John 1:43-51 (NRSV)
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Our daughter started getting serious about looking at colleges when she was a sophomore in high school. Since she really didn’t have a particular focus about what she was looking for in a school at that point in time, we visited a bunch of schools, trying to find the one that made her feel like she could see herself living there. I remember people give her lots of advice about which schools would be best, after they asked her that age-old question, “So, have you decided where you are going to college?” The most common category of advice she received was to be sure to choose a college that would help her in her chosen vocational career. Things like, “this is the best school for this degree,” and “choose this college because the alumni network will help you get a job after graduation.” Many people offered her that advice as critical and central to her decision-making process; asserting that her choice would forever mark her as being FROM that school. Their reasoning centered on how a particular place would make all the difference when she graduated and entered the world in her chosen field.
Being from a place like Nazareth didn’t exactly lend credibility to Jesus’ ministry; as he traveled, teaching and challenging the religious and social status quo. Today’s gospel reading speaks to this directly, as Nathanael asks Philip the question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael doesn’t know a thing in the world about Jesus and likely little or nothing about the folks in Nazareth either. Philip was likely a fisherman, since he lived in the fishing town of Bethsaida and was a friend of Andrew and Peter. So maybe Nathanael and Philip were fishing buddies. Those particular details don’t make it into this story….just the invitation by Philip to come and see Jesus. Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus comes with very little build up….he was found by Philip, who told him only one thing….“We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” And accepting that invitation from Philip put Nathanael face-to-face with Jesus.
This gospel is the only one of the four gospels where Nathanael is referred to as one of Jesus’ disciples. And it is in today’s reading that we see his transformation from unknowing doubter to follower of Jesus. Maybe you can relate. In our home, one of us is most decidedly a skeptic who needs lots of information and options before making decisions. Thank goodness for that, because the other one of us would otherwise tumble headlong into whatever exciting and shiny thing happened to grab her attention! But Nathanael goes along with Philip anyway, even though he didn’t seem to think much could come of the opportunity to meet this Jesus. And Jesus recognizes Nathanael’s character immediately. He sees Nathanael as someone without deceit –someone who innocently approached Jesus and who was NOT there to give Jesus a hard time. And Jesus says as much to Nathanael, and then tells him how he already knows him. It was all Nathanael needed to hear.
And just like that, Nathanael is transformed. Jesus reveals who he is to Nathanael in less time than it took us to brush our teeth this morning. Nathanael becomes the first of the disciples in the Gospel of John to REALLY KNOW who Jesus is. We know this because he immediately calls him Rabbi – a sign of respect for Jesus as a Jewish teacher. He then calls Jesus the Son of God and the King of Israel. He makes a distinction that heretofore has not been made, linking the humanity of Christ with the kingship of God. This link is the first move in this Gospel to connect Christ to the reign of God over all creation. Something good indeed was coming out of Nazareth for us all.
So why did Nathanael even ask if anything good can come out of places like Nazareth? Places where people have less power and influence? Places where people don’t look like you or talk like you or don’t live the way you do? Intellectually, we know those kinds of questions come from a place of insecurity and fear, rather than from the actual reality of the place or the people.
I have a clergy friend who continuously reminds his parishioners how the most beautiful and powerful things often come out of places of brokenness. So it was with Martin Luther King, Jr, the commemoration of whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow and who is a saint celebrated in the church on April 4th, the anniversary of his assassination. As he worked relentlessly for justice and equality for our African American sisters and brothers, it is not too hard of a stretch for us to imagine that he may have had times when he wondered what good could come out of such broken places. He recalls these feelings in the text known as his “vision in the kitchen,” from his book Stride Toward Freedom. He wrote:
“I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.
The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”
At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”
Good things come from all places because God created us and called us good. And who are we to ever disparage a place or people, or consider them as somehow inferior to us or anything less than good????? In the closing lines of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells Nathanael, “you will see greater things than these” and “you will see heaven opened and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” And Jesus is talking to us all with these words. The “you” that we hear in these verses is not the singular usage in Greek, but rather the plural. Think of it as “y’all will see greater things” and “y’all will see heaven opened and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” With a heart like Nathanael, innocent and willing to step headlong into something that makes no sense or is inconvenient to us or out of our comfort zone, we too will be a light to the world. Like Nathanael and like Martin Luther King, Jr, we too will hear God calling us to serve others and to live into our calling as created and saved and redeemed children of God.
