Tag: John

Kin-dom of God

John 18:33-37 crown
Revelation 1:4b-8

It is 1925: Secularism and nationalism is on the rise. Fewer people go to church, and more people identify with their country saying things like “America first!” Churches observe national holidays and sing hymns to the country, rather than to God. Many feel jaded… like God is an old notion and the new way is to follow someone who identified with the common man, speaks like him, and has good and bad qualities like him.

I’m speaking about the year 1925 – but it could be 2018. In 1925, the Great War, rumored to be the Final War, World War I had finished. The great kings and czars and ruling families of the Romanovs, the Habsburgs, the Osmans and Hohenzollerns were destroyed. People no longer identified with kings. They identified with presidents. Führers. Elected leaders. And since these people come and go quickly, they identified with their counties. I am French! I am English! I am American!

Churches began to display country’s flags, and hymns were rewritten to new words to honor countries.

But fewer people came to church. Church was too quaint, too antiquated, to answer to the pain that was Guernica, trench war fare, and missing brothers.

So Pope Pius XI said, we need a king “whose kingdom there shall be no end.” Who will be able to lead and answer to this world of pain. And over a few years, he and theologians worked together to craft a long letter explaining how Jesus is a king. If everyone saw Jesus as their ruler, their king, their president, their czar or führer, then there is hope of lasting peace among all these nations and never again would the whole world break out in to war. Truly, the Great War was the War to end all Wars.

We know it didn’t last. WWII breaks out. We have rumors of WWIII ever since WWII ended. Nationalism rises and falls. Secularism rises and falls. And even among Christian to Christian, we argue and fight.

But the goal of the Pope was lofty and right. He instituted this day, the last Sunday of the Church Year, as Christ the King Sunday. We Protestants adopted it, and sometimes call it Reign of Christ Sunday. Or something similar. The idea is the same: there is no king but Jesus. There is no Caesar but Jesus. There is no president but Jesus. There is no reign, no ruler, but Jesus. And since we’re all under the one same ruler, then there are no French, no English, no Americans. We are all one people – Christians.

And this gives us the hope of peace.

Really, the same notion is what holds the United Church of Christ together. We affirm there is no head of the church but Christ – and that is the bridge that unites us with all our different theologies, different political views, and different ways of worshiping and being.

But, I don’t know about you, the idea of Jesus as “King” sits a little awkward with our scripture.

Consider… Jesus NEVER calls himself king. Not once. He calls himself the ‘son of man.’ A human. He calls himself a child of god, but also calls you a child of god. He calls himself a servant, and a slave, and a witness to truth. After giving the people bread, the people went to take Jesus and make him king. He runs away. When the disciples want Jesus to go to Jerusalem and be king, he tells them kings are tyrants. Be servants. When Satan offers Jesus to be king of the world… Jesus refuses. Three of our four gospels are concerned with showing Jesus as a humble man, with humble beginnings, living a humble life, and dying ignobly.

All four note he dies, however, with the sign declaring his guilty charge above his head. And that sign reads: “KING OF THE JEWS.” in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. This sign is abbreviated on some crosses as INBI or INRI.

How did he come to be charged with sedition, with trying to become king, when he was adamant he was NOT an earthly king?

John teases us with it from the beginning,  but the bulk of the testimony to Jesus’ kingship is in the final chapters of the book of John. ((We’re setting aside Matthew, Mark, and Luke who do not really use king language.))

In John,

“John intentionally and dramatically arranges the trial of Jesus before Pilate into 7 or 8 scenes, punctuated by Pilate’s egress to meet the Jews and ingress to interact with Jesus.1 Each scene — and the whole trial — centers on kingship.

Scene 1: 18:28-32
Jesus is accused; the charge will be sedition — making himself a king.

Scene 2: 18:33-38a
The nature of Jesus’ kingship is raised. Is he king on Earth, king of Israel? King of who?

Scene 3: 18:38b-40
The choice: King of the Jews or Barabbas? The people reject the king for a bandit.

Scene 4: 19:1-3
Jesus is crowned King of the Jews by the local king.

Scene 5: 19:4-7
Jesus is presented to the people dressed ironically as a king. The chief priests and police, seeking Jesus’ death, demand Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate has put them in the position of demanding the death of their own king (19:6).

Scene 6: 19:8-11
Jesus’ authority as king and Son of God is revealed: Jesus won’t bow to Pilate.

Scene 7: 19:12-16a
Jesus is presented as King of the Jews. Pilate maneuvers in Jesus’ trial to appear as the one who crucifies the Jewish king. John recreates this scene of the demand for Jesus’ crucifixion twice. The second time, he underscores that it is the beginning of Passover, the moment when Israel would stop and remember God’s kingship and God’s rule over other powers. Instead, at that same moment, Pilate asks the Jews again, “Shall I crucify your king?” In their reply, “we have no king but the emperor” (John 19:15), John shows that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus leads them to deny God’s kingship and embrace Roman rule.

Some add an 8th scene: 19:16b-22
Jesus is exalted on the cross and reigns as King of the Jews. Part of the irony of John’s presentation of the trial and crucifixion is that Pilate uses his own authority to declare Jesus’ kingship. Pilate places an inscription over the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” (John 19:19). The chief priests protest, asking Pilate to clarify that this was only what Jesus claimed. But Pilate refuses their request with a solemn pronouncement, “What I have written, I have written” (19:22).

