Monday, May 20, 2019

Love Bleeds


John 13 31-35
May 19, 2019
Easter 5

Jesus tells his disciples 
that they will be known by their love.
Love one another as I have loved you, Jesus said.
This is how people will know you 
and identify you.
This is what people will talk about. 
Your love.

This almost sounds sweet and sentimental.
Songs that talk about love and harmony, make it sound
like love is simple and easy, all you need to do is buy the
world a Coke and everything will be swell.
We can just gather together and hold hands and
Jesus command will be fulfilled.

I think we feel like love should be easy and simple.
We make a mistake to think that love is an emotion,
and that if it doesn’t feel good, if it’s difficult, that we should stop.
But we know from our intimate relationships that love is
not a feeling, it’s a task, it’s a choice and loving people
in the world around us is no different.

This command from Jesus was not sentimental.
Jesus gave this command during his last supper.
Right before this, he had told them that
one of his disciples was going to betray him.
And right after this he tells Peter, his closest friend,
that he would deny even knowing him.
It must have been a very painful meal for Jesus in many ways.
And yet in this same dinner, he washes the feet of the disciples.
An act of humble servitude to his students and followers
and betrayers and deniers.

That is the kind of love that Jesus is talking about
The self sacrificing, self-denying kind of love.
The kind of love that isn’t stopped by pride
the kind of love that includes all, even those not worthy of it.
Jesus tells the disciples to love one another with this kind of love.
This is Jesus last request, this is Jesus new commandment.

This has surely been a struggle for Jesus church
both inside and out.
Sometimes the church is better known for
it’s infighting and squabbling.
What gets in the news are the denominational
spats and theological wrangling.
And sometimes the church is known better for it’s
hate and admonition of people instead of for its love for them.

But, contrary to the appearances,
I think most Christian s are just trying their best to
take Jesus words seriously and their intent is to love others.

But trying to figure out the details of love  is really hard,
there are a lot of grey areas which we find ourselves.
How do we love those that we don’t look like or act like us,
Those who don’t share the same faith or practices,
How do we love those who don’t share the same morals?
How do we love those that we disagree with?
How much of ourselves do we compromise in order to love?
Or do we try to change people to our ways, is that love?

In the story we heard from Acts,
Peter struggled with several things
about love that we do in our time.
He struggled with what Christ’s love consisted of and
what of himself he should compromise when he did it.

Peter, like Jesus, like Paul, like the rest of the disciples
were brought up in Jewish households and
Christianity arose as a Jewish movement.
There was the occasional Gentile convert,
but that was the exception to the rule at the beginning.

As we read in the scriptures, the Jewish people of the time
had very strict rules of food consumption, purity and ritual
and the gentiles – those who didn’t follow those rules
and who were uncircumcised – were seen as unclean
and were excluded from community life.

The Jewish person was supposed to
avoid going into a gentile house.
They were supposed to avoid eating with Gentiles.
When it did happen, they would have to go
through a cleansing ritual after to be allowed back in.

In a religion, like Christianity, that was based around a sacred meal,
it would be impossible to keep those rules
and invite gentiles into the fold.

Peter, the chief leader of the new church formed around Jesus,
was a firm believer in this doctrine.
In the beginning of Acts, and according to Paul’s letters,
he was intent on Christians maintaining Jewish law and practice.
He kept the traditions he was used to –
He believed the food the gentiles ate was
unclean and the Gentiles were unclean.
This is where we find Peter in Acts.
But then Peter, while sitting on top of a roof in Joppa has a vision.
In the vision, he sees different kinds of animals
that Jewish law had forbidden him from eating,
and a voice came to him saying “Kill and eat.”

Peter says, “No, Lord; nothing profane or
unclean has ever entered my mouth.”
and in the vision, the voice from heaven says
“What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Just at the same time that Peter was trying to figure out
what this vision meant, three gentiles came to Peter
they were sent to Peter by Cornelius.
Cornelius was a gentile who had received a vision of an angel,
who told him to send these three men to go and get Peter.
Since Peter had his own vision,
he decided to go with these men to the house of Cornelius.

