That They May Be One

5ac6696c991221521ef19701_unitedchurchofchristDuring the last supper, Jesus looked to heaven and began to pray. He prayed about his own upcoming death, and prayed for his disciples. He asked God to protect his disciples and sanctify them with God’s own truth. Today we over hear the conclusion of his prayer of intercession… John 17:20-26

There are a few places in Acts where the author, Luke breaks out of using names and refers to “we.” Who is “we?” Scholars aren’t wholly certain, but generally, they presume Luke means himself and Paul, and a few other traveling companions. Luke writes… Acts 16:16-34

Jesus prays for us that we may all be one. God the Father in God the Son, in us – and somewhere the Holy Spirit in this mix too – and all of us rolled into one. Unified in glory, and knowledge, and truth, and sanctity.

Our UCC denomination was formed with these versus, and our official logo has the words, “That they may be one.”

And then… then we see this in action… and it disturbs me. Paul, Silas and Luke – maybe some more disciples – are preaching. They go from their place of sleeping to the place of prayer — a synagogue or a quarter set aside for the city temples and shrines. But every day, the whole way they walk, a little girl follows them yelling, “These men are slaves of the Most High God! They proclaim to you a way of salvation!” And she’d want paid for her work.

Paul, the slave of God, turns to this girl, a slave of owners who are using her divination powers for cash, and Paul is incredibly annoyed with her. He exorcises her and removes the divination spirit from her. She was cured? Saved?

No. Not at all. She is now a slave girl with no powers. She is still in chains. But now she’ll have to do new work for her owners. Maybe worse work. She completely drops out of the story.

Her owners enter the story next. They’re angry that their hope of money making is gone. They get a crowd together, and capture Paul and Silas, and drag them to the marketplace to answer to the magistrates – the area authorities. They don’t say Paul and Silas took money from them – instead, they claim “These guys are disturbing the peace. They’re not locals. They don’t want us to be Romans!” Fear of outsiders rule, and although Silas and Paul ARE Romans, they’re stripped, beaten, and thrown in the deepest part of the jail locked in stocks.

Now the slave girl is in chains of slavery. And these two are in chains for being slaves of God.

An earthquake comes in the middle of the night. It’s so strong it knocks about the foundation of the prison and “everyone’s chains were unfastened.”

The poor prison guard knows he’s done for. He’s gonna get killed by the magistrates for losing every single prisoner in one night. As he goes to commit suicide rather than being tortured to death, maybe crucified, Paul yelled out from the deepest dungeon, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!”

The jailer called for lights, took the torches down, and found everyone still there. He asks, “What must I do to be saved?”

Saved from what? Saved from the magistrates? Saved from the earthquake? Saved from sin?

“Believe on the Lord Jesus.” Paul and Silas answer. And then, they continue to preach to the prisoners and the prison guard. The prison guard takes them to his house and treats their wounds. He goes from their jailer to their servant, or slave.

But what of that slave girl who started all of this?

I wonder.

We’re told EVERYONE’S chains are released. All prisoners, all captives, are set free. The guard is set free from fear of shame and death. Paul and Silas are set free from a physical prison. The girl was set free of a spiritual prison… and perhaps, at this time, set free of her social prison of slavery. Perhaps with the fateful earthquake all are set free of their prisons – internal or external.

I don’t know. I hope so.

I hope this story is about how we all become one in God through being set free of our individual prisons. I’m sad Paul doesn’t identify with the girl who is enslaved. But we all are BECOMING one. It takes awhile. It takes us time to really see one another, and love and accept one another, and rejoice and cry with each other. Maybe Paul was imprisoned. And when the quake comes, he sees this error. Perhaps that is why he reaches out to the jailer and welcomes him as one into the fold.

I’m reminded that Jesus prayed for unity over Judas, who was plotting to betray everyone. And Simon, the Zealot, who wants to militarily take Israel back from Rome. There’s Matthew who is or was content enough with Rome to work as their tax collector. Meanwhile, a whole slew are brothers and cousins who worked as fishermen. Some are dreaming of sitting beside Jesus’ throne. Some have argued who will be greatest. Peter will deny Jesus. Thomas will doubt his brothers.

