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.

 

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Vulnerable Saints

A sermon for Proper 27 & All Saints
Proper 27: Haggai 1:1-5b – 2:9, Psalm 145:1-5, 18-22, Luke 20:27-38
All Saints: Ephesians 1:11-23

 

Tuesday is election day. The responsibility to vote is relatively new. In Samuel and Chronicles, the people do have a say in approving who is appointed to be anointed King, but not who the person is. But it is not so much the story of voting as it is the story of their turning away from God. Ancient Athens and Rome had something like voting, and the selection of popes and the Holy Roman Emperor included a type of vote. But what we think of as elections first appears in 17th century Europe in limited ways (Britannica). The responsibility to vote in the United States is a long ~ ever changing story. In 1776 only males who owned land could vote; just 6 percent of the people were eligible to vote for president when George Washington was elected. In 1856 all white males gained voting rights, in 1870 voting rights could no longer be denied because of race, in 1920 women gained voting rights, in 1947 all Native Americans gained voting rights, 1952 people of Asian Ancestry gained voting rights, legislation guaranteeing voting rights was passed in 1963, ‘64, ‘65, ‘66, and ‘67, in 1971 the age to vote was lowered to 18, and in 2000 residents of U.S. colonies become citizens, but cannot vote (KQED). If you have not already voted, I encourage you to exercise the relatively rare responsibility to vote.

There is also some biblical direction to vote. In Romans Paul writes:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed (NRSV, Romans 13:1-2).

Without getting caught up in the resisting authority bit, Paul implies God is at work in establishing governments, and we have a responsibility to follow the established rules, which includes voting. To thoughtfully and prayerfully exercise your responsibility to vote is following God’s way.

I do understand that this has not been an easy nor comfortable election season. Many people I know are not comfortable with either the Republican nor the Democratic candidate. I know several who voted for one of the many other choices; there are 8 presidential candidates on the Arkansas ballot and as many as 31 candidates on ballots scattered across all the states (Politics1). I know many people are feeling vulnerable because of the implications of threats from self-appointed poll watchers. There was an incident in Arkansas; a person was standing in the doorway telling at least one person to shut up and go home (Musa). I know folks who are uncomfortable with the thought that people will not accept the results if their candidate does not win. I know folks who are genuinely concerned about the sporadic talk of taking up arms. So yes, this is a season in which you might very well feel vulnerable. So, it just may be a good thing that our observation of All Saints Day and election day fall so close to each other. But before we get there, let’s remember that we are not the first people of God to feel vulnerable.

Haggai is a prophet in Jerusalem some 20 years after the return from exile. They have not yet rebuilt the Temple, as they were supposed to. It’s just not right. Some of the older folks remember the splendor of the Temple Solomon built, and they don’t have the money or material resources to rebuild it. Besides that, all the important things inside the Temple, like the Ark of the Covenant, the protecting Cherubim, the Tablets of the Law, the molten sea, and so much more are all gone (Wines). It is a bleak time; the people feel dejected; their homeland is still in ruins, and the Temple where the Lord’s glory had shone can never be rebuilt. It is a world that provides few reasons for hope (Lynch).

Haggai acknowledges all of this. He hears the people wonder “How will God ever be among us if this is God’s house? And then he reminds them that God chooses to be among us. Haggai assures the people God is establishing shalom; abundant life and peace for God’s people (Bratt). I know it sounds strange, but Jesus is following Haggai’s example in his encounter with the Sadducees.

The Sadducees follow the first five books of the Jewish Bible. There is nothing there about resurrection, so they do not believe in resurrection. Along comes this itinerate street preacher attracting all sorts of attention, in part by teaching about resurrection. He is making them feel vulnerable. While their ancestors got depressed when vulnerable, the Sadducees go on the attack. In fact, they form an alliance with their usual enemy the Pharisees. They present an absurd story, built on the Jewish tradition that a brother of a dead childless Jewish man marries his wife to continue the family name. Jesus counters their story by referring to Moses meeting God in the burning bush where God calls Gods’ self the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And as everyone knows God is the God of the living, so Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be alive. The implication is, there is some sort of resurrection.

