Now I Believe

A Sermon for Easter 2: Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31
 

I should have known better. After more than 37 years, I just should have known better. Early last week, Angie told me about a nurse, who made a replica of Van Gogh’s Starry Night out of medicine bottle caps. I didn’t believe her. Aren’t all medicine bottle caps white? And don’t they come in just a few sizes. I just didn’t believe it. I should have known better. Later that day she brings me her I-phone, held it out for me to see, as she shared “Here it is!” Who knew there were so many different shades of blue and yellow bottle caps? Who knew someone could be so inspired to sort them all out and glue them so meticulously on canvas size board? Now I know better. Now I believe.

We read from the Bible every week. But we never read a book from beginning to end, and that is our loss. It is like reading bits and pieces of your favorite novel, you get the high points, but you miss the subtle interactions that fill in missing pieces and fill out the richness of the story. Last week I mentioned finding who you are as a character in a bible story as a study method; and that I had seen a character I’d never seen before. The same is true today; kind of, because it’s not a character, but a structure of John’s Gospel. I don’t recall if it was in seminary or college, but I had written a paper, and for whatever reason, I had to go by the professor’s office to pick it up. My professor congratulated me, because I had gotten an A; then said, because the way you structured your paper, I thought you were going in a very different direction (and the way said it let me know that was not a good choice) my professor went on to say he was surprised and glad I came to the conclusions that I did. It was the first time I ever realized that the structure of a paper or an argument could give meaning. The same is true in literature, and the same true of writers of the books of the Bible, and the same it is absolutely true of John the Evangelist.

When the first of John the Baptist’s disciples follow Jesus, they ask him where he is going, and Jesus replies come and see. It is one of my favorite bits of scripture. A few verses later Philip tells Nathaniel we have found the messiah Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth (John 1:45). Nathaniel answers Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Philip replies Come and see. (John 1:46) A bit later Nathaniel meets Jesus and comes to believe he is the messiah (John 1:49).

A little bit later in chapter 4 after his disciples return, the Samaritan woman leaves Jesus at the well, and returns to her village and tells everyone about Jesus and wonders if he can be the messiah. They follow her back to the well. And after a brief conversation, they invite him to stay with them; and he does, and many came to believe in him (John 4:41).

In John 9 Jesus heals a man born blind from birth. When he returns from the well of Siloam, where Jesus sent him, his neighbors are conflicted, wondering if he really is the man that was born blind. Some of them tell the story to the Pharisees, and they are also divided, some reject the idea because it is the sabbath, some wondered, it has to be a man of God who can heal the blind. (John 9:16) At the end of the story, the man meets Jesus a second time and proclaims his belief in Jesus (John 9:38).

When Jesus goes to Bethany, because Lazarus has died, he meets Mary, who, along with her friends mourning with her, go to meet Jesus. Some of them wonder if he, who healed the blind man could not have kept Lazarus from dying (John 11:37). And after Jesus calls to Lazarus and he comes out of the tomb many of them come to believe (John 11:45).

There is a general pattern in all of these stories. Person A has an encounter with Jesus and at the least wonders if he is the messiah. That person shares their story with Person B, who is doubtful or does not believe. And later Person B meets Jesus and comes to believe (ClarkSoles).

We see this pattern in this morning’s gospel story twice. First, the disciples have been with Jesus for 3 years. They witnessed everything he said and did, well most of it. And some witnessed his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Mary meets the risen Jesus and runs to tell the disciples. A bit later most of them have locked themselves away in a secure, undisclosed location. Jesus shows up. They do not recognize him, they are terrified, and both of those little facts tell us they did not believe Mary. He shows them his hands and his side, at which time they recognize him and come to belief. Some of them tell Thomas, who was at another undisclosed location, but he doesn’t believe. A week after that Thomas and the disciples are gathered in the first undisclosed location, and Jesus shows up again and shows Thomas his hands and side, at which time Thomas come to believes (ClarkSoles).

