jesus Christ has risen.
Alleluia!