What good can come from Nazareth, indeed. It is not our homes and countries of origin which define us. It is not our family heritage that gives us our worth. Even our vocations are not the way that we are known to Christ. Rather, it is how we are created and choose to live out our Christian calling and faith in the world. Tomorrow, over 90 of our parishioners are signed up to serve in our community. And I know the rest of you will be holding us and those we will be serving in prayer, either with us at our Morning Prayer worship at 8:30am in the chapel or wherever you are throughout the day. This is more than just a bunch of service opportunities – these needs and so many others exist in our community every single day. Dr. King had a vision of a Beloved Community, and the Episcopal Church is working hard to live into that vision. We at Chapel of the Cross have committed to putting our faith into action, to reaching out into the community; into places and with people who are depending on us to live into our calling as followers of Christ. Like Nathanael, we may not know what to expect. We may have some trepidation and even some fear of the unknown. But Christ assures us today that we will see great things, including the face of Christ in those we meet tomorrow and every other day in our daily life and work.
Good things come from God in creation, and we are called to work with Christ to redeem and restore creation. It all starts with the Philips of the world….who tell the Nathanaels of the world about Christ in the world. At our kitchen tables, and in our own times of doubt and wonderings, we too can pray to God for strength to do what God is calling us to do. And then Christ, the Rabbi, the Son of God and the King of Israel, shows us the one true way again and again. AMEN.
Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken. Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
The brain is one of the greatest parts of the created self. Its complex design, its capacity to take in information and attempt to make sense of it, and its role as the driver of our thoughts and actions are fascinating and mysterious. One of those very unique aspects of our brain function is our spatial awareness. Spatial awareness is the ability to make sense out of what we encounter. Our spatial awareness helps us connect data points as we create mental images and maps of the world around us. When it is functioning appropriately, we can find our way around town, pick the right entrance at the mall, and choose the most direct route to our destination. When something is off, or we are missing a significant data point, our spatial awareness can lead us in the wrong direction or down unsafe paths. And feeling lost is one of the worst feelings in the world.
This Sunday is the celebration of Christ the King. It is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the grand finale if you will, before we start the new liturgical year with Advent I next Sunday. A brilliant way to understand the authority and intent of the kingship of Christ is in the reading this week from Ezekiel, even though the incarnate Christ had not yet been revealed. Through the words of the prophet, God is revealed as the shepherd of God’s people. And we Christians know that the great shepherd of the flock is revealed to us in the life and ministry of Jesus. The prophet Ezekiel is living amongst the exiled Israelites, a people who have been rescued from slavery but have wandered and felt lost in the desert for what surely must have seemed like a lifetime. His prophecy is a message of hope to a lost people.
We may not physically live in a geographical desert today, but we are often a lost people ourselves. We rely on our spatial awareness to do something for us that the created self simply cannot do. Although we are created by God, we are lost without Jesus, who is both our great shepherd and our king. Jesus will search for us, rescue us from ourselves, and lead us to the kingdom when we cannot find our way. For it is in God’s kingdom that we are redeemed through the death and resurrection of Christ. When we are safely under the kingship of Christ, we sit at God’s right hand. And we never find ourselves lost again.
God created humanity and calls us through our baptism into covenant. It is within that covenantal context that we are “fed with justice” as Ezekiel says. This justice is like no human justice at all, but rather is a justice that forgives us our sins and reconciles us with God though we cannot ever deserve such gifts. And a reconciled people are then called to go out into the world and extend that justice to others through love. Today’s Gospel writer conveys what that is to look like, as we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. For we are all members of the body of Christ, found and claimed by Christ our King.