Peter says to Cornelius in chapter 10:
“You know that it is against our laws for a Jewish man
to enter a Gentile home like this or associate with you. 
But God has shown me that I should no longer think
of anyone as impure or unclean.”

So he stayed, he told Cornelius and everyone
in his house the Gospel of Jesus.
As he was doing that, the Holy Spirit
fell on the people there – the Gentiles.
and Peter had them baptized.
And Peter stayed at the home of the gentiles and ate with them.

This seems like quite a happy occasion for everyone,
but this must have been quite an adjustment for Peter.
A lifetime of thinking and behaving one way
and now the love that Jesus commanded from him
has led him to think and behave completely different.

For Peter to love as Jesus commanded him to love,
Peter had to compromise himself, his priorities,
his morals, basically everything he was brought up understanding.
This surely fractured his relationship with his other family and friends.
I’m sure his new relationships were good and exciting,
but this new love in Jesus name must have hurt too.

It seems obvious now, looking back, that Christ’s new church would
include gentiles and other non Jewish people.
But the decision and the act was not as simple at the time.
And answering those questions are not simple now.

Who should we sit at the table with?
Who should we love? How should we love them?
These are questions we’ve had to answer and have challenged s
over and over again in every generation.
What we can glean from Peter’s story is that there
is not one static, solid, answer.
The answer changes with every new relationship,
every new situation, every new era.

And I don’t think the story is only saying that the love
Christ commands leads us to out of our own social groups.
Although I think  that's true, I think there’s more here.
It is saying that the love that Christ directs us to is
always a challenge when we’re doing it Christ’s way.
It makes us think, it stretches us, it changes us.
We lose a bit of ourselves in the process.
We compromise ourselves and our wants and needs.
Love is a sacrifice.
“Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another”
Just like Christ gave himself for us,
we give ourselves to others.

Brene Brown is the social worker who has written
a lot of best-selling books about vulnerability.
Once she spoke about Jesus and Christianity and love:
She said,
People want love to be like unicorns and rainbows.
So then Jesus comes and people see it and say,
love is hard, love is sacrifice, eating with sin,
breaking bread with tough people
love is trouble, love is rebellious.

In all of these churches and places where forgiveness
 is so easy and love is so easy,
there is not enough blood of the floor in these places.
The story of Jesus is this:
Love bleeds.

Love bleeds. keep that in mind when you hear:
Jesus said,
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Good Shepherd's Voice


John 10:22-30
May 12, 2019

In this gospel story,
we’re flashing back to a moment during Jesus ministry.
Jesus is walking through the portico of Solomon
a covered walk way around the temple in Jerusalem.
and as usual, he’s attracting a crowd
People want to see him and talk to him.

This time some people want him to tell them
who he is and what the heck he’s doing.
They say “how long are you going to keep us in suspense.”
Some say that that phrase is better translated,
“How long are you going to annoy us?”
In other words, stop using all these metaphors
and stories and figures of speech.
Just tell us plainly if you’re the Messiah.
Give us the absolute sign. Let us know.

Now, undoubtedly, some of these people
Sheep
Diane Whitehead
are trying to catch Jesus and trap him
and get him in trouble with the authorities.
Some of them are probably hostile to what Jesus represents,
And some might be naturally skeptical,
But I’m sure that some of the people
asking Jesus are really searching and hoping
and wanting and waiting for the Messiah
they want to hear that Jesus is the Messiah.

And in response, Jesus tells them,
“My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.”
Another metaphor, but Jesus was never good at taking requests.

But what he said is true. Real sheep actually do get to know
their own shepherd’s voice.
Each shepherd would have a hundred or so sheep.
And there were always other shepherds and flocks of sheep around
and they tend to all look alike.

