Tag: Revelations

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?”


“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.



The Home of God is Among Mortals

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.


Powerful Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 81vRnmnrlBL
Mark 6:1-13

Have you been Saved? Call out the day and the hour and the minute you felt Jesus in your heart!
Have you seen angels? When and where and what did they do?
Have you been touched? What miracle did you witness?
What about out of body experiences?
What about dreams of heaven and visitations from the dead?
Can you feel the Spirit!?

In some churches, the space between this world and the unseen is very thin. They feel these great revelations and know the flow of the Spirit as strong a presence as someone right here. Sometimes it is so strong they get possessed, speak in tongues, fall into seizures, or even faint.

And for some churches, and for some people, faith and grace keeps them going. Not supernatural experiences. Not out of body moments. Not miracles.

Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, they keep on going to church, keep on praying, keep to their religion in their emptiness.

And in emptiness, we are still strong.

Mother Theresa wrote the following confessing prayer to Jesus:

“Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love–and now become as the most hated one–the one–You have thrown away as unwanted–unloved. I call, I cling, I want–and there is no One to answer–no One on Whom I can cling–no, No One.–Alone … Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart–& make me suffer untold agony.

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them–because of the blasphemy–If there be God –please forgive me–When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven–there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul.–I am told God loves me–and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?”

Over her life, she felt in her soul so alone, so empty, so without the Spirit in her…

… and yet, she came to see this as a gift.

She knew this is the feeling Jesus had on the cross. This is the pain that made him cry out “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?” This is the emptiness that Jesus poured himself to for us.

And that is the loneliness that the forsaken and poor of our world feel from society.

She drew strength from the Emptiness

The weakness forced her to become Strong in ways she wouldn’t have known otherwise

Jesus’ weakness of being human is the strength that unites us with God.

Jesus’ emptiness of his divinity on the cross to feel death is how no matter whether we live or die, our God is with us, our Christ experiencing and having had experienced this with us, and pulling us towards the final victory over death, over sin, over separation.

There is strength in not being self contained.

There IS strength in relying on Christ.

Whether we do so with the gift of tongues and visions, or we do so with the gift of a long, dark, night of the soul where we feel spiritually dry and alone.

There is still strength in relying on Christ versus solely ourselves.

And that is what Paul is arguing today.

Paul knows of churches where the Spirit manifests boldly.

Paul knows of people who have had great visions – himself included.

But he also knows there’s people who practice their faith for minutes, and hours, and days, and weeks, and months and years and never sense anything supernatural. But that does not mean they have less faith than those who can manifest Pentecostal tongues or those who have visions. No – he knows God has said “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Christ’s presence is all we need.

When we are weak, we are strong – because then we are relying on Christ and not ourselves.

When we have times when we really feel our faith we should delight in that. And delight in others who do. And when we have times we are just doing the motions out of faith, not out of feeling it, we should delight in that too. Those are times Jesus is carrying us. And we should delight in others who are being carried by Jesus too.

Remember this is Paul who will argue that the body of Christ is made of all kinds of parts and people. Not everyone can be an eye, for we need ears. Not everyone can be an ear, for we need eyes. Not everyone will be a mystic, and spiritual; we need thinkers and doubters and questioners. Not everyone needs to be a thinker and doubter and questioner either — we need our people sensing the divine.

It is our weakness – not being able to be everything for ourselves- that makes us strong. For then we rely on one another; and rely on Christ.

Jesus’ message is the same as Paul’s. Or rather, Paul was preaching similar lessons as Jesus.

We read today that Jesus came to his hometown after having been out and about preaching and doing miracles. He goes to the synagogue and begins to preach.

Just like at the other places, people are amazed at what he is saying. But instead of celebrating the good news of God’s forgiveness and the in breaking of the reign of God… they are amazed at his audacity. They’ve always heard of great preachers and prophets as larger than life characters. Amazing people. Astonishing in person.

But this is just Mary’s son.

There’s his sisters.

And his brothers.

He’s not some super trained doctorate of religion… he’s a carpenter. Look, I’m using the chair he made last year. And Bobby over there used to make mud pies with little Jesus and Tammy there changed his diapers.

