They Who Conquer the World

1 John 5: 1-6
John 15:9-17

00-muslim-helping-old-lady-in-london-underground

Jesus gives only one commandment. He teaches much. He asks of us things. He commissions. He appoints. But he commands only one thing:

Love one another.

Love one another as I have loved you.

When asked what the greatest commandment is in the Bible out of all of them, Jesus says it is to love God – but the second is to love your neighbor.

Love one another.

If we love one another, we’re told, we live in the love of Jesus.

Jesus lives in the love of the God-Our-Parent.

Therefore, if we love each other, we live in Jesus, and we live in God. The Holy Spirit testifies to this truth. Testifies that God loves us so much, the very Son of God came in the waters of the womb, the waters of baptism, and shed the waters of his blood, loving us enough to wholly pour out his life for others. To lay down his life for his friends.

Those people who keep his commandment to love each other — those are his friends.

Not his servants. Not people who are just learning how to love.

But his friends – people who you can point out in any group – known by their love.

They will know us by our love.

That is what Christianity MUST be known for.

Not crosses. Not fish. Not the right radio stations or right books or right movies.

But love.

Not for voting the right political party, or being behind the right stance on hot button issues.

But love.

Love that is so strong, a person is willing to give the shirt off their back for a stranger.

Love that is so extravagant, a person is willing to share their hard earned money with people who may, or may not, deserve it.

Love that is so bold, a person is willing to violate social taboos, cultural lines, even break the law to show love to another.

Love conquers the world.

A conqueror doesn’t listen to the local rules. They are actively leading a revolt, actively resisting a government, and a people, and a way of doing things.

Our memory is scant of conquerors, but some of us remember: some of us remember the invasion of Poland, or Normandy. The rules are what the conquerors make them. Nearly all of us remember our own country in 2001 invading Afghanistan. We forcibly changed the government from the Taliban to popular elections. We changed the rules, and the ways of doing things, for people there.

But the Bible says all of these governments are passing. These are kingdoms built on pillars of sand. Only one thing will conquer the world – love.

Love is the rock.

Love is our God.

God alone is eternal.

You see, wars breed future wars.

Violence begets violence.

Consider, we attacked Afghanistan because of the 9-11 attacks on us.

A child who grows up in Afghanistan and sees his country bombed by the USA will likely grow up to hate the USA, and cause more violence here as an adult.

An American child who witnesses violence here from that Afghani adult will likely grow up to do violence to those who look Middle Eastern.

And so racism gets generational. Fear of the other becomes cultural. What happened between grandparents, or great-grandparents, affects what is happening between future generations.

Violence begets more violence…. we can trace this violence, world wide, generation to generation, all the way back to Cain killing his own brother Abel.

How does the cycle end?

How does a child learn peace?

What snaps through and stops pain for pain?

Love.

Love wins.

Love conquers hearts.

When Jesus refused to use a sword on his attackers, he freed us from the chains of revenge violence. When he chose to forgive the woman accused of adultery, rather than stone her, he freed us to forgive instead of blame. When he died, instead of using lightening to strike down everyone who opposed him, he freed us to choose peace instead of violence.

Jesus is our liberator from the cycle of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Like Gandhi said, when we follow that creed, the whole world ends up blind.

Jesus is sight for the blind.

Release for the captives.

Freedom for the slaves held in chains by generations of violence.

We are to love one another.

We are the end of the violence. The end of retribution. The end of revenge. The end of tit-for-tat.

To lay down our own pride, our own wealth, our own lives – even – is to shock and awe the world. It is to conquer the world by changing hearts, and liberating others. It is to be Christian.

The only way we are to be known is by our love.

Love one another.

Amen.

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A Mother’s Prayer

1 John 5:9-13 prayer
John 17:6-19

 

Celine Dion, Kristin Getty and more sang about it – there’s a whole movie – and more books and plaques and bookmarks than you could ever read… there’s power in a mother’s prayer.

 

This week my daughter had nightmares one night. She crawled into bed with me and pulled my arms around her so that I was hugging her. I laid there, thinking about how I’d be trying to research and write this sermon in the morning on 3 hours of sleep. Worried.

 

And then I realized the treasure here… just with hugs, I made all her monsters go away and the world right again.

 

I remembered when she was a baby, and one night I was so sleep deprived I was in tears when she woke crying again. I sat in a rocker, holding her, humming, and cat napping most of the night with her in the crib or on my lap.

 

Just my presence was all she wanted to make the monsters go away.

 

On both these nights I prayed. My mother’s prayer. All my wishes and hopes for the little one in my care. All my concerns. I whispered, spoke, these over her. On and on I went, like weaving a protective blanket, which I prayed would wrap her like my hugs when I cannot do so myself.

 

So she’d always be prayed over, always have that hug to keep the monsters away.

