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;.

 

A Season of Choice

A Sermon for Proper 4: 1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39, Psalm 96, Galatians 1:1-12, Luke 7:1-10

This is Memorial Day weekend. It is full of opportunities for families and friends to gather and share a meal and good times; to enjoy the plentiful sales merchants have been offering for a week or so. It is time to remember.

My uncle flew B 24s over the south pacific in WWII. My dad served in post-WWII Germany. Larry, customer of mine flew DC 3s over the Himalayas in WWII. The challenge was not just flying over the highest mountains in the world; there were the winds. At times, the throttle would be all back with the nose pointed down, and the plane would be rising. The next minute the throttle would be full on with the nose pointed up, and the plane would be falling. Col. Rogers, one of my acolyte masters was on the first team into Hiroshima. Pat Durkee, Sgt. Major USMC (Retired) was my Field Director when I was working with the Boy Scouts, my first real job after college. Bob Atkins, Sgt. Major US Army (Retired) was a mentor when I was first ordained. David Stout, USMC was my first sales manager. Mark Lemon, a high school classmate, was a swift boat captain in Viet Nam. All these are folks I know, who have in one way or another journeyed with me to this point in my life and made some contribution to who I am.

But on his Memorial Day weekend, there are two others who stand out Mike Michelli, Angie’s father, who was killed in action in Viet Nam. I did not have the honor of asking him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. 1990 his 4-year-old granddaughter cried when we found his name on the Memorial Wall. She cried when she realized she had never known, and would never know her grandfather.

The other, Jimmy Kinsey was wounded in Iraq and lost a leg below the knee. He adjusted well to the prosthetic, often playing pranks with it. Jimmy would carefully place his prosthetic by the door so that you would step on it and go sit across the room. When someone did step on he’d shout “ouch!” Not all adjustment to life went so well. Jimmy struggled and was sent to the Wounded Warriors program. There he fell; he hit his head on and iron bed post and died. His parents, related to a parishioner of mine, were not churched, asked me to preside at his funeral. It is one of the greatest honors ever extended to me. I went to meet his parents, and ended up meeting the Marine honor guard; there were five Marines, I think. I listened as they shared their stories of serving with Jimmy. At some point, one pointed to another of the group said, “He was blown up first, then me, them him and him and him.” All of those marines had been injured by an IED explosion. All of them were the same age as my daughters. I thought to myself “What are we doing for $2 a gallon gas?” Later, as I realized our IRAs and 403b likely had investments in companies that profited from the war in Iraq, or from our armed forces in harm’s way across the world, I thought, “What I am doing?” My thoughts this morning are not about the political legitimacy of war. My thoughts this morning are about choice, our choices as individuals and our choices as a society.

Elijah speaks to all Israel “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” No one spoke a word. Still he insists that they make a choice; believe and follow God or follow Baal; one way or another you have to make a choice. As has been their tendency, most of Israel tried to avoid making a choice. They preferred to hedge their bets; proclaim one god but just in case honor others. Elijah says “Nope – you got to choose.” He does go on to make a rather dramatic argument for God. Nonetheless, the people as individuals and as a society must choose. The effect of divine consuming fire is that Israel chooses to follow God. However, they have made that choice before; at Saini, and crossing into the promised land and here they are choosing again.

Luke’s story of Jesus’ encounter with the Roman Centurion is about choice. Centurion is an outsider and official of the oppressing Roman Empire. It would be a close race between Centurions or tax collectors for the most despised. The story reveals several choices the Centurion makes:

  • He chooses to work with the Jews under his watch, in fact, he built a synagogue for them.
  • He chooses to help a sick slave / servant; revealing that his choice to see the servant /slave as more than an expendable commodity.
  • He knows about Jesus, though we don’t know how, and he chooses to invite Jesus to help (Wong).
  • He chooses to recognize the Jewish tradition that coming into a Gentile property would defile Jesus, so he does not demand or even ask him to (Hogan).
  • He chooses to believe that physical proximity is not a necessary ingredient for healing.

Finally, as Jesus notes

  • he chooses to believe,
  • he chooses faith.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians reveals

  • his choice,
  • the choices of competing teachers, and
  • the choices of the members of the church which is where he starts.

