Sunday, May 25th, 2014 – Sermon on John 14:15-21

John 14:15-21

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Acts 17:22-31

22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For “In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.’ 29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Last week, we talked about how God is all around us. How we are never separate or distant from God. Because God is in you. And God is in me. And together we all live and move and have our being in God. It is like we are the kids in a summer swimming pool, and God is the water. Without all the chlorine and urine, of course. Together, we are constantly swimming in the divine. God is all around us. If we have eyes to see.

Now, just in case you thought I was crazy and completely making all of that up, listen again to parts of today’s texts.

In John, we heard these words: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

And then in Acts, from the Apostle Paul…. “From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For “In him we live and move and have our being’”

At that last supper, Jesus says to his disciples, and to us, that he is sending us an Advocate – the Holy Spirit- to be with you forever. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

Jesus says he is sending an Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Now this word, advocate. It can have several overlapping meanings. It can function in a legal sense, meaning literally one who advocates for you before a court of law. One who stands up to defend you. But it can also function more relationally by meaning one who brings help, consolation, comfort, and encouragement. All of these however, come from the most basic meaning of the word to “come along side another.”[1]

This is the Holy Spirit. The one Jesus sends to be with you forever. To defend you and abide with you. The who will come alongside you. But if I have learned anything in my lifetime about the Holy Spirit, it is this: the good news is that the Spirit of God will never leave you alone. The bad news is that the Spirit of God will never leave you alone. It is going to be like that younger brother or sister, constantly asking you to go out and play. That friend or neighbor who is always coming over just to see what you’re doing. You see, when the Holy Spirit shows up, when it comes to work on us, to dislocate us from our comfortable lives, the primary tool the Holy Spirit uses is annoyance.

In the 1970s, Edward Bennett Williams was a prominent criminal lawyer in Washington DC. He was also the owner of the Washington Redskins. Together, he and his friend, Paul Detrick, were the principal officers of a charitable foundation. One day, they were visited by Mother Teresa. She was on a tour of the country raising money for an AIDS hospice. She was visiting all of the charities and she went to visit Edwin Bennett Williams. Before she came, Williams said to Detrick, “You know, AIDS is not my favorite disease. And I don’t want to give any money to this woman, but I got a Saint from the Roman Catholic church coming and I don’t know what to do.”

Detrick said, “Well let’s listen to her respectfully, thank her for what she said, and then say that we have no surplus of money, I’m sorry we can’t help you.”

“Agreed.”

In came Mother Teresa. Williams and Detrick were seated in leather chairs, on one side of a large mahogany desk, with the small and frail Mother Teresa on the other. She told of the AIDs Hospice, she made an appeal for money. Williams then said, “We’re moved by what you said. We’re touched by your compassion. But we don’t have any money. I’m sorry.”

“Let us pray…” said Mother Teresa.

The men rolled their eyes but they bowed their heads in prayer. When she finished her prayer, she gave exactly the same appeal as the first time.

“Thank you very much. We are touched by what you’ve said. But we don’t have any money.”

Mother Teresa nodded, and said, “Let us pray.” And finally Edwin Bennett Williams said, “Alright, alright! Get me my checkbook.”[2]

And that’s how the Holy Spirit works. With an incredible capacity to annoy. By never leaving you alone.

I don’t know if you have ever experience someone like this or not, but in our neighborhood there is a child who has this incredible ability to sneak up on you. All the time. You go out to the mailbox, you turn around, and she’s there. You go out into your garage, you put your shoes on, and suddenly, her little head pops out from behind the freezer. Or you’re out mowing the lawn, and you can just feel these eyes on you. You glance down the street and there she is staring at you. And you know it is only a matter of time before she arrives.

Now, it isn’t so much her presence that can be annoying, it’s the lingering. It’s the hanging around and persistent questions: What are you doing? Can I do it? What is this? Can I have it? Do you have something to drink? I’m thirsty.