In this way, John crafts his narrative so that Jesus’ kingship becomes most visible in his crucifixion. It is as if his crucifixion is his enthronement as king, the moment at which the declaration of his kingship is made public
((WorkingPreacher))

By the time of the crucifixion in John, Jesus is established as the king of not Jews… but “Jews,” which in John means all people whether or not they accept Jesus as king. He is king over the local kings and king over Caesar – for he is now lifted up and taken to heaven to rule.

As the crucifixion makes clear, Jesus’ kingship is “not of this world” (John 18:36). All of the gospels agree that Jesus and Caesar reigned in opposite ways. Caesar stayed in charge with violence, bread and circuses, militaries. Violence kept people fearful. Free bread fed their bellies. Circuses entertained them. Militaries oppressed neighbors and stole wealth and labor for Rome.

Jesus reigns with peace and repeatedly says “Do not be afraid.” He tells us to forgive one another. Jesus reigns with bread – the free bread from heaven that fulfills not bellies, but souls. Jesus reigns without circuses. Without entertainment that makes you forget your troubles because Jesus goes into your troubles and invites us to address them. Jesus rules without militaries. We’re told to set down our weapons, and to pray blessings upon our enemies.

Because Jesus reigns as no other king, some Christians have taken to referring to the Kin-dom of Heaven instead of the Kingdom. In a kingdom, a king is in charge. A male over all others. And the idea of a king brings forward the idea of hierarchy. Crowns. The king ruling over the impoverished and lowly serfs. A king with knights for war. A king with power stolen from others and kept with fear and manipulation. By referring to the kin-dom of God, we remember Jesus isn’t king like an earthly king.

Kin means family. Jesus reigns as our brother, our beloved, our friend. Jesus reigns as our servant, our slave, our sacrifice. Jesus reigns with hope, peace, joy, compassion, forgiveness – with love.

Kin-dom of God reminds us that WE are family. Much like Pope Pious intended the Reign of Christ to remind us: we are one. Our nationalities, our race, our gender expressions and sexual orientations, our ways of worship, our political views, our secular allegiances and clubs and groups do not separate us because… we are one. We are the children of God. We are all brothers and sisters.

Amen.

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The Home of God is Among Mortals

communion_of_saints-ira-thomas-catholic-world-art-690-609x388
Original artwork, “The Communion of the Saints, for All Saints” by Ira Thomas / http://www.catholicworldart.com. Courtesy Ira Thomas.

John 11:32-44
Revelation 21:1-6a

All Saints Year B

John of Patmos is given a revelation, a showing, from God – and it is so hard to describe. He grasps at ways to explain the wonder and love God shows him. He sees in the vision we read today beyond our now, our linear time, and into what was and is and will be. He steps out of time. He steps into God’s realm and way of viewing things.

Outside of time – this is how Jesus was and is and will be. Outside of time – this is how the earth was and is and will be. Outside of time – this is how John sees God has come to Earth and made God’s home among mortals – in Christ – and God dwells with us now – and God will continue to live with us into the remaking of all things.

It’s like… one of those old Magic Eye books. You look at it. Its chaos. It makes no sense. And then, all of a sudden, the veil is lifted and there is a 3D image. An image that has length and depth and height. Or an optical illusion of an old woman and a young maid.

For us, we experience a past, present, and future… but they are all the same to God who is working at all time to remake the world and bring about beauty and good. And John is gifted a little glimpse of this amazing goodness.

But if God is at all times, the Alpha and the Omega and everything between the beginning and the end… why didn’t God stop the evils we see around us? Murders. Abuse. Neglect. “Lord, if you’d been here, my brother would not have died.” If there is a God, and God is present, why is there death? If Jesus can open the eyes of the blind, would it be easier to keep a man from getting so ill he died? If God’s eye is on the Sparrow, why isn’t it on my loved ones? If God can make all of the world with its infinite beauty… why can’t God inspire a bit more goodness into our hearts?

I don’t know. John of Patmos doesn’t know. The disciples do not know. It is a mystery.

A mystery of our faith.

What was, is, and will be.

WHO was, is, and will be.

Those we have lost, are still with us, and will be with us again in the future.

Jesus resurrects Lazarus, which leads those around him to plan to kill both Lazarus and Jesus. And Jesus says this is the Glory of God. The Glory of God is outside of time and able to accomplish all things. The Glory of God brings new life into the most stinking, stagnant graves and into the most dead — literally or not — people. The Glory of God is not in a heaven light years away, in the future — but was on Earth, is on Earth, and will be on Earth.

I don’t know how God is making all things new, wiping away every tear, removing death, and pain, and bringing about the Reign of God to all times and all peoples… but I know God is. And I know in the midst of it, God weeps with us, holds us, and love us – for God in Christ wept over Lazarus. God in Christ wept over Jerusalem. God in Christ feels and knows what it is to be us – and stuck in time.

John of Patmos had a vision of this companionship in Revelation.

Julian of Norwich saw this as God tenderly holding us like a mother, and cherishing us in the palm of her hand.

People – living and dead – have had visions and reassure us: God loves us. All is well. Somehow, outside of this 4D world that has length and width and height and time – and in the 5th Dimension… or whatever a lack of being controlled by time is. Somehow, God lives among us. Dwells with us. God is with us. God is wiping our tears. God is encouraging us. God loves us.

Mary and Martha have so many questions. I have so many questions! And God welcomes the questions, but says… we won’t know for certain until we can ask them to God face to face.

Until then, know…

All was well. All is well. And all will be well. Mysteriously.