 

I was just doing this without plan. Without pretty words. Without a format or goal and I am pretty certain there was no ‘amen’ because the prayer just keeps going on and I’m still praying the same good things.

 

I think about my own mother on this mother’s day. I bet she prayed this way over me. Those nights she rocked me as I slept on her arms, sick. Those nights I lived far away and she missed me. I don’t think she’s said amen yet. She’s still praying a protective blessing prayer over me.

 

I think about her mother, who prayed over my mother. I remember my great aunt rocking me to sleep, and I think about myself praying and rocking my little nephew.

 

How very many people are praying over one another. This community, itself, all Christians, have a mother’s prayer being woven over them by centuries of prayers.

 

And by Christ himself.

 

I hear a mother’s prayer in Jesus’ prayer today for us. It is rambling. Pleading. Speaking concerns. Confessing he will not always be there physically for his little lambs. So please, please God, please holy parent, protect these dear ones. Guard them from the harm and hate of the world. Don’t take them out of the world – but protect them while they are in it. Sanctify them. Guide them on their roads of life. Give them joy. Give them love. Give them truth. For their sakes this prayer is said.

 

And like our mothers, our aunts, our cousins, our grandmothers, and all the women and motherly-figures in our lives… our motherly Jesus is still praying.

 

Not saying amen.

 

In our letter today, the author writes to the young Christians a mother’s prayer, also. Reassuring them. Challenging them. Reminding them who they are and whose they are.

 

He or she says – take courage… your own heart, the Holy Spirit within, whispers the truth to you: God loves you. God is with you. Eternal life is your’s through Christ.

 

Eternal life. What is eternal life? Who has it?

 

It’s some fancy concept of a future heaven for a lot of people. But in our scriptures, Jesus tells us the time has come. The bread of life is available now. Now, not in the future, there is the ever living waters.

 

The words we’re translating as Ever-living has two levels of meaning. One is the idea of being outside of time. Time passes, but the water, or person, is wholly unaffected. Unaging. Unchanging. Unmoving. No pain; no harm; and usually we imagine no worldly life. Ever-living in an after-life.

 

The second meaning is more akin to ever renewing waters, ever refreshing. Picture a fountain at Dolder’s or Millstream nurseries – the water flows endlessly. The flowing water is full of movement, and change, but it does not cease. The motion keeps oxygen in the water, and keeps the water from getting stale and stagnate. Stale and stagnate water is not good, grows mold, and nothing much else. But the living water supports all the animals (and people, if we’re feeling brave) who drink from it. Butterflies and sparrows, frogs and toads – maybe fish and irises and lotus.

 

Ever living water, in the second sense, is alive, and changes, but renews. It knows hurts and harms, but heals. It has concerns, and worries, and long nights that seem to never end… but it regains its sparkle over time.

 

It is a prayer that doesn’t end.

 

Jesus says he is these waters. In baptism, we invoke these waters. The Holy Spirit within us is these waters at work. From God, our loving parent, flow these waters.

 

They are our prayer that never ends. Like a mother’s prayer, like Jesus’ prayer, like the prayers each of us are speaking over one another this very moment.

 

Blessings. Renewal. A comforting monster-eradicating presence holding us in a hug all through our long nights. Not that you are outside of the world, aloof, removed, unchanging – but that you thrive in the world, walking with our Good Shepherd, and drinking deeply of the Ever Living Waters.

 

I finish this sermon today continuing the prayer your motherly caretakers began over you, long, long, before you were born:

 

Beannacht 
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life

(Source: John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings)

 

May you feel God,

who calls you Beloved Child of Mine,

holding you, encouraging you, carrying you, reviving you.

May you feel that love of God, your Holy Caretaker, at all times.

And may you always know Jesus prays for you.

Whose Baptism?

Acts 8:26-40

thekla2
This fresco represents the calling of Thekla, which led her to renounce her engagement and her life as a married woman. Thekla appears at a window (far left), listening to Paul as he preaches with his raised right hand on an open codex. Behind Paul, stands Theokleia, Thekla’s mother, with her right hand raised in admonition (her eyes and right hand have been scratched out, an indication that someone considered her a heretic). Thekla was not permitted to appear in public, but she heard Paul’s sermon from the window of a neighbor’s house and was spellbound by his words. In spite of her mother’s admonition, she renounced her engagement, followed Paul, and spread the word of God. “Stylistic comparisons suggest a date for these paintings in the late 5th or early 6th century A.D., in particular in the Justinianic period” [Austrian Archaeological Institute (www.oeai.at/index.php/st-pauls-grotto.html)].
 “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” The Ethiopian treasurer asks Philip this as they ride along in the treasurer’s royal cart and carriage. “Look, here is water!”

And Philip responds by leaping off the wagon, and baptizing the new believer.

No special water.

No special time.

No special place.