Needless to say, she can feel like a pest. But then last week, something happened. We learned something about her we didn’t know – she is fantastic at helping us look after Elliot. It was a busy Saturday afternoon. I was in and out with errands. Lauren was desperately trying to plant her garden before the weekend was over. And you can image how it is trying to do anything productive with a 2-year old to constant monitor.

Well, just like every time we’re outside, our neighborhood pest showed up. Only this time, she was not a pest. But more of a Godsend. She took Elliot off of Lauren’s hands and played with him. Soccer, tag, rolling around in the grass. And as they played, one thing became clear: Elliot. Loves. Her. Not in the boy meets girl, kind of way, but in that young kid looking up to the older kid who is willing to play with him.

The good news is that the Spirit of God will never leave you alone. The bad news is that the Spirit of God will never leave you alone. In fact, the Holy Spirit will annoy you until it gets what it wants. And what the Holy Spirit has taught us, is that that neighbor who annoys us, also has an incredible capacity to be a gift to us. Oh yeah, and our son also looks up to her. And suddenly our boundaries, our patience, our love for her were stretched much wider.

Do you have anything or anyone like that in your life? Something or someone who annoys you to no end? Maybe it is someone who calls all the time and you are hesitant to pick up. Or maybe it is some nagging thing that wears on you like a thorn in your side. Or maybe you are the annoying work of the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life? Might that be the Spirit of God at work? That thing, that person that makes you go, “Oh boy. Here we go.”

The hard part of the Holy Spirit, when it comes and annoys us, it will always expect one thing from us that we are so often not wanting to give: change.

This past week, I was at a preaching conference in the cities. And for three days, Lauren and I soaked in great sermons and lectures on preaching and great worship. The first day of worship was really my cup of tea. Great hymns, a big booming organ, hundreds and hundreds of worshipers singing. It was great. But then…the next Tuesday, it was contemporary worship music. With clapping. Now don’t get me wrong – this was good music. Powerful music. Spirit-filled music. But the Spirit was asking me to change something that I was not ready to change. As I was shyly clapping my hands along with a song, I realized that my elbows were anchored to my sides. And I couldn’t help but laugh at myself, because it was like I believed that if you don’t move your elbows than you are not really participating in it, and I was still okay. But finally, the Spirit got to me, with the help from some of my friends’ elbows hitting me in the ribs. Eventually, I loosened up.

But that’s how the Spirit of God is. It is persistent in working on us. Nudging us. Guiding us. Elbowing us in the ribs, so that we might be transformed – changed – into a new creation, for the sake of creating a better world for tomorrow.

Here is the real thing about the Holy Spirit. It might always expect change from us. And its primary tool in getting that change may be annoyance. But it’s all for good reason. Because the primary goal of all of this is to create us into a community of advocates. ”When the disciples experience Jesus as risen from the dead, they recognize his Spirit as gathering them into something new: they become a church, a community of people who are bound together by the Spirit in love for one another. The love of God, given and received in a community like that, offers healing and belonging where there was isolation before.”[3]  The Advocate creates us into a community of advocates. A community that comes alongside one another in times of celebration and joy, but also in times of disappointment and loss. When comfort and encouragement are needed.

So what would it look like for us to function as advocates? Might we become a community of the Spirit? Might we, in fact, recognize that in coming along side each other to be each other’s advocates we are loving Jesus most fully by conforming our lives to his and keeping his commandments – to love one another as we have been loved?

I want to share with you one way that I already see this happening within our community. This past week our “Life’s Stresses” group met. If you haven’t heard about it yet, it is an open group that was formed just last month. It is designed to be a place where anyone who is experiencing too much stress in their life can come to share their struggle, be supported, and, while they are there, support others as well.

This past week, two people showed up. Now these days, when everything needs to be counted and charted…when numbers are all the rage, you might think that only two people showing up is a failure. You might think that starting the group was a waste of time. But you’d be wrong.

Because that night, two parents, who both know how hard and unexpected parenting can be, came together to share and to support one another. And in the end, one invited the other to church. But not just to church. But to sit together too. Side by side. Together. In worship. To come alongside one another. I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like the work of an Advocate. The Advocate. The One whom Jesus sends. Amen.

