Monday, May 26, 2014

Get moving!

Isaiah 41:17-20
John 14:15-21

 Today we’re going to talk about Easter living. I’m really excited about what I’m seeing in scripture today. We’re going to do a fair amount of traveling in a short period of time to get to a point, but believe me, I do have a point.

 For the past few weeks we have been reading from the gospel of John, the gospel of chiasms. Without understanding the literary device that the author of the gospel used, it’s easy to get bogged down in repetitive language. But the author uses that repetitive language to point the reader to his main ideas through chiasms, a literary device used by writers to highlight 
ideas. The reader’s attention is directed to a main idea by constructing a literary arrow of parallel sentences or phrases. So let’s look at today’s gospel reading diagramed as a chiasm.

Chiasm: 14:15-21

a: 15: love/commandments

 b: 16-17: behold/spirit remains/is with you/know

 c: 18: not leave you orphans

: 19-20: behold/Jesus lives/is in you/know

: 21: commandments/love

 Do you see the parallel ideas in the verses that are marked? If we love Jesus, we will keep his commandments. That’s a pretty daunting statement. If we love Jesus, we will obey him. We will want to do what he asks of us. That’s how love works. When we love someone, we respond to their needs and they respond to ours. We work together. We are partners. 

 In the next verse (16), Jesus says that he will ask the Father to send another Advocate who will always be with us. Another? That means that Jesus has been an advocate, Jesus has been on the side of those who have been hurt or abused, maligned or marginalized. He stood with those that the religious folks called sinners. And now another Advocate would be coming.

 The b and b unseen, but very present. It is the connector with God that allows for intimacy. Through the Holy Spirit, we abide in God and God abides in us—forever. We will be known in the same kind of love that Jesus shares with God. Jesus says you have to believe it to receive it, but it is very real.

 So the a sections say that if we love Jesus, we will obey his commandments and the b sentences tell us we’re going to have help being obedient because we are going to have the extraordinary love and guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

 The point of the arrow, the center of the chiasm is Jesus’ statement, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” The Johanine community saw the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Resurrected Christ. And Jesus makes this claim, “Do not feel like you are alone. I am coming to you.”

 “I am coming to you.” I sat with that phrase for awhile and suddenly dozens of images came out of the scriptures. God coming to Abram and Sarai as three strangers, God calling to Moses from a burning bush, an angel coming to announce the birth of Jesus to Mary and then Joseph, a choir of angels coming to tell shepherds where to look for the Messiah. Jesus coming to the lakeshore to call Peter, James, and John. Jesus coming to Zacchaeus’ house, and the house of Matthew, the tax collector. Jesus walking on the water to reach the disciples’ boat. The stories that Jesus told of a shepherd coming to find a lost sheep, a woman searching for a lost coin until she found it, a father running to meet his lost son. And it was an epiphany for me. God is always coming to us! God came through angels, and strangers, and the voices of prophets, through Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit. God comes to us. John Wesley would call that prevenient grace; grace that woos us when we don’t know we need it. Grace that hold us and surrounds us with love when we have no idea that God exists. Grace 
that calls us to the love that will fill our hearts and satisfy our souls. God is always coming to us! And that’s how Jesus entered ministry, not by setting up shop and waiting for customers, but by going to people where they lived. 

He went to the market, he walked along roads, he taught in synagogues, he went to the temple and to the pool where sick people waited to be healed when the angel stirred the water. He ate with all kinds of people—Pharisees and tax collectors, the siblings Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, and in the home of Peter, the fisherman. Jesus went to people long before they started coming to him. When people started coming to him, he sent his disciples out to the cities and villages in pairs to tell people about the Kingdom of God.

 Let’s go back to the a and acommandments that we are to obey if we love Jesus? It is this, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” That’s from the 13thconnection of love in more depth. But that’s a sermon for another day. This week’s scripture tells us to obey Jesus’ command to love, then promises the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to connect us to God’s love forever, and then, says Jesus is coming to us. But brothers and sisters in Christ, we are the body of Christ. Once we have lived into this scripture, once we love Jesus enough to want to be obedient, we receive the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, just as Jesus did at his baptism, and then what? As the body of Christ, we get moving! We go to people just as Jesus did.

 I wish we had time to watch The Cotton Patch Gospel in worship. I just ordered it for our church library. Check it out, rent it, or buy it! You need to see it because it is very good at communicating that we are a sent people. The gospel is reimagined in the deep South. When the angel tells Joe and Mary that their baby is in danger, they sit there staring, until the angel says, “Get moving!” That line, “Get moving!” comes up again and again. Finally, after the resurrection, Jesus tells the disciples to “Get moving!”

 Here’s what excited me this week. That line got stuck in my head just as the words “I am coming to you” jumped off the page. We are not supposed to be sitting here in our beautifully decorated and well maintained building. We are supposed to get moving! We are sitting here, hoping to be so attractive that people will flock to us, and that’s not God’s way. God comes to us! God gets our attention where we are—whether it’s tending sheep or mending nets. Body of Christ, I think we’re supposed to get moving! I think we’re supposed to be loving people so astonishingly outside this building that people will come inside to worship the One who sought them out. The temple was an awe inspiring house of worship during Jesus’ life, but some people felt excluded and others actually were. So Jesus took the message of God’s extravagant love to the streets and fields, and lakeshores and hills. There is love to give. There is forgiveness to offer. 

