Nic(odemus) at Night

If I was to provide a title for the Gospel on Trinity Sunday (Jesus & Nicodemus) I think it would be “Nick at Night.” Nicodemus a leader of Jerusalem came under cover of darkness to see Jesus. He did not want to be seen; wanted no one who knew him to know of his visit. Something about Jesus had caught his interest and Nick felt moved to talk with him.
Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter by telling Nicodemus that only those who are born from above (also translated as born again) can see the kingdom of God. But we must look at what the term “born-again” meant to the Johannine Christ who invented it. The First Use of this term that I know of was the late night visit of Old Nicodemus to rabbi Jesus. Nicodemus was, as the gospel tells it, a man of the Pharisees, called “a ruler of the Jews.” That is to say, he was an establishment religious type, a very highly respected member of the Council of Religious Leadership, as we would say. Fellow members of that group would be the Episcopal and Methodist bishops, the RC cardinal, the executive presbyter of the Presbyerians, the chairman of the council of rabbis, and so forth. The religious establishment.
Jesus was a Pharisee, that is, a religious liberal, as compared to the Sadducee, the fundamentalist group. Nicodemus was disposed to agree with Jesus, who was himself of the Pharisee school of thought. Unlike Sadducees, they believed in Resurrection, hoped for an end to the Roman occupation, which the Sadducees had made their peace with. And they were generous and liberal in their handling of Scripture, unlike the narrow-minded Sadducees. Nicodemus after all came to Jesus not as an opponent, but as a sympathizer and collaborator, just afraid to be seen with Jesus. He addresses Jesus as “rabbi” — an honorific title of the religious establishment. This is not flattery, but genuine respect. Nicodemus genuinely likes Jesus and approves of him and what he is publicly saying and doing.
We shall never know what Nicodemus intended to say to Jesus in the next breath, for Jesus broke in and in essence said, Where you are coming from, Nicodemus, what you represent, is the old order! The fact that you must come to me by night, secretive, afraid to be seen in the day time with me, tells me that you are operating in the old establishment out of fear In this darkness, you can’t SEE the possibilities of a new political agenda, the reign of God in our time!
Indeed, Jesus sees that Nicodemus comes to him laden with all the luggage of the old order, which he represents. He brings with him the entanglements of establishment religion. Indeed Jesus sees that Nicodemus does not come to him as an individual seeking counsel or conversion of life. He believes he already has his head screwed on right. Privately, he might hold the right opinions. But he comes laden with the language of the old order, of hesitancy and compromise, of “reconciliation” and repair, bent on preserving the old order of privileged rank where the mills of God grind so slowly that no one’s grain gets ground today though the fields are white unto the harvest.
Nicodemus is willing to call Jesus “rabbi”, or “Father”, or “Abouni” or “Abbot” or “Bishop” or “Brother”, or whatever is prescribed, But he is not going to come out in the day light and say “I’ll go with you all the way to the Revolution.” The night-time cover belies his apparent solidarity with Jesus’ radical movement for change.
Jesus says, “You can’t even SEE what I’m talking about when I say “Kingdom” unless you start over from square One.
“How is that done?” Nicodemus asks. “Can a geezer be newborn at my age? Can our establishment religion be started over after all these centuries? Can we enter into the matrix & be born again? Now Nicodemus is a “teacher” in Israel, a doctor of the Church, and certainly therefore in a position to understand such things. For the primary fact is that God loves the world, and loves it so much that God is intimate within and through it and apart from it all at once: a panentheism. . And God has made Godself available for the human community and the whole creation.
All of us can go back to the tree from which we were hewn, to tap into the fountains and floods of our origins. And to enlist with the Spirit that is blowing in the Wind, alive, and moving to the future. Being Born again doesn’t mean moving back to King James’ Version of the Bible and settling down in the Prayer Book. God says to Moses on Sinai, “Take off the shoes you wore here. This is where Holy starts over. This land is Holy, right here. This is where the bush is burning, but never consumed. You did not receive a spirit of timidity, calling you to the Bush of the past, its fire extinguished, but to the lively future of the New Covenant. You must be born anew and start off from here.
Those who looks to the establishment for views will see the establishment view. And those who are born anew will go at once to open new windows, to leave the door ajar, and listen for the thunder. The wind blows where it wills, and you can’t prevent it. So it is with those born of the Spirit. To be born anew is to let new beginnings happen. All Creation is standing tippy toe expectantly waiting for something new to be seen amongst us. And the something new will not be found in layers of rules and heaps of structure. It will be found in listening to the inspiration, the breath, of the Spirit calling us into a new future into which Jesus has gone before and where God awaits us.