This is no miracle worker. This is Just Jesus.

Our church is no church in Corinth. No Saint Paul’s Cathedral or none-denominational mega church. This is Just Saint Michael’s.

What can we do?

The people in Jesus’ hometown thought he was nothing and so saw him do nothing. They were limited by how much they would permit him to be. They knew the human Jesus who had faults and flaws and was so mortal. And they demanded miracle workers to be fully perfect and have everything in order.

But that’s not the message of God. God loved us while we were still sinners. While not perfect, we’re called. While full of the Spirit or full of spiritual emptiness, we are included into the Body of Christ and told there is a spot for us. Those full of visions and those questioning the existence of God both are called to be saints, and to “Come be [Christ’s] light” to the world. (Jesus to Mother Theresa)

So Jesus sends us out. Sends the disciples out. Sends us out. Not loaded with everything figured out and perfect, but carrying just Jesus. He tells them to go with the bare minimum and to rely on the hospitality of strangers. He tells them to go with nothing spare. No backups. No money. Not even an extra cloak or pair of shoes. Just themselves. “Eugene Peterson offers Jesus’ instructions this way: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment” (The Message).

God never calls the equipped. God equips the called.

God never picks perfect people, perfect churches, perfect situations. God makes perfect the strength in those called.

And we, all who are Christian, are called to be Christ’s light to the world.

In your weakness, strength is made perfect.

In your need of Christ, you are filled with Christ whether you feel it or not.

In your brokenness, you are the perfect person to help another who is broken.

In your pain, you understand the pain of another.

Rev. Sally Brown applies these thoughts to our world today. She writes, “…culture is eyeing the churches these days, testing our credibility. Congregations may imagine that they cannot think about public witness until their internal problems, doctrinal and budgetary, are all resolved. But it may be precisely our internal challenges that press us into the kind of engagement with each other and with the Spirit that can turn us, sooner rather than later, away from cloying self-absorption and outward to the world God loves. Even in our weakness, maybe even because of it, we become credible witnesses of saving news in this frantic, fearful world.”

In other words… our culture is looking to us, looking to church communities, to see how to get through our trying times.

America is fractured and fighting. As we fight ourselves, we affect our world. The effects are helping raise tensions everywhere. Are we heading towards another world war?

I don’t know.

I do know, that we, in our imperfection, are called to this hurting country and hurting world. Not because we have it all together, but because we’re authentic in our tries to live together in our diversity. We are the equipment. We are the witnesses. We are the people called to say, “I wholly disagree with you, but I can still love you.” “I will not ever vote like you do, but I will share bread with you.” “I am not you, but I am glad you are my neighbor.”

Who you are now, without everything figured out, is needed now to be Christ’s light.


Bible, Church, and Religion Jokes

From everywhere – for Holy Humor Sunday – and any day!


A small boy told a Sunday school teacher: “When you die, God takes care of you like your parents did when you were alive — only God doesn’t yell at you all the time.”


A woman invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?”

“I wouldn’t know what to say,” the little girl replied.

“Just say what you hear Mommy say,” the mother said.

The little girl bowed her head and said: “Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”


A pastor was speaking to a group of second-graders about the resurrection of Jesus when one student asked, “What did Jesus say right after He came out of the grave?”

The pastor explained that the Gospels do not tell us what He said.

The hand of one little girl shot up. “I know what He said: He said, ‘Tah-dah!'”


Church Sign: “We welcome all denominations — $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100.”


Church of the Merciful posted this sign: “Trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”


In the bulletin of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, Palm Coast, FL: “We will have a Special Holiday Bingo & Dinner on Monday evening, Dec. 30. You will be given two bingo packs, which cover all games played, and your choice of children or roast beef for dinner.”


From the Dalton (GA) Daily Citizen News: “John Franklin, ordained as a deamon, will pastor two churches in Fannin County.”


When a young minister was still single, he preached a sermon he entitled, “Rules for Raising Children.” After he got married and had children of his own, he changed the title of the sermon to “Suggestions for Raising Children.” When his children got to be teenagers, he stopped preaching on that subject altogether.