Amen.

Live Like You Are Dying

Mark 10:35-4571o-YNZUNNL._SY355_

Hebrews 5:1-10

Kid’s Moment – play follow the leader. Good leaders. Bad leaders. Who will you follow?

Sermon:

Christianity has always had a predicament with our Savior – he doesn’t look glorious, or act it, or appear ir, or advocate great glory.

We picture a grand and glorious military leader, coming with an army of angels, to vanquish all enemies and sit on a throne of glory forever.

But scripture gives us a backwoods carpenter, with a ragtag bunch of rejects and fishermen, inviting children, thieves, and our enemies to come eat dinner with him.

We picture a miraculous birth, with kings bowing down and crowning an infant with precious materials. We picture angels filling the skies and a supernatural star pointing to the glowing child.

But that’s the story of  a baby born to an unwed teenage mother. She is homeless and giving birth to her boyfriend’s son crouched in a barn among the animals. Dirty, rough shepherds welcome the child.

We picture a child who grows strong with God, who impresses all those around him, who – so say some stories – speaks wisdom before he can even walk.

Yet that child is a refugee, moving place to place with his parents, and siblings, seeking somewhere to call home.

This tension is in the Bible. It is in our tradition. It is in our lives. Theologians call it High Christology versus Low Christology – focusing on the divinity of Jesus versus focusing on the humanity of Jesus.

It is very hard to follow a suffering, nailed, murdered, weak God. It is very hard to follow a God who is found in fallible flesh, who tells us to meet peace to violence, who welcomes in enemies and friends alike, who is poor, powerless, and a slave.

Slave.

The stigma of that word is fading as we forget what slavery is like. Recall in your minds stories you read or heard of about the slavery of Africans – the long, laborious days in fields or houses without pay. The starvation. The beatings. The abuse of body and soul and mind. Recall modern slavery – found in human trafficking. Where little children are used for sexual pleasure. They do not have any rights. They do not have security and family. Recall slaves were bred like animals, sold on auction blocks, and branded like animals. Like animals they lived. Like animals they died. Like animals, their owners buried or refused to bury them.

Our God identifies, places God’s self, with slaves.

“Whoever wishes to be first among humanity must be a slave to all.”

Who is the first among all humanity? Jesus. A slave to all.

“Who wants to be great among humanity must be a servant to all.”

Great humans are servants. A step above slaves in our mortal world – and step below slaves in God’s world. Servants retain some autonomy and respect.

Slaves do not.

James and John, humans just like you and I, picture Jesus regally. They have heard several times now that he will be going to Jerusalem for his glory. He will die, yes, but the brothers have either ignored that part or they are already rushing past the messy death into the resurrection. They are picturing Jesus as King – with a throne, and lesser thrones on his left and right for his two main assistants. They’re picturing a glorious time and day. They’re picturing our same world where Presidents are above the law, clergy get away with child molestation, and billion dollar arms deals are more important than the genocide of Yemenis. They’re picturing Jesus as the new King over all of this – this same world we know – and they want to be on top with him.

The brothers haven’t realized that this hierarchical world is not the world God is making. This is our human world. God’s reign is a reign unlike that of the governments we see now. God’s reign is reversed… with the most important person being the slave – and the most slavish of all being God, God’s self. Servant-leaders are the great. People who love deeply, serve humbly, inspire others to works of kindness and justice, and who do this without seeking reward and lauds.

Jesus looks at James and John, and I think he has to speak sadly, “You do not know what you are asking to sit at my right and my left when I am in glory. Can you drink the cup I drink – and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

The brothers assert, “We are able!”

Do they know what they have asked?

They have asked to be at Jesus’ left and right when he hangs on the cross. To be crucified with him. To be scorned and rejected and murdered with him. They have asked that the cup Jesus prays over in the Garden of Gethsemane not be passed, as Jesus wishes were God’s will, but to let them drink it. To drink the toxin of the world and the sins of our violence, selfishness, and cruelty. The brothers have asked to be baptized — to be submerged — as Jesus will be again. To go into the grave, dead, cold, and without proper burial rights.

“You will get the cup, and the baptism.” Jesus replies. You will get the woes of the world and you will die. You will get the hope of new life after the grave… but they won’t hang with Jesus on the cross.

The other disciples hear James and John are going to get the cup and baptism, and are angry. They want glory too! They’ve left everything for Jesus, too! The disciples, including James and John, still don’t get it. How often WE don’t get it today! “Jesus, make us great rulers over others!”

But Jesus replies… “Those you recognize as your rulers lord it over you. Your ‘great ones’ are tyrants.”

Tyrants. Most people who are rulers, government authorities, or who have power one way or another… are tyrants. You’ve heard it said before that absolute power absolutely corrupts. Jesus is saying just about as much here, too. The more power and authority someone has, the greater the temptation to use that power for personal gain.

When the Devil tempted Jesus, he tempted Jesus with saying ‘Use a little power to turn these rocks into bread.’ For Jesus was so hungry. Just a little power. And Jesus refused. It was just a little wrong use of power for a little bit of immediate good. Grey area. The devil then told Jesus to step off a high spot and let the angels save him. A bit more abuse of power – but for a much greater good. Let God prove to you, Jesus, that God is with you. Finally, the devil offered the world — all the world. Its kingdoms and countries. Its cities. It citizens. Its animals and plants. All the power. All Jesus had to do was worship the devil.

So many in power get there because of the being they are worshiping: worshiping money, or strength, or themselves.