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“Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die…”

The last sentence of the portion of the Gospel of Mark’s description of the women at the tomb reads “So they fled from the tomb for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” This puts to rest any of sense that after the resurrection Jesus friends and followers went racing madly through the streets shouting out the good news.  They didn’t. They said nothing to anyone. Because they were afraid.

Throughout the Gospel the disciples don’t get what Jesus is saying. After his arrest the men had run away and deserted him – the women, given their secondary status were largely ignored by the authorities, so they faithfully continued to be with him through death and to the tomb. Yet after they were given the news that Jesus was raised – they are told to share the news with the disciples and Peter – but they don’t do it. They run away in fear and say nothing.

Resurrection is a fearful thing. And why is it fearful? Because it is associated with death. Where this is no death there can be no resurrection. As a contemporary humorist observed “Everybody wants to get to heaven but no one wants to die.”

We talk about the only two things that are inevitable are death and taxes. Yet we are part of a death denying culture. We try to hold death at arms length, and pretend it will never happen to us. We don’t like to talk about it deal with it or be around it. Yet every one of us faces many kinds of death – not just physical death – but other deaths as well. Beyond death of a loved one, we face the death of a dream, a hope, an idea or a relationship.  We usually would rather struggle to deny the possibility of a death than to face it or accept it.

Jesus accepted his death as inevitable. While in the garden of Gethsemane he prayed it might not happen he knew it as a real possibility. And he prayed “thy will be done.” He understood that the power of love is longer lasting and greater than the power of death.

It seems to me that one of the most significant questions we have to ask ourselves as individual Christians and as a faith community is “Are we willing to die?” Not do we want to die, but are we able to risk death as a possibility. If we answer “No” it indicates we are not ready or able to risk failure and death. If we cannot risk death we are not ready for, nor can we expect any possibility of resurrection.

Jesus said that those who try to save their life will lose it.  He understood that we only fully live when we can risk of the possibility of failure and death. Through death come the limitless possibilities of resurrection – and new life.  Resurrection is a given not just to Jesus and not just after our physical death – it is God’s gift that we can experience new life many times in our life if we are willing to risk death in order to live abundantly.   Alleluia.

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Good Friday Reflection

There are days when it might be possible to imagine that we are basically good people and that our society is much more humane and compassionate than during the time the Gospels were written. It might even be possible for us to feel confident that things are mostly all right between ourselves and God, and that we are doing all we can to make our world a better place.

But not today.

Today cannot be one of those days because we are called upon to struggle with the stark reality of the cross. Good Friday is often a difficult day for Christians. On Palm Sunday we were waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna”! Today, the atmosphere is somber. We are much fewer in number than we were on Sunday. We gather in the shadow of death, perhaps already longing for Easter morning with the church bright decorated and celebrating life. We are tired of listening to the thundering cries for repentance that have been a staple of our Lenten readings

On Good Friday, a few people gather in our churches to mourn and pray and listen to a terrible story of betrayal and death. Even on this side of Jesus’ resurrection, knowing how it all turns out, we need to consider how this could have happened. To recognize that it happened because powerful people wanted Jesus to die, and because most ordinary people turned silently away from what was taking place.  People turned away. People like us.

And that is part of  the difficulty. We look upon Jesus as the Lord of life, the one ever willing to give, to care, to love, to show us a better way, the way to the reign of God. The one who offered and invited others to share his vision, his way of living.  Good Friday was a day that both ordinary and powerful folks, people like us, took back the love and compassion that might have been in them, and by voice or inaction said it was quite all right that Jesus be executed like a common criminal. And that’s exactly what happened.

From the moment of his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane by the forces of power, to the time when the crowds roared for the release of Barabbas, to the moment of his death, Jesus was abandoned to his fate by everyone.  It has been said that all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. And over the ages humanity has become very good at doing nothing…

No matter how much we wish that this terrible drama of Good Friday were just a tragic play, the fact is that Jesus, who embodied all that is good, and right, and compassionate, was betrayed, beaten, spat upon, humiliated, paraded publicly through the city as entertainment to the masses, and then finally, nailed to a piece of wood and left to suffer a slow, agonizing death. What depravity humanity possesses that a political system could so turn on this rabbi and healer using an illegal trial, political pressure, false charges, and fear to control the citizenry?

I suspect most of us think that “I could never do such a thing to another human being” but the painful truth is that we are all participants in this story. It is a truth too great for some of us to contemplate. Our response is to simply decide not to think about it. We turn away from the cross and direct our gaze longingly at the empty tomb. But we must look, look at the cross and at ourselves in order to understand the power of resurrection.