A man had been shipwrecked on a remote island in the Pacific, and was alone for 20 years. When a ship finally arrived, his rescuers were impressed with the three buildings he had built and asked him about them.

“Well,” the man replied, “this is my house, and that building over there is my church. It’s a wonderful church and I hate to leave it.”

“And what is the third building yonder?” a rescuer asked.

“Oh, that is the church I used to go to,” the man replied.


  1. Why couldn’t Jonah trust the ocean?
  2. Because he knew there was something fishy about it.


  1. Who was the greatest financier in the Bible?
  2. Noah; he was floating his stock while everyone was in liquidation.


  1. Where was Solomon’s temple located?
  2. On the side of his head.


  1. Where is the first tennis match mentioned in the Bible?
  2. When Joseph served in Pharaoh’s court.


  1. What excuse did Adam give to his children as to why he no longer lived in Eden?
  2. Your mother ate us out of house and home.


  1. What did Adam say on the day before Christmas?
  2. It’s Christmas, Eve!


  1. How does Moses make his coffee?
  2. Hebrews it.


  1. Did Eve ever have a date with Adam?
  2. No, only an apple.


  1. Why didn’t Noah go fishing?
  2. Because he only had two worms.


  1. How do we know Peter was a rich fisherman?
  2. By his net income.


  1. Who were Gumby’s favorite Bible characters?
  2. Shadrack, Meshack & AhBENDago.


  1. Who was the smartest man in the Bible?
  2. Abraham. He knew a Lot.


  1. Why didn’t they play cards on the Ark?
  2. Because Noah was standing on the deck.


  1. Who was the fastest runner in the race?
  2. Adam, because he was first in the human race.


  1. Why did the unemployed man get excited while looking through his Bible?
  2. He thought he saw a job.


  1. What animal could Noah not trust?
  2. Cheetah


  1. Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?
  2. Samson. He brought the house down.


  1. What kind of man was Boaz before he married?
  2. Ruthless.


  1. On the Ark, Noah probably got milk from the cows. What did he get from the ducks?
  2. Quackers


  1. Which Bible Character is a locksmith?
  2. Zaccheus.


  1. Which Bible character had no parents?
  2. Joshua, son of Nun (Joshua 1:1).


  1. Where is the first baseball game in the Bible?
  2. In the big inning. Eve stole first, Adam stole second. Cain struck out Abel. The Giants and the Angels were rained out.


How long did Cain hate his brother?

As long as he was Abel.


At Sunday School the children were learning how according to the Bible God created everything, including human beings.

Johnny paid particular attention when the teacher told him how Eve was created out of one of Adam’s ribs.

Later that week, Johnny’s mother found him lying on his bed as though he were ill, and asked him, “Johnny, what’s the matter?”

Johnny replied, “I’ve got a pain in my side. I think I’m going to have a wife.”


When is medicine first mentioned in the Bible?

When God gave Moses two tablets.


Who was the fastest guy in the Bible?

Adam – he was first in the human race.


What sort of lights were on Noah’s Ark?



At what time of day did God create Adam?

Just before Eve.


Which biblical character was the youngest to speak foul language?

Job, because he cursed the day he was born.


Why did the hawk sit on the church steeple?

Because it was a bird of pray.


A pastor decided to visit his church members one Saturday.

At one particular house it was clear to the pastor that someone was home, but nobody came to the door.

The pastor knocked and knocked but no-one answered so finally took out his card and wrote on the back:

Revelation 3:20 – “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him and he with me.”

The next day the same card showed up in the collection plate. Below the pastor’s message was another scripture passage.

It read:

Genesis 3:10 – “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked and I hid myself.”

Tending the Sheep

dorcasActs 9:36-43
Revelation 7:9-17

Dorcas and Tabitha mean the same thing, sorta like feline and cat or Charlie and Chuck. This woman’s name is gazelle, and she is so important to the early Christians that she is the only woman ever called a ‘disciple’ in the New Testament! We can picture her as a leader in the Joppa church, if not THE leader. Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews of the UCC writes, “Tabitha sounds very much like a living saint, very much like many of the living saints in our churches today, who spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and resources in ministry to those in need.”