If you are worshiping the God who said, “Be a servant, be a slave, walk humbly, do justice, love God and your neighbor,” you are not likely going to make it far in most of politics. It is hard to be humble when you need to raise money for your platform. Hard to love your neighbor when you’re publishing and speaking bad things about them. It is hard to do justice if you, yourself, are cheating the very laws you are supposed to enforce. It is impossible to be a servant of the people without true love in your heart. 1 Corinthians 13!

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Without love, a leader is a tyrant.

There are good politicians. There are good leaders. There are good clergy. But being in a position of power is an immediate temptation to use that power for evil.

And far, far, far too often… we succumb to leading without love.

Jesus says he comes to be served. To lead with love. Not to have servants and slaves. Not to have people waiting on him hand and foot. Not to continue the human story of those in power abusing, harming, taking advantage of those with less power. But that Jesus comes to be a “ransom” for many.

Ransom. Liberation. Jesus comes to liberate many. To liberate us from thinking violence is the only answer to violence. To liberate us from following tyrants. To liberate us from the sinful systems of our world. To show us that it IS possible to life a moral life, it IS possible to receive God’s forgiveness and turn your life around, it IS possible to live a different way than the world around us.

Jesus liberates us from assuming business as usual, with tyrants abusing slaves, with governments being uncaring and having deaf ears, with our leaders failing us — Jesus liberates us from thinking this is the only way the world can be.

Dream bigger. Live more fully. Love deeper.

Tim McGraw sings a song called “Live like you are dying.” He sings about a man who realized, after looking at x-rays and talking with his doctor, that “This might really be the real end,” of his life. How do you handle news like that? You know the lyrics to the chorus:

I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying.”

That is the life Jesus invites us into now.

To live because we are dying.
For tomorrow IS a gift.

“What you’d do with it
What could you do with it
What did I do with it?
What would I do with it?”

We do not have to live dead – live in slavery to a cruel world, live in fear of tomorrow, live in bondage to sin and live thinking this world is beyond hope, beyond repair, and cannot be changed into the reign of God.

We can choose to live into our life of dying – and to embrace the liberation Jesus offers us. We can live each moment for the precious second it is. We can live in the new reign of God that God gifts us in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that shows us the New Way. Shows us the Way of Peace. Shows us the way of Forgiveness. Shows us how to live while alive.

We ARE the great leaders among humanity if we CHOOSE to live and love boldly – as servants, caretakers, and neighbors of all people.

Go and be the church – the hope and liberation for many! Go and be servant leaders!

Made Free

44898913_347591266047355_59580177172135936_nRomans 3:19-28
John 8:31-36

Freedom is never wholly free. There’s conditions. Limits.

We say we are the Land of the Free in America because we are free FROM things our ancestors were not. Free from kings and queens; free from religious persecution; free to congregate, and so forth. But we’re not wholly free because full freedom is an illusion.

You’re not free to murder someone in America. There are consequences for breaking laws like that.

You’re not free from gravity no matter where you live on Earth.

You’re not free from the need to eat, to sleep, to breathe.

You’re not free in many ways.

I wish we were free-er in some areas. I wish we had the freedom of health care like Canada does. I wish we had freedom from racism, and sexism, and agism.

But I also wish we weren’t as free in other areas. The freedom businesses have to move companies here and there wherever labor is cheapest hurts us. The level of freedom given to pollution is a great peeve of mine. I’d like us all to care for our earth much better. And the freedom we give to cruelty, to indifference, and to apathy deeply hurts me.

Jesus’ phrase today, “The truth will set you free,” is not about whole freedom from everything and to do anything. It’s not about how freedom is the end and goal and holy purpose we Americans like to hold it up. Freedom has to be FROM or TO DO something. What does Jesus mean here?

That’s exactly what his fellows ask him, “What do you mean, ‘Be made free?'”

Freedom changes depending on who is hearing or viewing these words- and the text given to us has several lenses we can use.

First – “In this text Jesus is engaging the “Jews who believed in him.” Doesn’t that strike us as a bit odd? Were there many non-Jews who believed in him? Certainly, by the time of the gospel writer, there were Gentile Christians.” (( Rev. Dr. Lucy Lind Hogan)) No one sat down and wrote the Gospels as they were happening. They were wrote decades – even a century – after Jesus died and were based on oral traditions. So by the time we get this story in John there are Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians and Roman Christians and so forth. Our first lens, therefore, is the author of the scripture – a Jewish Christian – writing about the past where Jesus the Jew spoke to other Jews about Jewish conflicts on Jesus’ identity.

John, the author, and his community “believed in Jesus, believed that he spoke the truth, and believed that their freedom lay in walking the way of Jesus. But for that they had been cast out of the synagogue. They no longer had their “place in the household.” Their freedom, their new life was to be found in “the Son,” even if that meant disagreeing with the Scribes and Pharisees. They were experiencing freedom, but it came at a cost, a profound loss for many.” ((Hogan)). They lost their identity as Jews – for the synagogue and Jewish community kicked them out. They lost family. Friends. Property. Status. They were confused – how could our fellows not believe? How could they be slaves to the old way of thinking and not welcome in the Messiah?

So John wrote this story about when Jesus felt that same rejection. This is the second lens  – the one of when Jesus still physically walked the earth, this story is about the idea that the prophesied messiah had to come from a certain lineage. The Messiah had to be a descendant of King David – and Jesus is just some nobody from Galilee. This is why so many of our gospels have long lineage charts – trying to PROVE Jesus is related to David. And Romans makes a contorted argument that the high priest can be from this lineage instead of that. To us, today, we don’t really care. Then, at that time, this was a huge deal. John frames Jesus’ rejection in this issue.

