A sermon for Easter 4
Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18
Its shepherd Sunday, so of course we read from John chapter 10, and the 23rd Psalm. To hear Jesus proclaim he is the good shepherd, to know that as we traverse the valley of death God’s rod and staff comforts us, well ~ it just makes us feel good. After weeks of hearing about the disciples’ doubt and fear, I’m kind if wondering how they are feeling. Except, ~ they aren’t here.
This morning we go back in time, before Golgotha, before Pilates headquarters, before Caiaphas before the garden, all the way back to Jesus’ encounter with the man blind from birth. When we last heard that story, it ended with Jesus telling the Pharisees: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (John 9:41 NRSV)
Only that’s not the end of the discussion. Jesus continues with this whole sheep thing, entering by the gate, the sheep know his voice, and this morning’s “I am the good shepherd.” All this is important, because what follows makes it very clear the Pharisees don’t hear Jesus the same way you and I hear Jesus. The Pharisees are far more likely to hear the echo of Ezekiel 34 in Jesus words. For your information this is a time when Ezekiel is depicting Israel’s Kings and ruling elite, political, religious and economic, as bad shepherds, using the sheep for their unjust gains. As expected the sheep, the people of Israel, have been subject to all sorts of hardships, foreign invasions, even exile and captivity. Ezekiel does not paint a pretty picture. (Petersen & Gavenat, 2010) In this context, I’d like us to explore the little-considered verse:
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also … (John 10:16 NRSV)
Commentators generally fall into two trains of thought about ‘other sheep.’ Some think Jesus is speaking about Gentiles, who are certainly other in a Jewish context. Some think Jesus is speaking about Jews who don’t yet believe, but will. A third group contend Jesus is taking a poke at the Pharisees, including amongst other sheep all those they exclude from Jewish community, like the man born blind. I rather think it’s all three, that Jesus shepherds any and all of God’s people, even those who don’t yet believe.
However, the word that caught my attention is ‘fold,’ so I looked it up. A sheep fold is an open-air walled off area, typically next to a house, where sheep were kept during the night. Then I got thinking about other such structures were God’s people would gather. The first that comes to mind is Jerusalem itself, which is a walled city. Any person, not expelled from the community, lepers for example, Jew or non-Jew could enter. The second is the outer courtyard of the Temple where any Jew could go. The last vision was the many mansions, many rooms in God’s house. (John 14:1ff NSRV) This journey from the outside in, gives us a picture of ever more exclusive entrance rights. Almost anybody can enter Jerusalem, any Jew can enter the Temple courtyard, any male of age can enter the Temple proper, only the priest can function around the altar, and only the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies, where the Ark, God’s presence on earth, resides. But then we get to God’s home and to our surprise discover a home of many homes, for all who believe Jesus and God abide in each other, and that through Jesus we abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in us. It’s surprisingly expansive inclusive image.
All this comes to bear in post-resurrection times, within the second half of the verse:
… and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:16 NRSV)
Two quick points: first Jesus will bring all God’s people into one flock, and he will be the one shepherd, second, it is Jesus’ voice they will hear and listen to. Its clear Jesus’ goal is for all humanity to live in divine harmony. That doesn’t mean there will not be differences. In fact I think Jesus and God celebrate our differences. However, those difference will no longer divide us, rather through them we will be present to God in some mystic harmonic shalom. It’s also clear that it is Jesus’ voice that draws all God’s people together, not our voice. This does not mean we are off the hook, no ~ scripture is clear, it is our calling to share our experience of the risen Christ. But that’s it. Ours is not to judge. Ours is not to exclude. This entire post-resurrection continues. (Lose, 2015)
God, through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, still journeys with us, through whatever valley we find ourselves in. At times, we will walk with another, through their valley. In that journey we may be called to point out an incongruity, to provide an inkling of an answer, to ask a question, but always with the knowledge that it is never our voice that leads them into the one fold, that voice always has been, and always will be ~ Jesus’.
Perhaps the biggest challenge we face, in our post-resurrection days, are those times we hear another pass judgement or exclude another, for any reason, from God’s eternal grace and love. It’s a risk to name that infraction, for they are in fact trying to be like God. It’s equally risky to reach out to the other, whose manner may well be offending, and walk with them through their shadowed valley.
My prayer for all of us comes from Mission St. Clare Morning Prayer which ends:
God be with you till we meet again
By his counsels guide, uphold you
with his sheep securely fold you …
God be with you till we meet again”
May it guide us through those who seek to divide us for their particular political, religious, social or economic gain. May it guide us keep us forever tuned to voice of The Shepherd.
Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.
Lose, D. (2015, 4 19). Easter 3 B: Resurrection Doubts. Retrieved from David Lose: http://www.davidlose.net
Petersen, D. L., & Gavenat, B. R. (2010). New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press.
A sermon for Easter 3
Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48
Today is the third Sunday of Easter, one of my favorite. I recount a bit of the Gospel story in every invitation to communion “… to encounter our risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.”
I always look forward to the Emmaus story. I guess I’ll have to wait ~ let’s see 2 more years. But, today’s Gospel reading is from Luke; and this is the Emmaus story; it’s just the part after Cleopas and his traveling buddy, with their hearts afire, get back to Jerusalem. It’s just after their initial shocking opening gambit to the disciples, that they have seen Jesus, and his self-revelation in the breaking of the bread.
You know what happens next, Jesus appears, offers them shalom or peace, and they react with fear and doubt. When we look at all the resurrection and appearance stories there are all kinds of witnesses, from Mary, and Mary, Salome, and Joanna, to Peter plus 1, and Cleopas plus 1, who all witness some sign of Jesus’ resurrection. They have two common elements, well okay three if you count Jesus; first there is doubt, and secondly there is fear. I asked last week, I still wonder why are the disciples are afraid?
Have you ever thought that maybe they should be? Maybe we should be? David Lose writes “If you don’t have serious doubts about the Easter story, you’re not paying attention.” (Lose, 2015) At the least you’ve got to ask “What does it mean to your world view, when the dead don’t stay dead?” Perhaps the most disturbing answer is, as Jacob Myers notes, is that “Jesus’ resurrection means that what he said was true. (Mayers, 2015) Love your neighbor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, all that stuff about how we treat each other, especially the people we don’t like or think are somehow inferior, or unrighteous, or unworthy, all that … Jesus actually means it! I know we participate a little. But Jesus’ resurrection isn’t about a little, his resurrection is about a complete change in how we live our lives. He bears the marks of crucifixion on his resurrected body. (Mayers, 2015) We bear the marks, or should, in how we live our lives, (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) every hour of every day.
We shout “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” and go about life, with a satisfied smile on our face. There is so much more to resurrection. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015)
Let’s stay just within this morning’s text. Jesus unexpectedly shows up, offers the disciples peace, or shalom. You’ve heard me expound on this before, and know shalom is so much more than peace, how it’s really much closer to the perfection of all human interconnections; actually all human and creation interconnections. They exchange a few words, and Jesus asks them for something to eat, and they give him a piece of fish. Many expound on this as a sign that Jesus is real, and not a ghost. However, the very next thing Jesus does is to open the disciples’ minds to understand the scriptures, about the depths of Moses and the Law, and the Prophets, revealing how repentance and forgiveness is to be proclaimed in his name, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. He then tells them, “You are witnesses of these things.” If Jesus were really worried about the disciples believing he was real, he would have made the observation that he ate the fish.
He doesn’t. So perhaps everything that follows his request for something to eat, reveals what Jesus is really hungry for. (Kubicek, 2015) Perhaps Jesus is really: hungry for change, hungry for freedom, shalom and justice for all people, not just some, not just the priest, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, or the Roman occupiers, but shalom for all.
C.B. Baker, in Becoming Messiah, builds the intriguing case that Jesus’ and John’s time with Essenes revealed just how corrupt Jewish life was and triggered an intense a compelling drive to change it all. (Baker) Step one in Jesus mission to change the world, is his ministry in Galilee and Jerusalem. Step two is the resurrection. Step three is the disciples bearing witness, ~ and our bearing witness. So these fifty days of Easter, is not some long grand celebration that Jesus lives, nope, it’s really the time in which the disciples come to grips with being witnesses. Today these fifty days are a time for us to do the same thing. And it begins with our confessing our tendency to reduce the Christian faith … to slogans, bumper stickers, four spiritual laws, forty days of purpose, or seven basic principles of this or that. (Kubicek, 2015) It begins with how we allow ourselves to be distracted with the easier matters of doctrine, and how we create crises around issues like sexuality. (Epperly, 2015) All of this which distracts us are so much easier than risking self for justice for all; which looks like fair wages, realistic immigration policy, really family friendly policy and law, a critical review of traffic tickets for profit schemes. All of that which distracts us is so much easier than demanding that lives matter, white lives, black lives, male lives, female lives, adult lives, child lives, Christian lives, Jewish lives, Muslim lives, Hindu live, Buddhist lives, all lives, all life, matters. All that distracts us is so much easier than risking our possessions for righteousness for all because everyone is a child of God. And all this raises questions:
- is shalom a greeting or a command?
- what are you hungry for?
- will you be satisfied with a piece of fish or will you be witnesses to the full glory of our Lord’s resurrection? (Kubicek, 2015)
I am glad there are fifty days, or how ever many days are left, of Easter. I am thankful, for the many – many unexpected witnesses to the resurrection. I sing praises for all the astonishing marks of resurrection. And whenever I see them, whenever I hear “Christ is risen!” my heart and soul echo in reply “Alleluia!” Amen ~ let’s make it so.
Baker, C. B. (n.d.). Becoming Messiah.
Epperly, B. (2015, 4 19). The Adventurous Lectionary. Retrieved from Pathos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly
Jacobson, R., Lewis, K., & Skinner, M. (2015, 4 19). Sermon Brain Wave. Retrieved from workingpreacher.org.
Kubicek, K. A. (2015, 4 19). Sermons that Work. Retrieved from The Episcopal Church.
Lose, D. (2015, 4 19). Easter 3 B: Resurrection Doubts. Retrieved from David Lose: http://www.davidlose.net
Mayers, J. (2015, 4 19). Commentary on Luke 24:36b-48. Retrieved from Working Preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/
A sermon for 2nd Sunday in Easter
Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31
It was a week ago that Mary went to the tomb, saw the open door, and runs to tell the disciples. Peter and one other run to the tomb, they both witness the head cloth and shroud. After they leave, Mary bravely enters the tomb, has a brief chat with two angelic figures, and speaks with Jesus. When she returns she tells the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” Later that evening, all except Thomas, are gathered in fear of the Jews …. Wait a minute, two disciples have seen the empty tomb. Mary has also seen and spoken with Jesus. Why are they afraid of anybody? With three witnesses to various signs of the resurrected Lord what is to fear? In spite of the witnesses it’s only after Jesus reveals the marks of his crucifixion that they recognize him. There is no doubt there is more here than the story’s presumptive title.
A week later, today, Jesus shows up again. This time Thomas is with the others; Jesus offers Thomas the same wounds he shared with the others earlier. Thomas’ response “My Lord and my God.” is the first time any one recognizes Jesus as God, which is significant in the overall Gospel tale, but more so in John’s telling. So, there is no doubt ~ this is the worst named story in all scripture. First of all, Thomas is only seeking the same experience his companions had. Secondly, the word ‘doubt’ never appears, what is translated ‘doubt’ is better translated ‘unbelieving.’ Again significant in John’s Gospel account because throughout the Gospel John connects belief with relationship. Thus what Thomas is really seeking is the same relationship with Jesus as his companions have. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015)
There is no doubt, we witness Thomas travel a different path in coming to belief; no doubt we witness Thomas travel a different path in coming to relationship with Jesus than his companions did. We do not know why he wasn’t present; though some speculate, the ever practical Thomas was out getting on with life. We also know the less traveled path Thomas took brings him to the same relationship with Jesus and therefore with God. It is not necessarily a lesser path. It is not necessarily a better path. It is just a different path, leading to relationship with Jesus and God. Which is, as the Gospel itself says, the purpose of the book:
… so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
There is no doubt there have long been different paths to belief in God, Jesus and the Spirit. In the Middle Ages Peter Abelard emerged as an influential Christian leader. He was and is known for his poetry, music, and philosophical prowess. He brought reason into matters of faith, essentially introducing theology as we know it today. (King, 2014) Somewhere along the line I learned Abelard sought understanding to believe.
However, his way is not universally accepted. Anselm of Canterbury is often quoted:
For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe this: unless I believe, I will not understand. (Anselm, n.d.)
I think the two argued “I understand to believe.” verses “I believe to understand.” I gather their arguments were something to behold, and not always conducted with respect for the other. But, there is no doubt both believed in God, Jesus and the Spirit.
A couple of decades and a few years ago I was instructed to select a spiritual director for my time in seminary. For a variety of reasons I selected Anwyn. The topic we discussed the most was obedience and love. My entering the ordination process was in obedience to the divine dictate: “Go get ordained.” No more, no less. I don’t recall Anwyn’s journey to Holy orders, except that love was the dominate word. Our conversation over three years, were always challenging, respectful, and caring. It took a long time, of mostly way in the back of my head thinking, to understand Anwyn’s journey was Anwyn’s journey, and my journey was my journey. They cannot be reconciled. In truth, they do not need to be reconciled, for what is true is her journey brought her to belief, and my journey, brought me to belief. Both journeys’ destination were abiding relationship with Jesus in God with a little nudging by the Spirit.
There is no doubt this gleaning that all paths lead to God, is scattered throughout scripture. Jonah’s prayer:
I called to the LORD out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. (Jonah 2:2 NRSV)
echoes Psalm 130, and 139
Where can I go from your spirit?
… where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. (Psalm 139:7-8 NRSV)
Clearly there is no place where God is not, even the remotest of places, like the belly of a fish, God is present, and where God is, relationship with God is available, and that is the divine desire. Paul says it so eloquently:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NRSV)
There is no doubt God is ever present, that one’s relationship with God can forever continue to grow in dimensions we cannot imagine. There is no doubt all words, prose, poetry or lyrics; that all music, that all images, that any expression of how we perceive the world around us can be a seeking for the presence of God, can be a reaching out to accept the divine relationship so freely offered to us. There is no doubt that whether it looks like or is expressed as understanding or it looks like or is expressed as belief the object of such desire is life in the presence of God. There is no doubt all roads so traveled lead to Jesus, the Son of God and life in God’s presence. There is no doubt your journey your life are blessed. Thus spake your Lord Jesus. Alleluia.
Anselm. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.brainyquote: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/anselmofca400869.html#wxLYlERMKwowXjeo.99
Jacobson, R., Lewis, K., & Skinner, M. (2015, 4 12). Sermon Brain Wave. Retrieved from workingpreacher.org.
King, P. (2014). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Peter Abelard. (P. King, Ed.) Stanford: The Metaphysics Research Lab.
A sermon for an Easter Vigil
Genesis 1:1-31, 2:1-4a [The Story of Creation], Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea], Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all], Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones], Zephaniah 3:1420 [The gathering of God’s people]
At The Eucharist: Romans 6:3-11, Psalm 114, Mark 16:18
Israel is dead. Defeated by Assyria in 724 Israel ceased to exist. A hundred and twenty years later, when Egypt is defeated by Babylon the scraps of Israel, throws her lot in with Babylon, and regains vassal life. A decade later Jehoiakim rebels; he is killed; over the next several years there is more fighting and in 597 about everyone in Israel is exiled to Babylon among them is Ezekiel.
Throughout all this mess and most of Israel’s exile Ezekiel’s prophecy rants judgment against Israel for: false prophets, idolatry, corrupt kings, and apostasy. He doesn’t leave other nations out, spewing prophecy for doom for grievous abominations. (Holman Bible Dictionary) Ezekiel’s message? Israel was destroyed because she was not capable of being God’s covenant people. (Petersen & Bevery, 2010)
But, woven throughout Ezekiel’s doom and gloom is a glimmer of hope a message of restoration.
I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; … so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)
Israel cannot hear it, cannot see, cannot imagine it because they believe they are dead, betray by leaders, and abandoned by God, they are forgotten; Israel is dead. They cannot hear God’s recent promise:
…you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God (Ezekiel 36:28)
If promises and rational argument won’t work, perhaps absurd, ridiculous images can reinvigorate Israel’s crippled imaginations, so that they may know the presence of God. (Petersen & Bevery, 2010)
So, God snatches Ezekiel away to a wide valley, the scene of a long ago lost battle, full of uncountable dry bones. The conversation moves from the question of if these bones can live, to the words, the knowledge, by which these bones can live, to the breathing of new life into freshly joined and enfleshed bones. The ‘breath’ is ‘ruach’ the breath, the spirt of God blown into apar of the adama giving life to adam, blown into the dust of the ground giving life to humanity. The woof and warp of the story reveals the knowledge to bring new life and the breath of life itself comes from God. Israel, does not have regenerative ability within herself; only God does. The knowledge and source of life, draws from Genesis, the beginning.
But tonight, with the still raw experience of Jesus’ death shaping our imaginations I’m wondering what beginning we, right here, right now envision. I have a suspicion, in a world of ‘I-whatever’ we read the creation narrative as being about the end product, us, so creation is all about us. I invite us to back up just a bit, to see the larger picture, to notice that we are created in the divine image as stewards of creation. We are, by divine intent, connected to all creation, not only in our making, but in our purpose. We are a part of a grand cosmic whole; something Israel forgot.
For Israel the grand cosmic whole was for sure what we call the Middle East perhaps a bit more expansive, capped with the vast night sky, full of uncountable stars, and mystery.
Today, our cosmic vision is vaster, (to my surprise in the dictionary). We know of our planet, our solar system, in our galaxy, in a galaxy cluster, part of a super cluster, thousands upon thousands of which rush through billowing clouds of dust, and immense un-seeable energy and mass; all this make up our universe, that just maybe part of unknowable numbers of universes. And all of this the known and unknown is all interconnected, ebbing and flowing in continuous cycles of creation, and destruction. It’s ever moving, ever shifting, but always, always connected; from the teeniest particle to the largest unknowable mass, it is all connected. It is all part of a single cosmic whole spoken/sung into being by God’s word of such love, become such energy, become such matter that we, humanity, bearers of the divine image, became ~ are.
The Valley of the Dry Bones, invites Israel back into their cosmic image of being in God’s presence, from which all of and all life is. The Valley of the Dry Bones, invites us back into our grand cosmic image. Some night, go deep into a farmer’s field to observe the stars.
Find NASA’s website and explore cosmic image after cosmic image, after cosmic image, and see what we are a part of, connected to.
Like Israel we forget our cosmic connections, or at least we reduce it to small images, we think we can control, or are comfortable with. We tend to see Easter as Jesus’ resurrection and through this miracle “my connection” to God’s presence. But Easter does so much more. Easter does reconnect me to myself, reconnects you to yourself, reconnects each us to each other, reconnects me to God, reconnects you to God, reconnects all of us, all of humanity to God. Easter reconnects all of us to each other, all of us to all that grand, beyond imagination, beyond cosmic being to the absurdity that a measure of God’s original love for us, revealed in the cosmic vastness is exceeded only by God’s death shattering resurrection of Jesus by which, and in which we are reconnected, by which and in which we are born anew.
This Easter you are invited to the valley of death, to the valley of dry bones; you are invited to the tomb the death place of all your hope and dreams; you are invited to be surprised by the endless connections of grand cosmic possibilities of new life.
Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.
Holman Bible Dictionary. (n.d.). WORD – QuickVerse .
Petersen, D., & Bevery, R. G. (2010). New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abbingdon Press.