An ancient story, not in our Bible but still from 180 AD, is the story of “Acts of Paul and Thecla.” Thekla, like the Treasurer in our Gospel today, is a noble. She listens to Paul’s preaching, and she decides to become a follower of Christ. She breaks off her engagement with another nobleman and says: ‘I’m staying a virgin and following Paul about and the Christ!’ This goes over just as well as you think it will. The town flogs and tosses Paul out, but decide to burn her at the stake if she won’t give up Christ.

And she won’t.

What begins is a series of miracles — rain saves her from the fire, smoke covers her like clothing so she doesn’t have to be naked, and Thekla walks boldly back to Paul. She now says – Don’t just let me come with you, listening, but let me cut my hair and pass myself off as a man, so I can preach this good news too! Just give me a baptism!

And Paul says no. She’s a woman, and women clearly don’t preach. So he won’t baptize her.

But Thekla doesn’t go home.

In the very next town, Thekla again is told to give up Christianity and marry a guy. And again she refuses. And again the town takes her clothes away to shame her and tries to kill her. Again miracles occur. When it looks like things are over and Thekla is in the middle of the city arena where the pond is full of hungry seals and the land with every angry beast, Thekla knees and prays.

“In the name of Jesus Christ do I baptize MYSELF” and she throws herself into the pond of hungry creatures.

No special time.

No special place.

No special water.

Then there are more miracles. Lightening strikes and fire and lots of chaos. Every animal and every human that tries to harm Thekla finds they cannot. In the end, the town is scared of her and asks, “Who are you?!”

She answers, “I am the handmaid of the living God; and what I have about me-it is that I have believed on that his Son in whom God is well pleased; for whose sake not one of the beasts hath touched me. For he alone is the goal (or way) of salvation and the substance of life immortal; for unto them that are tossed about he is a refuge, unto the oppressed relief, unto the despairing shelter, and in a word, whosoever believeth not on him, shall not live, but die everlastingly.”

The governor orders clothes given to the woman and her permitted to leave.

But Thekla says no. She’s put on the garments of salvation, and those are what she’ll leave with.

A whole lot of the town converted to Christianity that day.

Thekla then traveled, preaching, testifying, healing, and teaching the Word of God.

When she ran into Paul, he was amazed to see what a following she had, and he asked what was going on – and did she still want baptized? She answered, “He that hath worked together with thee in the Gospel, hath worked with me also unto my baptizing.”

In other words… The same person who converted you, Paul, to Christianity and brought you to understand the scriptures is who baptized me.

That same person is who baptized the Ethiopian treasurer. Philip just was there, enabling the receiving of the gift.

That same person baptized each of us.

The water doesn’t matter.

The time doesn’t matter.

The place doesn’t matter.

Baptism is a gift from God to us, and we respond back to God. And as a community, we welcome our new sibling and begin to walk with them through all of their lives.

It is why little ones can be and are baptized.

Baptisms are from God.

No human can prevent them because we humans, we’re participating in and witnessing a sacred moment between an individual and the Holy Divine.

No one here heard the conversation Rebecca and God had today. But it happened. It is in her soul. There in the desert near Ethiopia, or in the crowded coliseum arena of a city, no one HEARD the conversation that man or woman had.

But Philip and a whole ancient city witnessed the holy moments.

Today you are Rebecca’s witnesses. You need to tell her the story of her baptism. Just like you need to tell the story to Alden, and every one of our children — age 0 to 100.

And we need to remember our own baptisms, and the stories we’ve been told about them.

At that moment, you and God connected in a brand new way. At that moment, you joined in Christ’s birth, and life, death, and resurrection. At that moment, you gained a family that will never, ever fit in one place for a family reunion. (Well… no reunion here on Earth.) At that moment, some human baptized you in the name of Christ – but it was God who reached out, touched you, washed you, sealed you with the Spirit, and gave you a new life in Christ.

So who’s baptism is it? In our scriptures, we hear of people arguing about whether someone has received the baptism of Paul’s, or the baptism of John’s. You may today hear today people refer to the Methodist baptism, or the Catholic baptism, or the United Church of Christ baptism…

But there is only one baptism. One God. One Creator, sustainer, and redeemer in who gifts us this sacred ritual.

We all share the baptism of Christ.

Amen.

Known & Claimed – Earth Day

John 10:11-18 OceanWarming01a529px
1 John 3:16-24

I don’t really care about a tree that is lost in Kazakhstan , I must admit. I don’t know who planted it, or how long its been there. I don’t know why it was cut. I’ll never see it, and I haven’t seen it. On the other hand, I’ll be brought to tears if someone cuts my knee-high buckeye tree in my yard. My grandmother started it by seed, I’ve babied it, and I see it everyday. I bet in Kazakhstan they don’t care.

We really care about what we can name and claim. We’re just like that. When we’re personally invested into something, it becomes OURS and we want to care for it.