But the message is the same whether Jesus says it to his disciples in the scene, or his disciples living decades later rejected from their communities, or the third lens which is us, today.

If you continue to abide in me, you have a place in God’s household.

It doesn’t matter if the synagogue or community or church have kicked you out. You’ve gained freedom – a lack of ties – but you’re not groundless. You’re grounded in me. One of mine. Still one of the Chosen People of God.

Think what this meant to Martin Luther! “Freedom was crucial for Luther. Where was the truth, freedom, new life to be found? Luther argued that it was not to be found in the medieval pietistic accretions, the indulgences, that marked the Christians life at that time. Rather it was found only in belief in Jesus Christ. (Hogan)

It didn’t matter that the church, the community, the country called for Luthers’ death, and excommunicated him. Said he was Satan or at least hell-bound. Said he was evil. He was free from the sins he saw gathered into the church at that time. He’d seen the truth of how money and power was being abused. And seen the truth that Christ, alone, is who saves. No church can say whether you are going to heaven or hell. Only Jesus can judge.

It was pricey freedom, again, but it reformed our faith – both those who remained orthodox to the church and those who formed the Protestant denominations. All sides experienced new life, and transformation, and a fresh breath from the Holy Spirit.

Our forebearers who came here were seeking freedom to worship and believe in God as they felt called. They, too, lost family and friends and land but remain in God’s household. They, like Luther, like the early Christians, like Jesus, heard the Spirit of God speaking a new truth – reinterpreting our old traditions in new ways for the context of now, today – and that truth set them free to follow the law of their faith.

We’re at just such a crossroads now. What has been for the last 501 years of the Reformation is not what will be. The truth of church as we know it – meeting on Sundays, in a designated building, passing on the music and songs and traditions of the last centuries – is not the truth of our youth.

And this is good.

Good!

The Holy Spirit is breathing upon our faith again. It is awakening us to a new revolution, a new way of being. It is taking our faith which has grown stagnant and blowing the doors open to set hearts on fire in a brand new way.

The comic “The Naked Pastor” drew a comic with Jesus standing with other Jewish rabbis of his time. And Jesus says to them, “The difference between me and you is you use scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what scripture means.”

Yes! This is true in Jesus’ time, and in John’s, and in Luther’s, and in the formation of America, and now.

Scripture tells us how to love… but love is contextual and changes. No two people are alike. No two people love the same things. No two times are alike. And what was once very important – lineages, who is or isn’t related to a priest – later is no longer important. What once was not important –officials using marriage and sexuality to establish dominance – later becomes very important.

Those who are orthodox use scripture to determine what love means. Love means, according to scripture, marrying your dead brother’s wife.

Those who live into orthopraxis use love to determine what scripture means. Love is caring for one another. Marrying your dead brother’s wife was loving her by providing for her. Today, it is more loving to not marry her but to provide for her with finances, hugs, and a listening ear.

Each time our faith explodes into new life it is because orthopraxis – living love – challenges orthodoxy – traditional love. Each time we come to new truths for our faith it is because we realize how our needs have changed, and we see the truth, and Christ releases us to be free to love as Christ loves.

But it’s not freedom from everything or freedom to do anything.

It is freedom from stagnation and sin. It is freedom to love God, your neighbor, and yourself.

Can you feel the Spirit active in our faith? Can you feel the tension between those who cling to old ways of understanding scripture and those who welcome in new ways of interpreting scripture through love?

Can you feel the tension among Christians? That same tension Luther felt. The same tension Jesus awoke among Jews.

Something beautiful is being brought forth out of us. A new church. The next reformation. Out of these growing pains will rise new life to classical churches like our own – with pews and hymns and a building – and the new churches just beginning – on streets, and in coffee shops, and online. Maybe our own Saint Michael’s won’t be a place we go to – but a place that comes to us. A bus, that picks us up in our post-driving years. And we sing hymns on the way to get our weekly groceries together. And are a congregation the whole way there and back. I don’t know!

I do know it is a beautiful time to live! It is a marvelous time to be Christian! It is an interesting time – a painful time – a changing time – and a time where we have been placed to discern, to live, and to walk together into the liberating truths Jesus provides.

Go and be the church known for its love!

Amen.

In the Name

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 salt
Mark 9:38-50

Every fall, I begin to get petitions from charities to donate money in the name of others for Christmas gifts, or to bring these charities to you all to take a church collection in the name of St. Michael’s. How does the UCC, or our church consistory, or I, ever pick which groups to speak about and which ones to ignore? Likely the same way you do: you look at the work they are doing. Well, most charities are doing good. So how to you further delve in? Maybe you look at how much of your donated money goes to the causes being served. Or maybe you look at all the stances of the organization and see if you agree with each one of them.

Whenever I do the last one, I begin to get upset. Some of the best international aid groups helping communities overseas also have stances against women being preachers. Or they believe in Bible to be literal in all things. Or they teach exclusion to divorcees, gays and lesbians, or another group they consider too sinful. Some only use the King James Version of the Bible and utterly ignore the scholarship of the Dead Sea Scrolls on our scripture. And some just flat out aren’t Christian. Can I support Muslim charity? A Buddhist charity? Where some of my funds help bring water to rural women, but some also provide non-Christian educational materials?