Sometimes the shepherds and their flocks
would meet to go to sleep
and they would all get mixed up at night.
But in the morning, the shepherds
could call their flock and the sheep would instinctively
follow their own shepherds voice.
Sheep know their shepherd’s voice.

Jesus was saying that the ones who will be
Jesus followers will just know him.
They will hear his voice and follow.
They won’t need an absolute sign.
They will know who Jesus really is
and what he represents.

Today, it seems to be that fewer people
are following that voice,
fewer people are being drawn to Jesus
and fewer people are being drawn to
worship Jesus in churches.

Some Christians are panicked by this change.
And lots of people who remember the” good old days”
blame the younger generation and question their values.

I’ve thought that maybe people’s values are in line,
and lots of people would want to follow Jesus,
but they’re realizing the voice they’re hearing is wrong.

The voice of Christianity that they’re hearing most loudly
does not sound like Jesus, so they’re not responding,
not following, maybe even rejecting the
institutions that claim to bear this voice.
What is the most prevalent voice of Jesus
that most people hear these days?

From many Christians, we have heard hateful words
about immigrants and refugees, terrible assumptions about our
neighbors in Mexico, and Central America
one religious station calling them repeatedly
“felons, invaders, exotics, and illegals.”
Does that sound like the voice of Jesus?

We’ve heard Christians refuse services to
gay, lesbian, and transgender people,
even interracial couples and defending it by claiming their
 “religious freedom” to discriminate.
And we’ve seen Christian politicians working to block
adoptions by gay and lesbian people.
Does this voice sound like Jesus?

And many of the shootings at houses of worship
in the last years were committed by Christians.
The latest shooting at a Synagogue in San Diego
was committed by a Presbyterian who
wrote a manifesto using Christian theology
to support his anti-Semitism and his violent actions.
Does this sound like the voice of Jesus?

We’ve heard Christians quietly letting injustices
continue because saying something might hurt their bottom line,
We’ve seen Christians allow abuse and violence continue
in their own institutions rather than risk change in them.
We’ve heard Christians siding each time with the powerful
and insulting the poor and powerless.

And we’ve seen Christians give up their
values and integrity in order to follow lockstep with
the platform of one political party or another.
Does any of this sound like Jesus?

The loudest Christian voices that tend to get amplified
in our world today are voices of hate, prejudice,
apathy, and those that conform to the culture
for personal or political gain.

And I think that a lot of people
have heard these messages so loudly and for so long
that they believe that these voices are Jesus only voice
and they want no part of that.
I know a lot of my friends from my past
are in that boat right now.
And I can’t say that I blame them.
They can’t get around all the voices
of fear and hate and exclusion to hear Jesus real voice.

We know that Jesus is not a voice of hate
Jesus voice is a voice of life, of resurrection,
of welcome at the table, embracing those who are different,
eating with sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes,
loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you,
lifting up the poor and sick and unfortunate.

Jesus got in trouble with the authorities, not because
of who he excluded from his circle,
he got in trouble because of everyone he included.
And that was anyone who was hungry or lost or
sick or needed healing in body or soul.
He got in trouble because he sided with
the weak and oppressed instead of the powerful.

This is the voice of Jesus that his followers responded to.
This is the voice that made the disciples drop their nets
and leave their homes and go out and share the gospel with others. This voice was different than the voices around that were full of competition and fear and hate and prejudice.
In Jesus voice they could hear another way forward,
a way to the restored world of peace and hope that they envisioned

The good shepherd doesn’t win his sheep
with threats or violence or fear.
The good shepherd is good because
he offers words of hope and life.
The words of the good shepherd are the bread
that feeds forever and the water that will never run out.
The good shepherd has the words of eternal life.

We have heard Jesus voice,
we know what the shepherd’s voice sounds like.
And I believe that people are waiting to hear that voice,
they are longing to know that shepherd.
One day, the true voice of Jesus will rise above the
din of hate and fear and apathy that sometimes
passes for Christianity.

