Tag: love

Peace I Leave With You

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

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

John writes… John 14:22-29

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

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

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

And I had to laugh.

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

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

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

Peace!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The God who has conquered death, and sin.

The God who has set order to the chaos.

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

I… got hopeful. Happy. I laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

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Love One Another Call to Worship

Call to Worship

(based on John 13:33-35)

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

Feed those sheep!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Men? We cannot even catch a fish.”

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

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

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

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

No.

“Cast it again!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And how is that done?

By following Jesus.

And tending to the sheep of all creation.

Amen.

The Prodigal Father

prodigal
The Prodigal Son. Painting by Geliy Korzhev

Our first reading is from the second letter we have from Paul to the church in Roman Corinth. In it, he makes the case that ALL are new in Christ – our pasts do not define our futures. Christ does. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Our second reading is Luke’s recount of Jesus telling the Parable of the Prodigal Son – the part skipped over for brevity is Jesus also telling the parables of the women finding a lost coin, and a shepherd seeking a lost sheep. This is the story of the lost sons… Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

What more can I say about this beautiful, full, story Luke recounts Jesus telling? Very little. I can just point out things in it.

 

Things like… this is a story about two lost sons. The father loses the younger to wantonness – to leading a sinful life. To getting wrapped up in bad deals and addictions. To getting in over his head and stuck in a worse and worse situation. He loses his son to the vices of the world. And before that – he loses his son to greed. The younger son wants his inheritance while his father is still living and breathing.

 

But the father also loses his older son. His older son is lost to industriousness. Lost to work. Lost to duty. While one son is living it large, the other is the chronically late to supper, over-worked, money concerned and a work-a-holic. In a way, the older son is greedy too.

 

And we hear – the younger son comes to his senses. He returns home. He was lost and now is found. He abandons everything to go home and face the music. Instead of being scalded, and punished, he is restored. The father rushes OUT to him. He is given fresh clothes, and called beloved child once again.

 

And we hear – the older son returns home. The father rushes OUT to him, also. And he is offered to come in, to join the party, to abandon behind his labor and celebrate the moment. To be a beloved sibling.

 

We do not hear what he chose.

 

The story ends with us in the tension. Will the father get both of his sons back? Will both give up their worldly pursuits and pursue the heavenly goal of life together?

 

Paul’s letter isn’t a finished story either. After hearing Paul and Timothy’s pleas, what did the Corinth church do? Did they welcome in those they had formerly cast out? Did they believe Paul was truly a new man in Christ and no longer the guy seeking to kill Christians? Did THEY change?

 

We do not hear what they choose. The letter is one-sided.

 

And it is rather appropriate that way. Each of us has this choice – over and over again in our lives – to choose to abandon what we once thought was so important for what God sees as important… or we can choose to keep to our own ways.

 

Again and again we face that choice. Again and again we chose to step towards God – and God runs the rest of the way to us. Or we chose to leave. And God permits us the space. But never once does God stop loving us, stop seeking to hear from us, stop working good for us, or shut the door and never welcome us home. Not once. The door is open and no one can close it. God is calling all home.

 

What will you choose?

 

We call this story the parable of the prodigal son. Prodigal means spending recklessly, freely, liberally, excessively. But this story to me is the story of a Prodigal Father. A father who recklessly loves his children. Who freely embraces who they choose to be. Who liberally welcomes them home. Who excessively forgives them again and again and says this generous, lavish, extravagant welcome is always available.

 

You are loved so much God is a fool for you.

 

Come home!

 

Amen.

New Year Resolutions

Luke 2:41-52
Colossians 3:12-17love

We have yearly traditions. Things we do, year after year, to mark the passage of time. Christmas with Christmas trees, and stockings, and cookies and milk set out to Santa. New Years with a ball drop in Times Square where many have pilgrimaged to see it. Valentine’s Day cards. Independence Day fireworks. Trick or Treating for Halloween and carved pumpkins. These are all religious, secular, traditional and commercialized at the same time. This is because rituals have so much meaning! And mean something a little different to each person.

Ancient Israel had these yearly traditions too. One was going to the Temple in Jerusalem during Passover. Everyone who could would ban together, load up the donkeys and camels, and walk to the big city for the celebration. Back at home would be just those too old or sick to make it, too young, or those watching over the flocks this year. (Someone has to feed the sheep!) Everyone else, all the extended family, headed into the city for the party.

At big family reunions, you know how kids get lost. They run around from table to table, place to place, and you’re generally sure they’re okay because this is all family and no one has yelled out ‘MOMMY OF SUSIE! SUSIE NEEDS YOU!’ or something similar.