Jesus names and claims us, as we name and claim him. We’re invested — personally invested — in each other. He gives the example of a hired hand versus the owning shepherd. When the going gets rough, and there are wolves wanting dinner, the hired hand says ‘This is just a job! I need my life more than I need a job!’ and he takes off. But the shepherd says, ‘These are MY sheep. That is Billy Baa and that is Bonnie Baa. I’ll lay down my life to save their lives if its required.’ The hand is not personally invested in the sheep. The shepherd is.

That’s our John Gospel reading. We got it. Jesus loves us. We love Jesus.

Our Letter of John however addresses the implications, the meanings, of John’s Gospel. “We know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us — and therefore, we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

There is the stickler… just as Jesus names and claims us, and is willing to die for us, so too we name and claim each other and ought to be willing to die for each other. It sounds like an exaggeration. And so the author of John gives a tangible, touchable, buckeye-in-your-yard example of what lying your life down for another means: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods, and sees a brother or sister in need, and yet refuses help?”

You may not be called to give up your life for another.

But we Americans, who have most of the world’s goods, we see the people in Kazakhstan in need, and yet… refuse to help. How can we say God’s love abides in us?

On Earth Day, these writings remind me of our planet, and environmental justice. Roughly 80% of the world’s resources — energy, crops, shelter, minerals, animals, fresh water — are controlled and used by the richest 20% of the world. Just by being in America, you’re among this top 20%. There’s food and water and shelter abundantly here. We have so much electricity we light our roads at night even if nobody is on them, and we water our gardens with fresh drinkable water. Millions lack fresh drinking water — let alone enough fresh drinking water they could waste it by using it as toilet water. Millions lack electricity, or the electricity they have is spotty and back outs are common – so common insulin and other drugs that are sensitive to heat are stored in clay pots and buried under the ground in parts of Africa to try to preserve the life-saving drug.

We have the world’s goods.

And what are we doing with them? Largely destroying our environment and making life much, much harder for the world’s poor.

This is not intentional. I’m not saying a one of us here woke up and said, ‘What horrible evil thing can I do today? Ah! I’ll help kill children in India!’

No, but we are doing it.

Not a single snow flake says ‘I caused the avalanche,’ but together, the snow does.

Not a single person is set out to cause the world harm, but together, our little actions do.

And it’s because we don’t see the big picture. It is hard to think how flushing our toilet harms Africans, or how throwing away our plastic bags instead of reusing or recycling them starves Philippinoes. But taken together, all that energy used to clean our water, move it to our tanks, take it into the sewers, clean it again, makes an impact on the world. And all that trash goes somewhere, breaks down, becomes massive floating reefs of plastic in the ocean that kill fish and breed bacteria.

Little actions. Big impacts.

One snow flake in the avalanche.

So I start with where I am. With what I see. With a tree. I name it. Buckeye tree. I claim it. My buckeye tree. I know I am its shepherd. I start with what I see. Our watershed – the little creek right here by the church that grows and grows and meanders. I name it. This is the Upper Scioto watershed. I claim it. I live, and I work, and I love being in the Upper Scioto watershed. I am its shepherd. I think about how this little creek here flows and goes all the way to the Scioto River in Columbus. How that water is used on my tree. How the health of this creek is the health of my tree; and really, the health of me because this is the water I’m drinking.

Naming and claiming, I begin to see the bigger picture. Naming and claiming, I start to get how a little action here still has an affect way over there.

That’s how global climate change works. I know – many say global warming is false. When you name and claim your months, it does look false. We keep having snows over and over again this spring! The warming doesn’t speak to my backyard or your backyard. It speaks about the average over the entire world. And that average is up. Much like our little deeds work together to have a big impact around the world, a little bit warmer average has a big impact around the world.

It’s like wool blankets. We all need one to keep warm in winter. God gave us one called the atmosphere. As we did things, now, and in the industrial revolution, and put up more and more dust and particles and chemicals in the air, we got warmer. It’s like we were putting on more wool blankets. For awhile, nothing happened. But bit by bit, our core body temperature heated up. Now we’re realizing we need to kick some of these wool blankets off… but the only way we know how is to utterly give up our way of lives.

To lay down our way of lives.

Giving up electricity and plastic, chemicals and mass farming. And most of us really don’t want to do this. We’re comfortable. And most of the affects of the wool blankets is felt in other places — among the 80% of the world who doesn’t have easy AC units and fresh water on tap.

Because it looks so hard, most of us have done nothing. We continue about our normal lives. We say ‘I’m just a single snow flake, what affect do I have?’ and so we avoid doing even the littlest deeds that would help. Recycling. Turning off lights. Using rain barrels. Giving up a weed-free lawn.

And so we kept putting on blankets of smog and soot and Co2 in the air.