You can see the encounter, share, doubt, invitation, encounter, and belief pattern we see throughout John’s Gospel in Thomas’ story. But, there is a significant language bit that expands the possibilities of this pattern. It begins by understanding that Jesus never says “doubt.” He says: do not be unbelieving, but believing, and this is important because John ends the chapter, and some think the original Gospel:

But these 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).

 But wait there is more! because some authorities translate the sentence

But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 Either “come to believe” or “continue to believe” are real possibilities (O’Day). The significance is that this story is about believing, about coming to belief, and about continuing to believe.

And yes, there is a powerful evangelism story here, which is why I have always been drawn to the phrase “come and see” which I believe is the quintessential evangelism tool, a simple invitation. But, this pattern, this character is even more complex.

Sometime this past week, I read the guest column titled The night I learned to take chances. It is about the two brothers who were sons of a minister who required them to memorize bible verses. Which they did, even if they did not understand the meanings. When the youngest was 17, their parents divorced, their mother went to live with her sister, and their dad just disappeared. They did their best to supported each other and eked out a meager existence. One Christmas they decided to hitchhike from Long Island to Dallas to go see their mom. On the way, they got stranded on a snowy interstate. As they were waiting for promised help to return, for the first time ever began to talk about their life. It the conversations gets tense when the author said to his brother we [are] basically disposable to the people who were supposed to love us. His brother retorts we know that all things work together for good to those who love God (NKJV Romans 8:28) which got them to sharing bible verses they had memorized all those years ago. The youngest shared Isaiah 43

 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you . . . Because you are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you.

 Years later, as president of Princeton Theological Seminary, he realizes

I don’t keep taking chances in offering leadership because I expect to succeed; I take them because I know I can handle it if I fail. What’s the worst that can happen? Will I be alone, broke, and abandoned? Been there. Will I make humiliating mistakes? I tried hitchhiking on a closed interstate. And at the bottom, I found the relentless love of God who was with me and always will be, no matter how deep the waters (Barnes).

What the story reveals is where most of us live most of our lives; which is somewhere between believing and coming to believe what Karen Lewis calls betweenness (Lewis). The story reveals that life is hard; that life is risky. And so is faith (Warren). If you stop and think about for just a minute, believing in resurrection makes no sense, it really never has, it is hard to believe in resurrection (Hoezee). And because our faith is grounded in the hard to believe in resurrection, is why we come together as church (Lose).

Each of us has a Jesus story to share. At one time or another, all of us are going to be between and need to hear somebody’s story. A story that will remind us, of the astounding truth in scripture that God … sent the Son into the world in order… that the world might be saved (John: 3:17), that we might be saved; it also reminds us that the bible is here so that we may come to, or come back to, or continue to believe. And also, John reminds us, that we who have never seen the risen Lord, and yet believe are blessed, every much as those who saw Jesus (John 20:29). So, today, you may need to hear my story. I know I have needed to, and have heard your story. 20 years’ experience has taught me that you never know how your story, how your invitation to come and see Jesus’ hands and feet and side, in all its many forms will impact a stranger’s life.

Christ is Risen
[hand to ear]
The Lord is risen indeed!

There is no better story to invite a friend or stranger, struggling in the in-betweenness of life to come and see.

Amen.


References

Barnes, Craig. “The night I learned to take chances.” 26 4 2017. christiancentury.org. <christiancentury.org /article/night-i-learned-take-chances>.

ClarkSoles, Jaime. Commentary on John 20:1931. 23 4 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 23 4 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 4 2017. <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. Easter 2A . 23 4 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 6 9 2015.

Lewis, Karoline. Betweenness. 23 4 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Easter 2 A: Thomas, John, and the Reason We Gather. 23 4 2017.

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

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

Warren, Timothy G. “Doubt Strengthens Faith, Easter 2(A).” 23 4 2017. Sermons that Work.