This is the big family tradition Luke describes to us. Pre-teen Jesus and all his extended family show up for the party at the temple. When its time to go home, Mary assumes Jesus is with Joseph. Joseph assumes Jesus is with Mary. Both then assume he’s off with family somewhere in this mess of people. And when they get home… and everyone is sorted out to their own houses… they realize there’s no Jesus. So back to the city they rush to look for their missing teen.

They find him in the Temple, after the party has ended, debating with the Rabbis and impressing them with his knowledge. The story transitions here from describing customs in ancient Israel, to… making a statement about Jesus.

Remember Luke is writing under Roman rule, and explaining to Roman-Jews and Gentile converts who Jesus is. They all know how Caesar came to power. Some remember it from personally lived history.

It began like this: At age of 12, the boy Augustus gave the funeral oration for his grandmother Julia Caesaris, the sister of Julius Caesar. Emperor Julius Caesar adopted his grand-nephew Augustus as his son. When Julius Caesar died, his adopted son Augustus named Julius a god, himself the Son of God, and took control of Rome through the Senate to rule over the known world. Now Augustus Caesar rules as Emperor with as much, if not more, power than his uncle / adopted-father.

Luke knows these facts. And he knows his audience does, too. He writes a new version of the Son of God.

Jesus was an exceptional child by the age of 12. He impressed adults with his speech qualities. Since Jesus is the son not of Joseph, but of ‘his father’ who lives in the Temple… Jesus is the Son of God. The Son of God grows into an exceptional leader who is appointed not by humans, but by God, to reign over the whole universe.

Luke is asserting Jesus is better than Augustus.

We don’t know if the story we read today did happened or not. The message is true, one way or the other, however – Jesus, not Caesar Augustus – reigns. Jesus, not Caesar Augustus, is divine. Jesus, not Caesar Augustus, is our savior.

Luke is so full of sedition! He writes and encourages his fellows to see not their God-King in Caesar… but in this Jesus fellow.

This Jesus… who is shown in story after story as better than Caesar… but opposite him in leadership style and qualities.

“Pax Romana” was the Peace of Rome. This peace was maintained with fear, and violence, and was the absence of conflict between nation states. Absence of conflict is not peace. Peace is an end of fear. Fear was how Rome ruled. People had to fear non-Romans to justify having authoritarian leaders. People had to fear Roman soldiers to keep from rebelling. People had to fear falling to the station of non-Romans to stay in line and not empathize with slaves, or foreigners. People had to fear for Rome to rule.

“Pax Christi” is the Peace of Christ. This is peace maintained through an end of fear. Conflict may still arise, but we will work through it together without resulting to violence. We may disagree, but we continue to love one another. We don’t fear. We don’t fear soldiers because we know our bodies are not our forever homes. We don’t fear falling in station because we voluntarily call ourselves slaves and the least. We don’t fear foreigners because we remember we are foreigners ourselves right now. We don’t fear mortal leaders because we have a heavenly leader. We reject the leadership of fear, for the leadership of Peace.

Which means we, like Luke, are pretty seditious and radical. We’re rebellious. We’re living in the world, but are not of it.

The letter to Collossians reminds us we are called to be the “people who embody compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, and thanksgiving.” ((Frank L. Crouch.))

That’s quite the list! I think Mary would have just been happy if Jesus just told her where he was going instead of worrying her and Joseph sick for days.

But this awesome list is my New Years Resolution.

See, much like everyone going to the Temple for Passover or later, Hanukkah, we have the tradition of making goals for the new year. People set out New Year Resolutions. Big ones – this year I’ll win the lottery and lose 100 lbs! Small ones – this year I’ll remember my brother’s birthday and eat more carrots. And every year, whether big or small, most of us forget our resolutions by February.

Why?

Because change is hard! It really is. It doesn’t matter if we’re trying a big change or a little change, we habitually resist it.

A change that lasts must be practiced not just one month in twelve… but daily, until it becomes part of our nature instead of something we are purposefully reminding ourselves to do.

Colossians gives us some new year resolutions to work on, and says this habit is for us in “whatever we do, in word or in deed,” Habits for daily living.

Paul writes to have Compassion. This is not sympathy and thinking ‘thank God I’m not like them,’ but rather, ‘there I go but for the Grace of God.’ Compassion is seeing every person as someone in whom Christ dwells. Would you cut Jesus off in traffic? Would you deny Jesus asylum from drug cartels? Would you tell Jesus its his own fault he’s poor? Compassion is looking at each person and seeing them as God sees them. Beloved.