These are not unified and perfect people. They are not one.

They are becoming one.

And the one unifying them is Jesus.

Paul, Silas, Luke, the slave-girl and jailer and prisoners and families – they are not unified people who can view one another as brothers and sisters.

Yet.

They’re working on it.

The chains that bind us – this individualism – this my people before your people. The chains of being scared and against those who are different than ourselves – those chains take time to break.

But God sure breaks them!

Like an earthquake, abruptly, unexpectedly, God’s spirit moves and we find ourselves changing.

Deep in our prisons light arrives and we are invited out to have our wounds tended.

Jesus prays we become one – and we are. May the Spirit ever nudge us towards greater unity!

Amen.

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Peace I Leave With You

stressJohn of Patmos’ vision continues today. Here is a part of chapter 21 and 22. The portion skipped over go into great length to bring to life a vision of the holy city of God – once only in heaven, but now HERE on Earth. John of Patmos describes his vision as so… Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

Saint John writes our next reading. John the Gospel writer and John the author of Revelations are likely not the same John. They do not write in the same manner, spell things differently, and have different theologies. John of Patmos may be John, the son of Zebedee. And John the Gospel writer may have been writing down the story as the unnamed Beloved Disciple spoke it to him. We don’t know. We do know what we have inherited – a recount of our hope and faith and peace.

John writes… John 14:22-29

Know “That kind of day?” Well, “that kind of day” had begun last Saturday and hadn’t stopped by Wednesday of this week for me. And here it was: Wednesday. I went to the hospital for my pre-operation appointment to find that it had been cancelled…. AGAIN…. and AGAIN I was not told. After an hour argument, the schedulers put me in a slot a week later… by bumping someone else, whom I bet they didn’t inform.

I now was on my way back to my mother-in-law’s house to continue a one day move job on its third day, but I stopped to pick up lunch and coffee for everyone. And tea for myself.

Stressed, I took a moment to drink my tea before starting the car again. It was Wednesday! And I hadn’t yet read the scripture for Sunday. My sitter had cancelled; and I was stressed! I used my phone to pull up today’s scripture…

And I had to laugh.

THIS is the Holy Spirit here. THIS is God’s humor. THIS is God’s message. And this spoke right to my core…

A disciple asked, “Lord, how will we know you, but the world won’t?”

And Jesus answered, “You’ll have my peace.”

Peace!

I laughed. Peace. In our most frenetic lives, Jesus says… Peace.

And so I sat there and wondered… What just IS the Lord’s peace, which isn’t the world’s peace?

Hot tea definitely gives me peace. And that day, it was more peaceful than usual because I was more stressed than usual.

Is that peace? Peace is… a lack of stress? But all of that would come back to me the moment I reached the dregs. The world’s peace lasts about 20 minutes if I really enjoy it slowly. And then, that peace is gone.

Perhaps… perhaps the world’s peace is like my coffee shop tea. Overpriced, and loaded with ethical quandaries.

The world’s peace is sweet like sugar… and empty like sugar. The empty calories hurt my health. The empty words and phrases we say hurt our communities.

Peace is caffeinated, a drug. A bandage but not a cure. In this case, a nap would be a cure. Caffeine is just a temporary fix. True peace takes time and resources.

Anyways, still humored, I turned to thinking about the peace Jesus spoke of.

Jesus’ peace is free. Not free as in it cost nothing… indeed, it costs our very lives for it cost the life of God incarnate. It costs much to follow. Costs crowns and glories, costs relationships, costs world standing and wealth. But the peace is free as in it is offered to everyone rich and poor.

“Come and eat all you who hunger, come and eat without coin.”

Jesus’ peace comes to us, wherever we are, and seeks us out. Jesus goes after the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal child. Jesus calls to us. Jesus is with us wherever two or three are gathered in His name… and scripture speaks of God as close to us as our shadow, our breath, our hearts.

Jesus’ peace is eternal. Ever renewing. It isn’t over in twenty minutes or when I leave the church, or close the Holy Book.