When all these blankets are on, and our core temperature rises, we tend to kick. We’re uncomfortable! The weather does the same. As the average temperature goes up, the front lines go from a nice wavy line around the world to an jagged heart-attack line. So instead of us getting a few days of cold, a few days of warm, and a nice transition in between, we go to having extreme cold in the morning, extreme heat in the evening, and a wild storm in between. The weather gets unpredictable in how wildly it is bucking about. This means what once was rare — a hundred year flood — now is common. Flooding all the time. Or drought all the time. Because the weather has gone haywire.

That’s why climate change is a more accurate term. Yes, it’s caused by warming… but not everyone experiences the warming. It’s an average world wide. EVERYONE, however, experiences the change in the climate. The mother-nature-has-gone-insane affect.

I think we, here in Ohio, just felt this, this spring.

And we’re going to feel it this summer as 100 degree days become the norm.

This insane weather is killing people here in America. With stronger hurricanes, as have hit Texas and Puerto Rico; with bigger floods that hit the bread basket every year; and with droughts that cause massive fires in the West.

And we’re the people with 80% of the resources to help us through.

The poor are those elderly in India suffering 110 degree weather with no AC or fans. And the people around Aral, as I spoke about in the children’s message. The poor are those who don’t have the resources to help themselves. Even in our own country, most of us would gladly have a hybrid car, have solar panels, and use rain water for our toilets… but changing to all of those takes more money than we have. In the world, 8 men — just 8 men — control 50% of the world’s wealth. And here in the US, no other country — not even the most corrupt one you can picture — has a greater disparity between the rich and the poor.

We are in the valley of death. Climate change is occurring, and is not stop-able, and the resources to adapt and prevent a greater change in the world’s climate are held by just a few.

Jesus had only one life to give.

But it was enough.

The early Christians had only their own bit of fish or bread to share, but it was enough.

Because… again… snow flakes. Individually they are quickly passing — here today and gone tomorrow. But together, they cause avalanches. Stop traffic. Change the shape of the world.

And Jesus knows this. Our Good Shepherd names and claims each of us individually, because as a flock we are the power to change the world. This is the commandment: to love one another. Who loves one another has Christ abiding in them. Who gives up their life for the flock retains their life.

Who gives up their one-time-use Styrofoam cups for the world retains their world.

Who gives up leaving the house heat on while gone for the world retains their world.

Who lives as a shepherd of the earth is welcomed by the shepherd of the earth.

Little changes have big, big impacts.

Little deeds pile up.

Let us love — not in words or speech — but in truth and action.

Let us commit to being shepherds to all the world – near and far.

Amen.

 

Lovers & Fools

Isaiah 25:6-9 2427702_0
Mark 16:1-8

We began our Lent on Valentine’s Day – a day of lovers.

How befitting, for our Gospel is a Gospel of Love.

We read at the beginning of Lent, “As soon as Jesus came up out of the [baptismal] water, he saw the heavens breaking open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”

We read in the middle of Lent that Elijah, and Moses, appeared to Jesus on a mountaintop. And Jesus was transfigured into brilliant light. “Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.”

And we read at the end of Lent, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Our message is one of God’s Love.

But it is also one of God’s foolishness.

And here we are – on April Fool’s Day – foolishly rejoicing in Easter!

Paul to the Corinthians writes, “The message about the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God… God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”

He argues: God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom!

God’s foolish wisdom says there is life after death.

There is redemption and salvation even for the worst of sinners.

There is enough love for everyone.

And that there was no April Fool’s trick, no whisking away of body over the Passover weekend – no strange hocus pocus but the literal Latin this magic phrase came from: “Hoc est enim corpus meum” – literally ‘This is my body’ the Body of Christ – resurrected, getting up, and walking on.

Continuing the mission.

And making ALLof us look like fools!

Praise God we’re fools!

Praise God that God gets the last laugh – death isn’t the final word – violence isn’t the end.

Praise God that God pranked death, fooled death, and won us everlasting life!

Praise God for our gospel of foolish love!

Foolish love that loves all of us fools!

Praise God! Christ is Risen!

Amen.

New Year, New Name

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Luke 2:22-40

 

I like in Luke’s Gospel how God comes to us in men and women both. Each time a miracle or revelation happens to one gender, the other soon receives it too.

Elizabeth is who carries the miracle of John, the Voice of One, in her late age. But it is her husband Zechariah who knows how special the child will be BEYOND just being conceived in late age. Mary receives the angel who tells her of her miraculous conception, but it’s the shepherds who receive the revelation from the angels and tell everyone. And today we hear it is Simon in the temple who comes and speaks with the couple, proclaiming the Messiah. But it is Anna who also recognizes the gift and who tells everyone.

The good news comes to men and women, and is passed from men and women, to all people. And think: Zechariah and Elizabeth are of the priestly class and affluent. But Mary and Joseph are poor – as symbolized by them being unable to afford offering the temple a lamb in celebration of their son’s birth, but instead, offer two birds. This is what the poor give. Its the smallest gift required by covenant and traditions for a new baby first born son at the time.