 

[1] David Lose, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3226

[2] http://cepreaching.org/tlong_luke18.mp3

[3] http://www.odysseynetworks.org/news/2014/05/16/stand-by-me-memorial-day-the-healing-of-souls

Sunday, May 18th, 2014 – Sermon on John 14:1-14

John 14:1-14

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Acts 7:55-60

55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

1 Peter 2:2-10

2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” 8 and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

In our gospel lesson from John, Jesus is talking with the disciples on the night before his death. And Jesus says to them, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” And then a little later still, not in our reading, Jesus says, “you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

I am in the Father and the Father is in me. And you in me. And I in you. Let that sink in for just a moment. Jesus is in God the Father. God the Father is in Jesus. We are in Jesus. And Jesus is in us. If this is true, then the first thing that we learn today is that we live and move and have our being in God. And that if Jesus is in me and Jesus is in you, and we are in Jesus, then we are all interconnected with one another and with God. And together we are one. There is no separation between us. Because we all live and have our being in God.

When Angie and I were at the synod assembly a couple of weeks ago, we got to hear this in relation to the Trinity. God as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three in one. And the keynote speaker reminded us that in our Trinitarian theology, the very essence of God, the heart of God is relationship. God as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is God as relationship. God at God’s core is a community. And the Trinity is so interconnected that you cannot separate them from one another without losing the community. God as three persons makes one community.[1]

And so if the very essence of God is relationship or community, and you and I were made in the image of God, then you and I were created in relationships and for relationships. And so if as we learned in our Gospel, Jesus is in God and Jesus is in you and me, and we are in God, then you and I are forever interconnected by God. Imagine another triangle. Only this time, it has God, you, and me at its corners. At the core of God, God is relationship. And so God creates us to be as God is…in relationship. God will be found in our relationship to one another. You and I can never really be separated from one another, our connection can never be broken, because we both live and have our being in God.

We were made by God in relationship and for relationship. But then we learned one more thing at the assembly. So often, we want to divide ourselves from one another. It is amazing how much energy we give to trying to divide ourselves from one another By our differences. By the way we look or act or believe. And in doing that we are trying to separate ourselves from one another. To destroy our community. To make us separate instead of one. And when we do that, when I separate myself from you, I separate myself from God.When I separate myself from you, when I act as if you do not matter to me, I destroy the community that God has created us to be.

And God won’t have it. God won’t rest until all are one. The heart of God is in relationship and therefore, God is on a mission to restore community. To restore who we were created to be. To erase the line between me and you. Us and them.

And while it may not seem like it at first glance, we get a beautiful witness to this in our story from Acts this morning. In this story we hear the story of Stephen, a follower of Jesus. And at this time, there was a great debate going on in the Jewish community. Was being a follower of Jesus a departure from the God of Israel, or was it not. Stephen defends Christianity, that to be Christian is to still believe in the God of Israel. And as a result, Stephen gets stoned to death. He is the first martyr of the Christian church. The ruling authority put a very firm line of division up. A bold and broad line of separation… but not Stephen. Did you notice that just before Stephen died, he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Sound familiar? Lord, forgive them for they know not what they are doing. Those are the same words Jesus spoke on the cross about those who were killing him. Stephen asks God to forgive those who were stoning him.

So you could say that he took Jesus’ command of loving your enemies literally. He loved his enemies by praying for their forgiveness. Or in other words, he was unwilling to draw a line between himself and his enemy. He was unwilling to ignore the presence of God that was within them too.

Okay, now a more modern example. My friend, Alan, who is a pastor in South Africa, was once teaching the Bible in Sudan. And then two years later he goes back and meets a student who told him this story.

His family had been killed by a neighboring group of people. And this man walked to the edge of his jurisdiction and stood at the edge of theirs. And he stood with nothing but a bowl in his hands. And he just stood. For three days he stood there without food, but with the prayer that they will eventually feed him.

Alan then asked him, “Why did you do this?”