Paul’s chooses to launch into a diatribe, there is little of the customary accolades and greetings. The central question is: Do you have to follow Jewish laws and customs to be Christian? We know Paul’s position is “No.” All you have to do is accept Jesus as God’s anointed Christ. In Paul’s absence, some Jews who follow Jesus are teaching “a different gospel.” Note that ‘gospel’ here is not capitalized; it is not the collection of books in scripture we call “The Gospels.” Here ‘gospel’ is the good news about Jesus as our Lord, and provider of salvation. These other teachers are teaching a different gospel, not so much about who Jesus is, but about how you have to behave to be a true believer, which includes following the Jewish traditions and Laws. Like Elijah, Paul is saying you have to make a choice. While not as dramatic as Elijah, he is no less vehement about his beliefs. He is no less ardent in his demand that the church in Galatia choose.

Having to choose is common in the bible. Generally, they can be understood as “Will you choose life or death (Epperly).” One type of choice is simple obedience. The first bad choice was to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3). A good early choice was Noah’s choice to build the Ark (Genesis 7).

Another type is which god to follow or pledge allegiance to. In scripture, the choice is God or some other deity. Today the choice is what comes first, God or some other political / economic agenda or ideal (Epperly). What will it mean to choose God in this November’s or any election (Epperly)? Who is Baal today? a political party, a sports team, a social cause, pursuit wealth or power; or simply sleeping in (Ellingsen).

Another choice is who belongs and is included. The Galatians and many early Christians struggled with who is in and who is out. We face the same struggle today. Who can be baptized, who can be confirmed, who can receive communion, who can be ordained? Who belongs is at the core of our struggle with sexuality, race, and who can immigrate. One way to see our choice about who belongs is: Will we choose to accept that God has already chosen, through the birth, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, to welcome everyone into God’s presence (West)?

Another choice is how we understand ministry. Abraham’s offers gracious hospitality to three strangers at his camp at the Oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18). There is a Jewish notion that hospitality is the basis of all ministry. What do we choose to be the basis of our ministry?

Jesus heals the slave / servant of the centurion because of his owner’s faith. Are we willing to choose to approach Jesus, for ourselves, for our friends, for our enemies (Hogan)?

In many traditions, the season after Pentecost is known as Ordinary Time. One commentator believes it should be Extraordinary Time. Another would prefer we call it the Season of Pentecost because every day holds potential for an encounter with the Spirit (Lewis).

I am pondering this as a season of choice. We can choose the devices and desire of our own hearts. Or, we can choose the Spirit, who, in revealing the divine truth, will guide all our choices as we are learning how to choose Jesus’ teachings in our ministries and all of our daily lives (Wong).


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 4C Center for Excellence in Preaching . 29 5 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Chan, Michael J. Commentary on 1 Kings 18:20-21[22-29] 30-39. 29 5 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. 29 5 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 29 5 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hoezee, Scott. “Proper 4C Center for Excellence in Preaching.” 29 5 2016. Working Preacher.

Hogan, Lucy Lind. Commentary on Luke 7:110. 29 5 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Back to Reality. 29 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Mast, Stan. Lectionary Epistle. 6 9 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

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

West, Audrey. Commentary on Galatians 1:112. 29 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Wong, Ada. “God is Much Bigger, Proper 4 (C) – 2016.” 29 5 2016. Sermons that Work.

 

Simple Acts – Extravagant Grace- Transformative Belief

A sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Epiphany: Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10
1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

You all know the story of the Wedding in Cana. Jesus is invited to a wedding, and the host is running out of wine. After being prompting by his mom, he asks some servants to fill up jugs of water. The water becomes wine, very good wine, and there are lots of it something like a thousand bottles (Lewis, 2016). This is not the only ancient story of a supernatural production of wine in the ancient Mediterranean world (Harrelson, 2003). I suspect it’s extravagance exceeds the others.I’ve preached and suspect you’ve heard about the glory and extravagant abundance. You might have explored the implications of a wedding feast as not so much a family event but a village event. It is a time when everyone takes a break from the endless drudgery of daily, weekly, and monthly, labor (Cox, 2016). It’s a time to eat and drink abundant food and wine. It is a time to celebrate the bounty of harvests past and, more importantly, the harvest to come. Throughout scripture, a wedding is symbolic of the last days and God’s future reign (Gaventa & Petersen). Not all the elements are bright. To run short of wine is seen as running short of blessing (Lose, 2016).

This morning two short almost throw away phrases caught my attention: “and they took it” the other phrase “and his disciples believed.”