Yet, we know very little about who she is: does she have money? She weaves or sews clothing for those who can’t afford clothes. Is she a widow? The widows of Joppa mourn her terribly. Is she an older lady or a young lady? Luke doesn’t tell us. Her income, her marital status, her age… these things aren’t important. Remember that in Christ, there is neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew, free person or slave. We are all equals. And so, Tabitha isn’t know for her statuses… but for her love. She is “devoted to charity and acts of good works.” She is a disciple. We know she is Christian BECAUSE OF HER LOVE.

… Did you know a rich Christian is not an oxymoron… but a greedy Christian is?

In 2010, the New York Times brought the public’s attention to the “Charitable Giving Divide” that sociologist had noticed for years. Now, more and more people are beginning to see the pattern that the POORER you are, the MORE you give to charity. Isn’t that strange? A PhD candidate at Berkeley, Paul Piff, recently found that in his tests, “lower-income people were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than were those with more wealth. They were more attuned to the needs of others and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism.” So… does this mean that a person becomes financially rich by being greedy, distrustful, self-reliant, and not giving away money? Or does it mean a person becomes poor because they give to every charity and homeless person they see?

Psychologists and sociologists went out to study this. And they found that no — a person’s wealth or poverty isn’t a result of their charity… their charity is a result of their empathy, and their empathy is a result of who they identify with. This same researcher primed his volunteer test subjects by showing sympathy inducing videos and encouraging them to imagine themselves in different financial circumstances. That changed their reactions — for both sets of income. In other words, the poor, imagining themselves rich, became less altruistic. The rich, imagining themselves poor, became more generous to the destitute and ill. Piff concluded: “Empathy and compassion appeared to be the key ingredients” in the generosity of the poor.

When a person identifies as rich, he or she believes others are or ought to be rich too. So she votes for laws that help rich people, and she doesn’t give out money because that person she gives it to might misspend it on something like cigarettes rather than something she values – like education. She doesn’t understand, sympathize, or feel compassion for the poor because their lives, their worlds, are so different than her own. She doesn’t know the little things like cigarettes are a real addiction, and that food-stamps make sure you don’t go hungry, but they don’t cover things like toilet paper, sanitary napkins, or soap. So the money may not be used on food… but it’s going to be used on whatever the poor needs most at the moment.

And the reverse happens. When a person identifies as poor, he or she believes others are poor and need help too. “Oh, I was in a similar situation once, and I needed charity. I bet you do too, let me help!”

This compassion, this empathy, so scientists are learning, isn’t due to our actual wealth or poverty at all. It has all to do with who we identify with. Tabitha may have been a rich matriarch, or she may have been a destitute widow – Acts doesn’t tell us because her actual status didn’t matter. What mattered was who she identified with: and she identified with Jesus. She was a disciple, a follower, someone attempting to live like Jesus. And so she, like Jesus, identified with the trod upon, the ignored, the poor, the sick, the sinners, the people who need help. She identified with the Good Shepherd and so she aided the Sheep.

Our reading of Paul’s vision in Revelation is all about identification, about thinking of how to be like Christ. He sees all the people of the world — every race, every tribe, every tongue, every walk of person, all robed in white with victory palms singing to God. He can’t tell one group from another — they ALL are in sparkling white. And he asks his guide in the vision, who are all these people? Paul is told these are everyone who have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb. This is an oxymoron – blood doesn’t make things white. It covers something, marks it. Paul is being told these people have been covered in a universal, new identity. This new identity is worshiping God. In other words, these are people who have left their individual identity as a richly clad Roman, or poorly clad Judean; people who have left their identity as broken bodied or as able bodied; people who no longer think of themselves as American, Spanish, Straight, Gay, Democrat or Republican — but think of themselves as a person who identifies with what is good, Godly, pure.