He said, “I needed to trust that even my enemy has it within them to save my life.” Jesus said, “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” Standing there was an affirmation of his enemy’s humanity. It was an affirmation of the promise that God cannot be separated even from his enemy. “You have killed my family but I trust you will feed me!” And so he proclaimed the gospel that God will be found in our relationships and when we separate ourselves, we cut ourselves and others off from God.[2]

Just like Stephen who forgave those who were stoning him, this student affirmed his enemy’s humanity and godliness by being unwilling to draw a line between him and them. It is a story about offering mercy and grace to those who had killed his family. He too took the scriptures and Jesus’ words literally.

So what would it look like if you and I took the Scripture literally? If we lived into the promise that God exists in you and you exist in God, and together we are one in God? That God will be known and found among us in community? And that we cannot separate ourselves from one another or from anyone out there without separating them and us from the very heart of God?

Jesus said, “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” We live and move and have our being in God. We are all connected to one another through God and through Jesus. And do you know what that makes you? It makes you a priesthood. Did you hear that in the reading from 1 Peter? He said, “You are a royal priesthood.” If you are a royal priesthood, that means I am not the only pastor in the room. But rather that each and everyone of you is a pastor. Because Jesus is in you and you are in Jesus and together, you are in God, then each one of you has the capacity to be a pastor to one another and to others. Offering a word from God of grace, forgiveness, and hope to the people you meet.

And so I would like to share with you how you are already living this out. This past week, when I was feeling down and insecure and ill-equipped to be a pastor, you spoke a word of encouragement and confidence that was pure gospel medicine for me. After receiving an anonymous and disturbing and criticizing phone call this past week, you spoke a word of reassurance and compassion to me. And this past week, when I let one of you down. When I wasn’t the pastor that you needed me to be, you offered me forgiveness.

You were my pastor this week. And it was life-giving for me. And humbling. But more than anything else, just really, really, powerful. So thank you.

You are pastors. Not because you went to seminary or have received training to be a pastor. You are pastors because you love – and it’s the love that is revealed and given by Jesus Christ. You are pastors. To one another and to people outside of these walls. Jesus said, “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” We all live and move and have our being in God. When we realize that, when we embrace that, there is nothing more powerful. The very essence of our Trinitarian God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…the very essence is community and relationship. And because of this, God is on a mission to restore community, to restore relationships…through you. With your offering words and actions that share the compassion and love and grace of God.

And so, what a great day to welcome new members to our church. To show that we are one and we are not divided. To stretch the boundaries of our community. To make promises of love and support to one another. And to know that each of our new members has the capacity and the power to be pastor to us. And us to them. And that together, we will live out the very essence and heart of God. To be in relationship with one another.

Jesus said, “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Rafael Padilla, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMQbgZMylUg

[2] Alan Storey, http://cmm.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/2014-05-11.mp3

Sunday, May 11th, 2014 – Sermon on John 10:1-10

John 10:1-10

1 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

In 1984, Heidi Neumark became the pastor of Transfiguration Lutheran Church, in the South Bronx of New York. And everyday for months, she did the exactly same thing to begin her work day – she repainted the front doors of the church.

You see, each morning, when Pastor Heidi walked from the house to the church, she was greeted with fresh graffiti scattered across the double-locked, double-bolted, red church doors. Night after night, those church doors became the canvas for the neighborhood youth to vent their anger and frustration. And morning after morning, Pastor Heidi would pull out her can of red paint, and she would cover over whatever scars had been left on the door the night before.[1]

In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus says, “I am the gate.” Or sometimes it is translated, “I am the door. Whoever enters by me will be saved.”

What comes to mind when you hear those words from Jesus? I am the door. It makes me think of a barrier. Something that keeps certain people in and certain people out.

So often, I think it makes us think of exactly what the youth in the Bronx thought – who is in and who is out. And for the youth in the south Bronx, the message that double-locked, double –bolted door communicated was crystal clear – they were definitely not in.