I see lots of cries to reject this or that charity from my fellow Christians. Don’t support the Salvation Army – they have a policy against gays. Don’t support the American Cancer Society because they provide funding to IVF (In-vitro-fertilization), abortion, and other fertility clinics. Don’t support the Humane Society of the United States because it doesn’t actually help humane societies, but is a lobbyist group formed to fight the Farm Bureau. I get overwhelmed. I just want someone doing good.

So I turn to churches. But this church over here with the great youth program teaches a theology that focuses on humanity as hopelessly fallen, filled with sin, and worms before God. And this church over there does wonderful work with elderly but believes baptism is only for believing adults and not infants. Here at Saint Michael’s, we donate to our association and its work, but not to the national church because some ten or fifteen years ago we disagreed with their national stance. What will we do when we no longer have associations but have all become one?

I know I can’t find a church that is working in the name of Christ in just the way I would work… anywhere.

What about Christians? Individuals? Can I find one person who is doing good in the name of Christ in just the perfect way? Who believes just as I do; who acts as I think a Christian ought; who has the time and energy and knowledge to do all the good they can, for all the right people, at all the ideal times?

Not even in the mirror can I find this Christian.

There is no charity, no church, no person I wholly agree with on all things – including myself.

How can we all be one when even a single person disagrees with themselves? How can we do any good in the world when every good is tainted with something we disagree with?

Jesus’ disciples want to know the same thing. Jesus is standing with them with a toddler in his arms and has been explaining that the toddler, out of all the disciples with their unique miraculous healing powers from Christ, is the most important.

The disciple John interrupts to tattle, “Jesus – someone is outside healing in your name. We tried to get him to shut up. He’s not one of us.”

The Greek pacing of Jesus’ tone is one of frustration and being interrupted. He explains to John, “Don’t stop him! For no one who does or receives good in my name is able to curse me. For whoever is not against us is with us. For whoever does good for my name – even if it is a cup of water – is rewarded.”

Jesus then slows his pace down and returns to his conversation regarding the toddler, but now adding in this non-disciple doing good. “Whomever puts a road block, a stumbling block, in the way of these little ones – these little children, these people new to the faith, these non-disciples who may yet become disciples – whoever harms their budding faith should be cut out of the Body of Christ.” I picture Jesus pointing to the disciples – these members of the body of Christ – and naming them. You are the foot of the Body of Christ. You are the eye. You are the ear. You are the hand. And as he goes down the line he tells each person, each body part, that you think you are essential. And yes, hands and eyes and feet and ears are essential… but none of you are the body. The body can survive without you. Oh but we want you! But the body is better off without you if you’re going around harming others in the name of the body.

If you’re going around in the name of Jesus preaching hate – you’re not needed. We’re better off without you.

If you’re going around excluding in the name of Jesus – it’s better if you were cut off.

If you’re going around harming, killing, in the name of Jesus – the body will survive by removing you.

But if you’re going around preaching love – the body welcomes you even if you’re not Christian.

If you’re going around including in the name of Jesus – we may not agree with your methods, or theology, or all your stances… but we include you.

If you go around healing, enlivening, bringing wholeness – doing something even as simple as giving a glass of water to someone – doing ANY kindness – then we’re of the same cloth. We’re of God’s Love. God’s body – because we are not against one another.

How can we all be one? Jesus says it’s by being united in love for God and one another. United. Not the same. Not all doing the same. Not all believing the same. Not all having the same theology, the same belief on stances, the same ideas on how to do good. Not all identical. But united in wanting and working for a more loving world for all.

While Jesus stands with his disciples and a toddler, Moses stands before God and with his elders. We hear how the Israelites hunger for meat. So Moses goes to God and says – God, these are the people you birthed and raised. Why are you not mothering them? I’m just one man! So God replies God will mother them and give the people more meat than they can ever eat, and will share the Holy Spirit upon the elders so that Moses has more leaders to help out with the large camp. We read how the Spirit comes upon the gathered elders in the center tent, and they gain powers of charisma and prophecy.

But two guys not in the center tent ALSO gain this. Like John, someone goes and tattles. Like John, Joshua tells Moses – stop them! They’re not with the in group! They’re not one of us! Moses, like Jesus, replies – let them be. Moses proclaims, “I wish that all God’s people were prophets – and that God would put the Holy Spirit upon them!” Moses dismisses the idea there is a competition among who is the best and proper follower of God and who isn’t. He dismisses the idea that God’s voice can only be found within established institutions, within churches. Moses says God will speak where God wills – and Moses wishes we all were given the Holy Spirit!

At Pentecost, we were! At our baptisms, we were! And God is limited by neither and will send God’s Holy Spirit to speak love to the world wherever people are receptive to receive it.

In these, our selves, our flawed selves, God speaks. In these, our institutions, our charities, our churches, God speaks. In our imperfect following of Jesus, in our imperfect ways of living together, in our imperfect good deeds – God speaks.

The name of God – the name of love – perseveres. And anyone speaking in love is an ally.

To your left is a body part of Jesus. And you are not that same body part. To your right is a body part of Jesus. And you’re not that same body part. That is good. We are different. But you’re both working for the same thing: working for love. Working in the name of Love. Working in the name of Jesus. We are not enemies. We are family. We are one body.

We are salt. Salt brings out the best in food. It makes sweets sweeter, savory dishes more savory, and even makes cold dishes colder.