Jesus’ peace isn’t over when… things aren’t peaceful. Jesus’ peace is in conflict and struggle. In fact, Jesus’ peace is often NOT peaceful in the way the world defines peace. It ruins nations and brings down the powerful. It stages protests and sits with the mourning, powerless, victims. Jesus’ peace isn’t about a lack of conflict at all. Rather…

Jesus’ peace is… the peace of a righteous heart.

The peace of being authentically who we are – to ourselves and our sisters and brothers.

Jesus’ peace is… the peace of being loved, wholly, completely, inside and out, sinful and broken and holy and whole… Jesus’ peace is hope and love in the middle of hopeless, loveless, situations.

I read Revelations and drove towards my mother-in-law’s house thinking about the sacred vision and its description of the Peaceful City. It is a loveless, hopeless situation John is sitting in.

The Christians are suffering under Rome. It is anything but peaceful. Rome claims to bring Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, to all countries to end all wars. All wars end because all nations are part of Rome. But this is at great cost. The cost of the death of Jesus. The cost of the death of independence. The cost of being full citizens. The cost of culture. It means being ruled by tyrants, and evil, and fear. But it’s peaceful… because there is no war.

It’s the world’s peace. No war. But no shalom either. No completeness, wholeness, health. Not the peace of God. It’s a tentative 20 minute peace based out of fear.

It’s a peace maintained by exiling people like John to the island of Patmos and murdering, exiling, or torturing anyone who questions Rome’s authority.

Like those Jews and Gentiles claiming Jesus as their one and only Caesar.

Under this persecution, John of Patmos sees a grand vision of hope for all the world.

He sees that we – you and I – can choose to live as citizens of the world, as citizens of Rome, or the USA, or any culture or country. And we’ll suffer the fate of that identity… which will be, some day, destruction.

Or we can choose to live as citizens of Heaven, and suffer the fate of having the identity of being a citizen of Heaven… which will be bringing heaven on earth as we do God’s will.

Last week, we read how God gives a new community to us, and God chooses to make God’s home among us…. Not high in the sky away from us… but here. In community.

In the words of Dr. Ronald J. Allen… “The city is gold. The gold signals the value the community: it is as valuable as the most precious metal in antiquity. But these walls are clear as glass…” This isn’t a community that is closed off. It is the most precious community that is ever open and accepting in more.

And “the city has no temple. Indeed, the length, width, and the height of the city are equal. The city itself bespeaks the Holy of Holies.” Which is described the same way. “God is immediately, fully present to shape community life.

… The new Jerusalem contains only those things that build up community, such as the glory and honor of the nations, and the nations and rulers living in its ways. But that things that disrupt community have been destroyed.

[Today’s reading] recollects an important theme in apocalyptic literature: the end time (the new world) will be like the beginning time (the world as God created it, before the ancestral couple ate the forbidden fruit and invoked the curse).

In the semi-arid character of the Mediterranean basin, water is important. The presence of “the river of the water of life” is a way of saying that the power that sustains life is unending and irrepressible. That image recollects the water flowing out of the temple in [the book of] Ezekiel, across the streets of the city, down to the Dead Sea. Along its route, vegetation flourishes. So it is also in community: people become generative and they flourish.

The tree of life — a symbol that God guarantees life — is on both sides of the river and bears twelves [sic] kinds of fruit, one each month. Provision is ceaseless. Fruit, of course, is a traditional Jewish symbol for qualities of life.

In those days, they made some medicines by grinding up leaves. The nations — typified by Rome — suffered from idolatry, injustice, and violence, and they collapsed, one after another. By contrast, the cities that take this medicine — that live according to the vision of this community — will be healed.

[This vision] draws on a traditional apocalyptic notion that, after the apocalypse, the faithful will reign with God. However, John [of Patmos] has earlier indicated the nature of this rule: the saints worship God in the pattern […] by laying their crowns before God. To reign with God, in this Book, is to serve God’s purposes.

John [of Patmos] sees God bring the holy city into place as the climactic act of the coming of the new world.”

