Our daughter was baptized when she was nearing 3 months old, and because we waited “so long” (according to my mother), we had to purchase a larger christening gown instead of using the tiny family gown that my mother made when I was born, and was also worn by both of my younger sisters at their baptism. For my mom, the dress we three sisters wore was an important memory of a milestone in each of our lives, but even more so, it served as a reminder of our union within the body of Christ through baptism, a community that has existed since the occasion of the baptism of Christ by John that we heard proclaimed in our Gospel reading today.
So from my earliest memories, God and by extension, the church was the center of our family story. We were there every time the doors opened and you cannot name one committee or guild position in the church that didn’t have at least one of our family members serving on it. You can even drive down to Redeemer in Sarasota and find the kneelers that my mother embroidered before we moved away when I was in the 3rd grade and she left her position as the church secretary. One of my favorite memories came a few years later when our church enlisted every available person to participate in a tableau depicting scenes from the stations of the cross for Palm Sunday, right on the front lawn of St. Peter’s in Fernandina Beach on the busiest street in town. We were frozen in position and couldn’t move, sneeze, or talk, and strangers walked by watching – and I was so very sure that I was playing a critical role in the telling of the story of Jesus that day. These memories serve as the foundation of my feeling of being called by God.
Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. Today we encounter a scene where Christ himself is being baptized by John – something that a young girl like me wondered about each and every time we heard this section of the text read in church. Why did Jesus need to be baptized? Why did God need to be baptized if Jesus was God? My young self didn’t have the courage to ask that question as a child, but my grown woman self most surely did. Today’s gospel syncs closely with our gospel reading from the third Sunday of Advent in that John is again reminding folks that he is not the Messiah and that the Messiah will baptize with the spirit. Jesus is baptized, but not for the same reasons that we are baptized – he is baptized as a symbol of the beginning of his public ministry. The words that close our gospel reading today are public words of affirmation of Jesus – who he is and what he was incarnate to do for the world.
When we think about our own baptisms, or those baptisms we have witnessed over the years, we find ourselves drawn back into the words spoken in the liturgy in which we recommit ourselves to our own baptismal covenant. We, like Jesus, also hear words of affirmation in our baptism. We are received into the household of God, and directed to confess our faith in Christ as we are marked as Christ’s own forever. We are changed as we are recognized as members of Christ’s body. This is more than just getting a little wet for Jesus on a particular day – this is a public affirmation of whose we are and that we are called into the world to share Christ’s love as we ourselves are reborn by the Holy Spirit.
But let’s be real – the Holy Spirit is not just a gentle nudge on our lives. The Holy Spirit takes us places that we might never imagine for ourselves. I spent 25 years as a teacher and school principal. I loved lay ministry and found my way into all kinds of roles within the church and in service in my community. After losing my mom to a brief but intense illness in 2012, I found myself being led by the Spirit in ways I could never have imagined. I began seeking new theological experiences, experimenting with a writing a blog on the weekly lectionary, and started feeling as if my career in education was no longer filling my bucket in the ways it had for all those many years. I was seeking….searching for the ways that God was calling me anew, and the voice of God took hold in ways I had not experienced before. I was unsettled. Unnerved. Unsure of things with which I had previously been quite sure. God was calling me into a new direction, and it was far from a gentle and soothing experience. Leaving behind my career to go through the discernment process which led me to seminary and the priesthood is not something I had ever imagined God would call me into, and I sometimes would find my sweet husband (who wasn’t experiencing a call of any sort), looking at me intently as if trying to figure out who I was after being with me for nearly a quarter of a century at that point. The path was not straight. The way was not clear. The journey was one of the hardest things I have done. And here I am – barely on the other side of my ordination, listening and praying for discernment in where God is calling me next.