Male and female, rich and poor. And also the young.

Baby John leaps in the womb at the presence of Christ.

And the very old – Anna has been a widow for 84 years, married 7 years, and who knows at what age she was married?

This is one OLD woman. And John wasn’t even born yet. But both receive the word of God and recognize the messiah. And Mary and Joseph are a young couple, while Zechariah and Elizabeth an old couple.

God comes to the male and female, rich and poor, young and old… and listen to the song Simon sings, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Simon sings God is working in ALL NATIONS for Jews and non-Jews alike, bringing this new light to the world for ALL peoples.

All peoples. All ages, all genders, all walks of life – God comes to them all and brings the marvelous gift of Christ.

What is this gift? What does it entail?

Newness. Renewal. And of all things – a name.

The verse before today’s is: “When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

Named.

Names mean things.

The Prophet Isaiah tells us God’s words about Israel. Israel’s name in Isaiah’s time is known for desolation and ruin. Known for the people who were once proud, but who were conquered, scattered. Known now as the returned from exile people who are bickering with themselves.

But God is promising a new name.

Israel’s identity, says Isaiah before our reading today, is desolation and ruin. But God will not leave us in sorrow. And the prophet speaks of how he has heard God saying a new day is dawning. A new beginning. New life is promised. It is as joyful as a wedding, and as fine as wedding clothes. It is righteousness – it is being right with God. It is as fresh as spring, and as certain as you get oak trees from acorns… what God has started, God will finish. What God has planted — righteousness and praise — God will cause to grow and flourish. Remade, regrown, renamed – we are a sign of God’s royalty and power. Nothing is impossible for God. We’re evidence God does wonders. We’re evidence God can and does offer salvation to all and loves all.

What is the new identity God is making? An identity of righteousness, justice, and peace. And, like a present in holiday paper, it is wrapped up with a new name.

This isn’t a super strange concept to us. Remember that James Bond becomes 007. One is a man, and the other is a super spy. Two different identities, one man, with two different set of qualities. Or think of Gandalf the Gray and Gandalf the White. Or the difference of the land New Spain, now known as Mexico; Or the Spanish East Indies, now known as the Philippines, or New Connecticut now known as Vermont, or even Constantinople to Istanbul… each renaming means something big. Something new. A new identity.

The United States of America is not the same as the Colonies.

We hear of new names and new identities in stories, maybe on maps, but rarely in our own lives. Or rather – we don’t notice. Yet it is happening all the time, too. My brother is a Junior. So like many juniors, he went by his middle name rather than the first name he shares with my father. My brother was Danny as a child. But some time in his teens we began to call him Dan. And as an adult, he chose to stop going by his middle name and switch to his first – since that’s the one people always list you by at jobs. New names have come to my brother as his identity has changed – as he moved from baby to teen to adult.

My name has changed. Most of the women here have known this change – when we marry, traditionally we take the name of our husband’s family. Our identity has changed. We join his family and leave our’s physically by moving in together and socially by changing our names. Or you hyphen names. Or take more than one name. Names have more power than we think.

Names carried even more power in the Bible’s times. To know someone’s name was to know who they are – their identity. And that has power. So the name of God is who God is – and has so much power it is not said. The name Emmanuel means God with Us. To know Emmanuel is to know God is with us.

The Prophet foretells God is writing a new name for those who follow God.

What is your name right now? What identity does it represent?

It has qualities you like. And qualities you don’t like.

What has been great up to now?

 

And what has been awful?

 

You have been Christ, been love, to others. Think of that time.

 

And you have been sin, and done harm, to yourself or others. Think of that time.

 

And God is still speaking, still working, still offering White-Out over those sins and writing your name – your True Name – as God’s beloved child – again and again.

In this new year – what will your name mean? What qualities will be associated with it?

We say Jesus and also know he is Wonderful Counselor, the Great Physician, the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd, the Light of the World…

When we call your name, we also will know… what? Perhaps devoted lover. The true friend through thick and thin. The parent who always tried their best. The one whom 2018 is a blessing. And always, the beloved child of God.

May your new year be blessed. Deeply blessed with your new names. Deeply blessed with the names you carry on. And may you always know you are called God’s Loved Child.

Amen.

What We Will Be

Luke 24:36-48
1 John 3:1-7 street-preacher

I don’t like the word witness. I REALLY am uncomfortable with the phrase ‘a witness for Christ’ or something similar to that. It throws me back to how many times I’ve witnessed a witness for Christ being a person I never want to associate with.

The first witness that comes to my mind is my old college’s street witness. This witness would come and stand on the sidewalk, get a megaphone, and start screaming at we students as we walked to and from class. I passed him one day wearing jeans and he pointed to me FORNICATOR! WEARING MEN’S CLOTHES! SINNER!