This is shalom. This is God’s peace. There is no hunger, no thirst, no loneliness, no sickness, no sin, no evil, no absence of God, no inequality among humanity, no fear. This is God’s peace: the world and all nature, all people, restored to the glory God plans for us.

In the face of all that, my un-peaceful week looks really… well, weak. Powerless.

What power has the hospital’s schedulers compared to the power of God who literally is recreating the world?

What power has traffic, or computers, or schedules compared to the God who can and IS forging out of us the blessed community?

The God who has conquered death, and sin.

The God who has set order to the chaos.

The God whose love has made possible life itself, and abundant life at that.

I… got hopeful. Happy. I laughed.

Jesus said he’d leave us with a peace that surpasses all understanding. A peace that is nonsensical. And yeah… I know we have that.

In prison. In exile. In homelessness. In stressful times and in oppression… we are still the Easter People. Still the people of the Resurrected Jesus. We are still the citizens of Heaven who strive to set free the full reign of God’s peace on Earth as it is in heaven.

We have senseless hope and peace to keep going when our fields are still wet. We have love and joy when our families feud that, although they fight, they have goodness still in them. We have Jesus’ peace that notices in the worst of times… there are still glimmers of good.

And we find that light. We are that light. We share that light. And we tip the balance of the world ponderously toward good.

We are the children of the all loving, all good God.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Amen.

 

Little Girl — Get up! (Remix)

Gaoliang_BridgeActs is a book written following how Christianity moved from just a Jewish movement… to a movement for all people. Today, we read of one of its bridging women… Acts 9:36-43

The festival of the dedication is a long title for Hanukkah. Jesus is around the temple for the Hanukkah holiday in our John reading. We hear people ask Jesus to convince them he is the messiah — as they define messiah… John 10:22-30

My godmother’s name is (sign: A-Beautiful-Face.) She named me (Cat: W). She’s worked as an American Sign Language / spoken English translator and nurse for years. She is between two worlds: speaking, and signing. To be wholly in both, she keeps two names: this sign (sign) which means A with a Beautiful Face – the name given to her by a signer. And Amy. The name given to her by her parents.

It isn’t very compassionate to ask signers to sign out each letter of her spoken name just as it isn’t very compassionate to ask speakers to never call her a spoken name – only her signed name.

To honor both worlds, and bridge them, she has two names.

Dorcas-Tabitha does the same thing.

Dorcas is a Greek name. It belongs to a woman who understands how Rome rules, and speaks Grecian or Latin or both. It’s a common name meaning a beautiful gazelle.

Tabitha is an Aramaic name that means the same thing as Dorcas. It belongs to a woman who speaks Aramaic and understands Jewish culture and the hope in a messiah.

Now we don’t know if the woman in acts was born Dorcas, or born Tabitha. And it doesn’t really matter. She is of both worlds. And she assists both cultures and peoples. So much does she assist that our author calls her a mathetria – a disciple – much like any of the other named disciples.

What does it mean to straddle between two worlds? I think a lot of women do it. Many mothers I know are also working professionals. Constantly there is the pull between job, career, and home, family. How does any woman – or any man – balance those two worlds?

We country folk often are of two worlds. We understand the land and nature and rural ways… but where are you going to get work? Most of the time in the city, where we have to learn new culture and ways of interacting with each other and the land.

When I left for college, I went 20 miles off the farm into the strange land called Westerville. It had such strange things like sidewalk crossings, high speed internet, and instant pudding. All three things made me stop and think. I was horribly out of my element. Not only was I the farmer in the city; I was also the homeschooler among public school kids; and the painfully introverted teen with undiagnosed social anxiety. The alien world was terrifying.

My second year there, a professor took me aside and said, “Whitney, you were among the first homeschoolers we accepted. Many more are applying and coming for tours. I saw your struggles and know you’re doing much better now. But if they come, they’re going to have these struggles too. Will you be their bridge between worlds?”