And yes, it is a trap. And yes, Jesus best them. However, Jesus is not out to defeat them. Jesus is seeking to calm their vulnerability by giving them the opportunity to expand their imagination and accept God who is far bigger than they have imagined before (Lewis, Resurrection).It is like Jesus’ sermon off the mount way back in chapter six.

In Luke’s version of the story, Jesus comes off the mountain to the people gathered on the plain. They are vulnerable; there is lots of illnesses, troubles with unclean spirits, and just plain ole hard living (Luke 6:17). Jesus comes to the saints of the day. Then, like now saints are not perfect, nor pious, nor zealous; saints are people who know they are vulnerable. They know they need help, they know they are dependent on someone else, divine or otherwise (Lose, Saintly Vulnerability). As Haggai does for the people in Jerusalem, and as Jesus does for the Sadducees, Jesus brings the presence of God to them.

All this is part of the foundation the Letter to the Ephesians stands on in its argument for our inheritance of new life in Christ where no one is vulnerable (Alfaro).

I suppose the question this morning is what do we do with our feelings of vulnerability? The first step is to admit that we are vulnerable. And all of us, one way or another are vulnerable. We can try to ignore the things that make us uncomfortable or pose a risk, or that make us sad; but, in doing this, we also dull our ability to be satisfied, or feel happy or to be joyful (Lose, Saintly Vulnerability). We can try to remake resurrection life like we want it, and risk missing the promises Jesus offers for our lives not only in the future but also for today. We can spend all kinds of energy trying to imagine the unimaginable, or [pause] we can use that energy to join with all the vulnerable saints of ages past by choosing to live in the presence of the Kingdom that is right here right now (Lewis, Resurrection). And who knows, our efforts just may appear as a saintly inspiration to another vulnerable child of God.


References

Alfaro, Sammy. Working preacher Commentary on Ephesians 1:1123. 6 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 27 Haggai 1:15b-2:9. 6 11 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Britannica. election-political-science. n.d. 4 11 2016. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/election-political-science&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 6 11 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 27 | Luke 20:27-38. 6 11 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

KQED. us-voting-rights-timeline. n.d. 4 11 2016. <http://www.kqed.org/assets/pdf/education/digitalmedia/us-voting-rights-timeline.pdf&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Singing on All Saints Sunday. 6 11 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

—. Dear Working Preacher Who Says There’s No Resurrection? 6 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Lose, David. All Saints Sunday: The Sermon I Need to Hear. 6 11 2016.

—. All Saints’ Sunday B: Look Twice. 6 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

—. All Saints’ Sunday C: Saintly Vulnerability. 6 11 2016.

—. Commentary on Luke 20:2738. 6 11 2016.

Lynch, John J. “Study of the “Last Things” – Proper 27(C).” 6 11 2016. Sermons that Work.

Musa, Aziza. Election commissioner in Pine Bluff accused of voter intimidation. 3 11 2016. <arkansasonline.com/news/2016/oct/06/10m-grant-to-let-uams-further-alzheimer/>.

Politics1. p2016. n.d. 4 111 2016. <http://www.politics1.com/p2016.htm&gt;.

Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Haggai 1:15b2:. 6 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

Believing More Together Than Apart

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

 

Galaxy Quest is a curious science fiction tale, of a TV show that has gone bust, but whose actors still make the public appearances. A galactic civilization picks up the transmissions, believes them to be true and constructs their entire civilization around the show. They get into trouble with an aggressive civilization and come to earth seeking the show’s heroes help. It gets quite comical, dramatic, and has its tragic moments. Near the end, the commander uses the Omega 13 device, allowing him to go back in time, for a do-over of a catastrophic ending. I’m inviting us to make use of the Omega 13’s back in time feature before we begin exploring the ending verses of John 20. The change of scene is necessary because its preceding verses are so different from Luke’s story we heard Easter morning.

So here we go. [smack the railing]

Now that was painless. It is now last Sunday morning, two days after Jesus’ crucifixion and burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb, discovers Jesus’ body is missing and runs to tell the disciples. Peter and another disciple run to the tomb to see for themselves. They see the burial linens laying to one side neatly folded, well lying there. They don’t understand any better than Mary Magdalene did. They go to their homes. Mary Magdalene stays at the tomb, where she has a strange encounter with two angles, and the gardener, who turns out to be Jesus. He tells her

 … go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

That evening, the disciples are gathered behind locked doors because they are afraid of the Jews.