Here is a little glimpse into the history of St. Matthew, the saint whose feast we keep today. In the liturgical calendar, the Feast of St. Matthew is celebrated every September 21st, to honor St. Matthew and his dual roles as an Evangelist and an Apostle. The title of evangelist comes from his assumed authorship of the Gospel of Matthew, the first book in the New Testament, although scholars have cast significant doubt that he was the actual writer himself. He is also among the lists of apostles found in each one of the four books of the Gospel. The story we heard today about his calling by Jesus to be an apostle is a story that is mirrored in Luke and Mark, although he is only called by the name Matthew in today’s reading from the Gospel of the same name. His vocation was as a tax collector, one of those jobs that is certainly not popular today, but was seen as downright scandalous in the days of Roman occupation, particularly if the tax collector happened to be Jewish. It was a position that Jews viewed as disloyal at best, and significantly corrupt and immoral at its worst. So it might not be clear why we have a feast day to honor one of the most famous tax collectors and not-necessarily-authors-of-a-gospel of all time! Now, I have never been a tax collector…I wouldn’t know how to even begin doing the math necessary for a job like that. But I did spend the majority of my vocational career as a school principal. When I would answer the “what do you do for a living” question with “I’m a school principal,” it would inevitably prompt a story in return. That story might be a negative one, about their experience with their principal if they were a student who was often in trouble; or they might have shared an story full of emotions about their own child’s experience with a principal at their school. More often than not, the story was not about how much everyone loves school principals, especially if they have ever answered the phone and heard the principal’s voice on the other end of the call! While nowhere near the vilification of the role of a tax collector, and to be fair, most of my interactions with parents, children, and teachers were overwhelmingly loving and positive, I do have some sympathy for Matthew and his role in society. But this reading is not really about Matthew and what he says. In fact, you may have noticed that Matthew never even speaks at all in today’s pericope. He simply gets up, and follows Jesus when Jesus says the words, “Follow me.” And the sinners in this story….I wonder who the sinners really are? The Pharisees are sure they know….those tax collectors and other ruffians are sinners for sure. But Jesus’ message of mercy, and calling of those who are sinners, rather than those who are righteous, paint another picture entirely. It is said that Matthew followed Jesus, leaving behind his vocation as a tax collector but bringing with him a pen, bringing with him the very best of himself and turning his back on the parts that are not needed in a relationship with Christ. Each of us has gifts and talents that were instilled in us and that we have either nurtured ourselves or been led to explore and practice. Now, what can we do with those gifts to serve God in God’s kingdom? Rather than spending time looking around in judgment as the Pharisees did, we are called to follow Christ. There is no room for parsing out who we deem deserves to be called and who does not. There is no need for classifying others as outsider Christians, or looking toward some who are following Jesus with disdain as if they don’t deserve such to have such an honor. Instead, there is space at the dinner table with Jesus for each and every one of us. We only need to step out in faith as Matthew did and join in the feast. I leave you with the words from the Motto of The Daughters of the King, a religious order of women who devote themselves to prayer, service, and evangelism. In hearing it today, may it honor the life of St. Matthew and all of us who yearn to follow Jesus: For His Sake… I am but one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. What I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do. Lord, what will you have me do?
John 14:16 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
On the first day of school in kindergarten classes all around the country, teachers read the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. This picture book tells of a young raccoon who is apprehensive about leaving his mother for the first day of school. He would rather stay in the comfort of his mother’s presence forever. She kisses his hand and explains she will always be with him, and that kiss acts to remind the raccoon of the gift of his mother, helping him feel her presence even when he is physically away from her. This book is read by teachers to their students on the first day of school to help encourage and give them strength as they go out in the world to begin their formal learning journey.
The readings for Pentecost remind all Christians that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit with us forever. In the Gospel reading from John, the disciple named Philip tells Jesus that he wants to see the Father because he doesn’t fully grasp the divinity of Christ himself. Jesus goes on to explain that he will be leaving to be with the Father, and that God will provide an Advocate to be with us forever. Jesus reminds them to keep the commandments and do even greater works for the glorification of God and with the Holy Spirit abiding within them and therefore in us all.
What does it mean to have an advocate in the Holy Spirit? Another way to translate the word advocate is as a companion or helper, making the Holy Spirit an ever present guide in our lives. As followers of Christ, this means that we are not alone as we go about our daily lives. Philip didn’t really understand God when he asked Jesus to show him the Father, and the same is true for us today. How can we fully comprehend that which is divine when we are only humans? Although our revelation may be limited by our humanity, we can see the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. As we face the challenges that come our way, our faith in God can give us strength that can only be understood as divine, since we would never be able to overcome those challenges on our own. That evidence points to God’s promise to be with us as Jesus said to the disciples that day.
This text also speaks of the great works we will do, with Jesus using his own works as a model for us and as a way to show his divinity with God. Imagine if our own works showed our creaturely relationship with God as well! With the companionship and help from the indwelling Holy Spirit, our helping actions toward our neighbors, the poor, the marginalized, the neediest among us, will point directly to our God. The restoration of the Kingdom of God demands these works from us, and the Holy Spirit is in our midst to make it happen. We just have to seize the opportunity.