I had to think about this. I didn’t value my experiences as I ought. What 19 year old does? But as I worked the next few years as the college’s unofficial home school liaison, I began to see the need for bridges. The very rural coming to college needed a how-to-navigate-crossing-the-road lessons as much as the very urban would need lessons on shutting gates should they visit farms. Basic things that each culture takes for granted, but which confound the other culture.

Bridges. A pastor friend of mine recently told me a story. The pastor read to kids from the preamble of the United Church of Christ that says it is each generations’ responsibility to make the faith their own. She asked the kids ‘How would you make this faith your own?’

One little girl stated, “I can’t. I am a scientist.”

“Tell me more.”

“I am a scientist and I can’t make this church mine. I believe in evolution, not Genesis.”

Now, this pastor likes science. And she asked the girl to take away the verses and just consider the story in Genesis. Then consider how long a day is for God, compared to a human.

The little girl gasped, and teared up, “Evolution and Genesis are similar stories! Pastor – can I be a scientist AND a Christian?!”

“Yes!” said the pastor. “I’m one!”

Bridges. A science-loving theologian, reading academic studies on cells one day and theological treatises on another. Bridging worlds like that is an important way we are evangelists – we are the messengers of Good News.

Many people only know Christianity as what they see on television, or the news. It is a very literal Christianity that attacks education, science, and independent thought. It is a Christianity that hasn’t room for diversity and bridges.

That is not who we are in this church, and this denomination. We are the church united and uniting. The church where you don’t check your brain in at the door. The church where God is still speaking, and still revealing, God’s self to the world.

The church where you can and are encouraged to be Dorcas-Tabitha, or Simon-Peter, or Amy-A, or Whitney-Sally. Where you carry two names – or more than two! – because you bridge many cultures and peoples.

Simon-Peter is who is called to Dorcas-Tabitha’s side when she dies. Here, we get a story of how Simon-Peter is like Jesus-Immanuel in a remix, a repeat, of Jesus-Immanuel’s miracle.

If I had a black board I’d gladly whip out some layout skills now… lacking that, let me use my hands to help.

Today: Simon-Peter comes and sees everyone weeping because Tabitha-Dorcas has died. He moves the mourners out of the house.

Last year: Jesus-Immanuel came to a house and saw everyone weeping because the priest’s daughter had died. Jesus moved everyone out of the house.

Today: Peter takes the woman’s hand and says, “Tabitha, koum.”

Last year: Jesus took the girl’s hand and said: “Talitha, koum.” A one letter difference in the phrase. One letter – from little girl to gazelle.

Both days – the dead got up and were presented to their joyful community.

Both days – the person brought back to life wasn’t the most powerful, the most wealthy, the most theologically sound or possessing the most perfect faith in Christ…

… No. Talitha the little girl had no power. A female child with no worth. Just loved by her daddy. And Peter raises Tabitha the windowed woman. A woman with no means to support herself. But loved by her community.

We are worth so much more than the money we bring in. We are worth so much more than the potential children we could birth. We are worth so much more than our bodies. We are loved by God before we are Christian. We are loved and valued by God! Women, females, girls, teens, widows and remarried and never married: we are daughters of God Most High.

Don’t accept anyone calling you less.

Men, males, boys, teens, widowees, remarried and never married, you sons of the God Most High – don’t let yourselves or others call any of your sisters in Christ less than beloved Daughter of God.

What a lesson we can learn from talitha and Tabitha about how a community should value each other – whether someone is a “productive member” or “respectable” or not!

What is productive in this world is not necessary productive in God’s world. For God’s world is about community. About building connections, and bridges.

Once, I didn’t really hold much stock in the Holy Trinity. It seemed… far-fetched and a corruption of trinity gods from other cultures. Currently, it is a central idea to my understanding of God. I understand God to be all about relationships. God with God’s self. God with us. Us with God. Around and around – connections and bridges merging worlds and ideas, cultures and peoples, experiences and theologies and perspectives – bringing about shalom. Completeness. Harmony.

You may have heard it said God doesn’t call the equipped… God equips the called.

Well… we’re all called by the Good Shepherd. Do you hear his voice? Do you follow him?

Since we’re all called… it means we’re equipped.