I didn’t make my own decision about my baptism as an infant, and maybe that is true for you as well. But we each have the opportunity to make decisions today about how we might discern God is calling us into ministry in the church. It could be that we are meant to serve others through the activities of our upcoming day of service on MLK day. It might be that there is opportunity for you in a new lay ministry here at the Cathedral that is bubbling up inside, waiting for you to pray and discuss with a member of the clergy. It may be as simple as deciding to join the Good Book Club of the Episcopal Church as we read Paul’s letter to the Romans between now and Ash Wednesday to spend time with Scripture. Or perhaps you are still discerning a way to draw closer to God and share the love of Christ with someone.
I’m sure of this – God is calling each and every one of us into relationship and covenant. Stepping out in faith and living out our baptismal vows is what we are called to do, even when we are not sure exactly what that means today. I’ll leave you with one of my longtime favorite prayers from Thomas Merton, that may help you along the way:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
(Originally posted on the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas Blog March 16, 2018)
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”
When a parable appears in more than one gospel text, it can be intended as a significant and important message for the followers of Christ. Jesus used parables as teaching tools for his Jewish followers who were trying to understand a new and somewhat confusing way of understanding who Jesus was and what it would mean to be a follower and disciple of Christ. That we have these two parables recorded by the evangelists in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke helps to clarify the parable’s meaning as conveyed through their distinct styles. The evangelists in both gospels write to give authority to Jesus early in his ministry, after he spent time in the desert and gathered his earliest disciples. Christ’s divine authority would be necessary for the followers to understand as they joined in ministry with Jesus and by doing so, entered unfamiliar territory peppered with unfettered criticism and even looming danger.
Matthew’s version of this parable appears in the text immediately following the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus is teaching about the way of life necessary to be a follower of Christ. In that famous selection, the door is cracked and a peek at Jesus’s authority of God is visible with close study. The parable shapes a brief yet powerful image of God’s will for God’s people, embedding into that imagery the authoritative nature of God and therefore of Jesus Christ. And once you can know Christ, then you are compelled to follow Christ. This would have been an unveiling of a newer view of who Jesus was as holding the authority of God, and happened when he was still quite early in his ministry. That authority is strong like a rock, not a shifting or uneven or fleeting authority and it will be on that rock that the church itself will be built. And Jesus makes clear that hearing and following any other authority than that of Christ’s is foolish indeed.
Luke’s rendition of this parable is absent any indicator of who is wise and who is foolish, and adds to Matthew’s reference to building on rock by hearing and following Christ. This evangelist chooses to include the meaning of rock as the foundation for building one’s house, a concept that would have been foreign to those living in ancient Palestine where building any building on solid footing would have been a challenge. This is significant to note, because what Jesus was teaching was quite different than what these believers were accustomed to hearing, and imagery like this would have been more impactful to them then it might be to modern day home dwellers who understand that building a strong house on a strong foundation is a given. The Greek understanding of this usage of foundation is that it is something that is physically laid down. Luke’s addition of this description is helpful in understanding that there is a physical response to hearing Christ’s words and then acting upon them, and in doing so, making your faith stronger and shoring oneself up against the storms of a raging river that each of us is bound to encounter in our life’s journey.
“If I wanted to have a happy garden, I must ally myself with my soil; study and help it to the utmost, untiringly. Always, the soil must come first.”
– Marion Cran, If I Were Beginning Again
The wise words above from Marion Cran come out of years of tending her garden and the wisdom she gained and shared in her role as the first gardening radio broadcaster in Great Britain. Cran spent her life doing important work for the British government in the early 20th century, and it would not be a stretch to think that this quote from her love of gardening influenced her work beyond just biological soil. For us who read this parables, Cran’s quote is helpful to understand the fundamental teaching of these two parables. Allying oneself to the soil is another way to imagine hearing the teaching of Jesus Christ and then inhabiting that teaching ourselves, putting those teachings first and foremost in our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. It’s impossible to go wrong when we adhere to Christ’s teachings. No river or rains, no floods or winds, cannot be overcome by the power of Christ Jesus.
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.
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.
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.