 

I am Nicodemus

A sermon for Lent 2; Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17

Wednesday a week ago, we had a long power outage. Most it was a big inconvenience; especially at night. It was dark; really dark; scary dark. Then again, if you were outside and if you looked up, as we did, you saw a sight we rarely ever see, the stars; all of the stars. Stars you can only see if you are in the dark. The dark enables you to see the night sky in an entirely new way; it is an inspiring experience; all because it is dark; really dark; enabling dark. Wednesday, it was dark, really dark, scary dark, enabling dark, inspirationally dark.

Some Wednesday night some 2000 years ago, a leader of the Jews is walking through the dark. He is seeking the leader of a new and growing group of followers. The leader is a rabbi, known for signs, perhaps a miracle worker, Nicodemus may simply be curious about this Jesus. On the other hand, he goes to see him in the dark and nighttime is the traditional time to study Torah, so perhaps he is seeking an in-depth conversation (Vena). Then again, night time and darkness are metaphors for separation from the presence of God (O’Day; Harrelson) so perhaps this devoted community leader has his doubts, his questions about all their ways of life. Perhaps it more than curiosity, perhaps Nicodemus wants to see the Kingdom as Jesus, and his followers do. Whatever his reason Nicodemus speaks with Jesus and life is never the same.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that to enter the Kingdom of God, you must be born from ‘above.’ Nicodemus asks him How can one be born ‘again’? The confusion come from a word with two meanings; it means both ‘above’ and ‘again.’ Nicodemus thinks Jesus is speaking literally. And that causes him trouble mostly because,

to be born again, as Nicodemus understood it, would have meant altering [his] … honor status in a very radical way and he was not ready to trade his honorable position in society for an uncertain new status (Vena).

 Perhaps Nicodemus just simply misunderstood (Gaventa and Petersen). But, Gail O’Day writes

that Jesus is being intentionally ambiguous and intends Nicodemus to hear both meanings inviting him to explore below the surface seeking deeper revelations. But his imagination is not flexible enough (O’Day).

Next, Jesus using Nicodemus’ confusion about live birth says no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit (John 3:5). Paralleling the double meaning of ‘again’ and ’above’ Jesus connects entrance into the Kingdom with both live birth, and spiritual birth; birth in the flesh, and birth in the spirit; thus, connecting flesh and spirit, which is very much against the thought of his day (Harrelson; O’Day). He compares this to the wind which blows where it will. The word ‘wind’ is the same word as ‘spirit,’ so Jesus connects new birth to the mysteries of free moving wind/spirit that is, quite simply, beyond our control (O’Day).

Comparing the Son of Man being lifted up just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness also makes use of a double meaning word. ‘Lift up’ also means ‘exalt.’ Jesus exaltation is how we, by belief, have eternal life (Harrelson).

 For John, eternal life is defined by God, not as future immortality in heaven, but as a spiritual reality that can only be seen by those born of water and spirit as living in God’s unending presence right here, right now (Harrelson; O’Day; Vena). All this is too much for Nicodemus. And that is the intention. Nicodemus is intended to struggle with this trifecta of double meanings as he discerns what eternal new life, born from above, in water and spirit given by the raised up/exalted Son of Man really is. And so are we. The discerning struggle calls us into deeper and deeper listening to all Jesus shares that John recounts (O’Day).

This is not an easy trip for Nicodemus. He appears twice more; once saying that law requires that the Pharisees give Jesus a fair hearing (John 7:45-52) (Sakenfeld). His last appearance is when Pilate give Jesus’ body to him and Joseph of Arimathea for burial (John 19:38-42) (Sakenfeld). Nicodemus is not alone in a long perhaps wandering journey to belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God who died so we could have life in God’s presence. It took all the disciples a long time, a good three years, to understand.

So, if you have questions or doubts; if you don’t quite get all the nuances of how Jesus’ death brings you life you are in good company. If you aren’t quite ready to toss off whatever honor and status you have in life and commit to being vaccinated against death by a dead, resurrected, ascended Jesus, neither was Nicodemus (Hoezee; Harrelson).

I know, we all know,

that 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. (John 3:16).