Dorcas-Tabitha, I imagine, saw her hurting world and looked in her hand to see what she was armed with to fight the hurt. She had a needle. God had equipped her with a talent for sewing. And so she used that needle. She used it to sew together a community literally with the clothes she made and figuratively by all the people brought together.

You are called to by Jesus. He has said, “Follow me!”

What is in your hand?

A paint brush? A wrench? A garden hoe or sheep sheerer or calculator or cell phone or ruler or…

… That interest of your’s, that background of yours, that culture and people you know that isn’t ‘Christian.’ … You’ve been equipped for just such a time as this to be a bridge. To take up more than one name, and carry the light of Christ to all peoples – wherever they are – whoever they are – for that light is Good News.

And the Good News is this: God loves the world.

Amen.

Love One Another Call to Worship

Call to Worship

(based on John 13:33-35)

One: Jesus says: Little children, I am with you only a little longer.
Many: We look for you, and you tell us as you told those before us
One: Where I am going, you cannot come.
Many: So what are we to do?
One: I give you a new commandment: that you love one another.
Many: Just as you loved us, we are to love one another.
One: By this everyone will know you are my disciples:
All: If we have love for one another.

Feed those sheep!

pwmorningshorea“Worthy (the Greek axios) was a well-known political term in the Greek-speaking part of the Roman Empire. Just as today the band plays “Hail to the Chief” when the President of the United States enters a large gathering, so in the first centuries the crowds were trained to shout, “Worthy! Worthy! Worthy is the emperor!” when the Roman emperor appeared in public. Revelation constantly engages in a struggle with the powers of evil, symbolized and centered in the Roman Empire. It is the Lamb, Jesus, who is worthy, not the emperor, no matter how much power he claims.” And rather than a lion or eagle or strong creature representing the Empire… there is a wounded lamb. ((by Walter F. Taylor, Jr.))  Revelation 5:11-14

John 21 is tacked on to the end of the book of John – added to it at some later date by either John himself, or someone who wrote to answer some questions or add more details.

So, after concluding the book with Thomas believing Jesus… the Gospel of John gives this encore: John 21:1-19

The disciples don’t want to say goodbye and feel that emptiness. They don’t want to think the time with Jesus is over. They don’t want to think they failed to see Rome’s grasp on Israel released. They don’t want to think what life means as there is a long…. weeks now… pause since Jesus died, was seen, and… disappeared again. They don’t want to think of what this new world means. The important center of their lives – what gave them meaning… is gone. Who are we when our identities are stripped like that?

So they don’t say goodbye. They sit in that paused time between morning, (mourning) and dawn of the new reality that now is missing their precious lamb. Some return to old habits to cope. Simon Peter was a fisherman, and so… he goes back to fishing.

He’s joined by 6 others, including more of the original fishers, and they get in their boat in the same old sea – the sea of Tiberius also known as the sea of Galilee. And they fish all night long.

And as the dawn comes, their nets are still empty. They are just as poor of fishermen as they were before Jesus as after Jesus. They must laugh, bitterly. Is this really the old life of failures they want to return to?

“Do you remember how Jesus stood on the shore and called to us?” I imagine one son of Zebedee says. The other adds, “And how he told us to cast our nets out again and we caught so many fish the net began to rip?”

Peter mentions sadly, “And he said he would make us fishers of men.”

But they have fewer men now than they began with. Judas betrayed them. And then committed suicide. Four are not here. The women are not here. And Jesus is not here.

“Men? We cannot even catch a fish.”

Old habits. Old ways. And the same old failures. It’s almost comforting. Robotic. The disciples’ bodies are on autopilot just doing what they need to survive.

Survival is something important to God… but it isn’t the life we’re called to. We’re called to thrive. To have life, and have it abundantly.

To the lost, Jesus calls. To the mourning, Jesus comes. To those of us who don’t want to say goodbye… Jesus reminds us that in him, we do not say ‘goodbye forever.’ We say… goodbye for now; I’ll see you around the heavenly throne.

The disciples see with the dawn light a man standing on the shore. He calls to them, “Children, you have no fish, do you?”

No.