I saw a classmate go up to him once and ask, “What are you doing? No one listens to this hate.”

I AM WITNESSING TO CHRIST!

He helped convince me to run as far away from Christianity as I could by the time college ended.

That kind of witnessing is religious violence.

Religious hate.

Now, of course, if we’re talking about witnessing, we should mention Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah is one way of saying the holy name of God, so their name means God’s Witnesses. One of their core beliefs is they MUST witness. MUST tell others about God.

So as you know, door to door, they go in nicely pressed clothes handing out fliers about God and inviting people to converse.

The good side is this is not violent. It isn’t spreading hate. And it testifies – witnesses – to their convictions.

The bad side is when they show up on Easter morning.

Should we be going door to door talking about our faith? We’d definitely know our neighbors much better. We’d be living into Jesus’ words to bring word of repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations.

But would we be living into the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations?

That, I don’t know.

Witnessing, testifying about Jesus, speaking about one’s faith, is such a personal thing. Some people respond well to sermons. Some people respond well with coffee conversations. Some people need to see others living their convictions and their impact on the world.

And that’s what makes me uncomfortable with the word witness. What others witness is me: and I hope they see Jesus in my actions.

But they might just witness who I think Jesus is, and not the Christ who is larger than any individual, congregation, or denomination.

Let me give you an example of witnessing that I run into most often. It’s made up, but happens all the time.

There’s a way too happy woman at the checkout lane. She’s almost bouncing where she stands. And as you pass her, she hands you a little leaflet of paper and says, “Have you found your Lord and Savior?”

Now, if I say yes – she’s going to be bubbly and want to talk about how her Lord and Savior is identical to mine. He’s a white man, with blue eyes, who hates the same people she hates and loves the same people she loves. And if I say, “You know, Jesus wasn’t into the hate thing…” the conversation is going to close that happiness off on her. She’s going to get defensive. Angry. I may even hurt her faith by pointing out how the education she’s received at her church, and the Jesus she knows, are not the same education I get at my church, and not the Jesus I know.

On the other hand – if I say no, I haven’t found my Lord and Savior – she’s going to hand me the track and invite me to her church and want me to pray – be convinced she saved my soul today – and she’ll walk away feeling fantastic for hours.

What do I do? Challenge her faith, lie to her, just accept the paper, say nothing, and walk on?

Honestly, that’s the one I usually do. Accept the paper, say nothing, walk on.

I don’t witness to the witness. And her story is the one that gets pushed out. Her story is the Christian story shown on television — where there are a cult of people who act holier-than-thou, who are close-minded, who reject science, who hate those who are different, and who have their eyes on heaven to the point they don’t care about this earth at all — just the salvation of souls.

Frequently, that story is your body is dying. Your body is fallen. Your body is evil. The world is evil. Only the soul matters.

Little children, let no one deceive you. There is more than one Christian narrative. More than one story.

Right from the beginning of Jesus’ arrival as gossip in ancient Israel, people began asking who is Jesus? What is Jesus? Jesus himself asks, “Who is it you say that I am?”

Some say he is a human. A human who God has gifted prophecy, and miracles.

Some say he is the anointed, the Christ, the messiah – who was prophesied about. A foretold leader.

Some say he is a spirit. A spirit who took on a body for awhile, and then took it off.

Some say he is the Word, the Logos, of God, who comes as angels in the Old testament and Jesus in the gospels.

Some say he is wholly God who came into the world as a human to join us more closely.

“Who is it that you say I am?”

Each gospel writer, and even the letters of Paul and in Acts, are trying to answer this question. Who is Jesus?

Luke today witnesses. He writes down the story as he was told it, or witnessed it. Jesus appeared to the disciples. And everyone was terrified because they KNOW Jesus is dead. They saw him dead. They buried him. And yet, here he stands. So they think he is a ghost. While they are panicking yelling ‘ghost!’ Jesus shows them his hands and feet. Maybe he wanted them to see the wounds from the crucifixion. Maybe he wanted them to see he HAD hands and feet, because ghosts at the time were understood to be sort of the floating ghosts whose extremities tapered off into smoke and the ghost sort of hovered over the floor.

Then, and now, we say you can’t TOUCH a ghost. And Jesus invites those men and women — touch me. See. I’m here. I have flesh and bones.

Who is Jesus? Not a ghost.

To further demonstrate he’s alive, Jesus asks for food and eats fish with them.

Who is Jesus? Not a ghost – but some man living who can appear up from the dead and walk through locked doors.

Jesus tells these joyful, astonished people to go and witness — tell about, speak about — what they’ve seen and experienced to all nations. Go and proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins.

So they do. They go and witness. They go and talk.