There is joy to share. There is new life in abundance bubbling up like a fountain. 

 Body of Christ, we are loved, we are equipped by the Holy Spirit, we have been commissioned to love as Jesus loved. Now it’s time to get moving!

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Permeable Church

Deuteronomy 6:20-25
John 14:1-14

“I go and prepare a place for you . . . that where I am, there you may be also.”  These are the words of comfort that we often hear at memorial services, an assurance of our loved one’s safety and rest in God’s eternal home.  We hear these words and think “heaven.”  But Paul Escamilla suggests that Jesus has another end in mind: he is cultivating a present-day spiritual orientation, one he articulates as the discourse (in John) unfolds.  The “place” he goes to prepare is, in part, right here among his followers.  It is the beloved community on earth, in real time, in which fear is dispelled (14:1, 27), great works are accomplished (14:12), the Spirit is . . . “a very present help” (14:26), love is foundational (15:12, 17), and joy is complete (15:11).

And then Jesus tells his followers that they know how to get to this place—the beloved community.  If they have seen him, then they have seen God.  If they have seen Jesus’ work, then they have seen God’s work.  And they do know this!  Because if they have been part of the work that Jesus has done, then they have been part of the work that God is doing.  His Spirit will remain with them so that they may live in the same relationship with God and with one another as they have with Jesus.
The greater Christian Church in our part of the world is asking the same questions that Thomas and Philip asked.  What does it mean to be the church?  Why doesn’t what we used to do work anymore?  Maybe it still works for those of us gathered this morning, but it doesn’t even seem to be of interest to the 75% of our neighbors who claim no faith tradition.  None!  You can almost hear congregations shouting, “Jesus, we don’t know where you’re going.  Show us the way!”
But these things still matter:  dispelling fear; doing important, even great work; being loved; and experiencing joy.  Those things do matter to our neighbors.  If you have seen Jesus, then you have seen someone who knows how to build a community around these values.  If you have seen Jesus then you know these values reveal God’s character.
The answer is Jesus.  If we want to move toward God, the answer is Jesus.  If we want to know how to live, the answer is Jesus.  We watch Jesus and we study Jesus to know how to live as God’s people.  Jesus moved into God’s heart and then back among his disciples.  He tells them they know how to do this!  Now the real challenge to the disciples, and to us, is to live our lives in such a way, as imitators of Jesus, that people can see God through us.  How do we live our lives in the beloved community, this church, in such a way that people have their fears dispelled, can engage in important, even great work, can know themselves to be loved, and experience real joy?  If we are doing anything less, or anything else, we are not fulfilling our mission.  It is our job to reveal God’s uncompromising love to each other and to our neighbors.  That is why we exist.

The walls of our church become permeable when we understand our mission.  Permeable:  A substance, substrate, membrane or material that absorbs or allows the passage of water.  Think of the living water that sustains all of creation, as it’s described in the 47th chapter of Ezekiel.  The water of life flows from the altar in the temple, out through the land becoming at first a stream and then a mighty river that teems with abundant life and supports the trees that provide fruit and healing that grow along its banks.
The church is permeable.  The water of life flows through its walls into the world.

We come in to learn and grow in our faith, we go out to live what we’ve learned.
We go out to learn about the world, we come in to lift our world to God in prayer.
We come in to rest and be renewed, we go out to do God’s work.
We give our work to God and reap the rewards in joy.
(Take the mike around.)

We come in to be fed and nourished, we go out to feed and nourish the world.

We come in to be loved and accepted, we go out to love and accept others.

And the Holy Spirit grows us and sustains us in being the beloved community.

Thomas and Philip wanted more instruction.  They didn’t feel ready to step into the role of spiritual leadership.  Most Christians that I know feel the same way, whether they are teenagers in high school or life-long church members.  It seems to me that we would think it was crazy to enter a trade union and to always be an apprentice.  At some point we would become a journeyman, quite capable of doing the work of our trade.  After years of practice, we would become masters and be able to mentor and guide those who are just learning.  Before my recent surgery, the young nurse in training tried to start my IV in my hand.  She got it started, but the vein rolled and she had to take it out.  So her supervisor took over and deftly inserted the IV, but again the vein rolled.  The two nurses wrapped my hands in heat packs and called an anesthesiologist who was a master after many years of experience.  The nurses watched intently as he slipped the IV in with no trouble.
As Christian disciples, we need to practice our spirituality, hone our prayer practice and life of service, so that we can be windows through which others see and experience God’s love.  And as we grow in wisdom from experience, we need to mentor others as masters of spirituality.  We don’t need to know a thing about religion, our neighbors have rejected religion as irrelevant and often harmful.  But they are constantly seeking spiritual nourishment.   They know their spirits are hungry.  You have the bread of life.  You have the wine of joy and wholeness.  If we have been fed, it is our responsibility to share our food.  And if we are not finding that here, then we need to stop everything that we’re doing and reorient ourselves to creating the beloved community in which people have their fears dispelled, engage in important, even great work, can know themselves to be loved, and experience real joy.  We do not exist for ourselves, but for the world.