Tuesday, May 27, 2014

See me, see God

See me, see God 052514 - with thanks to David Lose on the web!!
John 14:15-21
We’re still in that conversation between  Jesus and his disciples as he’s getting ready to die and wants to prepare them and promise them the Presence.  He knows they, and others who come later, like us, will eventually be called to follow a Jesus they’ve never seen, to have faith in a long-dead departed Jesus.
Well who’s going to do that?  In John’s gospel, and in my life, faith, like being in love, is a relationship with a living being that we can see and touch and feel.  We need to be able to relate to the living Jesus, not absent but present.
John’s message is that Life has the last word, not death, and in today’s reading we find that it’s the Spirit that makes this Presence, of Jesus and of God, a living Presence.  John calls this Spirit parakletos. An Advocate.  Not just one who advocates with God on our behalf, but the reverse!  This is one who advocates for God in our lives, the one who stands alongside us bringing us the truth of divine Love and Presence.
But have you ever seen the Spirit?  Of course not, we only have clues about what it’s like (freeflowing breeze, or wind and flames).  But it’s like falling in love, you can’t be in love with someone you can’t see—except in movies and fiction -- you need an encounter with someone to bring love.  So how on earth can we be aware of, or even love, the unseen Spirit?
This text gives us a couple of clues: the Spirit acts like an advocate, and acts like Jesus —for John suggests Jesus was also a parakletos.
So, when I see someone who acts like an advocate                                               …..someone who stands up for someone else       I see the Spirit.
           ….a companion alongside in difficult times         I see the Spirit.
  ….someone who loves and keeps God’s commandments  I see the Spirit.
 ….someone who ‘brings God’s love to all the world’ as our mission statement says…..
I see the Spirit.
Now this is where it gets more challenging…because this means the Spirit looks a lot like you and me and the church.  So we CAN see the Spirit.
Now for a bit of interaction:   where have you seen the Spirit this week?
Now more difficult: (mirror)    where has someone seen the Spirit in you?
Where have you acted like Jesus, taken God’s love out and about, advocated for someone or some cause?
This week, I invite you to watch for the Spirit, keep your eyes and ears and heart open….let me know what you see, what you do, and what happens to you, or post it on our facebook page!  So we can share this lively Spirit among us, within us and way beyond us.   Amen

Sunday, May 18, 2014

a quest for truth-Theva

A quest for Truth!        John 14:1-14
Dear Friends,
Grace and peace are already ours for we belong to the family of Jesus the Christ. My sermon today is centered on the 14th chapter of the gospel of John. And the context is this. Jesus after having been with his twelve disciples in ministry for three years is now sensing that his time has come to leave them. So he is making a final farewell speech in Bethany. Friends I will have to leave you soon and when I leave to prepare a place for you…; there is interruption. And it is from Thomas. He jumps in immediately. Are you leaving us Lord? Thomas is made up of a certain personality trait that he always wanted straightforward and concrete and specific responses to everything. We do not know where you are going then how will we know the way Master? You remember when the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples within the closed room, Thomas wanted a visible and tangible and concrete verification. In this context Jesus says: I AM THE WAY-IAM THE TRUTH- I AM THE LIFE. Then there is another request from the other disciple called Philip. It is going to be hard when you leave us. However can you at least give us a glimpse of God before you leave?  Show us the father, Master. Then Jesus says “Phillip”  “you have been with me for three years and yet don’t you know that the father and I are one”. It is because the father dwelt within me always, I was able to do this marvelous work of ministering to people. Philip’s question of wanting to see the father of Jesus is often our question too.
        When things go well, when we enjoy the benefits of prosperity, when our children have earned the name and fame, we have no problem in recognizing God. Only in sickness and in death, only during national calamities and personal tragedies; we blink and waver and ask where God is. This was precisely Phillip’s problem. In order to explain God to us clearly, the theologians use two different concepts.1.Trancendance 2.Immanence.Some of us have a distant vision of God; God as a far remote being, a distant reality. We are comfortable in calling God “Thee” and “Thou”, because it helps us maintain that little distance from God. This is the meaning of transcendence. Then we also have an anthropomorphic God image. It is our ability to touch and taste and feel and see God. This is what we call immanence. We need to have a good balance of both to know who our God is.  “Lord, show us the Father” is the deepest yearning for Philip. Jesus had already told them that he is the bread of life. Jesus had already told them that they need not stumble in the dark for he is the light of the world. Jesus had already assured them that they will be rescued from the dangers of life. Jesus has already promised them of their safety on this world by saying I am the gate of the sheepfold. One has to enter wherever he or she wants to go through him being our gate. Now these two persons are behaving as strangers to Jesus. Thomas and Philip are now behaving like little children who hold and cuddle the stuffed animals for safety and security whenever the parents are away from them. This is today’s text. And the rest of this sermon is a little bit of theological chit chat between you and me. What is truth? In the trial of Jesus in Pilot’s court Jesus said” Everyone who belongs to the truth, listens to my voice”, and Pilot asked as though he had never heard in his life before “What is truth?” I have heard and read of many kinds of truth. Just to name a few there is scientific truth, philosophical truth, religious truth, psychological truth and legal truth. Truth is multifaceted. A father awakened in the night and realizes that his teenage daughter’s boyfriend is still in the living room downstairs. He called down the stairs: ”Do you realize that it is 2.a.m?” “Do you think you can stay here all night?” The teenager paused for a minute and then replied “Gee I don’t know”. “I will have to call home and see”. A parent’s understanding of truth is not necessarily be that of the child’s.
       My interest in the study of Truth began at age 13.This was the time of my confirmation into the Christian faith. Our Pastor at that time gave the class a homework assignment to read through. It was the autobiography of Gandhi. I read his life story with great fascination; his birth, student days and his child marriage to Kasturba’; his university days in England and becoming a Barrister at Law, his legal practice in South Africa and his involvement in the freedom struggle of India, and his most powerful revolution led by three hundred million people fighting non-violently with a weapon called “SATAYAGRAHA” .a Sanskrit word which means a fight against injustice with a soul force called TRUTH. The title that Gandhi gave to the book was “MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH “. A quest for truth is always an experiment.  Truth to me is an experience. If you live a life focusing only on honesty and forgetting mercy you will be the cruelest person on the face of this earth. If you want to be joyful without learning to apply self-control in your life you will end up as the most miserable person on earth. Beauty without truth is ugly.  Truth without compassion is boredom. You remember the Rodney King’s trial in Los Angeles: Why can’t we get along was the question?  Truth to me is not a restrictive monologue; it is rather an expanding dialogue between persons and communities. Truth to me is to learn something from every religion, every church, and every subject and every leader. The itinerant  ministry of the United Methodists, the liberal spirit of the Presbyterians, the choral and the chanting liturgy of the Episcopalians, the confessions, penance and the absolution of the Roman Catholics, the spirit filled ecstasy of the  Pentecoastalists are all part of religious truth. How about the spirit of simplicity in Mother Teresa? How about the spirit of truth and dignity in Mahatma Gandhi? How about the spirit of justice and racial inclusiveness in Martin Luther King? How about the spirit of self-determination in Nelson Mandela? How about the spirit of commitment and sincerity in Dietrich Bonhoeffer?   Gandhi also said once we know what our common blunders are then we will be able to walk on the path of truth and justice. What are our blunders? Wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principles. I want to wrap up my message with a word from John’s epistle. (3 John 1:4) “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth”. Amen!

Monday, May 12, 2014

so many metaphors, so little time

So many metaphors, so little time 051114
Psalm 23; John 10:1-10

look in pew Bible, today’s reading comes under the heading Jesus the Good Shepherd;  so how many of you heard that Jesus is the shepherd in today’s reading?
You can fool some of the people….
You can’t necessarily believe everything in the Bible….Jesus is NOT the good shepherd in today’s reading: it’s not till much later in the chapter that Jesus says that.  In these verses there are so many metaphors, and shepherd is one of them, yes, but there’s also thieves and bandits, voice, gatekeeper, and of course sheep.   It’s no wonder when Jesus used this figure of speech with them they did not understand.   Me neither, Jesus.  Could you be a little clearer?
Before we go any further, we need to remember the context of this discourse of Jesus—Easter intervened for us, but this happens right after the healing of the blind man, which we heard several weeks ago, and in John’s gospel each miracle, or sign as they’re called by John, is followed by a dialogue then some teaching discourse by Jesus.  The images of saved, of being in and out, and of abundant life, all refer back to that story, as well as stand as helpful metaphors for us today.
But like the disciples, we need it to be a little clearer.  So Jesus tries again.  I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture…the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Ah.  I may not understand all the metaphors, but I do understand that longing….to have life, abundant life, to feel fully and deeply alive!   To recognize the right voice when I’m seeking direction….to follow the right path…..to know there’s a safe place to go with my hurt and fears….yet to know the freedom to explore beyond the sheepfold…..my heart knows that yearning.  So perhaps the poetry of metaphor is the only thing expansive enough.  So let’s look imaginatively, spiritually, not literally, at some of these…assuming, for just a moment or two, that we’re the sheep….I’ll ask questions, and you can either answer out loud, or in the silence of your hearts….
1.     Thieves and bandits….a thief steals what’s ours, what’s precious to us.  What takes away from what’s most important to you? In fact, what IS most important to you?    A bandit ambushes with sudden attack.   What diverts your growth, attacks your spirit out of the blue? 
2.     Shepherd…the ubiquitous metaphor for God – most famously from psalm 23.   How does God shepherd you?  Or, perhaps more honestly, who IS your shepherd?  Who or what really guides you?
3.     Gatekeeper….usually a gatekeeper decides who’s in and who’s out, like the synagogue leaders in the blind man story.   In Jesus’ day the gatekeeper decided which shepherd got in and out too.  Aren’t some of us gatekeepers?  Don’t we like to decide who’s in and who’s out in our social group, in our church groups, who’s saved and who’s not? We like to keep gates closed.  But note that the gatekeeper in Jesus’ story is a gate-opener, who is more concerned with offering the sheep the chance to follow the shepherd.   Which am I, are you?  Gatekeeper, gateopener?
4.     Voice…how do you hear your shepherd’s voice?  Can you tell whose voice it really is?  What do you do as a practice to learn to recognize God’s voice in your life?
5.     Then there is the clear, main metaphor in this text…Jesus as the gate. Jesus was the threshold by which the blind man was saved from a lifetime of darkness, exclusion and isolation, and saved FOR security and belonging in community….. what does your faith save you from?  What does it save you for?
This image of gate is helpful in ordinary, daily ways as well as big, existential ways.
As Jesus’ people, we learn to put things through the filter of Jesus (another metaphor for you if you can’t like gate), rather than let them sneak in to do harm….we learn to trust those things, choices, decisions, people, that come to us through the Jesus way…..we might even use the WWJD/S thought process….and ask, as we make daily and extraordinary decisions: what will bring life, abundant life, versus what drains us, steals our spiritual energy or attacks our commitment.

The gate opens, to invite us in when we need safety and security and community….thank God for the open gate.
The gate opens, to invite us out into new pastures, risky studies, deeper faith, new ministries like our gleaning project….thank God for the open gate.
The gate opens, with the freedom to answer the call, or not.  Many of us choose to stay in the safety of the fold, not risking anything different, not realizing we are then underfed, underdeveloped, and not following the one we say we follow.  Because we cannot stand forever on the gate’s threshold.

Today we stand at the gate.  Jesus invites us to move.   Move in closer for community and security….move out beyond into abundant life for nourishment and service.
Here we stand at the gate.  Here at this moment, between heaven and earth, between east and west, between north and south.  Here in this holy place. Will we allow Jesus to be our gate?

Sunday, May 04, 2014

everyday resurrection-theva

Everyday Resurrection!
Luke 24:13-35
Grace and peace are already ours for we belong to the family of Jesus the Christ. Our gospel today is about two persons travelling on the road to Emmaus. Don’t ask me where Emmaus is, for I have been to Israel six times and every time I asked our guides to take us to the place called Emmaus. Some of them were Jewish and others Palestinians, however they all said to me there is no place called Emmaus anywhere in Israel. One person said”Emmaus is nowhere here” and on hearing that from him I preached an Easter sermon that year with the title: “EMMAUS IS EVERYWHERE”. In fact I share the same thoughts with you today under the title: “EVERYDAY RESURRECTION”. The background of our gospel passage was the first Easter day evening. There were two disillusioned and disappointed persons; persons who were in shock, grief and denial travelling on that road to Emmaus. Perhaps they have known Jesus personally. Or perhaps thy have known intimately those who followed the prophet’s footsteps. These two persons were attracted by the simple yet challenging words Jesus who spoke about love and forgiveness and peace. They must have been mesmerized by his commonsense logic on issues of justice and equality. Perhaps they have witnessed how this simple peasant of Galilee transmitted God’s power among people by his life and life style. Now they are agonizing over the events of that cruel Friday. How can the Jewish nation, the Sanhedrin, the high priest, the Roman governor and Herod the king, plot together and kill such an innocent man? How can this world treat so cruelly a person like Jesus of Nazareth? He was so humble and transparent. He  made God easily accessible to human kind. We thought this is the man who would redeem Israel but see what happened. And as they were grieving over Jesus’s gruesome death, a stranger suddenly intervened. ”What are you discussing about?” the stranger asked. And the two persons in turn responded to the stranger “were you not in Jerusalem these past few days.”Didn’t you read today’s Jerusalem Post?’ The stranger then said that for thousands of years from the time of Moses, and with the predictions of the prophets, we were told this will happen to Jesus. It will be by suffering that Jesus would enter glory. In the tone and mannerism, in the very looks and gestures, the stranger reminded them the same old familiar person with the face of God and with the name Jesus of Nazareth. When the two persons however reached their destination it was almost evening. So the two persons urged the stranger to stay with them that night and they had a meal together. The guest during the meal took the bread, blessed and broke and gave thanks and they all ate. As the guest immediately left, the two of them began to share their memories of him. One said “he warmed our hearts as he explained the scriptures to us on the way. It was the dame phrase uttered by the founder of the Methodist church John Wesley when he had a conversion experience. “My heart was strangely warmed”. Then the other one said “see how quickly the one, who came to us as our guest, became the host of the occasion. How wonderfully he blessed our meal and served us and then quickly vanished”. In fact the bible tells us, this Jesus of Nazareth during his life on earth constantly ate and drank with the poor and the despised, the outcast and the people of the margins. He earned the knick name “a drunkard and a glutton”. And now that act is followed again by the resurrected Jesus. He is blessing a simple feast in Emmaus. He is eating bread and broiled fish with the disciples on a sea beach. He reminds us of the great promise of the resurrection feast where no one will be hungry and of the banquet table where the first will be last and the last first.
        In 1847 an English clergyman by the name Henry Light read this story from Luke 24 and wrote a beautiful hymn. It is No.700 in our hymnal. Perhaps the words of this hymn may speak to you more powerfully than my words: Abide with me fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens Lord with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, O, abide with me. This hymn has 5 verses in it.
          The resurrection story for me is not about the mechanics of how Jesus rose from the dead. I have tried hard in my life to convince many with the proofs of resurrection. Now I don’t do that for I realize resurrecting Jesus from the dead is not my business. It is God’s job. However I am challenged by the magnificent Easter message to live a life at a higher level. A message to live a life with social and political awareness, to live a life to the full, to live a life of transforming strangers into friends, to live a life bringing comfort to the grieving and the confused persons, to live a life helping persons make meaning in their lives.

      Here is my closing story: A community wide Easter pageant assigned various people in the town to play the different parts. The character of Jesus went to a most unlikely person-a big, burly, barroom brawler, an oilfield worker, the most unlikely person to be typecast as our Lord. After several weeks of rehearsals, the day of the Easter pageant finally arrived. When they came to the part of the play where Jesus was being led away to be crucified, one little man, filing in as part of the crowd, got caught up in the emotion of the drama. He joined in the shouts of “crucify him! Crucify him!” as Jesus was led away toward Calvary. Then, in the midst of shouting insults at the top of his lungs, he accidently sprayed some spit in the face of the character playing Jesus, as the actor walked by carrying the cross in his back. The oilfield worker stopped in his tracks, reached up and wiped his face dry. And then he looked at the little man and said:”I ‘ll be back to take care of you after then resurrection.”

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Holy moley he did what?

                                                                                                                                               John 20:19-31                                                                                                              Holy Humor Sunday ‘14

Imagine, if you can suspend disbelief for a few minutes, two disciples of Jesus talking.