Every race. Every nation. Every walk of people John sees. And each and every one is washed in purity because she or he has known the great ordeal of being faithful to the kindness, love, and generosity of God when those things too often bring us heartache. These saints identify with the Lamb, and so tend to the Lamb’s sheep.

… As Jesus told Peter in our reading last week… if you love me, tend my sheep.

If you love and worship Jesus, if you consider yourself a Christian – a follower of Jesus – tend his sheep.

Love others. Help others. Be generous. Imagine yourself in the position of others and think how best to love them. How best to tend to them. How best to be like Christ to them.

Our Good Shepherd gives us food and water, rest, sits with us even when we’re surrounded by enemies and bad times. Our Good Shepherd tells us not to fear, leads us to prayer, leads us to living ever renewing waters, leads us to where we can trust in God.

If we identify as Christians, our lives ought to be Christ-like.



Alpha and Omega

Revelations 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37.

We have so much to be thankful for. So, so much. The problem is, we have so much we sometimes can feel overwhelmed about how to thank God! We practice at Thanksgiving, but giving thanks is truly a spiritual practice that assists us daily…

A spiritual practice, a spiritual exercise, is something you do to help you be aware of the presence of God. Once a year we have the spiritual practice of thanksgiving, and give God thanks. But God is with us more than once a year. We are surrounded on all sides and even inside us.

Some people are able to be aware of God at all times… but most of us have monkey minds. We swing from thought to thought and get distracted. So it is easier for some of us to start smaller… taking our day’s beginning and end to be thankful.

I remember my aunt Joyce telling me to pray before bed and to count my blessings. I’m sure some of you have done this too. I’ve heard people say they wake up and say a prayer before their feet touch the floor — even if it is ‘Good morning and thanks for waking me, Lord.’

But what do you do when you’re counting your blessings and realize you’re up to 50, and then 100, and then… ZzzZZzzz… pretty soon, you either are asleep or you’re in risk of insomnia.

The other problem is that counting our blessings can become routine, boring, and when that happens, we stop doing them.

What great news God isn’t just 1 to 100, or A and Z, but everything in between too. So we can change up our prayers to make them more interesting, and to increase our awareness of all that God provides for us.

For instance, when you start getting bored counting blessings… try starting your day by taking a moment to lie there and think of one something you’re grateful for, for each letter of the alphabet: from azaleas to zinnias, or apples to zebras. Counting can go on forever, but there’s a limit to the alphabet… so it helps when you know you have to get out of bed. You won’t be lying there all day praying thanks… as tempting as that may sound…

John of Patmos, who wrote Revelations, says in his writing that language can’t explain what he’s seen. So he’s trying the best he can, but he saw pictures and felt things… We can pray in this manner too. Instead of words, we can think of pictures and remember feelings. We don’t need to name them or pin them down with the right word.

Scripture tells us the Holy Spirit intercedes, translates, what we pray to God even when that is sighs and silences. A prayer can be the feeling of gratitude and remembering the taste of a warm cup of coffee, the heat on your palms, the brightness of the morning sunrise glinting off the steaming cup, the feeling of peace before your day begins. Memories can be prayer.

For evening, when you’re readying for bed, a memory way to pray thanks for your blessings is to think of a color and pray thanks for everything you saw that day which was that color. For example, Lord – thank you for the color red: red apples, the red cheeks on my grandchildren, the red light on my furnace saying I have heat, the red sunset, the red strawberry jam on my toast this morning, the red blanket keeping me warm right now…

But morning and evening, and indeed, even crossing our hands in prayer, are not the only ways to say thanks.

Rabbi David Cooper wrote God is a Verb. The Hebrew name YHWH, the holy name, is never said by modern Jews. Instead, “Adonai,” the Lord, is said. YHWH, when scholars try to understand what it means and how it could be said, think the name may mean “I Am.” or “I will be.” or “I was.”

The name of God is… IS. Is existence.

Revelations, which was written in Greek rather than Hebrew, reads, “Grace to you from the one who is, and was, and will be.”

In other words, Grace to you from God. From YHWH.

Grace to you from the Verb, the Word, the Action, The Deed, the Love.