Imagine you are a servant at this feast. You know wine is running short. You are a part of that background buzz in a social event at the edge of calamity. You hear a guest say something to another. His answer lets you know he is her son. His answer that his hour, his time has not come is cryptic, but that is none of your concern. Then she turns to you; the eye contact is direct. I image the tone; it is rare, it is not commanding, not acquiescent, not even specifically directed at you. Still, there is an air of expectation: “Do whatever he says.” Without explanation, Jesus says to fill the water jars. The guests use the water to purify – or to wash their hands, so there is water there. But they are large, and there are a lot of them, and you have other responsibilities to tend to. Nonetheless, you help your colleagues fill them. When you are done, he says “Take some to the chief steward.” You note he didn’t taste it. You don’t taste it; you just do as you were told. You notice the steward’s amazement as the wine is tasted. You witness his summoning the bridegroom for an off to the side conversation; you can overhear the stewards’ praise for the quality of the wine being served after the guests won’t likely realize it’s quality.

We’ve been so trained to hear this story one way it is easy to overlook some gleanings. Think about how easy it is to be a part of sharing grace. The servants’ tasks were very simple. There are no decisions just do as ask. The same is true for us in just doing as we are asked we can be a part of sharing abundant grace. Notice that Mary has no authority over the servants, she asks, well speaks, and they comply. Notice also how few of the recipients know the source. None of the guests, not the steward, not the bridegroom, only Mary, Jesus, and the servants. Sharing grace is often a quiet even unnoticed effort.

I know you have heard it because I have said it experiencing God’s grace more often than not happens in usual and customary places. Being a part of serving God’s people doesn’t take anything special, just a willingness to participate when opportunities arise, especially when you cannot see the connection between the source of potential troubles and the offered solution. Part of witnessing God’s grace is learning to see differently. While not as specular as a thousand bottles of wine moments of divine grace happen all the time. And when you are involved in sharing grace, you never know whose looking. And that brings us to second phrase “and his disciples believed.”

Of Jesus disciples at the wedding two were following John, one is unnamed. The other, Andrew, goes and gets his brother Peter. Down the road, presumably on the way to the wedding, Phillip and Nathanael accept Jesus’ invitation to “come and see.” That makes five disciples: two heard John’s proclamation about Jesus identity. Peter is invited by his brother to meet the Messiah; Philip and Nathanael accept Jesus’ invitation to come and see. None have any real direct experience of Jesus. All this happens in the three days.

I’ve been to a few swanky weddings, but I’ve never seen anyone arrived with five additional guests. I never have seen someone just shown up uninvited. Without making any insinuations about social protocol, there does seem to be a quality about Jesus that draws people to follow him anywhere. It doesn’t take much to imagine that they have shared the stories of how they came to be with Jesus. They would all know the possibility that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. Although he does not seem to have any of the expectations; he is not a mighty warrior, he is not from Royal blood, at least not obviously, he is not from the prophetic tradition, he is not of a priestly clan, he is just a man going to a wedding. There is John’s proclamation, but John is a bit of an extremist, living in the wilderness; still there is something about Jesus that makes it is easy to follow him. When I’ve been to big parties where I don’t know anyone, I’ve tended to keep the person who invited me in sight. It doesn’t take much to imagine the disciples are aware of the impending flummox over the shortage of wine. It is possible they overhear the conversation; so they may well know the whole story. We know that, at the least, they witnessed something because John tells us they know Jesus miraculously provides lots of really good wine for the rest of the wedding feast. We know what they saw leads them to believe in Jesus. Two heard John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God, which has messianic implications. And we heard Andrew tell Peter that Jesus is the Messiah. What that means, at this point we don’t know. I’m not sure they know. I am not sure it is important. What is important is that they came to believe, they came to have faith in Jesus.

Of all the places one might say is the place where you came to believe in Jesus as God’s Messiah I don’t imagine a huge party would be high on anyone’s list. So if you want to see Jesus, my experience is that folks witness the presence of God more often than not in the mundane and ordinary, grocery store, school, an office even a wedding.

Two points: If you are seeking God look in the places you are every day. If you are really seeking God, try the street corners, back alleys, homeless shelters, food pantries, charitable clinics, refugee camps, and transition houses. Go anywhere folks are reaching out to the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the oppressed, the depressed, those who are abused or otherwise marginalized and driven by society to the edge of life. Go any place where there is risk and the potential for tragedy. In the bible, this is where Jesus spent almost all his time. It is also the places from which God calls almost all the kings, prophets or other to lead his people.