And the good news today is that Jesus won’t stop calling
those sheep over and over again.
Jesus won’t stop just because we didn’t hear the first time
or because the noise of the world is too loud,
or his followers don’t have the courage to speak up.

The good shepherd knows that there are lots of people
just waiting to hear that story, that message and that voice
the voice of the living word of God, the voice of forgiveness,
The voice that we have followed here this morning.

And Jesus won’t stop calling until all creation has come home.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Feed My Sheep

John 21:1-19
Easter 3
May 5, 2019

Have you ever promised to do something and then failed at it?
A diet is one that most people have this experience with.
getting and keeping a certain job, getting a degree,
going to the gym, quitting smoking, or drinking,
praying, meditating, not yelling,
Maybe it was a project you didn’t complete,
or it didn’t end up the way you wanted.

We’ve all had this experience of letting others down,
or letting ourselves down at one time or another.
Some of us to more serious degrees than others.
I think it’s a feeling we’ve all had at one time or another.
I know I have.

Peter knew that feeling that day on the lake.
Peter had made a promise to Jesus in front everyone
at that last meal they had together. Proudly, almost smugly,
he said he would lay down his life for Jesus.

I’m sure he meant it when he said it.
His head and his heart were filled with
bravado and security in his own will and courage.
I’m sure he felt the loyalty and dedication to Jesus
and he felt gratitude to Jesus for trusting him.

Jesus had picked Peter out. He called him
out of the monotonous, soul-crushing
and debt-ridden life of commercial fishing and
called him into a life of abundance, grace, risk,
spiritual depth, wonder, and service to others.
I’m sure that Peter was feeling gratitude about that
when he made that promise to Jesus.
I’m sure that he meant it when he said:
“I will follow you to death.”
Of course, Jesus knew better.
Jesus knew human frailty and fear, and he knew Peter.
He told Peter that he would deny even knowing Jesus.
Not once or twice, but three times before the cock crowed.

And sure enough, that’s what happened.
After Jesus was arrested, when Peter was identified
as one of Jesus disciples, Peter denied it three times.
He didn’t follow Jesus to his death,
even at the threat of merely being identified,
he ran he hid, he denied.
He wouldn’t even admit he knew Jesus to a powerless servant girl.

And this whole thing was probably running through Peter’s head when he saw
the risen Jesus in that upper room.
Sure, he was excited about seeing Jesus,
but he was probably also thinking:
“Jesus knows how I failed him and everyone.
Jesus knows what a chicken I am.
Jesus knows how I don’t deserve the life
and the responsibility and position he gave me.”

So Peter and the others decided to go back to fishing.
Back into the soul crushing, dead-end life that they came from.
With Jesus dead and them all failures at following,
what else were they supposed to do?
It was all Peter knew how to do
It’s probably all he thought he deserved.

And they’re in the middle of returning to that life
the risen Jesus calls out to them from the shore again.

Now according to the story,
Peter is fishing without clothes on and, for some reason,
when he sees Jesus he decides to put his clothes on
to swim to the shore.
In the bible studies I’ve been involved in on this,
this always gets a lot of attention.
I had been thinking I would like to preach on that,
but I couldn’t find a whole lot of substance there.
But trust me, don’t look up “fishing naked” on the internet
and expect that you’re going to find something about this story.

Regardless, Peter is excited to see Jesus.
And after they eat breakfast together Jesus talks to Peter alone.
Surely, the weight of Peter’s failure was hanging between them.

Notice that when they talk,
Jesus doesn’t call him “Peter”, the name Jesus gave
him when he became his disciple.
he calls him by his given name,
“Simon, son of John” his name in his old life,
the life that he’s decided to return to.