I am the door. Whoever enters by me will be saved. It makes me think of Heaven and Hell. Especially because that word “saved” is in there. Whoever enters will be saved. And that is how we hear what it means to be saved. That those who believe in Jesus get to go through the door to heaven and those who don’t…go to hell. That in order to get in, you have to use Jesus, the door. You have to be friends with Jesus the bouncer. We’ve used this text against Muslims, atheists, Jews, and any other religion that seems to get in our way. We’ve used it to declare who is out and who is in. And, conveniently enough, it leaves us as ones who are most definitely in.

But part of that is because we have taken this story, this text, out of its context. And we know how important context is. We know that if someone takes something we say out of context, they are likely to misunderstand us. Which is why we want people to hear things the things we within the context that they are given. Well the same is true with Scripture. And so we must always try and locate Scripture within its context.

When we read from our Bibles, we see chapters and verses. Sometimes we even see little headings that tell us what the next section is about. But when these stories were first written down, there were no chapters and verses. We’ve inserted them. We’ve decided how the story should be divided up and separated.

And so when we see that today we are reading the gospel of John chapter 10 verse 1, it is easy for us to think that something entirely new is beginning. A new story. A new sermon from Jesus. But this chapter directly follows the previous chapter – chapter 9. And believe it or not, they are connected. John’s original audience would have read chapter 10 right after reading chapter 9. Therefore, we can’t read chapter 10 without knowing what happens in chapter 9.

And in fact, many of us already know what happens in chapter 9, because we just heard it a couple of weeks ago. Do you remember the story of Jesus healing the blind man. He put spit and mud on his eyes. And what we learned in that story is that it is more than a story about a miraculous healing. But rather it is also, and perhaps more so, a story about inclusion and exclusion. Because the man was born blind, he was viewed as sinful and unclean. People assumed his blindness was punishment for sin and therefore he was kept on the margins of society. He was excluded. Then Jesus heals him so as to bring him back into the fold of society. To include him. But then he gets kicked out again because he won’t rat out Jesus. But finally, Jesus goes once again to find him. To once again include him.

It is at this point, that Jesus begins speaking to the Pharisees and the scribes, the ones who excluded the blind man. And that is where we get our text for today. So what happens when we read our story for today in light of the story of the inclusion and healing of the blind man.

Jesus is talking to the Pharisees and Scribes – the excluders – and Jesus begins by painting an image of a fold of sheep in their pen. He talks about thieves and bandits trying to steal the sheep, and finally, Jesus speaks plainly, saying, “I am the gate.” I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved.

Remember our tendency is to hear this as being about who is in and who is out. About Jesus as a barrier or a bouncer. But also remember that is exactly what the Pharisees and scribes were doing in the story of the blind man. They were the deciders about who was out and who was in. So when Jesus says to the Pharisees and scribes, “I am the gate,” perhaps what he is saying is, “I am the gate. Not you.”

In relation to Jesus, the blind man who is outside to the Pharisees is really inside in relation to Jesus.[2] Jesus saying, “I am the door,” is a statement of grace over what we so often hear as a statement of judgment. Inclusion over exclusion. Jesus says to his own religion – you don’t get to decide. I get to decide. And based on the story of the blind man, Jesus seems more interested in being a door that lets people in rather than a door that keeps people out.

Jesus says, I am the door. Whoever enters through me will be saved. Before we make this a text about heaven and hell, we should ask: what was salvation for the blind man? Salvation was not the future hope of getting into heaven. Salvation for the blind man was the present hope of being given sight. And in regaining his sight, he was saved from a life of isolation, marginalization, begging. Salvation for him was being welcomed back into the community. Inclusion over exclusion.

And finally, if we need one more example of how this text is not about getting into heaven, Jesus says, “(The sheep) will come in and go out and find pasture.” Jesus is a door that swings both directions. Letting people in and letting people out. He is a door that welcomes the community into the fold, into the people of God, but also sends the people of God out into the community. The world that God loves so much.

Every time pastor Heidi repainted the door, she simply reaffirmed what the youth thought. This door is a locked barrier that keeps people like you out. And it continued to be a barrier. And it continued to be graffitied each morning.