It is easy to turn away and blame others  –  criminals, politicians, and religious fanatics who betray and destroy life. How simple it is to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television and feel the indignation that we all experience when we hear about a great evil or injustice that has been done. And yet every day each one of us, in our own little way, gives quiet assent to the persons and policies that bring despair and death to humankind.  There is a prayer of confession that says “we repent of the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf”. There was and is evil done by our government, by corporate America, by the powerful wanting to maintain the status quo or bend it to their benefit that, unless we intentionally stand against it, is essentially done in our name and on our behalf.

Like the crowd that tormented and mocked Jesus or simply stood silently as he staggered through the Via Dolorosa on the way to his death, all of us play our roles. We do not encourage evil, we simply do nothing because we are afraid, because we don’t want to be unpleasant, or stir up trouble. Or we may just be tired and despondent, ground down into indifference by a lifetime of witnessing the tragedy and injustice in the world. Beaten down, just like the Jewish population of Jesus’ time, held captive by Roman rule. After all, who in our present day does not despair at the thought of the kind of atrocities our species has shown itself to be capable of inflicting on others. How can we not flinch when we think of Dachau, Hiroshima, Columbine, The World Trade Center, Abu Ghraib, or the Sudan? And we react “But what can I do?” And we turn away because we believe we are powerless, just like the ones lining the road as Jesus walked by, carrying his cross.

Our own silence to evil condemns us. We want to be done with this bloody business of Good Friday, so we avert our eyes from the misery laid out before us. But for our own sake we must look, because it is in contemplating the death of Jesus that we can begin to learn about true compassion and love.

We know that Jesus did not have to walk this awful road. It was an act of his own choosing, his choosing to witness to the power of love over all else.

At the last moment of his life Jesus cried out, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” and if the events of Good Friday teach us anything, it is that we now know what love means. We can apply this lesson to our own lives and the lives of those around us.

We know how the story will end. Jesus will rise from the dead, overcoming the cross, death, and the grave. He has gone on before us, and will return for us on the last day. But while we hope in the resurrection, we still live under the reality of the cross. The condition of the world testifies to this awful truth, and the brokenness of our own lives gives further witness. God is still being crucified day by day, still suffering on the periphery, still on the receiving end of human evil and callousness in places as far away as Darfur and as close as Louisville. Our salvation is a gift of God, but our responsibility for overcoming evil lies within ourselves, now liberated by God’s grace.

Today, we come face to face with the profound knowledge of the nature of God and the disquieting disclosure of the nature of human beings. We are an Easter people in hope, but a Good Friday people in the reality of our human condition. We are given hope, but that hope is offered only by entering into a consciousness of the cross and all it discloses. Of intentionally choosing to live in a different way that opposes evil where we find it and that makes no peace with oppression. This is a way that we may tangibly take up our cross and follow where Jesus has led the way…

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Palm Sunday Parades

There were two processions that day. The first included Pontius Pilate the Roman Governor escorted by the roman legions that arrived every year in Jerusalem to strengthen the garrison there to prevent any uprisings during the celebration of Passover. Passover was the yearly celebration of freedom and escape from oppression and the Romans would not want it to get out of hand. Entering the city of Jerusalem the legions announced the coming of the governor and cleared the rabble out of the road. It was an expression of political power, military might, and the culture of inducing fear into the populace in order to control their actions and maintain their acquiescence.

The second procession was in counterpoint to the first – it included a man riding on a donkey while the poor and the marginalized threw branches on the road ahead of him calling him “Son of David.”  There were no soldiers, nor might nor any display of power. It was so different from that first procession – it was almost comical except that it drew heavily on the symbolism of the Old Testament – the entry of Kings such as Saul & David. The priests and temple officials were not laughing.  They began to plot in earnest how to trap Jesus – how to end his ability to inspire and inflame the outcasts and nobodies. They understood the second procession was more dangerous for them than the first. And the beginnings of the dynamics of this week we call Holy week that would lead to Golgotha began.

As the week progressed the plan came together and they were able to arrest this rabbi. And by shrewd manipulation of facts they led the populace to go along with their plan of destruction. They even got the Roman Governor to find Jesus deserving of death – if only to protect his status and power.

Two processions… one of which we are part is the second.  We are the followers of the one who was considered dangerous and anti-establishment; we tread in the tradition of the one who pointed out that the way of God is not the way of power, military might, money, or privilege. Christianity is still counter-cultural even today.

And the mandate of the Gospel continues to be for us to follow where Jesus has led the way and to place ourselves before power, principalities, authorities and rulers to witness to the power of love even in the face of evil and death. The words of Jesus echo through the centuries to us “take up your cross and follow me.”