We are salt. Salt heals. Salt water rinses help the body heal itself. Salt brings balance to the body’s ions and helps electricity flow from one member to another.

Salt is essential to life. Animals gather around salt licks and lick the salt off our sweat because salt is so essential to well living. It tastes amazing. Our bodies crave it.

When we stop being salt, what are we? I have a box of salt at home. It reads: Ingredients – Salt. That’s it. Nothing more. When I remove the ingredient salt – what is left in my box?

Nothing.

When we stop being the sprinkle of salt that brings out the best in others, and in the world around us, what are we?

Nothing.

When we stop being the radical lovers, the generous givers, the includers, the ones saying ‘more the merrier!’ and throwing open our doors to all people, all races, all genders, all sexes, all ages, all who want to live in the name of Love – who are we?

Maybe just a social group. Or a family reunion group. Without the love of God, love of our neighbor, love of ourselves, and love of all strangers – we cannot say we’re the body of Christ. We cannot say we’re salt that brings out the best, the flavor, of all.

You’ll never agree 100% with any human, including yourself. You’ll never agree 100% with any denomination, any church, any charity. But you never have to agree 100% to appreciate the good they do.

Go and be salt. Be the church. Be love.

Amen.

Angry Christians

angerEphesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

I get irrationally angry sometimes over the most silly, trivial things. I was parking the other day. There were only 2 spots left in the little lot. One in front of the other. A car went down the first lane, I went down the second. Now we’d both have the last two spots.

The lady decided to pull through – and take both spots.

I was more angry with her than the situation called for. I broke into tears. I usually cry when I’m angry. And my body tenses up. Sometimes my body shakes as my blood pressure rises. My heart beats fast and I get a sweat. I feel it all over me – do I fight, or do I flee?

It’s like I’m threatened.

I feel threatened and angry. Threatened not by the other person – they bothered me – but threatened by my own body.

My own body is betraying my emotions. It is threatening to make me yell. Threatening to make me cuss. Threatening to — I don’t know. Explode? Roar?

Lose my smile, I think. And lose my calm exterior. And lose my control.

That’s it.

I can’t control my feelings.

I get angry! And then my body reacts, and I can’t control my body. My body betrays my emotion of anger! With one unthinking park job, this woman ripped all this control from me.

I can’t be Christian and be angry, can I? For Jesus in Matthew says, (5:21-22) “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

I’m liable to judgment for being angry. And it would have been better to give her a one-finger salute than to have called her a name like You Fool, You Pea-Brain, or You… [ fill in your favorite insulting title that I’m not going to say from the pulpit.]

Even today Paul tells us in scripture to put away our wrath and anger, wrangling and slander, and malice. That these things grieve the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 4:30-31).

So what sin have I done in my anger by sitting in my car staring at that woman, angry, crying, and asking, “What in the world is wrong with you? Learn to drive, you fool!” Am I going to hell?

Maybe I should have picked up my cross, kept my mouth shut, not gotten emotional, been serene, and kept it all inside. It would be torture. It would be somehow mastering feeling only the emotions I want to feel. I think it would be dying to myself.

I know plenty of Christians who try to live this way, and teach others to live this way.

Bottle that anger up. Better – don’t even feel it in the first place.

That’s real fine and dandy until someone takes your parking spot and you roar in your car.

WHY did I explode inside? Why did I feel so much anger? It happened so fast!

I think because “never be angry” is not possible for ANY human at all.

God gave us anger. God gets angry, a lot, in the Bible. Jesus got angry. Prophets and people got angry. Our church mothers and fathers got angry. Anger is an emotion all complex creatures feel — from the anger of a rat having their food stolen to the anger of God – and everyone and every creature in between – we get angry.

Often, the Bible talks about righteous anger. So maybe Christians ought to only have righteous anger and not selfish anger. I’ve heard this argued, lived, and preached too.

The woman taking my spot wasn’t an affront, an insult, a sin against God. So my anger wasn’t justified. Had she done something truly heinous (like purposefully harm someone, steal money out of greed, blasphemy against God )I should be righteously furious. But since this was just taking my spot, I didn’t have a right to be angry. It wasn’t right – righteous – anger.

I should be righteously angry at injustice – just like God. I should be righteously angry at evil – because that is the opposite of our good, loving God. I should be righteously angry at everything that perverts, blasphemies, harms the relationship of any with the Holy. Scripture, especially the First Testament’s stories, speaks often of God’s anger getting provoked and God taking action. But it also speaks of God being “slow to anger, and rich in love” (Psalm). And James has the popular phrase “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19).

Righteous anger is an anger that is educated, controlled, slowly comes to be, but quickly passes as soon as forgiveness is petitioned. An anger based out of love.

I didn’t have righteous anger over where I wanted to park my car. Was my anger the sin Paul tells us today to not have? The sin that Jesus says makes us liable, prone to, hell?

Although many Christians would say yes, I think otherwise. And I didn’t always think this way. It’s been a process of change.

As a child I saw when my parents got angry. We all do. My mother believed the Christian thing to do when angry is to not say a thing if you have nothing nice to say. Or, in Paul’s words today, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths.” So she kept her anger inside. An icy, steely silence would fill her when she was angry. She still smiled. She still nodded along. Usually the person she was speaking to had no idea they were crossing a line. I knew! I saw it in the way her smile was tight and thin. I saw it in the stiff way she walked. This internal anger simmered and brewed inside of my mother never expressed.