“Cast it again!”

Much like that time long ago, the fishermen listen to the advice of the stranger. And like long ago, they have more fish than the net can hold. Unlike long ago, the net does not break. Unlike long ago, they know it is Jesus the Lord for they recognize his miraculous sign of abundance and life.

In sheer joy, Simon Peter throws on clothes and leaps into the water to swim to Jesus.

When he arrives, Jesus already has fish and bread, cooked and ready, and he invites these disciples to add their own fish to the simple meal, full of God’s splendor.

152 fish they have caught. I wonder – is that number important? Is that how many disciples and followers of Jesus remained at the time of this writing? I don’t know! But it means a lot. A diverse amount of fish brought in to Christ.

Then Jesus feeds them. Jesus gives bread and fish to the disciples. Jesus sits with them. Jesus meets them where they are, and joins them in their lives.

A while ago, Peter sat near a charcoal fire at dusk. Now he sits by a charcoal fire at dawn. And the fateful moment of Peter’s faith is tested… again.

Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” “Do you love me?” “DO YOU LOVE ME?!” Three times Peter proclaims yes. Three times – the same number of times he denied Jesus when Jesus faced his death. Three times – and Jesus reminds Simon, the disciples, and us once more…

Since you love me…
Feed my sheep.
Love God.
Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Treat others as you wish to be treated.
Forgive sins.
Be reconciled.
Do not judge lest you be judged.
Care for the lonely.
Care for the weak.
FEED those SHEEP! Tend the flocks! Feed one another!
Do as I have have done.
And let there be peace.
Follow me!

This is not a commissioning to be a fisher of men anymore. This is a recomissioning to feed the flock. Many fish are being brought in – by many disciples – but someone needs to care for them. Jesus is physically going away to fight the final battles over sin and evil and death… but someone needs to still care for his precious lambs while he physically is gone and not yet returned.

Feed my sheep. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.

Theologian Andrew Sung Park says God has a wounded heart. A broken heart. Catholics speak about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is pierced with a spear head. A Buddhist story goes a woman took her dead son to Buddha and asked him for medicine to cure the boy. The Buddha said he had medicine for her, but not the kind she asked for. She still wanted it. So the Buddha asked her to get mustard seed from a house that had known no death. House after house she went to — and house after house had mustard seed… but all had known death. In the end, she could find no house immune to death. And she returned to the Buddha with an empty hand, but opened heart to the common lot, common, awful, shared experience we have of saying goodbye.

No one has not known the night full of failures. No household is immune to pain and lost. No soul hasn’t known a Dark Night of the Soul where one doesn’t know what the dawn will bring and almost fears to see it. Will it be Jesus on the shore – or will the shore be empty? Will there be fish in the net – or will emptiness linger?

We often live in that meantime. The waiting time. Unwilling or unable to face the dawn. Living seeking to escape reality.

The disciples regress. Go back. They stop living as fishers of men when they are so heart broken. They just have heaven on their minds and forget the world around them.

But Jesus brings them back to reality. If we love the lamb, then we care for the sheep. If we look forward to the full reign of the lamb on Earth as he reigns in Heaven, then we should care for his sheep who are ON earth just as he cares for those in Heaven.

In Revelations, John of Patmos sees the myriads of myriads, thousands of thousands, of angels and the dead singing praises… but also the living creatures. The living and the dead, the angels and the saints, the sinners and the every creature on earth and under the sea and in the sea – all of creation – praises God.

We are commissioned to be fishers of men – to welcome people into the life of following Jesus. But we are also re-commissioned to be the ones who tend the flock.

Mahatma Gandhi said “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

And this is true. Physical needs, spiritual needs, housing needs, income needs. Need for friends and lovers. Needs for community. It’s not enough to preach the word of God, we must LIVE the word of God.

And how is that done?

By following Jesus.

And tending to the sheep of all creation.

Amen.

Tell me the story again!