Commentator Scott Hoezee questions their decision to lock the doors. To this point in John’s Gospel, there is no hint the Jewish or Roman authorities are scouring the city for Jesus’ followers. So, why are they afraid? He also wonders why they are not out looking for Jesus? Don’t they believe Mary Magdalene? It seems unlikely they would have doubted Peter’s supporting witness, but the story says he went home. Why isn’t he out looking for Jesus? Where is his impetuous self? Why hasn’t he organized a search? Is it possible they are really afraid of Jesus? Have they remembered their behavior of the last week? It is not exactly like anyone stood in solidarity with Jesus. It is possible they haven’t gone to find Jesus because they are afraid they will find Jesus (Hoezee)?

In the end, Jesus finds them. He appears in the room, offers them peace, shows them the wounds in his hands and side. The disciples recognize him and rejoice. But, you get the feeling they still don’t get it; they are just really glad to see Jesus; they haven’t yet connected his appearance to his teachings that he would be betrayed, killed, and rise again. Undeterred by their continued struggle to realize who he really is, Jesus: gives them peace, tells them he is sending them into the world, just like God sent him, breaths on them, just as God breathes life into humanity in creation (Gen. 2:7), and gives them the gift of the Spirit. End of scene.

We don’t know anything else for a week. Well, except that they tell Thomas, who is mysteriously missing, that they saw Jesus. Thomas says

I don’t believe it; and won’t until I see what you saw, the wounds in his hands and his side.

The Bible doesn’t say where Thomas has been (Clavier). And Hoezee’s question about why the disciples aren’t out looking for Jesus has me wondering if that is where Thomas has been. Thomas has shown the desire, the willingness to follow Jesus. When Jesus invites them to come with him to awaken Lazarus, it is Thomas who, recognizing the danger of returning to Judea, where the people recently tried to stone Jesus, says

Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).

When Jesus is teaching about the glories of heaven and assuring the disciples they have a place there, and they know how to get there, it is Thomas who says

Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?  (John 14:5).

He wants to go; he wants to be with Jesus.

All this has me wondering if Thomas has been out looking for Jesus. I’m wondering if his disbelief is born of frustration

I’ve been out looking him, and Jesus shows up here, as you all cower.

As intriguing as the speculation is, there is no way to know.

What we do know is this. A week later all the disciples are again in the house. John says the doors are shut; he does not mention the lock. Jesus once again shows up; once again offers the disciples peace. Then he turns to Thomas and says

Do not be unbelieving, but believing (Olive Tree).

Thomas’ immediate response

My Lord and My God.

is the most profound proclamation of faith in the Gospels. Speaking to Thomas, and to those of us who follow, Jesus says:

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

John ends the chapter, which may have been the Gospel’s original ending, revealing that he has written this Gospel so those who read or hear the story may come to believe and have life (Harrelson).

This story is about resurrection, which is about being in relationship with Jesus; a relationship that includes the scars of life: Jesus’ scars, Thomas’ scars, the disciples’ scars and our scars (Hoch) (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). The story is also about the transition from being disciples, or followers, to being apostles, those who are sent. And remember that an apostle’s task is simply to go (Pankey). And on our way share the story of the Kingdom’s presence ~ here and now.

Sharing the story is not always easy. The disciples knew it first hand, and they locked themselves in a tomb, that looks a lot like a house. It is important for us to learn what our tombs look like (Hoch). That will help us understand how we experience here and now. This perspective of Thomas reveals that he is what in today’s world is known as data-driven (Hoch). Many of us are data drive, and this perspective may give us some assurance about the legitimacy of our faith journeys. However, not everyone experiences life this way; we experience life in all kinds of ways. All of them are valid. Not all of them agree.