The words of the first verse of Hymn 516 in our Hymnal say it best:
Come down, O love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
May we know God’s presence in our lives as more than just a kiss on the hand, and may we call upon the Holy Spirit to work in us to serve God in the world. Kindle in us the fire of your love!
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Text of my sermon for Sunday, July 19th at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, McKinney TX
David and I just got back from a vacation. We spent a glorious week in the Santa Barbara, California area, where the high temperatures made it into the 70s….most days! We rented a quaint little apartment on the top floor of a home with majestic views of the Pacific Ocean from most of the windows and cool breezes with no need for air conditioning. We took naps, we walked on the beach, we went to bed early, and took a sunset sail from the harbor. We had the chance to visit an early Spanish mission, we attended a local church for a Sunday service and shopped the bounty of the farmer’s market. Mostly things we seem to only find the time to do when we are on vacation.
I have found that staying somewhere like this, as opposed to a typical hotel, you sometimes find gems that the owner has used to add personality or decoration to their place. This apartment had a few of these, including one quirky little framed picture on a table in the bedroom that had this saying:
“How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterwards.”
I looked at this little framed picture all week long. I felt like it was placed there just for me to see. You see…I’ve spent the last 25 years in hyperspeed mode as a wife and mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend and school principal…not always in the appropriate role order, either. I have raced from home to work to home to parenting responsibilities, then on to errands and appointments. Back home again for more work and household chores. On the lucky days and weekends, I had time to see friends, talk with family and check my never-emptying email inbox. Every spare second of time was spent planning and organizing for the next day…..and week……and month of more of the same. Sound familiar to anyone?
Today’s Gospel reading from Mark starts off with the apostles gathered around Jesus, sharing their stories. I picture this like a circle around the table, not unlike today’s board or team meetings, with each disciple taking turns sharing the successes and challenges, the victories and mockeries; all the while Jesus is listening intently and nodding his head in understanding and empathy. I love the next verse when Jesus said to them,
“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
What an incredible gift he gives the apostles with that invitation…or almost a direct request…..to stop all their work and just take it easy. The Gospel reading goes on to paint a picture of how difficult getting away was proving to be for them, with crowds surrounding them at every turn, just wanting to be near this Jesus who could and did heal and make whole so many people who just had to touch the “fringe of his cloak.” One of the stories of Jesus feeding the five thousand that is told in the Bible is not included in today’s lectionary, but is found right in the middle of the story. But even without that chaotic and miraculous event, you get the picture that stepping away was not an easy feat, and that is without the social media presence or 24 hour cable news cycle and 1000+ TV channels to broadcast and share their whereabouts. We don’t know for sure if they were able to rest at all, but the story goes on to tell of the healing and teaching that the people received at the hands of Jesus none the less.
When a new mom comes home from the hospital, she does so with a ton of “parting gifts” – usually provided by some genius marketing people who are ready to welcome the new parents right into this huge marketplace. There is usually some sample baby formula, wipes and diapers (all the really expensive kind) and tons of coupons for those and other baby essentials. The one item that I distinctly remember bringing home from the hospital with me was a big plastic cup with a straw and lid (those are a dime a dozen now, but almost 20 years ago that was kinda unique!). It had the name of the hospital on the side, along with some cute Beatrix Potter illustrations from the Tale of Peter Rabbit. It also had a phrase on the side that we always laughed about and read out loud in a snarky voice… “Mom – don’t forget to take care of yourself!” it said, and I drank water from that cup like it was my job!
So why did we make fun of that saying??? In today’s fast-paced and competitive world, it seems unnatural and almost counter-intuitive to stop and get off the treadmill of activity and schedules to rest. Maybe it’s because I have just spent a week doing just that. Maybe this subject hits close to home as I transition from “Important Working Person” to Seminary Student next month. But when I think about God’s call in our lives, I generally don’t consider the resting part much at all.
God calls each of us to go out and do Kingdom work; to be the hands and feet to show Christ in the world. To live and serve him, loving and taking care of each other, following his commandments, feeding the hungry, helping the poor forgiving each other and asking forgiveness from God for our own actions, and serving him in all the ways that each of us is called by God.