Until Pastor Heidi changed something. Finally, Heidi ran out of red paint. And with it, she ran out of patience. She was tired of her daily morning chore. So she changed something. Instead of repainting the door, she asked the teenagers in the neighborhood if they wanted to be part of an art class. Soon enough, young artists starting coming through those doors of the church, to listen to Bible stories and then to illustrate them in paint on those front, formally red church doors.

“Week after week, the youth painted their hearts out on those front doors. It was a joyous, messy process…(soon enough, there was a) parade of feet that daily passed by, feet of people who stopped to look, to check out what was going on, to offer compliments and suggestions, and to inquire about the church. There has never been another stroke of graffiti on those doors.”[3]

It wasn’t until Pastor Heidi made the church doors a canvas for the community, instead of a barrier from the community that the vandalism, the visual protests, began to stop. As soon as those doors became doors that opened both ways – letting the community in to be the people of God and the people of God out into the community, suddenly abundant life was created for that South Bronx neighborhood.

And that is exactly what Jesus, the gate, the door, seeks – abundant life. I came so that they might have life and have it abundantly. For Jesus, all of this is about abundant life, full life, new life…now. Salvation in the form of grace over judgment, inclusion over exclusion. In this life.

And what greater example do we have for that than the story of Mother’s Day. I want to introduce you to two people: Ann Reeves Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe. Both are viewed as the women who started Mothers’ Day. Around 1858, Ann Reeves Jarvis took it upon herself to meet the needs of her community in Virginia. She began Mothers’ Day Work Clubs that sought to improve the health and sanitary conditions of their community. Together, these Mothers’ Day work groups sought to help the community provide the best possible care for its children. But then the Civil War began to break out. And suddenly, the community became very, very divided. Divided between the North and the South. Between the Union and the Confederates. And so the mission of Ann Jarvis’ Mothers’ Day Work Club shifted. Now Jarvis urged her clubs to be neutral parties and to provide aid to both Confederate and Union soldiers. “Under her guidance, the clubs fed and clothed soldiers from both sides who were stationed in the area. When typhoid fever and measles broke out in the military camps, Jarvis and her club members nursed the suffering soldiers from both sides.” And then after the war ended, Ann and her Mothers’ Day club members planned a “Mothers’ Friendship Day” for soldiers from both sides of the Civil War and their families to help the healing process and to promote reconciliation.[4]

A few years later, in 1870, Julia Ward Howe wrote what is now know as the Mothers’ Day Proclamation, which was a call to action that asked women to unite in promoting world peace.[5] In her proclamation, she wrote: “Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts…We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.… Let (the women of this country) solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace…In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held… to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.[6]

In other words, the work of Ann and Julia, the women who started Mothers’ Day, was centered around reconciliation, healing, peace, non-violence among nations. Their work was about creating pathways, doors, that brought people together, rather than divide them. Opening up opportunities for peace and reconciliation. It was not about closing doors and building barriers. But opening doors. And inviting one another in.

And so on this day, Mothers’ Day, and this day when we hear that Jesus is the door – might we begin to see this image of Jesus not as a barrier or a boundary but as a pathway in which all are invited and welcomed. A door that invites people in, say to worship and rest and reflect together, but then also a door that lets people out. Out of the sanctuary and into the world seeking to be a people of God who hunger and thirst for peace and justice and reconciliation. Grace over judgment. Inclusion over exclusion. Like our mothering God, Jesus is in the business of bringing about life and life abundant here and now. May we be so brave as Pastor Heidi and Ann and Julia to live out such divine work in our lives. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Heidi Neumark, Breathing Space, p. 3.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_podcast.aspx?podcast_id=484

[3] Heidi Neumark, Breathing Space, p. 11.