I started with a bit of science fiction. I’m coming to an end with a bit of wisdom from Einstein. Relativity kind of eliminates the notion of where. The universe did not begin in a place; it began at a time. All our experiences are time-based. We see the moon as it was a second and a half ago, the sun as it was eight minutes and 19 seconds ago, Jupiter as it was 37 minutes ago, the center of the Milky Way some 26,000 years ago. We see you after in tiny time it takes light to get from you to me. Relativity also reveals that everyone’s experience is unique because we are all in different vantage points. This means that there is no such thing as universal knowledge. Knowledge overlaps and the more experiences we share, more and greater knowledge is available to all (Overbye).

Your relationship with the crucified scarred resurrected Jesus, whose experience of you includes all your scars, is unique. It is important to everyone else because it is only when we share all our experiences, whether they agree or not, that we can glimpse the fullest possibility of the Kingdom here right now.

The Omega 13 has done its job. And relativity always brings us back to the present. From here I have no doubts; that together we can be more believing than apart, and Jesus is sending us out there [point out] to share so everyone may be more believing.

 


 

References

Clavier, Anthony. “My Lord and My God, Easter 2 (C) – 2016.” 3 4 2016. Sermons that Work.

Ellingsen, Mark. Easter 2, Cycle C (2016). n.d. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 3 4 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hoch, Robert. Commentary on John 20:1931. 3 4 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. Easter 2C. 3 4 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 3 4 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Resurrection is Relationship. 27 3 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

Overbye, Dennis. “Don’t Let Them Tell You You’re Not at the Center of the Universe.” 1 4 2016. New York Times. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/02/science/dont-let-them-tell-you-youre-not-at-the-center-of-the-universe.html?_r=0&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. “Becoming Apostles.” 30 3 2016+. Draughting Theology.

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

 

 

More than one percent

Sometime ago my thinking about this Sunday’s lectionary centered on Christ the King and how we have no idea what that means. I do no think we can, because we have no idea what King means. O yes, we have an intellectual understanding, some may even have a sophisticated understanding of the varieties of monarchy, kingship. But none of us, citizens of the US, have any real life experience of living under absolute monarchy, all sovereigns in one person. We have always lived under a democratically elected republic sovereign. We have no frame of reference about the power dynamics.

Well may be we do.  Mariam Kamell uses the phrase one percent in her commentary. (1)  even with the multi billion dollar fines some companies have agreed to as a results of decisions that lead to the 2008 economic collapse not a single corporate officer has faced charges, and less than a handful of employees have, or likely will. The one percent are individuals who because of their great wealth and indulgence can and do act with impunity.

I do not believe the one percent are by definition evil. However we are all aware of the power they have. Kamell wonders when Christians will realize we are the one percent, that we have power that exceeds anything Wall Street, or any billionaire can wield. As heirs of Jesus ministry we have the power of God to led people out of any darkness that captures them and show them the light of life eternal that exceeds anything we can imagine, even the extraordinary images of Revelation. I wonder, as does Kamell what the world, what our home towns could look like, if we dared to act with the power of our resurrected King? As did the power of Rome, the power of one percent fades in the presence of the first born of all creation.

Mariam Kimell, Working Preacher, Commentary on Colossians 1:11-20, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1849

A sermon for Proper 28

Isaiah 65:17-25, Canticle 9, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19

 

You know that as much as David wanted to build a house for God, God did not give him that honor. Instead, it was Solomon who was blessed to build the Temple, and my goodness, how splendid it was. Craftsmen and materials from around the world came to Jerusalem and built God a permanent home on earth. Remember, God already had a home, the Tabernacle, the tent that traveled with the Hebrews as they wandered across the lands to their now fixed abodes. Some 400 years later,[i] in 586 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar [ii] destroyed the Temple and took the Jews away into captivity. Last week we read from Haggai’s story and his prophecy regarding rebuilding the Temple, lead by Ezra and Zechariah between 515 and 520 BCE. Flip forward some 500 years and the Temple is well worn. The Roman vassal Herod rebuilds the Temple. With imperial like resources he was able spare no expense in restoring its former glory. It took ten years, but was it was magnificent, 400,00 people could fit inside, it was the rival of all the eighboring kingdoms’ pagan temples, and certainly brought the glory Herod sought. [iii]  Actually that was phase one; Herod’s descendants are still building when Jesus and his followers are walking by. [iv]