He asks Simon son of John a question,
“Do you love me more than these?”
Now what Jesus meant by “these” we’re not sure.
We can’t really tell from the English,

But we can tell the Greek word “these” that Jesus uses is neutral,
which means that it wasn’t referring to people, but to things.
So Jesus is asking Simon if he loves Jesus more than
he loves these things,
maybe Jesus means the fish and the
boats and the job of his old life.
Maybe it doesn’t matter.
  
And Simon son of John says, “Of course, you know I love you.”
And Jesus gives him a simple reply,
a simple request: “Feed my lambs.”

Three times Peter denied Jesus.
Three times Peter chickened out,
Three times Jesus asks the question, “Do you love me?”
Three times Simon says he does . . .
And that is all Jesus needs.

Jesus calls Simon out from his old life again
“Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep”, “Feed my sheep”
Three times, Jesus calls Simon back into ministry with him -
the life of abundance and wonder, spiritual depth
to leadership and service.

Three times, Simon son of John is more than forgiven by Jesus,
He is called out again, to be Peter, the Rock.
Once Peter was dead, but Jesus raised him up.
Feed my sheep. Follow me.
  
We are all as fallible as Peter,
we have been scarred and broken and lost.
We’ve all gone smugly into something, just to fail,
or get scared, or become disillusioned, or bored, or weak.

We might think that the best thing for God to do
would be to let us go, let us crawl into a hole
and find someone else who’s better or more qualified.
But the truth is, we are God’s entire ministry plan
We are it. There is no back up.
There is no other option for God. There are no alternatives.
No other less-fallible super-humans waiting in the wings.

God has put all his trust into people like Peter.
And God has bet everything on us.
We are God’s whole plan. All God has are
fallible, weak, fearful, often selfish humans.

And we are called back into service again and again.
Called to care for this world and the things in it.
To feed the lambs and the sheep and be God’s people.

As broken and as faulty as we can be, God will use us.
Maybe we feel like we’ve let God or others down.
God sees past all that, and just sees our potential.

All God needs is our love.
And everything else will come out of that.

As many times as we mess up
and don’t live up to our own expectations,
we are called to a life of abundance, depth and service to others
We are called over and over into a new life with God.

Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.
Jesus says, follow me.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Trust the Women


Luke 24:1-12
April 21, 2019
Easter Sunday

So apparently the women, cannot be trusted!
It says the disciples thought that theirs was an idle tale.
Never mind that Jesus had been telling all of them
over and over again, that he would be handed over
to the authorities, crucified, and rise again on the third day.
Never mind that.  Theirs was an idle tale.
Mary Magdalene at the Tomb
Herschel Pollard
Crazy, utter nonsense, silly talk.
The women could not be trusted,
their story was unbelievable.

Okay, maybe their story 
itself is a little unbelievable.
That Jesus, who they all 
saw themselves had been killed,
had risen from the dead and 
was wondering around.
People don’t come back from the dead.
It was a difficult story to believe.
Never mind that amazing 
things were happening
around Jesus the whole 
time he was with them.
That they had seen people healed, 
other people raised,
they had seen 5000 fed with five loaves and two fish.
They had seen Jesus walk on water. But no.
The women could not be trusted.

Now to be honest, human nature makes us ready to believe in bad news.
We readily give into whole-heartedly to
 the outrageously terrible things that
happen in this world and especially the awful things
that humans do to one another.
We let ourselves be wrapped up and outraged by
the worst of humanity, even if its fake news.
The abuse, the inhumanity, destruction, apathy,
greed and careless waste of human life and creation,
those tales seem all too true to us.
It must be true, no one can make this stuff up.

But miracles, resurrections, that’s different.
If it’s too good to be true, then it must be.
We are skeptical of miracles and cures,
and blessed turn-arounds, success stories,
We cut our eyes at stories of amazing recoveries and healing,
we’re leery of tales of forgiveness and new hope.