Neurologists know our brain is configured to recognize and instantly react to danger, fear, scarcity and so on. I know that media and advertising businesses play on that reality. I see and hear every day how politicians use it. Much of what we hear every hour of every day deliberately pokes at our fear, danger response. We need, God’s people need stories of grace and abundance, stories of extravagant abundance and amazing grace for all (Lose, 2016).We need stories like this one. We also need to be a part of the story; we need to experience, to witness grace and abundance freely shared with all. And you can, they can, we can all be a part of sharing God’s grace and abundance. It is not even hard. Like the servant sharing is as simple as doing what we are asked by God, or by someone else, in a moment of observed or unobserved risk, tragedy, fear, or need, perhaps without analysis or deliberated consideration. It is as simple as St. Stephen’s Friday Families, our support of community ministries. It is as simple as sitting next to a visitor who wanders into God’s house. It is as simple as asking them to share a cup of coffee after worship.

So, while the story is set in a wedding in Cana, it is not just about a wedding with catering problems. The story is about simple acts that reveal extravagant grace, which leads to transformative belief. It is a continuing story you are a part of, sometimes as the servant, sometimes as the witness, sometimes as both. It is a story of how we proclaim the Kingdom of God is right here, right now.


 

References

Cox, J. (2016, 1 17). Come and Dine, Epiphany 2(C) – 2016. Retrieved from Sermons that Work.

Ellingsen, M. (2016, 1 17). Retrieved from Lectionary Scripture Notes: http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/

Epperly, B. (2016, 1 17). The Adventurous Lectionary. Retrieved from Pathos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly

Gaventa, B. R., & Petersen, D. (n.d.). New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville.

Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.

Hoezee, S. (2016, 1 17). Epiphany 2C John 2:1-11. Retrieved from Center for Excellence in Preaching: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu

Lewis, K. (2016, 1 17). Embodied Epiphanies. Retrieved from Working Preacher: workingpreacher.org

Lose, D. (2016, 11 1). Epiphany 2 B: What Grace Looks Like! Retrieved from In the Meantime: 17

Pérez-Álvarez, E. (2016, 1 17). Commentary on John 2:1-11. Retrieved from Working Preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/

 

 

A sermon for Christmas 1

Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7, John 1:1-18, Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

Shiloh is where Joshua and the Hebrews setup camp after entering the Promised Land. It was the home of the Tent of Meeting, where the Ark was kept throughout Joshua’s reign, and through the Judges, until they lost the Ark in an effort to use it as a weapon. Shiloh was a seat of governance; a place of meetings for the Tribes; and Eli’s and later Samuel’s home. There is some indication a structure was built to replace the Tent. Shiloh was likely destroyed by the Philistines; archaeological evidence point to something like 1050 BCE. It’s destruction made a lasting impression in the peoples’ minds; so much so that it was used a reference by the Psalmist, Jeremiah, and an occasional prophet. It is clear that Shiloh was once the seat of Israel’s power and their connection to God. It was completely destroyed. [i] Nonetheless, God continued to be present to Israel, and the ministry of faithful prophets, priests and Kings continued after Shiloh’s destruction.

Thursday I blogged about Jehoikim’s court’s response to Jeremiah’s prophecy that God will make his house like Shiloh; suffice it to say they were not happy. My point was that Jeremiah does not back down, doesn’t seek safety, doesn’t try and negotiate his way out. Jeremiah trusts in God. I believe that Jeremiah drew inspiration for his strength from Proverbs (8:22 ff) (appointed for Friday’s Daily Office) which speaks to Wisdom’s part in creation; her delight in humanity; how those who listen to her find life and divine favor, and those who don’t find injury and death. Thursday was Stephen’s day, when we, if it weren’t the day after Christmas, observe his faithfulness, and his martyrdom. I believe he drew strength from Jeremiah’s example, from Wisdom, and from likely conversation with John, who wrote the Gospel whose prologue we heard this morning. John is among the disciples whom anointed Stephen.

The language of John’s prologue is similar to Proverbs 8:22, in its reference to creation, and relationship to God. We all know ‘The Word’ in John comes to be the incarnate Jesus. I believe Wisdom is an older story of the same divine manifestation, in other words Wisdom comes to be the incarnate Jesus. I also believe that the Church is the continuing incarnation of Wisdom and The Word. So while both speak to a particular fully human manifestation in Jesus of Nazareth, they equally refer to his continuing ministry of which we as Church are stewards. Both Jeremiah and Stephen, are exemplars of our calling to be stewards of The Ministry: Wisdom’s The Word’s and Jesus’.