I learned to bottle my anger like she did. This or that person would minorly insult me, and I’d bottle it up. I’d not say anything. Then they would do it again. And still I would smile and say to myself I was forgiving their trespass by not speaking a word. But over time, angry drop by angry drop filled up my internal bottle. And the person I was growing more and more angry with never had a clue. Because I kept smiling. I kept it to myself. My silence was my anger. My tension in my body my anger.

I began to say little things to OTHERS about being angry with So-And-So. Over coffee. In the parking lot. Over Facebook. But not to So-And-So’s face. Oh no – I couldn’t. This wasn’t righteous anger, so it had to be sinful anger that I – as Christian – am not allowed to have.

And then one day, something happens… like my parking spot is taken… and all that anger that’s been pushed and shoved into a bottle inside me goes off like the cap on a shook bottle of New Year’s campaign. And I get irrationally angry over something stupid and silly. I get way more angry than I ought to be for the situation. I lose control of my emotions, my body, and after roaring — then sit in grief and self-hate at my sinful anger.

Sinful anger, I used to tell myself. What do you do with that? Shove the anger into that now empty bottle… and repeat the process.

Does this sound familiar to any of you? Are you a bottler of anger? Are you carrying about a lump in your stomach, or a tightness in your shoulders, that is all your pent up anger you won’t let yourself feel, or express, or even acknowledge?

I had a pastor once hand me a phone book. A big, thick one. She said, “I get angry. I get alone. I sit on the floor and I rip out big chucks of this and shred it. I yell. I do this until it all passes.”

I thought about yelling. I had a friend whose family yelled when they were angry. Loud, abusive language would flow from their lips. Insults and curses. These often were followed with belts, or hands, or sticks. While my house shoved everything into little hard diamonds of bitterness and grudges… my friend’s house spread anger to the four winds and over every relationship. Alcohol made it even more explosive there. It was a constant walk on eggshells.

Was this pastor telling me to just wallow in anger – to welcome it and throw it around like that household did? Telling me to be the pastor of a congregation ran this way?

No. Not at all. She told me a Buddhist teaching is to accept emotions as they come, feel them, and then let them pass. So when she got angry she recognized she was angry. She identified why she was angry. She felt the anger – ripping out some phone book pages – and when the anger was exhausted, she let it go.

No longer angry.

Nothing bottled.

Now she could address WHY she was angry. She could go ask the person who insulted her to not say such a thing again. She could try calling customer service again. She could look forward to her next sermon or meeting or visitation even if that was with the person who made her angry. She could re-enter a hospital situation where she has no control, cannot fix it, and is feeling nearly hopeless… and go into it being centered.

She told me today’s passage. “Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

Be angry.
We all get angry. Over righteous things and over unrighteous things.
We all get angry.

But do not sin.
Don’t harm your relationship with God. Don’t harm your relationship with others. Don’t isolate yourself and remove yourself from the community; and don’t scream profanities at others or name call or slap them or harm them.

Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
Don’t bottle it up, day after day, week after week, until you become a pressurized bottle ready to crack open over something silly. That bottled anger turns to bitterness, and grudges, and hate. The devil, writes Paul, settles into that pent up anger and encourages us to sin, to separate ourselves and others, more. That unspoken anger breaks relationships. The person you’re upset with may not even know what she or he is doing is bothering you. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Speak about it. Speak the truth. Address the issue. And do something to express the anger.

And then let it go.

Paul doesn’t write anger is evil, or sinful. Anger just IS. It’s an emotion, an emotion God has given us. And we are full of many emotions.

Emotions cannot be controlled.

We do control what we do with those emotions.

Psalms tells us that to control our anger — not by never being angry, but by being able to feel it, express it, and let it pass — is more impressive than conquering a city. A huge feat. It takes time and practice.

Paul advises we practice doing no evil with our emotions.

Evil is what harms, what intentionally causes hurt for the sake of hurt. Evil is what tears down the body of Christ…

Anger can be good, or bad. Holy or evil.
Anger can build us up.
Anger may be the words of grace we need to hear.

That woman who took my spot saw my expressed anger. I was more angry than I ought to have been… as I said, it is a process to learn to healthily express ourselves. But she saw my anger and backed up to give me room to park.

She saw my tears and asked me if I were okay.

I could have bottled it up. I could have continued to lie to myself about how I feel and lied to her. But I said the truth, “No. I’m not.”

That blessed stranger invited me to talk. So I did. I told her how I was there to euthanize my cat, and this was the final two spots, and the whole week had been full of stress and anger, and I’ve been trying not to express any of it, and…

In the end, I was given tissues, and volunteers like the woman in the lot helped me through my day. I was given grace and hospitality. Kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving… building one another up.

We’re instructed to do these things. Instructed to embrace one another just as we are, with all our emotions, all our feelings, and then help one another towards shalom.

Shalom is being healthy, inside and out, body and mind and soul, being whole. Shalom is peace. True peace. Not the peace of steely silence. Not the peace that is so thick you suffocate. Not the peace of a house walking on eggshells.

But true peace.

The peace where we understand and support one another. The peace where we are free to express our emotions – without judgment. The peace where we can speak truthfully to one another and, because we are in covenant, not fear one another will gossip, slander, or react with malice. Peace where we are authentic with ourselves, with one another, and know we are forgiven and loved and welcome.

Peace, Jesus tells us. Peace. Take time to savor the Bread of Life, to release the shaken up, and return to peace, to shalom.

Be angry, but do not sin – and don’t bottle it up and let the sun go down on your anger.

Amen.