We know it so well, it is trite. We believe it so strongly, it divides us. We know it so well, believe it so strongly that I doubt its Lenten value because it is too common, or too divisive to help us see ourselves and change our lives.

On the other hand, Nicodemus is a good Lenten model. He comes to Jesus full of expectations, ready to learn and misunderstands from the very beginning. He doesn’t understand life in God’s presence. He doesn’t understand water/flesh and the spirit as one, in the presence of God. He doesn’t understand the meaning of Moses, and the healing snake lifted up over Israel that saves them from death. He is bound to social customs of honor, prestige, and power he finds hard to give up. And so am I.

I hold miss expectations of Jesus and misunderstand his call if not daily, most certainly regularly. I look at the world and just don’t get life in God’s presence, especially in the here and now. There are too many people who are oppressed for arbitrary human divisions of race, gender, sex, skin color, national origin, faith, illness and lack of success. I believe; I have faith that Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension makes a difference in this world. But the failure of corrupt justice that crucified Jesus is still far too prevalent, and so I doubt. And I ponder my own subtle complicity in all this corruption. I find it as hard to give up social customs of honor, prestige, and power that I benefit from as Nicodemus did. So I am drawn to confess; I am Nicodemus.

So, in so much as you find yourself looking in the mirror and seeing Nicodemus looking back, I invite you to invite Nicodemus to guide your Lenten repentance. However, beware, it is a journey that is dark, really dark, scary dark, enabling dark, inspirationally dark. It is a journey from misunderstanding born of darkness, to darkness born of burying the one who loves you.


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 3 9 2017. 12. <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 3:1-17 . 12 3 2017.

Jolly, Marshall A. “Digging Into Our Certainty, Lent 2(A).” 12 3 2017. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. John 3:16. 12 3 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Lent 2 A: Just One More Verse! 12 3 2017.

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

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

Vena, Osvaldo. Commentary on John 3:117. 12 3 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

Advent Crockpot

A sermon for Advent 3: Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11, Psalm 146:4-9 and Canticle 15

Williams Concrete was the largest concrete company at home. They poured most of the concrete for the interstate system. The owner built a home on a bluff overlooking the Chattahoochee River. The driveway was far too steep for trucks to get up, so, they built conveyor system to get all the concrete to the building site that was powered by a truck. They burned up 3 trucks to get all the concrete to the building site. Itconcreteficent home. You can see if from the river, a marvelous sight. You can also see it from a narrow road on the other side of the river; at least the passenger can, the driver has to pay attention to the road’s narrow curves.

Herod, King of the Jews, and the Roman Empire’s officials had similar magnificent villas along the Jordan River. Jesus asks crowd who overhears his exchange with John’s disciples “Who did they really go to see? The grandeur of Herod and Rome?” perhaps pointing to the magnificent villas; before he continues “Nope you went to see the prophet!” Saying that the crowd is more interested John’s baptism than Rome’s opulence is  a way Jesus supports John (Allen) (Harrelson).

John could use some support. His situation has dramatically changed. The last we heard he was down by the riverside baptizing people and challenging Pharisees and Sadducees who were more than interested, more than curious to see what he was up to that drew all those people to him. Now John is alone in a dark prison cell ~ perhaps ~ waiting for death (Lose).

A change of place and or circumstance like that can cause a change in one’s perspective; which leads to different questions (Lewis). When we learn that not all Jewish communities were focused on the return of a messiah or even how God is active in the world or what God might be up to John’s new question is all the more understandable. (Allen). Questions that arise from a change in circumstances, or anything else, are not necessarily bad. They do represent that the asker has a clear-eyed understanding of the world around them. So yes, John’s question indicates he has preconceived ideas about who the messiah should be and how the messiah should be acting (Nagata). And yes, John may express some doubt; but, his doubt just may be his seeking the path from uncertainty to confidence; from disappointment to anticipation (Lose). It is important to hear that Jesus understands John’s question as an expression of faith (Lewis). And we know this because Jesus’ reply is not full of fiery judgment but it is full of compassion (Boring) and the hopeful vision of Isaiah 35 (Epperly).