Jesus and his disciples gathered around to share their very busy Kingdom work at the start of Mark’s Gospel reading today. Although I firmly believe that Jesus knows the stories of our lives without a required “sit-down meeting,’ this simple act of reflection and accountability precedes the invitation to rest. Our time we set aside for prayer can include this too – this period of thinking back and naming the work that we have done to serve the Lord and thinking about how to do it better tomorrow or to name the plans we have for apostolic action today. Sadly, it may be a short exercise most days, but an important part of our relationship with God. Making that reflection period a regular part of our Christian life can only work to keep us focused on our part of the bargain. Jesus gives us all this grace and mercy for free, asking literally NOTHING of us in exchange for these gifts. It seems to me the very least we can offer to is to be intentional about taking baby steps or even leaps and bounds toward being the Christ like community that we claim to be right here on Sunday mornings.
The word “APOSTLE” is a Greek word with it’s root word meaning to send out. To help us with today’s understanding of this word APOSTLE, it is similar to the word ADVOCATE; to be the voice. These apostles were chosen to go out and teach people about Jesus. I can only imagine the challenges they faced. The radical love and forgiveness they were introducing in the name and person of Jesus were so completely foreign to those who heard and heard about him. Here were these simple folks who walked on foot or rode on glamorous donkeys, traveling around the countryside depending on the generosity and kindness of others, all the while sharing the mostly shocking Good News that we still are learning about and benefiting from some 2000+ years later. There was nothing easy about this daily life. They sat down with Jesus that day, to share their successes and challenges with him, seeking affirmation and counsel from him on the status of their work. I’m sure there were some successful moments to talk about, as well as the more likely roadblocks and frustrations they must have been experiencing.
God doesn’t call us to the Christian way of living in an attempt to make our daily lives easier. Doing his work in a world of heavy competition (keeping up with the neighbors, having the smartest kid in the school, or the best athlete, the most material stuff/possessions or just plain winning the competition by being the busiest of all the people we know) – these all make loving others, forgiving each other and sharing the good news ourselves all the more challenging. In a world where there are sides to every argument and a need to make ourselves seem right which means others must be wrong when they disagree, deeply loving each other seems somewhat out of place.
But that is exactly what we are called to be and do. We can’t just claim Jesus here on Sundays in church , and then be okay with doing anything less than loving our neighbors – even when they are different than us in their politics, religion or lifestyle. And we have do that by bumping up against the status quo and societal onslaught that is so very contrary to God’s love. Tough work when you really stop and think about it. But with our shepherd Jesus, we can and must remain faithful to our very own apostolic action; our call to ministry, whatever that may be for each and every one of us.
And rest…we must also rest. We have to carve out the time it takes to get back to our center. We have to renew our minds, our bodies and our faith so that when our rest is done, we pick right back up where we left off, being the hands and feet of God in his Kingdom. But before we rest, we must do some heavy lifting as Christians, and follow the direction Deacon Betty will be giving us soon as we leave the church service today to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” When we, ourselves, give our responses saying, “Thanks be to God,” may we take that to heart and seek out opportunities to be intentional with how we are spending our time in work and at rest. The Kingdom of God is counting on each and every one of us.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
I don’t like surprises very much – that probably speaks to my deep desire to control my environment and have things make sense as they happen. But there isn’t a whole lot about the Easter story that makes sense from the human perspective.
Jesus was killed. Murdered. Innocent of any crime and yet still sentenced to a very cruel and violent death. By us. Because you know you would have demanded his death right along with the crowd that day; I know I would have been swept up in the moment and in the energy of the masses and would have joined in the shouting of condemnation. I also would have regretted it once the dust settled and darkness covered the land. If I was a close follower of Jesus, then I may have gone and sat at the tomb to mourn as well and would have stood in disbelief to find Jesus gone on Sunday morning, my mouth standing open in that awkward, non-understanding way that I stand when I am utterly perplexed. I would have been a complete mess of emotions from Friday through Sunday and most likely even beyond into Monday.
I have the benefit of thousands of years of Easters. Being raised in faith, Easter has always been a big deal in our family – not the spiral ham and chocolate bunny big deal, but the glorious resurrection of our Lord big deal. Although I wasn’t in the crowd to yell, “Crucify Hiim!!!!” that fateful day and then mourn my mistakes and his death, the emotions I experience from the end of Maundy Thursday to the beauty and splendor of the Halleluiahs on Easter Day are just as varied. Friday feels dark and hopeless; Sunday feels like a fresh start and completely full of joy and wonder at the miracle.
Mary, Peter, the other disciple, Mary Magdelene – all experienced first hand the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. But sometimes – and most certainly THIS time – the news seems just TOO good. How can this be? Where does the body of their Jesus go? How can he appear to Mary and she doesn’t even recognize him until he calls her name? Our human brain just can’t comprehend the incomprehensible without time and thinking it through – but this is really good news and we want to believe it, right?