Prayers of thanksgiving can be verbs — deeds — too. I think pastor Carol Penner penned it best. She wrote,

“what if thankfulness has nothing to do with lists?
What if thankfulness is more like the difference between night and day,
the difference between being shut in and being free,
the difference between holding on and reaching out?
What if thankfulness is not something to be grasped,
not something that can be simply said, not some thing at all? What if thankfulness is transformation?
A Copernican revolution of the heart,
a re-centering, from our selves to [God’s] Son.
A blossoming, from bud to flower,
all the way to the ripe red apple.
A movement from life to death,
and beyond the grave to resurrection.
What if Thanksgiving is Christmas, Good Friday and Easter all rolled into one.”

I hear her saying how to have prayer in action. Prayer in verbs. This is living in gratitude. So instead of just praying thanksgiving at night or in the morning, or before a meal, it is living thanksgiving.

For example – giving thanks is praying to God thanks for food before you eat your turkey meal. Living gratitude, living in thanksgiving, is picking up an extra food when you go shopping to donate to the food pantry. Or – even inviting others over for your meal. Surely you know someone or more than one who has nowhere to go for thanksgiving? Why not your house!

Giving thanks is lying down for bed and praying thank you to God for the warm spot, warm house, and loving family. Living thanks is helping provide that same gift to others through program like the Columbus Refugee and Immigrant Services. They literally are providing homes and blankets for people fleeing Africa, the Middle East, and South-East Asia. They are helping them become part of our communities here in Ohio.

Giving thanks is a prayer. Living thanks is a life of gratitude.

Both are surely needed.

Thankfulness is like bookends. Prayer on one side, prayer on the other side, life in-between and prayer all through life.

We’re told God is like bookends too. A to Z, beginning and end, like bookends, brackets, holding us in. I kind of picture it like God’s hands are on either side of us, and Jesus is with us – so we’re held into this hug from the sides and above. It’s the same pose a mother hen takes holding her chicks in under her wings. And Jesus says he is like a mother hen. I like to picture and to feel that enclosed feeling of love and protection. It’s one of the things I am thankful for.

John of Patmos’ vision we call Revelations was that in all the chaos, in all the disorder of our lives, the most powerful person – the person with more power than governments, and tyrants, cheaters and lawmakers – is God.

Our lectionary reading gives us the moment a ruler, Pontius Pilate, confronts Jesus and asks him ‘Are you King of the Jews?’ The two banter, trade words, pun one another — but the answer comes down to this: I am king over all who belong to the Truth.

Anyone, everyone, who seeks after Truth, who wants to be Truthful, who wants to belong to Truth… is under Jesus’ rule. This may be Jews, this may be Christians, this may be Muslims or Sikhs or Buddhists.

A few decades later, John of Patmos has a vision of this dominion – and he sees – the whole world is under Jesus’ Truthful rule, and the world — it’s beginning, it’s current age, and its end — are all under God’s rule.

So there is no moment, no place, no time that ever was, is, or will be — that is godless. God is everywhere! As we were told, God is, was, and will be. God is A to Z. Our darkest times and our happiest times, our loneliness and more stressful times, and our most loving and careful times are all bookended, covered, supported, surrounded by God, carried by Jesus, and infused with God’s Holy Spirit.

Nothing is outside of prayer. Nothing is too little or too big for prayer.

A little thank you for clean sheets, a little time to stop and appreciate frost on a leaf, a little prayer in the car, a little pass-it-on deed and donation…

All of these thank yous are a life that testify to knowing God is in every moment of our lives.

Let us thank God for being with us at all times. Let us praise God! Praise God in prayer, praise God in deeds, praise God in how we live and think, play and worship, mourn and die. Let us praise God now and always! Amen.

Given to St. Michael’s UCC, Baltimore, Ohio, 11-22-15

We Don’t Want to Say Goodbye

Isaiah 25:6-9
Revelations 21:1-6

Rodney Crowell wrote and sings a song called “Adam’s Song.” In it, he speaks of how the days are getting shorter, and the wind is colder, and the nights are clearer. The last leaves of November are falling and the stars are bright.