And clothe yourselves with kindness. I think we understand this one. Kindness is being kind to others. Kindness is to walk about with gentle feet. You may have heard the Boy Scout’s saying of leaving a place better than you found it… so if you stay in a cabin, you leave it cleaner than when you arrived. This is kindness. Caring for others, walking lightly upon the earth, and having a warmth about you.

Our author ties kindness with humility. This is not humiliation! Don’t think scripture is ever asking you to be humiliated, ashamed, belittled. That is not kindness and compassion. Humility is not taking yourself too seriously. It is knowing you’re not the final authority on every subject, knowing you make mistakes, and knowing you’re not perfect. Humility is humbleness. Its the opposite not of pride, but of vanity.  No one is sinning when they’re proud of their grandkids! Someone may  be sinning if they shove those grandkids out of the way to be the center of attention. A vain person talks about themselves, praises themselves, and encourages other to talk about how great the vain person is. A humble person talks about themselves and others. Praises where praise is due. Encourages all people’s voices to be heard.

Along with humility, we’re told to wear gentleness. Gentleness is meekness, being mild. Don’t think of this one as “be a mat for people to walk upon” but as the difference among how you make your needs known. A gentle person says, “Jesus, why have you worried us?” A hard person says, “Jesus The Christ! I’m going to paddle you into next week!” A gentle person has the strength to control themselves. It used to be gentle was also attributed to people who are born of nobility. A gentle person is courteous, chivalrous, benevolent – the type of leader you want. We’re called to be nobility – the very children of God.

Gentleness is tied with Patience. Patience – we’re urged in Collosians. Patience I usually hear as being able to count to three when angry before responding. But patience is more than just that. It is being able to not have instant gratification. It’s great to eat all our Christmas chocolate. Patience says space that chocolate out so you don’t eat it in one sitting. Patience says teenagers and preteens are going to cause us fear and worry – regardless if it is 12 CE or 2018… 2019… CE. Patience knows we grow up, mature, and wisen. Patience is forbearance. Waiting. Tolerating. Not necessarily accepting… but willing to postpone our judgement and reaction.

Next, we’re told to forgive. We literally pray this every Sunday, and some of us pray it daily: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” God, forgive us, because we are forgiving others. God, we forgive others, because you forgave us.

Forgiveness is not forgetting, but its not expecting that person or persons to do more towards making things right. Forgiveness is needed. Sorely needed. We need others to forgive us when we try our best and still fail. We need to forgive others, when they mess up and repent, but can’t turn back the clock. We need forgiveness from God for all the sins we do and that over take us. We need to give forgiveness to all the people who harm us, and moved on oblivious or not caring we were hurt. Forgiveness is necessary to any relationship that lasts.

Over all these garments of Christianity, place on the cloak of Love. Clothe yourselves in love! Everyone knows a police officer because they see the woman or man in a uniform. Everyone knows who is a doctor because of wearing scrubs and a lab coat. Love is the clothes of Christians. Meeting someone who is very loving should immediately clue others that this person is a Christian. They will know us by our love!

Christians today are often NOT known by their love. They’re known for their hate of Gays, hate of women who have abortions, and intolerance or complete disregard for the concerns of the dreaded ‘Millennial’ and ‘Nones’ generation.

Love alone will fix this. Radical acts of love that counter the messages of hate. Radical acts of love that say each person is valued. Radical acts of love that welcome in the budding Rabbis, sit them in the middle of the temple, and really HEAR what they have to say. Acts of love that is impressed with the concerns and Christianity emerging from our next generation.

Acts of love, words of love, deeds of love, thoughts of love – that defy the way the world does things but herald the way God does things – that is our main clothing. Our outer garment. Our uniform over all these other clothes we’ve put on.

All of of this together leads to Peace. The real peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding. The peace that is the absence of fear, the tolerance of differences, the forgiveness of wrongs, the humility to admits wrongs, the compassion to see all sides of an argument, the kindness to stand with the gentle and the patience to try, try, and try again to live this Christian life. Peace is living with one another as we grow and change. Peace is not fearing tomorrow or today. Peace is knowing we rest securely in the love of God.

Peace is what I wish for you this New Years. As you go and do your yearly traditions – whatever they may be – may you go clothed in your uniform of Christian Love and be the messenger of peace. May your yearly, monthly, daily, hourly tradition be embodying Christ’s peace.

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!