Today is that day. Today we choose to be Resurrection People – covered in grace and mercy for no other reason than unrelenting love. God’s love. I don’t believe that God condemns people to death – not my God. That means that Jesus died because God knew we would do that to him. And he loves us enough to do something beyond amazing – Jesus was raised from the dead to prove that the good news is really an understatement – it is Super, Awesome, Fantastic, Unbelievable News!!!! Jesus Christ is Risen Today – Halleluiah! This is more than we could have every dreamed, so let’s keep our faith focused, our practices loyal, our conversations filled with love and our words and our works spent on furthering God’s kingdom. It’s the least we can do when in the face of this REALLY Good News!
We are Resurrection People!
Risen Lord, be known to us as we work, watch, pray and love. We believe that you were risen from the dead to save us from ourselves. We give you thanks for the gift of life and the end of death. We worship you and we adore you. AMEN.
One of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray Jesus to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,
`I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This fellow said, `I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'” The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you,
From now on you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of Power
and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?”
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.
When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, `I am God’s Son.'” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!
Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, `After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, `He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
I love to cheer people on – at sporting events, spelling bees, first steps, acceptance letters, job promotions, reading skills, musical performances – you name it. Although I was never an actual cheerleader, I was cheering right along in high school without the cute outfits but with my own color coordinated set of pom poms. Waving my arms, clapping my hands and yelling words of encouragement help make me feel like I am influencing the outcome and part of the action – whether it makes any difference at all is mostly irrelevant to me! I get energized from the experience of cheering and gain a sense of belonging that would be impossible for me otherwise.
Today is Palm Sunday in the liturgical life of the church. On this day, Jesus went into Jerusalem on a donkey, the beginning of the last week of his life on earth. The crowds gathered, having heard about this Messiah for the past few years as he traveled around teaching and basically changing the way that people understood their relationship with God and one another. He was a lightning rod for sure, and you can believe that when word got out that he was headed right into town, people wanted to see for themselves. Some probably jeered at him as he passed right by them, but Mark’s Gospel quotes the cheering crowd as saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
But like any good spectators, they changed their words of praise and encouragement quickly as the crowd made a dramatic shift when Pilate gives the people of Jerusalem the chance to choose whom to release. Gone are the “blessed” shouts, replaced with the “crucify him” screams in unity. This happens most obviously to us today as we see the stars that we ourselves have placed on pedestals fall from grace in their acts of humanity. We quickly shift from chatting about their accolades to wanting to punish them for the very things that our friends, neighbors and even ourselves (GASP!!!) do every single day.
Here’s the thing though – Jesus didn’t commit a sin that changed the crowd’s minds about him. He didn’t do anything wrong, but rather did everything right. And doing the right thing can get you in some big trouble when those around are hellbent on the wrong thing, or just threatened by the presence of light illuminating their weaknesses and casting doubts on the ways that we have always acted and believed. Standing alone in his beliefs that were planted in the foundation of love rather than rules left Jesus on the roller coaster of our reactions from waving our palms to persecuting him for, well, nothing really.
My favorite definition of leadership is doing the right thing when no one is looking. But that is much easier than always doing the right thing no matter who is actually present. Jesus always did that and look what that got him, leaving the rest of us sinful creatures to fear the judgment of our peers, to worry about what others think of us, to want to be part of the crowd rather than standing alone in our beliefs. But being a Christian in the world means that we are called to do exactly that – stand out in love, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance. We are not to allow the “crowd mentality” to push us away from our core beliefs. Jesus didn’t die to make it easier for us to live – he died to give us eternal life. So in our earthly life, we are called to transform the world, which will sometimes have folks cheering us on and most definitely will lead to some jeers and alone feelings as we jump off the bandwagon when we know we should. Our faith doesn’t guarantee us an easy life or clear the path of all misery, but rather gives us the strength and courage to do our Kingdom work. Palms or persecution will both be in our lives as well, but God has provided us the purpose and the path.
Lord, you sent Jesus to save us and we can’t begin to thank you for this gift of mercy. We will not every deserve it, but we want to serve you in faith and love. Be present in our trials and celebrations as we love and serve you, even when the world around us influences us away from you. We claim your Son Jesus, and we commit to bringing others to Christ in all we do. AMEN.
Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, `Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, `I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, `Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, `One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
When I was growing up in Fernandina Beach, FL, there was a guy who would park his small, red pick up truck on Centre Street in the historic downtown 8 block section of shops and restaurants. In my memory, he came every Friday morning in the summers, as I worked at Palmetto, LTD, a small clothing shop two blocks from the docks. He parked right outside the shop sometimes, and had a megaphone as his communication tool. He screamed out shouts of hellfire and damnation as he stood alone with empty parking spaces all around him and tourists crossing the street to avoid any confrontation. We usually kept the front door to the shop open to attract more business, but we closed it when he was close by to block out the screaming and wait for him to leave.
This was my early definition of “evangelism” and I was not interested. I also didn’t see anybody hearing that and thinking to themselves, “Hey, that guy makes a ton of sense and I want that life for myself too!” Hearing someone yelling out the consequences of our choices is never going to fall into the best practices for changing our beliefs. We have to change the way we view the concept of evangelism.
An unnamed woman who met a stranger became one of the most famous evangelists in the Gospels. She didn’t know Jesus when they met at the well, but he surely knew her, just as he knows each and every one of us. Knowing or believing in him isn’t a prerequisite to being known by God, and this story highlights that this woman certainly wasn’t full of virtues and family values. In the Christian tradition, we know many stories of Jesus’ love, forgiveness, healing and grace, but this woman knows none of this. Yet she goes back to her community and spreads her story of meeting Jesus so very well, striking just the right chord with those who heard of it, that they became believers who welcomed Jesus to their community. And it all started with a chance meeting at an unremarkable place, with no planned intentions or prior understanding and in the midst of a load of what we would call promiscuous behaviors.
So how does this connect to my life? I have always tried to live a life of good works and try always to be my authentic self, but I also rush through my life at a breakneck speed, working to get my to-do list accomplished and fulfill my many roles of wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend and principal. I know I miss out on opportunities to just tell my story of my encounters with Christ. I always find the time to tell funny stories, share my struggles with a colleague, hear the latest news from those I know, and even to exchange some tidbits of gossip. But I don’t always make the time to share the Good News of Christ in the world. Maybe I don’t know how? Maybe (and more likely), I don’t share my relationship with Christ with others because it makes me uncomfortable. And I’m not going to be lumped in with that yelling dude from my childhood for sure, so I don’t seize the opportunities when they are right in front of me.
But if not me, and if not you, then who are we trusting to share God’s love? Are we leaving it to the street corner screamers? The televangelists preaching prosperity? The door to door kids giving out literature? Those ways don’t work to turn people to Christ – if they did, more people would be doing it. Instead, we need to walk in our faith in all of our relationships, sharing our faith through our actions of love and support, our words of encouragement rather than hurtfulness, letting our deep love of God show in all we do. And tell our stories when we can. If a harlot who has a casual meeting at a well can be an evangelist, then we certainly stand a chance when we TAKE the chance to change the world and bring folks to Christ.
Gracious Father, thank you for continuing to give us the gift of your love and forgiveness. Equip us with the words and actions to be tellers of your truth in all we do and say. Continue to lead us to share our love for you and to bring us closer to Christ. You know our strengths and our challenges and still love us and count on us to do your kingdom work. With your support we can do more to spread the Good News! In your name we pray. AMEN.
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
When tucking young children into bed, they may share many ways to stall having to go to sleep. They need a drink of water, another hug, one more book read or another stuffed animal tucked under the covers. But many kids are also afraid of the dark. When when they grow up, the fear usually abates. But night and darkness still have a sense of mystery as compared to a day of sunshine and blue skies where you can see every detail all around you.
It’s no coincidence that Nicodemus seeks Jesus out at night, is my guess. The symbolism of a nighttime inquiry of Jesus from a religious leader adds to the drama and alludes to the darkness that comes before the enlightenment of learning and new knowledge. I picture Nicodemus stealthily moving in the cover of night to find Jesus to get first hand clarification on the new teachings that are spreading around the area. Questioning the religious leadership was not a common or allowable circumstance. But Nicodemus must have had a thousand questions about the gospel of love and acceptance being taught by Jesus, throwing all the rules the Jewish people held as sacred, right out on their ear. And the fear of the unknown must have been overwhelming as Nicodemus worked to get a better understanding of how his life as a Pharisee would be changing. What a brave move to confront his fears and seek deeper understanding of Jesus!