He sings that on these short days and long nights, our minds wander to our loved ones who have passed.

I think his song is so apt for All Saints Day and this late fall season.

You see, there are holidays coming up. Thanksgiving, and then Christmas… and when I think of these, I think also of Crowell’s lyrics, “We don’t want to say goodbye. We don’t want to feel that empty.” I wonder, am I going to set one less spot at the table for Thanksgiving? What do we do when writing out Christmas cards and that address is now… no longer needed? When I unpack the Christmas tree ornaments, which one is going to make my heart leap into my throat? What favorite food on the thanksgiving table will make my hands shake?

There are so many little extra loses, extra times of emptiness, after someone dies. And each little goodbye makes the emptiness feel bigger.

Each chair I don’t set out.

Each address I no longer write out.

Each present I don’t buy.

Each face I remember who used to be here, and now is not.

When I look at my grandmother and her eyes are so dazed at our Christmas dinner, I cannot help but wonder… who is she thinking of? Parents, siblings, and children who all used to be at this table? She’s outlived them all. Classmates she used to rush back from holiday breaks to share stories with; friends who died ten years prior? I almost can see the spirits reflecting in her eyes.

And yet, at that meal, we will pray and we eat like we always do. Because life is still going on, even though those holes are there. Crowell’s chorus is, “We’re just learning how to live with a life long broken heart.”

I think that’s so true. The emptiness continues, but so do we.

So we learn a new way of living. A new way of carrying on this broken heart, of saying new little goodbyes on our dead loved one’s birthdays, deathdays, the holidays, and those moments that hit us without warning — when we hear their song on the overhead speakers at the grocery store, or smell their soap on some stranger, or find an old list they wrote… a broken heart, but a life that’s still going on. A process of learning to live.

What do we do when it seems we can’t go on? Crowell sings about this too. Crowell sings, “When we cannot understand, when we cannot find new meaning, we’ll seek out the ones you loved, and love.” “It’s a privilege to remember. The sound of days done past will last.”

I see that as what we are doing today. We are seeking meaning to our loves’ deaths. We’re seeking to understand. We’re seeking a way to continue going on in this life without them. And in our seeking, we turn to the people who loved our loved one too, and together, we remember the days long past.

And together, we seek meaning in scripture. And in scripture, we hear our beloved God promising through the prophet Isaiah that God will wipe away the tear from every face. That someday, here on Earth, and this day, now in Heaven, God will lay a great banquet feast for all people. Death will be no more. The shroud, the funeral cloth, over us all — the weight of knowing we are going to die and all we love will die too — will be lifted permanently. And all things will be made new.

Our communion is a foretaste, an appetizer, before this great meal. In the Eucharist we get a little sampling of what it will be like to share in the great victory feast with God. Through this ritual, we share in Jesus’ death… the death we all will someday face too… and we share in Jesus’ victory over the death…. a victory we will one day know too.

We take communion with all the saints. All of the children of God. We come to the table and join the cloud of witnesses: all of those who we remember today. All of those who leave us learning to live with broken hearts. All of those who guided us to Christianity. All of those who formed and reformed our church. All of those who died countless generations ago.

We also take it with all of those yet to be born.

Here, in a sacred moment with God, we transcend time and place and partake in a little appetizer of heaven.

Understanding, finding new meaning, comes from those we love and who love us.

We are loved by God. We are loved by Jesus. We are loved by the Spirit. We are loved by the Christians who came before us and who will come after us. We are supported by all of this love just as we support them. Together, walking together, we can face a life that is full of goodbyes…

… because a great reunion is in our future.

We don’t want to say goodbye, because we don’t want to feel that empty… but the goodbyes we say now are not forever goodbyes. These are goodbye, for now, and I look forward to when we meet again.

These are goodbye, I won’t see you when I we take communion, but I know you are there.

And some day, I’ll see you again.

And the tears we have won’t be tears of sorrow, but tears of joy.

And we will sit down to the full meal, the full feast, given to us by our most loving God. Amen.

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, 11-1-15, Baltimore Ohio.