And as soon as they do, as you know, people begin to say they’re delusional, drunk, and out of their minds. Who is Jesus? The apostles and early church mothers and fathers struggled to answer this question.

As they began to testify, beginning in Jerusalem and spreading to all nations, they had to use the local language. They had to use local ideas. And they had to use their own understanding of Jesus.

There was confusion on who and what Jesus was when he walked the earth. Magnify that with a resurrection and by several thousand people playing a game of telephone, and you know how crazy different the stories about Jesus got.

After sixty to a hundred years of this, there are stories running around everywhere about who Jesus is, what he did, and where he is now. Our John letter today is either a sermon, or a letter, written by John or about John’s gospel. He says:

Okay – look. Here are the things we know. We are loved by God. So much, we’re called the children of God.

What does that mean? We don’t know. Maybe we’re adopted by God. Maybe we’re angels. Maybe we’re somewhat divine. Maybe we’re God’s children because God made us all. We don’t know.

“What we will be has not yet been revealed.”

Peace.

The author then continues, we don’t know what resurrection means either. We can only testify what we’ve been told — Jesus came back to life, appeared to people and they recognized him sometimes on sight, and sometimes only in his words, and the breaking of bread. Jesus comes in visions, and Jesus comes as a Spirit among us. Jesus appears and disappears and yet we have stories of him being tangibly there. We have no idea what resurrection means. But what we do know is this: when Jesus is fully revealed, we’ll be like him. And we’ll see him as he is. Not dimly. Not with doubts in our hearts and confusion. We’ll be like those early apostles, like “doubting” Thomas, and be filled with joy and finally have understanding. Our minds will be opened to understanding.

But right now? We see through the mirror darkly. We understand things in starts and spurts, but we’re not yet there — face to face with God — to ask.

We just know this: God loves us. We are God’s children. And there is resurrection.

Peace. Be still.

What will be is not yet revealed.

I feel like arguing with our scripture – that is great. Sure. No one knows what the future holds. But how are you supposed to talk about Jesus then? And who is was and is, and what he did and does, and our hope if we cannot fathom the future?

The writer of the letter of John says: your hope is the resurrection in Christ. Whatever that is, now and in the future.

And then Jesus reminds us to just speak about what we know now. What we experience now.

It’s sort of like… not a single person can really communicate who Jesus is. It’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself.

And two people might see the same movie, and one think it is all about female-empowerment and the other think it is all about true love.

Each person experiences the same Jesus, but we come away with just DIFFERENT experiences. DIFFERENT understandings.

And we can only witness and testify to the Jesus we encountered.

Together, our voices get closer to the truth… but the full truth won’t be revealed until we stand before God face-to-face.

I think back on the witnesses earlier in this sermon. Each was and is testifying who they know their Lord to be. The street preacher knows Jesus as the man who cleaned out the temple with a whip, who yelled ‘get behind me Satan!’ to his own closest friend, and who said it is better to pluck out your eye than to let it sin. A Jesus of preaching. Maybe he is yet to meet the Jesus of peace and love.

The Jehovah’s witnesses know Jesus who save his followers nothing but their clothes and a staff and sent them out, town to town, to preach. The Jesus who walked hundreds of miles on sore feet, and who inspired a woman to wash those abused feet with her own tears and hair. A Jesus who stopped and spoke with all people. A Jesus of relationships. Maybe the ones I have met are yet to meet the Jesus of solitary prayer in the garden.

And the witness handing out Bibles or tracks. She knows the Jesus drenched in scripture, quoting proverbs and psalms and prophets. She knows the Jesus who Paul wrote about, the source of unexplainable joy. She knows the Jesus who commissioned us all to be ministers, witnesses, priests. A Jesus of actions. Maybe she hasn’t yet encountered the still speak, still creating, unpredictable God larger than scripture.

And me. I know the Jesus of peace, but do I know the Jesus of justice?

All of us know Jesus. He just looks really different among us… but he’s still the same Jesus.

Maybe that’s why we’re all called to witness. No one has a monopoly on Jesus. Everyone’s Jesus looks and acts and thinks and feels pretty similar to themselves. So we need each other. We need these other views of Christ to help us understand.

No two relationships looks alike, and this is good. Since we each have a personal relationship with Christ, that relationship is going to look different than other’s.

It makes the ears need the eyes, and the eyes need the toes, and the toes need the hands, and everyone needs the unmentionable parts…

We know God as a mystical trinity – a God who is only God in relationship.

Who is in communion. Communication. Sharing. Witnessing.

What does witnessing look like to you? Preaching, relationships, actions? Prayers, lifestyles, writing?

Who is Jesus to you? A spirit? A mortal man? A Jewish Rabbi? God? Christ? Messiah? Adopted? Incarnate? A miracle worker or prophet?

Go. Witness the truth of the Jesus you encounter.

And go. Hear the truth of the Jesus others encounter.

Amen.