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters, shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.

And so yes, Jesus is indeed the “coming one,” but he has reversed all the expectations; and questions should arise. And yes, John faith does waver, but such wavering is the nature of discipleship and faith, which must constantly be renewed (Boring).

I’ve always found it just a bit curious that Jesus tells John’s disciples to go tell him what they see, and then he tells them what they see. For a while, I wondered if he was just preempting the foolishness he has come to expect from his disciples. But not so any more, I think Jesus was/is seeking to reassure John, and anyone else who might be wondering what he is up to. He is seeking to reassure folks that healing the sick, feeding the hungry, bringing sight to the blind, really are grounded in the prophetic vision of God’s redeeming work.

So, we have answered John the doubter’s questions about the Jesus’ authority. However, there is more to explore. John’s imprisonment and change of circumstance led to his questions.

What imprisons you?

-What so changes your circumstances, or which of your preconceptions have been so badly shaken that they are limiting your imagination of God’s redeeming work, and raising new questions (Lewis) (Nagata)?

-What events in your life, or of your community or of the world, are raising fundamental questions:

• Is there really a God who knows and cares?
• Is there a divine purpose for the world?
• Is there a purpose for me?
• Is Jesus the definitive revelation of that God,
• or should we look elsewhere for answers to ultimate questions (Boring) (Nagata)?

–  What new idea has you all stirred-up (Pankey, Stir Up!)?

Can you place all those emotions in an Advent crock pot? Will you use this Advent time, while we are waiting for Jesus, to slow down, to reflect, and to pray ~ lifting all that has you off kilter to God in Jesus through the Spirit? Will you allow your questions and doubts to actually bring you closer to God (Nagata) (Boring)? Will you allow God’s reply, to your Advent waiting question, to inspire you to action?

Waiting for Jesus’ Second Coming is not a passive venture. God is already coming to us and wants us to use divine answers to get us all stirred up with new ideas to act with grace and persistence for the well-being of the planet and for all its peoples (Epperly) (Pankey, Stir Up!). And yes, new ideas are ugly, messy, and frightening, they threaten what we know, they scare us, and they are fragile. But when we nurture them with God’s light they bring beautiful transformation into the world (GE).

ideas

New Ideas can reveal how we can participate with God in restoration; they can help us identify other communities that share similar hopes and seek common purpose (Allen).

This morning’s collect asks God to stir up divine power and come among us. It is a great, though dangerous, idea. In it, we are asking God to turn lose power and light that we would much rather keep under a basket. In it, we are inviting the Spirit to work in our lives for the restoration of not only our souls ~ but the whole world (Pankey, Stir Up!) . We are unleashing God to help us be the prophets pointing to The Kingdom’s presence right here – right now, not only in what we say but most importantly in how we love all our neighbors. We are asking for directions and inspiration and power to follow Mary as

[Her soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
[and her] spirit rejoices in God our Savior.

 

References

Allen, Ron. Commentary on Matthew 11:211. 11 12 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Boring, M. Eugene. The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X!! vols. App Olivetree.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scriture Notes. 11 12 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 11 12 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

  1. “Ideas Are Scary.” 2016. web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfmQvc6tB1o&gt;.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Advent 3 A Matthew 11:2-11 . 11 12 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Are You The One? 11 12 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Advent 3 A: John’s Blue Christmas. 11 12 2016.

Nagata, Ada Wong. “Can You See and Hear God’s Presence in Your Life? Advent 3(A).” 11 12 2016. Sermons that Work.

Pankey, Steve. How are we judged? 11 12 2016.

—. “Stir Up!” 11 12 2016. Draughting Theology.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Journey From Doubt to Belief.

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 this morning’s story from Genesis opens, it has been a long time since God promised Abram an heir and land. Actually, God has made the promise the second time (Gen 12:2 and Gen 13:16). It has been a long time, and there is still no heir. So, Abram has made arrangements to ensure that his belongings and his memory will be secure. So, when God shows ups again, making the same promise, only this time actually increasing it, Abram’s descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. It is reasonable for Abram to have a hard time believing God’s promise; after all this time of seeing nothing done (Bratt) (Yarchin). So when Abram asks “How am I to believe?” we understand, we get it.