So, we should not be surprised that Jesus’ followers are awe-struck as they walk past the gigantic polished stones that form the walls of a truly splendid space; thinking: Surely this must be the home of God on earth

Take a moment and think of a similar experience you’ve had. What have you seen that evoked an over whelming sense of awe, a deep sense of pride in your people? I can recall walking the beach by the Pensacola Naval Air Station and seeing the aircraft carrier John F Kennedy, she was tremendous, stately, exuding power. About the same time I saw one of the first C5As on approach.It was so large that at descent speed it looked like it was hanging in the air; truly a miracle of modern engineering; a sign of our abilities that are well beyond what anyone else can do. And not much later, I visited Canterbury Cathedral; the titular home of our Anglican heritage. It is ancient beyond its years, even in the midst of milling tourist you feel its grandeur,  ~ its glory. Canterbury is, as Camp Mitchell folks will say, a thin place;  surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. [v]

Think of a similar experience you have had. Recall the feeling. That is how the disciples are feeling. It is no wonder they respond in abject terror as their trusted leader viscerally tears it all away saying:  … all [this] will be thrown down.” They can’t imagine such a tragedy. Actually,  they can imagine it. Jewish history is replete with stories of destruction and occupation. Jews acknowledge their prior captivity, they know the story we reviewed just a minute ago. And remember, they are a conquered people. Jerusalem is occupied by the Roman army. Knowing they can, yet again, lose the source of their identity, their strength, their security, is all to imaginable, it is terrifying. 

What terrifies you? something beyond the grief of unexpected death.  I‘m not referring to the terror of the event itself; it’s not like the mortal struggle of the Philippines, after the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan. Its anticipation so terrifying, it dominates everything. I lived on the Alabama Gulf Coast just as it was fully recovering from the damage of Hurricane Ivan, some years before, when the Deep Water Horizon blew up in April 2010. That disaster shaped every conversation, every action, every hope, every prayer; before  ~ the tangible effects of the disaster. 

What is your existential fear? Recall its feeling. 

Now put those two feeling right next to each other. I was on the Gulf Coast when the hope of recovery was suddenly right up against the existential fear of oil from the Deep Water Horizon explosion. Feel the dissonance between glorious anticipation, smack up against, shattered expectations. Feel the raw scrape of hopefulness grating against pummeled possibilities.

All of us, I know I did, immediately want to turn to Isaiah’s prophecy of God creating a new heaven and a new earth making everything alright. We flee to the certainty of Canticle 9’s Surely, it is God who saves me;  … for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel. But not Luke.

Yes, the story we read this morning stops in a place that allows hope in endurance. But Luke continues with Jesus telling about the destruction of Jerusalem, how she will be trampled by the Gentiles, until the time of the Gentiles are fulfilled. The story goes on with predictions of  signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars … distress among the nations,  … confusion caused by the … seas and the waves. Jesus does not let up. [vi]  The disciples continue in the raw emotional dissonance between glorious anticipation, smack up against, shattered expectations. 

 

I want to revisit the initial experience at the Temple. The disciples draw a sense of pride, strength, and security from the Temple. There is even a sense of stability in its presence. But they know its history, their history. If they’d let themselves they could acknowledge such pride, strength, and security are hallow, based on false premises. In fact that has been a recurring fault with Israel’s and Judah’s kings. Every time they face a threat they turn to Persia, Babylonia,  Assyria, or Egypt, even to each other; but never – never God. Reading the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles will bring you up-short. It does me, because I see in these books the very behavior I witness in ourselves, in our elected political leadership. When faced with an existential threat we turn to the Seals, Rangers, special forces, regular forces, and Home Land Security;  we turn to the NRA; we turn to science and technology, known and at times not yet developed, we turn to the false certainty of the past . We behave very much like ancient Israel and Judah. We behave very much like the awe struck disciples as they walk by the Temple’s splendid walls. And our circumstances have certain similarities. 

 

Except one. When Luke’s audience hears/ reads his Gospel account, the Temple already in ruins; Jerusalem is already destroyed. The endurance Jesus speaks of is not enough. 