North-American-bullfrog1.jpgPaul writes to the church in Corinth arguing that the work of Christ isn’t in the past alone, and isn’t for this life alone – but is continuing into the future until all things are made new and death itself is destroyed. 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Luke’s gospel tells us how the first to see Jesus’ empty tomb were women who saw angels. But when the women testified, only Peter went to see for himself. Don’t worry – Jesus goes and sets the men straight about being Resurrected after today’s reading. Luke retells his story… Luke 24:1-12

When I was a little kid, I couldn’t understand why adults repeated stories. I could remember with such clarity the story they’d told a month ago – a year ago – that I could hear how this retelling was different than the last.

I also fully was not aware that I retold the story about my cat hissing at the other cat at least twenty times in one day alone.

When we retell stories, we relive them. We bring those stories back to life. We see them in our minds’ eyes and pass them on. We retell stories because in the retelling, we experience them.

Any story you want to stay around… retell it. Tell it to your friends, your family, to yourself – retell the story again and again. Don’t worry if you’ve said it before.

You change. People change. Times change. And so, much like you can never step in the same river twice… you can never tell the same story to the same people twice.

I like to retell stories of my brother and I. We were best friends growing up – just 18 months apart and about joined at the hip in all things. One spring my mother retold us the story of Jesus and his death. She told us how he was laid in a cave tomb in a garden. How his friends and family waited over the weekend, and then visited the cave again. How the rock was moved. She retold how the women found the empty tomb, and the left behind burial clothes. She told us of the angels Mary saw – and the foot race the men had to see them selves. She told us of how when all had left, yet again, the gardener comforted Mary… and the gardener was none other than Jesus himself. Jesus – Resurrected – who later appeared to the disciples in their home, and on the way to Erasmus.

Now my brother and I listed to this old, old story retold through millions of mouths, and although we’d heard it every year, THIS year the retelling stuck to us. Most of us don’t understand something the first time we hear it. We must hear it several — or many — times.

Anyways, that year my brother and I didn’t just hear – we UNDERSTOOD. (Or so we thought. ) When we came across a dead frog, we knew what to do. My brother got a clear green Dixie cup and I got the Saran wrap. We wrapped that frog up in his burial shroud, and placed him in his cave. Then that cave was buried in the garden near the pond.

My mother came across us and asked ‘What are you doing?’

‘A funeral.’

‘… Why the clear cup and plastic wrap?’

With big eyes my brother told her, ‘Because we’re going to watch him go up to heaven!’

Like two angels at the tomb, we waited all weekend. My mother fretted. How was she going to explain that the frog was not going to come back to life? How was she going to explain souls and body decay and yet the Christian faith in resurrection? She tried tenderly a few times to tell us the frog was not going to leap back up to life come Sunday morning. The frog is not Jesus.

But we held faith.

Which made her all the MORE worried.

Sunday morning was time. While my mother hovered with anxiety, we came to the garden. The cup was steamed up from the early sun and we couldn’t see into it. My brother carefully lifted the cup from the ground and

BOING!

That frog leaped out of the cup. BOING BOING BOING! Down he hopped, leaving behind his plastic burial shroud in the spring grass, down into the pond with a splash!

My brother and I cheered and cheered. We hugged. We ran around – He lives! He lives! He lives!

My mother knew she had years of explaining this ahead of her. And she did. We buried every dead animal, every dead moth, every dead cricket and mouse and bird for years – but not another single one came back to life.

But one hibernating frog.

We’ve buried every single loved one, and enemies, and strangers, for thousands of years since Jesus. And not a single one has come back to life. But one Jesus the Christ.

That’s okay. The story is good. It is inspiring. It tells us what WILL be. It tells us in whom we have faith and why. In retelling the story of Jesus, year after year, we relive the story of Jesus.

And we know our loved ones who sleep with our ancestors will one day leap up from their graves again.

Maybe physically – like a hibernating frog.

Maybe spiritually – in new bodies in a new Earth.

Maybe in some way not yet envisioned by mortal minds.

But the grave is not the end. Jesus lives. He lives! And because he lives, we do too. Because he lives, we may die and lay down in the garden… but we also live on in him.

Oh death – where is your sting?

Praise God! Alleluia! Retell the story again and again – Jesus lives!

Amen.