Some commentators note that trust in God always comes through God’s self-revelation. This time, that revelation is in the midst of that strange sacrifice we read about. The fire pot and torch, which is in Abram’s dream, are opposite of darkness, reveal the presence of God (Sakenfeld) (Harrelson) (Gaventa and Petersen) (Ashley). We did not read a couple of verses, that detail the five-hundred-year journey of the Hebrews through Egypt (Walton). Perhaps the details provide some assurance to Abram. All this happens when Abram is asleep, making the covenant completely God’s responsibility. Another thing we know is that when he awakes, Abram believes. Now, just in case you are not completely familiar with the time sequences in Genesis, Abram’s trust does not last. Some years later, in the midst of year another long time of divine silence, Abram and Sarah scheme again. Doug Bratt notes that it may have been a thousand years for Abram’s descendants to number as the stars in the night sky (Bratt).

Some seventeen hundred years later Jesus is headed to Jerusalem (Walton 25). On his way, he is revealing the presence of the divine kingdom through exorcising demons and healing the sick. We are so used to thinking of the Pharisees as opponents, even the enemies, of Jesus, that we might be a little taken aback when they warn Jesus Herod is out to kill. Some commentators note that Luke has a different view of Pharisees, and they may actually be allies, at least at this point (Harrelson) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Other think this is a ruse, the Pharisees want to get rid of Jesus; because they see that he is a threat to their power and privilege, and what better way, that to blame it on Herod. But trying to scare Jesus off shows us that they have already decided they are not interested in the Kingdom Jesus is offering (Bratt). Jesus is headed straight for the seat of Jewish and Roman power, which has always been a dangerous place for prophets. Jesus doesn’t care; he knows the power of God’s promise and presence. And remember from last week, that knowledge is not from his divine nature, he knows about divine power because he grew up knowing the story of God and Israel.

The Pharisees’ warning does give Jesus an opening to expose Herod for what he is, a fox, a sly, cunning, calculating, brutal hunter.

Even though the picture on the cover of this morning’s order appears all warm and cuddly, when a fox is present, the hen broods her chicks and then bears her breast to the fox who must kill her to get to the chicks (Ashley). Jesus knows what he is walking into.

The bit about today, tomorrow and the third day, does have resurrection implications. It also tells the Pharisees, Luke’s audience and us, that Jesus controls timeline of his ministry. Together with the image of the hen, we know Jesus ministry will not be stopped, even by death (Reese).

Jesus’ proclamation that a prophet cannot be killed except in Jerusalem does not pass scriptural muster; there are several accounts of just that. There are some books, from the time between Micah and the Gospels, that are not in the canon, that tend to give credence to what Jesus is saying; but, they are more subtle and complex than what we want to get into here. Suffice it to say, Jesus is referring to himself. (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Jesus’ journey to the capital of the powers and principalities, his refusal to be cowed by Herod, his longing for the people of God, and identification with a brooding hen, is Jesus projecting strength in vulnerability (Ashley).

So, now it has been right a two thousand years, way longer than Abram waited to see Isaac, twice as long as it took for Abram’s descendants to be as numerous as the stars and we are still waiting. God hasn’t been totally silent; but, in whatever form you may believe it is coming, the rapture is not here yet. I don’t think it is when we will, so much as it is how we will share Abram’s doubt. The Lenten question is how can we share in Abram’s journey from doubt to belief, from doubt to faith (Bratt). For Abram, the journey involved a really strange sacrifice. Jesus’ belief, in part, emerges from the story of God’s self-revelation, that he learned from his family and community. We have the same story, plus Jesus’ story. They are both old, very old. And it is currently waning in its influence. In spite of the opining of Steven Pinker, Leif Wenar and others about our increasing humanity toward each other it is easy for us to get seduced by the harshness of the world. Abram asks “How do I know?” We may ask “How are we to know our religious faith has any meaning?” (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). We may want to know “How do we overcome the fear response the principalities and powers intentionally cannily evoke?”