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Jarvis

[5] http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/mothers-day

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother%27s_Day_Proclamation

Sunday, May 4, 2014 – Sermon on Luke 24:13-35

Luke 24:13-35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Today is the third Sunday of Easter. For us, Easter morning was two weeks ago. But for our gospel story, it is still Easter morning. And in our story we meet two men. Men we’ve never met before in the gospel story. They are strangers to us. One is named Cleopas and the other is left unnamed. But they are disciples of Jesus and at this point in the story, on Easter morning, they don’t even know for sure that Jesus has risen from the tomb. They’ve heard rumors about it, but they haven’t seen it with their own eyes. The last thing they know for sure is that Jesus was nailed to a cross and died. And so they are likely feeling defeated. And disappointed. I mean, this was the one on whom they had placed all of their hopes. And now all they know for sure is that he’s been killed. And perhaps, maybe, they are feeling a bit guilty, because they didn’t stick it out with him. Remember, they all ran away as soon as Jesus was arrested. They are feeling lost. And hopeless. And disappointed. And it says that they were on the road to a town called Emmaus. Now, here’s the thing. Archeologists today have no idea where Emmaus is located. They can’t find it. The text says it is just 7 miles from Jerusalem, but no one seems to be able to find where it was.

And so maybe….maybe Emmaus is not a physical place. Maybe Emmaus is an emotional place. What if Emmaus is that place where you flee when you’ve run out of hope. When life has disappointed you, when guilt weighs on you. When everything feels kind of dead and gone. To be on the road to Emmaus is to be on “the road of deep disappointment.”[1]

In just this past week, just this past week alone, I have heard about a friend of mine who led the funeral for a 19-year-old girl who took her life, because she was so ashamed of some of the things she did in her life, and the bullying she received was too much to bear. I heard about woman who wonders if she should tell her 7-year-old daughter that her absent father took his own life. I heard about a man who is getting married, but still carries the grief and guilt of his previous divorce. I heard about new congregation, just four years old, that fears not making it due to financial strain. I heard about a father whose daughter is furious at him for moving her across the country to a new school and a new town right in the middle of junior high. And I heard about a town 15 miles west of here that has been shaken to its knees over learning that one of their own wanted to go on a massive killing spree at Waseca High School.

Just these stories alone give witness to what it is like to be on the road to Emmaus – the road of deep disappointment. And fear. When everything feels hopeless and dead. And I suspect that we all know this road, in some way in our life.

So what is your Emmaus? Where do you go when life is like that? Where do you go to escape? Do you go to the movies? Video games? The bar? For me, it is easily the TV. That’s where I go. To zone out and go numb for a little while.

And so that is where these two disciples are headed. They are on the road to Emmaus. And notice what happens. It is at that point. When they are on the road of deep disappointment, a stranger comes and joins them on the road. Now, we know that it is Jesus, but they don’t know that. And so we get to hear again, as some of us have heard in the past couple of months, sometimes Jesus comes to us as a stranger. And just because we don’t recognize Jesus, doesn’t mean he isn’t present in our life.

Too often we’ve been told that we have to believe in Jesus, we have to know Jesus, we have to let Jesus into our life, before he will come to us. But this story teaches us otherwise. This story tells us that sometimes Jesus comes to us as a stranger. As someone we do not recognize. And Jesus comes to us when we have run out of faith and hope, and to walk with us.

So Jesus comes to them and asks what they are talking about. And they say, “Are you the only one who hasn’t heard?” You know, which is a kind way of saying, “What are you, clueless?…Haven’t you heard about the things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

Now, remember they don’t know they are talking to Jesus. But we know. And they said, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” What they don’t realize is that they just told Jesus about their disappointment in Jesus. Jesus comes and listens to them tell him what a failure he was. Isn’t that incredible? I mean, what must that have been like for Jesus? To hear from them how he had let them down. It likes when you stumble across a text on a family member’s phone, and you see they’ve been talking about you. Or when you over hear someone say something unpleasant about you.

And I think what is remarkable and perhaps one of the greatest moments in the story is what happens next… Jesus stays with them. What an incredible moment of grace. To stay with those who are expressing their deep disappointment in you. Jesus is more concerned about being in relationship with them, then in whether they believe in him or not. Jesus doesn’t come to us when we’ve got it all figured out. Jesus comes to us when we are disappointed, and frightened, and hopeless, and when we have lost all faith in Jesus.