Let’s wait and see, show me the proof.
There has to be a reasonable explanation for it.
There’s got to be more to this story.
Jesus risen from the dead?
Peter had to go and see it for himself.
The women could not be trusted.

The women were the first to see, I guess, because
they were left with the unfortunate task of
preparing the bodies for final burial,
so they were the ones who got up and out
before dawn and were ready to work.
Women are often in the position of seeing
things that men might not believe,
from child birth to cleaning the goo out of the kitchen sink
we’ve seen it all, but we’re still not always trusted.

For many centuries, women couldn’t even testify in court,
on the sole basis of the fact that it was felt their words couldn’t be trusted.
We’ve been called hysterical, silly, gullible, and frivolous.
our motives and objectives have been questioned.

Even in the era of Me Too, the public, including other women,
have questioned whether the statements of women can be trusted
Women are too sensitive, too emotional, and fragile
they’re clouded by jealousy, rage, greed,
Even in these days, women have been silenced 
or disregarded when giving controversial testimonies.

And then, when the truth of the statements themselves cannot be refuted
then the women themselves are discounted, shamed, and lied about.


For instance, even though there’s 
discrepancies about which women were
the first to witness the Resurrection,
every one of the gospels agree that Mary Magdalene was there,
But history has reduced her to a bad girl.
She’s been remembered as a prostitute, a woman of ill repute,
someone who deserves shame and derision.
Even though nowhere in the scriptures
does it say that Mary was a prostitute.
She’s been convoluted with other unnamed women in scripture
and we’ve been told basically, over the years,
that all women could not be trusted.

I mean it’s only been in the last century that women
have been widely allowed to be pastors, and it’s not unanimous
across denominational lines.
In the churches of the ELCA, we’ve only had women pastors
since 1970, a time in the memory of many of the people still living now.
For most of the last century, women have not been able to lead,
we have not been able to tell the story for ourselves.
We’ve been told repeatedly, in different ways,
 that the women could not be trusted.

But God trusted the women.
God trusted the women to share the good news.
The most important news of all to tell.
The news of Jesus resurrection from the dead.
The news that changes everything.

History has been dominated by men.
The bible itself is stories mostly about men.
men take the center stage, men have the best parts.

But the story of Easter is the story of women’s proclamation
women’s tales, women’s testimony, women’s witness.
Whether the Gospels say that it was Mary, the wife of Clopas, Joanna,
Salome, the other Mary ,or Mary Magdalene.
All of the gospels agree that the women were
the ones left at the cross at the end of Jesus life,
and they were right there on the morning of the third day.
The first to witness God’s best work.

The story of Easter and the entrustment of the story
specifically to the ones who others normally felt could not be trusted,
is in itself a resurrection story.
A rebirth of the voice of half of our population.
We can try and bury that truth for 2000 years,
like Jesus, it refuses to die.

In Christ, God’s goal is to redeem the world.
To change it, to make it new, make it work for everyone .
As that other Mary, Jesus's mother said,
 when she found she was pregnant with the Messiah,
“The Lord has lifted up the lowly
and filled the hungry with good things.”
God does this by turning everything on its head.

Through Christ’s life and death and life again,
God is doing something  amazing with this world.
God has taken away the power of death for us all.
God is reconciling all creation to God’s self and  to one another.
God is dragging us out of the graves that we have dug for ourselves.
God is rewriting history, and releasing all those laid low by
the bonds of oppression and assumptions
God was giving voice to those who had no voice.

God is doing something amazing with this world.
It’s hard to see while were in the midst of it,
it can sometimes seem painfully slow and plodding.
Sometimes resurrection can be scary and threatening
to that part of us that likes things as they are.
But God is at work right now making things new.
But God is turning idle tales into good news every day.

Turns out the women were right. They knew what they saw.
And their witness started a proclamation that
has been changing the world for 2000 years.
And you can trust this woman right now,
when she tells you, with absolute assurance,
that Christ is risen!