Disciple 1:  Wait till you hear the latest!  There we were- a bunch of Jesus’ followers  huddled in fear in a locked house (to congregation let’s not call us wimps because I’m pretty sure YOU’d be right in there)—when through the wall comes Jesus!  
Disciple 2:  Holy moley, He did what?
1: Yup, right through that wall.
2: This is one of those “you’ve got to be kidding”  stories, right?  I mean, April Fool’s day was a month ago!
1:  No, he really did.  One minute we’re all feeling miserable and guilty and scared because he’s dead and we abandoned him….the next minute, Ta-da!  He’s right there in the room with us.
2.  Oh my gosh.  I bet he really let you have it for letting him down!
1:  no he didn’t.  He just said, Peace be upon you.
2: Holy moley, He did what?
1:  Peace.  Shalom. A greeting of love, and not an ounce of recrimination, or hurt or anything.  If it had been me left to die by my friends  I think I’d have said, “where the heck were you?”
2:  Yes, me too.  But remember how he never blamed people for things that other people would blame them for , and he forgave people’s sins,  forgave us for not understanding him, even when we were pretty impulsive and stupid,.   And he was never one for violent words or actions.  Revenge and recriminations are hurtful, so it fits that he wouldn’t use them.
1:  I suppose you’re right.  But I thought something like his awful death would change him.  I was so surprised when he came through the wall my first thought was ‘uh oh, we’re in trouble now’  I felt so bad about his death.
2:  But it DID change him, or his resurrection did.  I mean, he came through the wall for goodness sake!
1:  But that wasn’t all.  After the surprise of the wall, and the surprise of the blessing of peace, he says that he’s sending us out, just as God sent him, and to do God’s work we should take his Spirit with us…so he breathes on us.
2: Holy moley, He did what?
1:  Remember he talked about the wind being like God’s spirit?  How we couldn’t see it but knew it was there and working when we saw what it did?
2:  Ye…s
1:  well,  remember at the time we thought it was hilarious because when we speak Greek,  wind and spirit are the same word?   We thought he was such a clever punny guy.    Well, it suddenly struck me,  breath is the same word too!   So his breath on us is like the wind is like God’s own spirit, so we just need to breathe in, a good deep breath, and we can be filled up with the spirit of Jesus.
And if we’re filled with the spirit of Jesus, we are going to be able to continue to do his work, more and more like him.   And if we’re filled with the spirit of Jesus, there’s less room for the toxins that we usually breathe in.
2:  Toxins?  Like what?
1:  I was thinking about that.  That night, we were afraid of the authorities; we thought we might be next.  We didn’t want to be associated with Jesus.  We were ashamed to be thought of as one of his followers.  We were full of the toxin of fear.
And we were there in a safe cocoon, behind locked doors, sticking together like rice, warm and cozy and, well, more comfortable than we were when we were out on the road with him.  That’s the toxin of comfort that our lives are based on. 
And remember Thomas?  Well, he wasn’t there the first time, so he didn’t believe us.  Lots of people don’t believe what they can’t see or prove, or say they don’t.  But they believe in the wind, so I’ve never really bought their argument.  Anyway, Thomas wasn’t having any of it.   That’s the toxin of skepticism.
None of those toxins we breathe in  leave much room for God to manoever.
2:  Wait a minute.  You said the first time—you mean it happened again?
1:  Yup, one week later.  And Thomas was there this time.   We were still keeping a low profile.  I think we hadn’t really practiced breathing in the Spirit.  Still fearful, still safely comfortable, still skeptical.  I think the business of belief and faith is a process that takes practice.  I’m still working on it.  But I believe what Jesus said, that with his Spirit in us, we have the very power and presence of God within and around us, and the more  we draw on it, the more we make a bit of God’s future real in the present moment.   That’s what I think he meant about bringing about the kingdom of God here and now, on earth as in heaven.  It’s our job to help make heaven and earth meet, as often as we can, so earth is touched by heaven more and more, and transformed.   Just like Jesus was transformed.  Just like Mary is being transformed – have you see her lately?  Wow, changed woman.  Just like I’m being transformed.
2: so it happened again?  And Thomas got it?
1: yes, and it happened again and again. And it’s still happening.  Jesus shows up in unexpected ways and in unexpected places.  The more we’re filled with his spirit, breathing it in, the more we recognize him in others.
And his spirit is still at work, too….calming our fear, disrupting our comfort,  and reassuring our doubts.
Both:  Thanks be to God!