I do not have any answers. But, what I passionately, believe discerning what it means to be in covenant with a vulnerable God, and how we can suffer rejection, and face death as we provide healing even to our enemies is a worthy Lenten discipline (Reese) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Ten days ago in the Ash Wednesday Liturgy invites us to the observance of a holy Lent by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word (BCP). Fasting is my least favorite option, which likely has something to do with my face first encounter with the sanctuary floor, as an acolyte. Nonetheless, there is value in fasting; it does invite us into silence and into contemplation of the divine. Fasting reminds us our real hunger, whether we know it or not, is for God (Winner 102). It turns out fasting has far greater implications than the ability to go without bread and water. It is one way, as are all those disciplines we can learn to trust God.

These are hard questions. And I don’t ask them to cast doubt anyone’s faith. We should not be afraid to explore serious questions by fasting or any discipline listed in the Ash Wednesday invitation. And I ask them because it is okay if we do not get it quite right. Remember Abram didn’t; as of today’s Genesis story Ishmael has yet to be conceived. It is okay if we don’t get it quite right, God has it covered. In addition, to Abram’s story we heard today, we have today’s story of Jesus encounter with the Pharisees. Through that story we know Jesus is in charge; and that no one, not even as brutal as Herod, will get in his way, that tells is that our salvation is in good hands. We also have the image of brooding Jesus’ desire to safeguard us, from the world, and from ourselves. Moreover, it matters that you are here, which demonstrates that you are willing, to at least start.

And now, as you continue your Lenten discipline:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world so that you can do what others claim cannot be done (Ashley).


 

References

Ashley, Dannae. “Loving Like a Mother Hen, Lent 2(C) – 2016.” 21 2 2016. Sermons that Work.

Bratt, Doug. Lent 2C Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18. 21 2 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Ellingsen, Mark. 21 2 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 21 2 2016. <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. Lent 2 C Luke 13:31-15. 21 2 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 21 2 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Love and Belonging. 21 2 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Pinker, Steven. Better Angels of Our Nature. Viking, 2011.

Reese, Ruth Anne. Commentary on Luke 13:31-35. 21 2 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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

The Episcopal Church. Book of Common Prayer. 1979.

Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1978.

Wenar, Leif. “Is Humanity Getting Better?” New York Times (2016). <http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/24/science/what-is-einsteins-general-relativity.html?&gt;.

Winner, Lauren. Mudhouse Sabbath. Brewster: Paraclete Press, 2003.

Yarchin, William. Commentary on Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18. 21 2 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Vacillating through time.

It is not often that the Psalter really catches my attention. Not to say that there aren’t many psalm that resonate, there are, mostly in during the Daily Office. But that is not the same thing as catching my attention. And to be honest, psalm 71 did not, at least until I read Doug Bratt’s commentary. (1) Bratt points out the psalm is a plea for God’s help, born of a life long relationship with God, that has seen times of deep belief, and time of great doubt. He notes how the psalmist vacillates between awareness of God’s presence and feeling the Divine’s absence. Bratt observes how the psalm captures the development of a Godly relationship over time.

I am taking away the renewed awareness that the vacillation from faith/trust and doubt over time helps us to develop a deep strong relationship with God, which we can, in time, call on in the worst of times. Secondly, that in failing to reach out to those who are seeking God, for what ever human defined rational. We are not helping. As Jeremiah reminds us, it is not about us, it is all about God.

And oh, Bratt also notes the same cycle is a part of the life of churches. So, if yours is in “dire straights” forget, for the moment, all those development and redevelopment materials, and seek refuge in God’s presence, discern the confidence and hope God is offering even if it is “the old ways” and then go forth into the world in peace and strength. May be then all the development material will makes some sense.

 

(1) Center for Excellence in Preaching Proper 16 Psalm 71:1-6, Doug Bratt