And now notice where Jesus meets them. It is not in a church. It is not on the road to faith. Or the road to a Christian life. It is on the road to Emmaus. When they are down and out. Jesus meets us out there. On the road. In the world. Not just here.

I don’t know about you, but I have heard more times than I can count that we are to behave ourselves in church. We are to be on our best behavior in church. As if church is the only place where God is. As if church is the only sacred place. And this story tells us that Jesus meets us on the road. Out there. That all places are places where Jesus might meet us, which means all places are sacred. This room is no more sacred than your living room. Or the classroom. Or the boardroom. This table is no more sacred than your dinner table. Or the boardroom table.

All of life is sacred. All of it. And Jesus will be present to us in our lives. Not just in our churches. And Jesus will be especially present when we are walking on the difficult road to our Emmaus places. This is good news for us all, but this is perhaps the greatest story to be told on a day like today of affirmation of baptism. Today, for Jonh, and Emily, and Quentin, today is a day of celebration and accomplishment. And surely Jesus is present. But the good news and the news that we all need to hear is that Jesus comes and meets us when we don’t have it all together. When we are lost and broken and doubting. Which is perhaps what I want them to take away from today. That they don’t have to have it all together. They don’t have to know exactly what they believe or have a super strong faith. We often call what happens today – confirmation, or being confirmed, but the technical term is affirmation of baptism. And what that means is Jonh, Emily, and Quentin will be affirming their baptisms. They will be saying yes to the promises that God speaks in baptism.

Now, perhaps you noticed, but baptism has been in the news this week. Former Governor Sarah Palin made a very disturbing comment about baptism this week. She said that waterboarding – a form of water torture that creates the experience of drowning – is how we baptize terrorists. She likens torture with water to baptism. And it is yet another example of violence in the name of religion.

Now Sarah Palin is right about one thing. Baptism can be painful. Because in baptism we are claimed as part of this community of the people of God. And as people of God, we are asked to love one another and our enemies. And our enemies. And that is very, very hard. Even painful some times. It’s hard enough to love the ones we’re supposed to love, much less our enemies. Inflicting pain and suffering in the name of Jesus is not baptism. And Jesus will have nothing to do with it. And today is about saying yes to the promises of God in baptism. What are those promises? That you have been made in the image of God. That God has claimed you as God’s own child forever and always. And now, having heard that, that we are then to go and live that out. And how do you live that out? By trusting that if Jesus can come to us in the stranger, then every single person we meet has the potential to be a vehicle for Jesus to come into our lives. And if every person has the potential to be Jesus for us, then we are called to love and welcome others as if they are Jesus. Because they just might be, even when we don’t recognize Jesus in them.

The two disciples on the road. Even when they get to their stopping place for the night, they still don’t know that it is Jesus who is with them. He is still a stranger to them. And it isn’t until Jesus takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it, that they finally recognize him as Jesus. Surely it is no mistake that those are the exact same words used at the last supper and in our communion liturgy. Jesus takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it and gives it for all to eat. When these two men invited Jesus to stay with them, Jesus was a stranger to them. But then when they broke bread together, then their eyes were opened. And they could see. So maybe what we learn is that when we invite and welcome the stranger, and when we break bread together, perhaps then, our eyes will be opened to the presence of Jesus among us.

Friends, we are about to partake in Holy Communion. A couple of weeks ago, I had a friend at worship. He was visiting us and he didn’t know if as a visitor he would be welcome at the Communion table. I don’t think that was our fault, but I do think it means we have work to do as Christians when visitors don’t know if they are welcome. And we have a lot of visitors here today. And who knows. Maybe one of you strangers is Jesus in our midst. Who knows if we will recognize you. But let there be no mistake — each and everyone of you is welcome here at this table.

Jesus comes to meet us when we are out there. On the road. Living our ordinary lives and walking toward Emmaus. May that be enough of a promise from God for all of us to affirm this day. AMEN

 

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor