Asking, Answering, Believing

A sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Easter; Acts 5:27-32, Psalm 150, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31

Terry is a friend of mine from my home parish. We share 3 things in common: Holy Trinity at one time we were both in the computer business, and a love of good jokes. I’m lucky in this respect, he is the source of all kinds of great jokes and stories. Thursday he shared this:

 No English dictionary has been able to adequately explain the difference between these two words – “Complete” or “Finished”. In a recent linguistic competition held in London and attended by, supposedly, the best in the world, Samdar Balgobin, a Guyanese man, was the clear winner with a standing ovation which lasted over 5 minutes.

The final question was: ‘How do you explain the difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED in a way that is easy to understand? Some people say there is no difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED.’ Here is his astute answer:

“When you marry the right woman, you are COMPLETE. When you marry the wrong woman, you are FINISHED. And when the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are COMPLETELY FINISHED!”

It is amazing the truth we can learn when we ask the right question.

We all know the story of Thomas. We all know the story was wrongly named “Doubting Thomas” centuries ago. No matter what we just heard the word ‘doubt’ is now where in the passage (O’Day). The trouble is we get all caught up in Thomas’ reaction to the disciples telling him “Jesus is risen.” But think back to last week; the women come racing back from Jesus’ tomb and share their story, including that Jesus is risen. What is the disciples’ reaction?

But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:11).

This verse is from Luke’s Gospel story, the equivalent verse in John Gospel story is unless I see … I will not believe (John 20:25). Thomas not believing the disciples’ story is just like the disciples not believing Mary’s story (O’Day).

To be honest, I simply wasn’t drawn to parsing the subtleties of all this again. I had decided to explore the glory of Psalm 150, the closing psalm of the Book of Psalms. the Psalm cajoles us

  • to praise God
  • where to praise God
  • why to praise God and
  • how to praise God, which is with everything we have, instruments, dance, and voice, literally breath, which is a sort of returning to God, the gift of life given to us as God breathed the breath of life into us (deClaissé-Walford) (Genesis 2:7).

My divine Muse had another idea.

On the road, between two events, and I have no idea which ones, or when, it occurred to me, I realized Thomas is just asking a question. It’s a hard question, and it is a risky question. Just as the disciples rebuffed Mary and her companions for a stance the disciples did not hold, the disciples may well have rebuffed Thomas for not accepting a stance they did hold. What matters is I was drawn back to John’s Gospel and Thomas.

So, I went digging. From the Greek – English New Testament Interlinear we hear Jesus say, “not do be unbelieving but believing.” The authors clean it up a bit: “Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (Olive Tree). Another resource for this kind of digging around is Young’s Literal Translation; which reads: “and become not unbelieving, but believing.” And that is the end of my search, the beginning of learning (Young).

I was troubled by the dichotomy, the stark choice between “be unbelieving”, and “be believing.” The key is ‘become’ which indicates there is movement from one position to another, thus, there is a gleaning; a choice to be made. The important thing in Thomas’ response to the disciples’ proclamation about seeing Jesus is not the parameters, fingers, hands, and wounds, etc., but the underlying question about Jesus and resurrection, and his desire to discover the answer, to discover the truth. While it is unusual to ask a question of one person or group and get an answer from another, sometime later, with no discernable connection between the two, it does happen. Thomas asks the disciples and Jesus answers. No matter how strange the path between question and answer, the glory in the story is Thomas’ confession “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). It is every bit as powerful as

  • Nathanael’s “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49),
  • or Peter’s “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:69),
  • or Martha’s “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (John 11:27).

The last verse of this chapter is:

But these (signs) are written 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. (John 20:31).

Here we find the purpose for asking questions and responding to questions. We should dare to ask questions so we may become believing and have life in Jesus. We should dare to answer questions so that another may become believing and have life in Jesus. I am beginning to see that in both the asking, and the answering we should take a queue from Psalm 150; we should both ask and answer with everything we have, instruments, dance, and breath, so that all may know the breath of renewed life in Jesus; know shalom, wholeness in the presence of God.

In our asking and in our answering, we are never finished, certainly, we are never completely finished. Nor are we ever complete, yes, we have begun to become believing and begun to have life in Jesus’ name. Still, the world we live in is dynamic, ever-changing, therefore our believing is always facing new things, and so we face new opportune times to become unbelieving and struggle with lesser life or continue to become, to grow in our believing, living an ever-evolving life in Jesus.

So      me                        Alleluia Christ is risen

congregation        The Lord is risen indeed Alleluia!

May your becoming believing bring you to be a blessing to all (Genesis 12:2-3) (Thompson).


References

Crouch, Frank L. “Commentary on John 20:19-31.” 28 4 2019. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy. Commentary on Psalm 150. 28 4 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 4 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 20:19-31. 28 4 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters>.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Linger A Little. 28 4 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

—. Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Thompson, Barkley. “To be a blessing.” 17 3 2019. God in the Midst of the City. <https://rectorspage.wordpress.com/2019/03/17/to-be-a-blessing/&gt;.

Woods, Joshua. “Among His Disciples, Easter 2.” 28 4 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon>.

Young, Robert. Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible. 1892: Public Domain, n.d.

 

 

 

Kintsugi Lives

A sermon for Good Friday; Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9, John 18:1-19:42

My first thoughts for today’s reflections on John’s account of Jesus’ Passion was to build on Mel Gibson’s, The Passion of the Christ. I have done so in the past; however, I have so carefully put those notes away, I can’t find where in 15 years of folders those notes are. What’s a preacher to do? Listen, be still and know that God is God and provides.

The first thing that was given to me was reading about Makato putting a 400-year-old Kintsugi bowl in David’s hands. As old as it is, its most special feature is that somewhere along the way the bowl was broken into shards and glued back together using an ancient technique involving gold dust and lacquer. The golden veins add mystic beauty so that the bowl exceeds its original grandeur. The golden veins add a depth of dimension; ~ you intuit the bowls original form and life; ~ you sense the rupture that shattered its life and form; ~ you are drawn to how it is so beautifully healed, brought to a wholeness that exceeds its original beauty and life (Brooks).

It wasn’t much longer when I read a commentary by Whitney Rice which presented a vision I’ve never explored before. She notes that in the Passion story we see both the desire to follow Jesus, and the fear that leads followers to deny Jesus (Rice). My character set is different, but the revelation is hers.

Let’s begin with Peter. We are familiar with his denial of Jesus. We all have heard, and I have preached, to explore our inner selves in search of our ways that lead us to similar denials. However, we should not overlook Peter’s commitment. Earlier he says

Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you (John 13:37).

Peter’s pledge varies in intensity in each Gospel account, but we should not discount his sincerity, he means it. Rice ponders if Peter is trying to stand out in the crowd. It is possible, even probable, Peter is known for making impetuous statements, not carefully thought out, in which he stands out in the crowd. In the garden, Peter’s sincerity is evident, when the police and soldier approach he draws his sword and attacks one of the servants, or the high priest’s the servant gets in his way (John 18:10). Either way, Peter’s action is a sign of his commitment, Romans are not known for their patience with armed insurrection. It is the slave’s presence at this event that leads to Peter’s third denial (John 18:23). There is no question Peter is a mixture of commitment and denial. He relationship with Jesus is complex. Peter proclaims Jesus to be the Holy One of God (John 6:69), he swears he will give his life for Jesus’ life, and he means it. That is the completeness of Peter’s life. But as we know, in the courtyard of the High Priest Peter denies Jesus 3 times. The wholeness of his life lies in broken shards on the courtyard paving-stones.

The other examples of complex relationships with Jesus are Joseph of Arrhythmia and Nicodemus. Both men are powerful, members of the Sanhedrin, Israel’s religious and political ruling body. Once, Nicodemus takes a stand for Jesus in a debate saying,

Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it? (John 7:51).

Joseph is courageous in approaching Pilate to get Jesus body for burial. In doing so he reveals his allegiance to this innocent troublesome rabbi. In these ways, both men show their commitment to Jesus. However, neither man speaks in Jesus defense or makes an effort to constrain the abuse of political and religious power by the High Priest or the Sanhedrin. Like Peter, both are committed to Jesus; and both deny Jesus. Their thundering silence breaks the wholeness of their lives, the shards lay scattered across the Temple grounds.

The golden dust of the Spirit inspires Joseph and Nicodemus to risk asking Pilate for Jesus’ body so he can be buried properly. Unknowingly they set the Easter stage by laying his body in the tomb. The golden dust of the Spirit inspires Peter, a story to be revealed in the weeks to come. Just as gold dust and lacquer restore the whole of a broken bowl into glory beyond its original form, so gold and lacquer, of the Spirit restore the broken lives of Peter, Nicodemus, and Joseph into glory beyond their original forms.

Typically, on Good Friday I am encouraging myself and you to take an honest look at our lives and acknowledge at least one way we have denied Jesus. The story of Kintsugi bowls and Rice’s observation of the complex commitment and denials of Jesus in the lives of his followers weave a complex artistry that takes some lengthy pondering (Brooks). In time, and in varying ways, how our lives are similar to Kintsugi bowls will be revealed. And yes, this is an Easterish gleaning. However, it is also a Lenten, a Good Friday reminder, to commit the time to seek the Kintsugi in everyone one we meet. We are all broken, that is easy to see. It is a failure to be like Jesus not to seek the divine gold-dust and lacquer that remakes all of God’s people, more glorious than either we or they can perceive.

It is Good Friday. The shards of your lives lay scattered across the sands of times. The darkness hovers, it is an opportune time. Can you, will you, believe in healing Spirit’s gold dust and lacquer? Will you trust the potter’s hands of the healing Spirit in the remaking of Kintsugi lives? Yours? And others?


References

Biasdell, Machrina. What’s the Question?, Epiphany 4 (B). 28 1 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Brooks, David. Longing for an Internet Cleanse. 27 3 2019. <nytimes.com/2019/03/28/opinion/internet-cleanse.html>.

Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher Betweenness.” 23 4 2017. Working Preacher.

Rice, Whitney. “The Rock and the Handmaiden, Good Friday.” 19 4 2019. Sermons that Work.

Trozzo, Lindsey. Commentary on John 18:1-19:42. 19 4/ 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

Brooding Hen – Spirit

A Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent; Genesis 15:1-12,17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35

 When preparing for Ash Wednesday, I had the idea that this Lent I’d preach Jesus’ journey. Last week, the story of Jesus’ temptation, following his baptism, was a great starting place. That was chapter 4, today we are in chapter 13, between then and now Jesus has meet rejection at home, called Peter & disciples, had multiple conflicts with Jewish authorities, preached on the plain, healed the sick, taught in parables, done many works of power like miracles and exorcisms, and told his disciples what’s to come. If where we are measuring progress by the verses, we are almost half way there. But there is more to this journey than the distance traveled, or verses pondered.

This morning the journey continues as we hear the story of some Pharisees warning Jesus that Herod, the Roman ruler of Palestine, is out to get him. It’s not a surprise Herod is worried about Jesus. Mary’s Magnificat sets up a conflict,

51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;

            (that will get a king’s attention)

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

            (this too will get a king’s attention)

54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy (Luke 1:51-54).

Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth, adds to it;

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-19, 21b).

It provokes a near riot, (Lewis; Culpepper) which generally gets the Romans’ attention. They don’t like disturbances; not so much because they want peace, but because they want control. We know Jesus has rebuffed the Pharisees. Luke characterizes them as those who use God’s commandments for their own interest (Culpepper). Remember the wilderness temptations include using power for self-interest. So, it is a bit of a surprise to hear them warn Jesus. Now it could be, that some Pharisees respect Jesus, even though they are not quite sure of his teaching. It might be that the Pharisees mean well, but simply don’t understand Jesus’ ministry; which is not a surprise his disciples don’t (Harrelson). It could also be they are just trying to get him out of their way, they want to scare him into stopping his preaching, and works of power (Hoezee).

More important is Jesus’ response

Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ (Luke 13:32-33).

A couple of points. Calling Herod a fox, who are considered cunning, shrewd, and often treacherous and deceitful, destructive and a threat, lets us know Jesus already knows all about Herod; he is under no illusion, he knows the journey to Jerusalem is dangerous (Keener and Walton). His saying it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem reveals that Jesus knows he is walking to his death. Jesus recommits to his work casting out demons and performing cures, which evokes his sending his disciples out

  • to feed the hungry,
  • give drink to the thirsty,
  • welcome the stranger,
  • clothe the naked,
  • visit those in prison,
  • comfort the sick (Matt 25:33) and
  • shelter the homeless (Isaiah 58:7).

Jesus’ sense of purpose, his vocational sense, enables him to face his fear of suffering and abandonment, trusting that his life has meaning and that God’s purposes for him are more enduring than anything, or anyone (Epperly). Thus, he stands his ground. He knows it more urgent to go to Jerusalem because of God’s will than to heed warnings about Herod (Jacobsen). He has already set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) and no warning, real nor fake, will deter him (Lewis). Jesus knows his journey to Jerusalem and his death there will be controlled by his faithfulness to God, not by Pharisees, other Jewish authorities, or Herod (Culpepper).

[pause]

The last week’s Gospel reading ends

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time (Luke 4:13).

The Pharisee’s warning is an opportune time. The warning could easily lead to a decision to wait till things settle down a bit so as not to provoke a dangerous conflict with a dangerous ruler. Jesus’ decision to continue to teach, and follow his vocation stands out because it is so unusual (Culpepper; Lewis). Many, most folks including me, have and do let similar challenges change their direction. Many, most of us including me, believe the satanic delusion that we can, by our own initiative and strength, have the gifts of God, that we can seize the day, seize our immediate “right” instead of receiving it graciously, gradually as God’s continuing gift (Almquist).

Many of these delusions are not challenges that look like obstacles they are challenges that seek to redefine God’s revealed fundamental values

 to love God, and
 to love your neighbor (Luke 10:27)

to love profits, wealth, power, and prestige. Our delusion is to understand sin as some sort of transaction ledger of sin and good deeds we think, we hope we can, balance out. We reject the truth that sin is relational; we replace the values of relationships with God and with each other, with the values of profits, wealth, power, and prestige. When we see sin as transactional and only look at single events only look at what a person does, like the New Zealand shooter, or the recent Blytheville shooters, then we can’t see so don’t look at things like racism, and generational economic, educational and social repression, or growing organized threats against the life, liberty and happiness, of those who are different,

  • who are from a different country,
  • who are a different color,
  • who have different
    • political,
    • economic, or
    • religious beliefs.

When we only see sin as transactional or only look at the technical cause(s) of the recent 737 max 8 crashes we do not see the consequences of the decisions behind the decision not to require the full testing regimen of a new aircraft, so we don’t see how corporations have for decades, if not forever, valued profit more than human life; we don’t see how cultural values lead to a killing over a hamburger; and we don’t see how the first lead to the second (Jenkins).

Next Sunday at 2 pm in the Prayer Garden at 1st Christian Blytheville churches are joining for Prayers over Blytheville vigil. These prayers will be transformative as we use our GRIT, our determination, hardiness, flexibility, determination, and carefulness. These prayers will be transformative as we hold fast to the unchangeable truth of the Word (BCP 218). These prayers will be transformative, as we recommit to following Jesus, as we recommit to proclaiming Jesus/God/Spirit, as we recommit to following our divine vocation (Epperly) as we return to working the work God has given us work; as we return to the journey God has given us to walk. These prayers will be transformative as we journey into God and into God’s kingdom by allowing ourselves to confess the darkness that surrounds us to put our hands into God’s hand to take those first steps of trust (Tristram).

As it was then, it is now; this world is full of foxes; they hunt us, they will kill us, they will take advantage of us, and they will tempt us to replace God’s love of the other, with self-interest.

[pause]

But we are not alone as we work the work and walk the journey God has given us to work and walk. We can stand firm in the Lord (Philippians 4:1); the divine mother hen will protect us as we gather under her wings. And by the way, our phrase “pecking order”, comes from ranking which hen pecks the strongest and defeats the fox invading the hen house. The protection of Spirit, Jesus relies on in the wilderness, is the protection of the brooding hen’s wings. By Jesus’ wish, the brooding hen/Spirit is present for us; she is present to us through penitent hearts and steadfast faith; she is present to us as God/Jesus/Spirit who guides our journey, and who reveals the divine foundational values of life. By Jesus’ wish the brooding hen, the light life of Christ is present and neither that fox nor the darkness shall overcome it (John 1:5).


References

Almquist, Br. Curtis. “Delusion.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 11 3 2019. <ssje.org/word/>.

Bratcher, Dennis. Gospel of Luke: A Brief Outline. n.d. 11 3 2019. <crivoice.org/books/luke.html>.

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 17 3 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Lent 2C Luke 13:31-35. 6 9 2015.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 13:31-35. 17 3 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Jenkins, Jack. Why Rev. Amy Butler is talking politics, sin and loss this Lent. 15 3 2019. <https://religionnews.com/2019/03/12/why-rev-amy-butler-is-talking-politics-sin-and-loss-this-lent/&gt;.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Determination. 11 3 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Metz, Susanna. “God’s Hidden Work in the World, Lent 2 (C).” 17 3 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/gods-hidden-work-world-lent-2-c-march-17-2019>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

Tristram, Br.Geoffrey. Darkness. Cambridge, 12 3 2019. <ssje.org/word/>.