This chapter ends  with a parable about a fig tree, and an exhortation to be watchful. But Luke seems to end Jesus’ prophecy at the Temple wall the verse prior:  28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Redemption!

Mere days after Jesus’ birth, his parents bring him to the Temple for rite of presenting their first born to God. The prophetess Anna sees Jesus and after years of silent fasting and prayer she begins  … to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem

Redemption; from the beginning it has been about redemption.

Richard Sawnson notes: our redemption, Christian redemption,  is Jesus’ resurrection.  He ends this week’s commentary:  

Sometimes endurance is not enough, not even nearly. When it really matters, only resurrection will do, and in Luke’s story, we wait for resurrection.

 Thursday I blogged about staying in the moment of grating dissonance. I’ve come to glean it’s not about staying in the moment, it’s not about waiting for the resurrection. Jesus’ teaching is about trusting God, especially in moments of grating dissonance. … indeed—God is my salvation.  I trust, I [will not] be afraid. [vii]

 

 

[i] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/The_Temple.html
[ii] Matthew George Easton , Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.
[iii] Richard Swanson  Commentary on Luke 21:5-19, Workingpreacher.org http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1853,
[iv] Easton, ibid
[v] Janice Cowan
[vi] Swanson, ibid
[vii] Isaiah 12:2, The Message, Canticle 9

Trusting, without fear.

Well tomorrow got here. Even if it’s a bit late in the morrow, it got here. And I will not claim wisdom, not even insight; nonetheless I did come to an understanding.

Richard Swanson [i] drags our attention beyond the appointed reading all the way to verse 28: Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Then he point us back to the beginning when Jesus is presented in the Temple and the prophetess Anna see Jesus and after years of silent fasting and prayer she begins  … to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36 ff)

It seems that it has always been about redemption. Swanson believes it is still about redemption. And for Christians redemption is Jesus’ resurrection that we await, trusting, without fear.

 

 

[i] Richard Swanson  Commentary on Luke 21:5-19, Workingpreacher.org http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1853,

 

Relationship, Resurrection, Trust

A sermon for Proper 27

Haggai 1:15b-2:9, Psalm 145:1-5, 18- 21, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17,  Luke 20:27-38

Bradley’s summer job was in a casting mill. His shift ended at 10:00 pm, and when he got home, he was dirty, really dirty, greasy, sweaty, dusty dirty. It’s what happens when you pull fresh cast metal grates, from their molds. His family had a swimming pool and the back yard that was very private, so he got into the habit of coming home, stripping off his work clothes and swimming for a bit. When he had relaxed, he’d climb out of the pool, wrap a towel around himself, pick up his clothes, and go in the house, and head off the bed. It worked well, until his older brother was home did not know he was in the pool, and locked the back door as he came in the house after a night out with his friends. Knocking on his parents’ window at 11 at night dressed only in a towel, is a story the family loves to tell.

Bradley loves the story,  for the laughter, but also for an older memory. In quitter moments he will tell the story of being at his grandmother’s house. When it came time for lunch, no matter what he has been doing, running all over the huge back yard or sitting quietly in the den, she’d call him, and send him upstairs to take a bath and dress for lunch. He never argued, no one ever argued with grand-maw. But it took a long time for him to glean, this before lunch bath was not about hygiene, it was about cleanliness, about purity, about respect for the lunch table.

In time he saw the connection between this grand-mother’s insistence of a pre-lunch bath and his delight in his late night swims, aspects of both were about purity about respect, which is about relationship.

Relationship with God is at the heart of the Haggai’s prophetic work. We don’t know much about him, all there is, is 38 verses about is role in rebuilding the Temple. The verse that grabbed my attention was:

The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former,

A little vocabulary work reveals, that kābôd , translated ‘splendor’ also means honor. And when we realize the actual appearance of the rebuilt Temple is far less spectacular than the previous, in fact it is rather pathetic, [i] the notion of honor emerges. Moreover, the Temple never was about silver and gold splendor, the Temple, from its prior form as a tent, to the day, was always about being in the presence of God.

It’s important to know the Jews have returned from captivity in Babylon. They have rebuilt their homes. They have restored their fields to prosperity. But all is not well. Haggai knows their neglect of the Temple reflects their relationship with God and he knows it needs to change. [ii] In verse 14, which we did not read, Haggai speaks to the unclean hands of the people. [iii]  The implication is that rebuilding Temple is a process through which the people honor God, and is a purification ritual of sorts. As with all rituals, by itself, it is paltry; however, because of God’s presence, the ritual has the effect of cleaning the people, of rebuilding respect for God, of restoring the relationship between God and God’s people.

The tiff between the Jesus and the Sadducees is about the relationship between God and God’s people. Note, today’s reading is from the end of chapter 20, and there are only 4 chapters left. Tensions are high. So that Luke tells us the Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection, and then tells the story of their push it to the edge of logic question about resurrection lets us know, that they are not interested in Jesus’ answer, save that it gives them an excuse to act against him. Good plan, except that Jesus blithely side steps the trap, and shares a teaching about God’s relationship to God’s people.

To glean the fullness of the story, we should know the Sadducees see the world through the lens of God’s Covenant Promise. Following the tradition of the Pharisees Jesus extends the boundaries within which God works. Luke writing, which is not only after Jesus’ death and Resurrection, but also after the Romans crush a Jewish rebellion, and burn both Jerusalem and the Temple to the ground, holds out Jesus as proof that neither the Romans nor death will have the last word. [iv]  There will be life after the Romans, there is life after death.

Every week, as we recite the creed, we proclaim our belief in: the resurrection of the body. And we need to be careful that we do not make similar mistakes to the Sadducees, who presume life after the Resurrection will be a grander form of our current life. Nothing in the Old Testament says that. Nothing in the New Testament says that. [v] Scott Hoezee writes:

that the mysteries yet to be revealed remind us that precisely what our bodies and existences will be like in the life to come is  not clear.

The truth is the Sadducees are right. The Resurrection is hard to make sense of. We who build our lives around the hope of our heritage in Jesus’ resurrection, simply cannot explain it. David Loose notes:

The resurrection is not the same as immortality of the soul, scripture is clear we die, period.

Secondly, Jesus does not say we will not know our beloved ones, neither does he say what our relationship with them will be like.

And finally, scripture at best, vaguely describes resurrection life.  [vi]

The truth is scriptures calls us to depend on our relationship with God through Jesus, to respect the promises made enough to trust, without evidence, that God will do, what God has promised.

And it is that trust, that has the Thessalonians all stirred up. They are afraid they have, or are about to miss out on the apocalypse, the end of time, Jesus return! We really don’t think about it very often, when we do it tends to be brought up by a news story of a cultic group taking extreme actions, and more folks than not snicker. But the apocalypse is all the Thessalonians can think about.  [vii]Paul is telling them:

Clam down, don’t be fooled by any of these dooms day profiteers.
You, by Jesus, are, will be, clean in the presence of God, your divine relationship is strong;
you respect what God through Jesus is doing;
trust God!

We live right next to Missouri, the Show Me state. We live in a Show Me world, we are coached to seek empirical evidence before we make any decision, in short we are coached to Show Me. God does not work with in any boundaries, God is not bound to the limits of the Covenant, God chose to go beyond them to secure our salvation. If God chooses  to act beyond the promise of the Resurrection  to accomplish God’s purposes, God will.  What God  always does, is to keep God’s gracious promises. God promised to cleans away human sinfulness, done. God promised a path to life in the divine relationship for eternity, done, and in process. God doesn’t expect “Show Me” God expects respect, God expects trust.

The answer to that is your story in The Story, It is yours to share with all who seek God or a deeper knowledge of him.  [viii]


[i] Scott Hozee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next Sunday is November 10, 2013, Haggai 1:5b-2:9, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php

[ii] Steed Davidson, Working Preacher, November 10, 2013 Haggai, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1844

[iii] New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Haggai, 2:10-19

[iv] Richard Swanson, Working Preacher, , November 10, 2013 Luke, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1844

[v] Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is November 10, 2013, Luke, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php

[vi] David Loose, Questions about the Resurrection, Working Preacher, November 10, 2013 Haggai, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1844

[vii] Stan Mast, Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is November 10, 2013, 2 Thessalonians, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php

[viii] Book of Common Prayer, Prayers of the People II, 386