Wisdom and the Bible also referred to as the word, as literary works tell the story of God’s active presence in the midst of creation in the middle of people’s lives. Wisdom and The Word as a manifestation of God are God’s active presence in the midst of creation in the middle of people’s lives. Ministry is the trick of using one to draw people to the other. Ministry is using Wisdom and John, or what-ever applicable part of scripture, to draw people to the presence of  God/Jesus/Holy Spirit. That’s the work Jeremiah and Stephen did so well, not necessarily by the results: Jehoikim’s house is destroyed, and Stephen dies, but how they did their work, in unabated faith and trust, in a promise they could not see but nonetheless believed. That is the road ahead in 2014 and beyond.

Beginning next week our service schedule changes. We will gather to celebrate Eucharist at 9:00 am, and then share fellowship and engage in faith forming discussion, previously known as adult Sunday School. We will do so on the 1st, 2nd, 4th and occasional 5th Sunday. On the 3rd, St. Stephen’s will offer Morning Prayers. Your vestry has worked hard to work out this new arrangement; it is a bold act. And they will be the first to tell you it’s not about an extra 30 minutes sleep Sunday morning. Not at all. This is an opportunity  to follow our Parton, St. Stephen, and not worry about the lurking fear of Shiloh, but to boldly love and share the Word, or Wisdom, or God, or the Holy Spirit, or Jesus , or however you encounter the Divine presence.

I know folks who should be with us. I suspect you know more than I do. So now you have an opportunity to invite them, to be as persistent as the widow seeking justice and as gentle as Jesus reply Come and see. We also have an opportunity to discern how to increase our inviting families of any configuration to Friday Families.

And as any late night, or early morning commercial, there is more. The first is a vision I’ve named Brewing Faith. The vision is to establish a place where two or three times a week, once in the morning, at mid-day and/or in the evening people will be invited to gather over coffee or tea, or other brew and talk about the light the word and everyday life. Everyone of any faith persuasion, including those who are not quite sure, and those who really don’t buy this stuff, is invited. The setting is intended to invite conversation, to shine the light to share the word of Old Testament Wisdom, and the incarnate Jesus.

The 2nd vision I have to share is a longer term calling, I’ve come to call Stephen’s House. As I have shared with your vestry, it honors our patron saint, it builds on the ancient custom of house church, and the ancient custom of cathedral weekday community space; did you know the naves of Cathedrals were community market places, something akin to farmers’ markets, only with more variety. However, as with every good faithful discernment it begins by us faithfully asking: How is God calling us:  to share the light? to share the Word? And then we ask, Does this facility enable or hinder that ministry?

Yes, it is scary stuff, it pushes the recessed fear of Shiloh almost into the foreground. However, Jeremiah’s threat notwithstanding, there is a light-side to Shiloh’s story. Yes, it is completely destroyed. But the ministry of God is not. The people of Israel, at least some of them, remained faithful to God, continued to believe in the divine promise; they trusted in God. Shiloh is gone, God is not. As it is for many, and perhaps all churches, it’s time to set aside the fear of Shiloh; time to trust in the wisdom of the word to trust in the presence of the Word incarnate such that the light of Christ shines forth in your lives as witness to all around you.

It is going to be a different year, my prayer for us is that we allow it to be full of wisdom of the Word and the light of Christ incarnate. AMEN

 


[i] Quick Verse 10; Easton’s Illustrated Dictionary,  Holman Bible Dictionary, Nave’s Topics, International Bible Dictionary

Mary, wine and belief

Today is the observation of St. Mary, and as often as this reading is used a reading in marriage rites, it has almost nothing to do with marriage. The, perhaps lost, catch line in this story is the last phrase of verse 11 and his disciples believed in him. Chapter 1 is all about John, the revelation of Jesus identity and the beginning of gathering disciples, some of whom express an opinion about who Jesus is. Nothing is said about believe, Nathaniel’s proclamation … you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” is close; however Jesus reply might cause us to ponder if it is a very zealous expression of identity, but not belief. After (indirectly) witnessing the water becoming wine, it is clear the disciples believe in Jesus.

Their belief is wonderful news. But my attention has often been caught by the exchange between Mary and Jesus, between mother and son. She tells him the wine is out. He tells her, not my problem, not my time. His mother then tells the servants to do what ever Jesus tells them to do. It’s powerfully evocative of God ‘s words in the Transfiguration (Mark and Luke) listen to him. They do, Jesus does what Jesus does, bring life where this is none, and people, here the disciples, come to belief. So maybe this is a model for intractable problem solving. Tell Jesus the problem. Listen to him, and do what he says. Look for new life. The best part is not that the problem will be solved, but that people will come to believe, and that’s where true life is.