Jesus’ words in this week’s Gospel reading from John are some of the most famous words of the Christian faith shared throughout the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” I remember seeing a colorfully wigged man at nationally televised NFL games with a big poster with John 3:16 painted boldly on it (some pretty persistent evangelism if you ask me!) and we used to hear the verse every Sunday at church from the Priest just before the passing of the Peace. It is one of the greatest summaries of our faith. Through love, we are promised eternal life; our earthly lives are not all there is to our existence. Another mystery really, as our human brains can’t even understand what that really means for us.
But as we read the Word, spend time in prayer and listening to God and do his Kingdom work with love in our daily lives, the darkness of our limited imagination begins to be illuminated with the wisdom that comes from a deeper relationship with Christ. Nicodemus knew how to be religious leader before Jesus came along and cast doubts on his way of living. He was brave and went looking for answers. He heard radical things that most likely felt contradictory to what he might have always believed. This reading doesn’t share what Nicodemus did with this new-found knowledge and command for living; but we Christians have access to Jesus’ teaching. We have to keep learning about and practicing our faith to stay out of darkness. Do not be afraid of stepping out in faith; be more afraid of what will happen if you don’t.
God of light, push away our darkness and our fear and show us the way to live faithfully in your love. Teach us your ways and help us walk with you every day in the light of your gifts of grace and mercy. We are not worthy but gratefully accept the gift of eternal life and perfect healing in you, O Great Redeemer! AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Sometimes (or maybe all the time and I’m too thick-headed to see it clearly), all the readings in the lectionary line up and a Big Picture Idea jumps off the page and sparks an idea. This week is that time for me. Here is a link to all the readings if you want more than just today’s Gospel reading. For me, the message I hear loud and clear is to “Be Brave.”
All of this week’s readings are full of do’s and don’t’s; there are some that are suggestions and some that seem pretty black and white no-no’s. And I think most “come to church every week Christians” really feel comfortable in the rules that are spelled out. Especially the YOU SHALL NOT ones – man do we love to hang our hats and identities on those! This claim of Christianity often struggles to stretch beyond the rules and leaves us incomplete in our attempts to follow Christ.
I have a friend who teaches Kindergarten. He is a compassionate and committee educator and the students who are lucky enough to be in his class every year learn lessons far beyond the required curriculum and state standards. He is innovative and diligent in creating a classroom environment where all students are compelled to excellence. I refer many educators to his blog because he discusses issues in ways that help all educators reflect on their practice. But my very favorite topic that is a thread throughout all of his written discussions, his professional development presentations with other educators and especially, with his students, is his one and only classroom rule: Be Brave.
Now, you might think that schools should always spell out to students the exact expectations for their behavior, much like the rules from Leviticus do (in extensive and figurative language, of course!), but imagine instead that all of those rules fall under that very broad umbrella of being brave. Jesus makes some pretty radical statements in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew about how we are expected to treat the people who are the hardest to love – those who wrong us, cheat us, lie to us, repel us and challenge us. They were even more radical back in Jesus’ day, as the cultural rules and governmental laws actually forbid the very things that Jesus calls us to do. To follow his example and heed his command to love one another is really quite brave. Courage is an under-appreciated quality to have when we make the commitment to follow Christ. I still think some rules are important (speed limits, as an example), but the reason we need them spelled out for us by God and our government is because when we rely on ourselves to keep us in check, we just fail and fall short of loving one another.
Loving one another is not a feeling. It is steeped in action. Love as a feeling is fleeting and shallow; love as action is life changing and living out the call to bring Christ to the world. It takes courage and bravery because it is not easy to do! When my teenager says those things that she does that cut me to the core, when a parent at school yells at me for a problem completely outside my control, when my husband lets me down, when a hurting person lashes out in anger – responding with love is not my first and most primal response. And I’m not very good at the loving response that Jesus calls us to have. My other cheek is in self-preservation mode! But when we respond back in anger or selfishness or withdraw our outreach and offer judgement instead of love, then we aren’t being very brave!
To quote Chris Rosati, a victim of ALS profiled on the show CBS Sunday Morning, “If I have enough time, I’ll change the world,” it is our jobs as followers of Christ to love with reckless abandon and be very, very brave. Brave enough to strive to be perfect. Because any less than that implies that our love won’t be shared with everyone. Changing the world is exactly what this radical love will do. Now go out and BE BRAVE!
Lord of love, your reconciled us to you with the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ. We don’t deserve the grace and mercy you give us every day and we long to be perfect in our love for you and for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Help us to be brave and courageous in our love for your people. We can do all things through you. AMEN.