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The 10 Commandments & Jesus

Over recent decades we have heard of a number of controversies about the public display of the 10 commandments. Lawsuits were filed and courts have weighed in. Private citizens and public officials applauded the decisions, or have decried them and predicted the ruin of our society unless these are returned to a place of prominence in public buildings, courts, and schools. There is a great deal of emotion and energy behind these discussions. But what is rarely discussed is the 10 Commandments themselves and Jesus’ teaching in regard to them.

The context of the passage in Exodus in which Moses received them is familiar. He leads the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt through the Red Sea into the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. In the wilderness they camp at the foot of the mountain. Many religions regard mountain tops as sacred site or thin places. Moses goes to the top of the mountain and after a long time on the mountain brings down tablets on which these laws were written.

Many of us have seen the movie like the Ten Commandments and think of them as large stone tablets several feet high and quite thick. In reality that is a modern visualization. The tablets of that time would have been clay tablets written in tiny cuneiform or early Hebrew letter, tablets that could be easily held in the hand.

No matter the size of the tablets the Ten Commandments provided an ethical and moral base for the development of Judaism. But they did not develop in a vacuum. One of the earliest codes, that of Hammurabi (a king who reigned in Babylonia) is estimated to have originated between 1792 and 1750 B.C.). The Ten Commandments, (also known as The Decalogue), are estimated to have originated around 1446 B.C. The Ten Commandments thus came after the Law Code of Hammurabi.

We should not assume that because the Code of Hammurabi was first, that the10 Commandments borrow from them. We should recall the Code of Hammurabi focused exclusively on criminal and civil laws and meted out what in the present we see as harsh, and sometimes brutal, punishments. The Law of Moses covers more than a legal code; it speaks of sin and of our responsibility to God as well as to society and to others.

Both Hammurabi and Moses recorded laws which were unique to their times. Hammurabi claimed to receive his code from the Babylonian god of justice, Shamash. Moses received the Law atop Mount Sinai from the God of the Israelites.

The difference in the time frame between them allows the evolution of what constituted just punishment for crime. Often cited is what is referred to as the Lex Talionis. In Leviticus it is phrased, “And a man who injures his countryman – as he has done, so it shall be done to him – fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. To us that may seem like retaliation but in the ethical development of humanity it was a reform – it was a more reasonable punishment than more severe injury or death. Here is the beginning of the reform and reframing of punishments to ones that fit the crime – that produce something better resembling justice if not restoration and redemption.

The commandments themselves are fairly familiar to us:
The first four speak to a proper relationship with God, the rest address relationships within the covenant community of Israel.
The first re-enforces that it was this God of Israel who brought the people out of slavery. And so there shall be “no other God’s before me.”

Notice that in these early stages of the development of Judaism it does not deny the fact that other people worship other Gods… but for Israel there are to be no God’s to which one has a greater or equal allegiance.

The second commandment is “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them nor worship them…”

This commandment forbids the making of idols or objects that put themselves in God’s place in our lives. We are reminded of the story of the Exodus where the people make an image of a golden calf.

The third commandment forbids taking the name of the Lord in vain… In the ancient near east most cultures used oaths and incantations using the name of the god to “harness” or bend divine power to serve human interests. Thus this is as applicable today as it was in the Sinai several millennia ago.

The Fourth Commandment is about observing the Sabbath. It is about cessation from work for a day. It would seem that for the people of Israel rest was written into the very nature of their living. Rest allowed time to develop a deeper relationship with the creator.

The remaining commandments offer specific prohibitions that regulate relationships. It begins with the family “Honor your father and your mother…”
One thing we may miss is that this commandment in that patriarchal society actually elevates the status of women… as equal partners with men in relationship to children. It also created the probability of a flow of tradition between generations.

The sixth is you shall do no murder. This prohibits homicide, an upsetting of the social order. But doesn’t really address warfare, capital punishment or even revenge killing. These Jesus later addresses in the Gospel.

The seventh is “You shall not commit adultery…”
This is not so much about sexual purity as it is about family integrity and the legitimacy of children and inheritance. We should recall that a number of sexual activities outside of marriage are not forbidden nor addressed in this commandment. This too Jesus addressed and broadened in his teachings in the Gospels.

The 8th is “You shall not steal.”
This commandment guards the stability of the larger society by protecting private property. But it was understood not to preclude such things as the right of the poor to glean food in the corners of the field or pother measures that provided some small measure of we might call a social safety net for the poor.

The 9th reads You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
This is a defense against perjury in legal cases as well as a prohibition against more trivial lying about another. That this was an ongoing problem can be seen in the words and accusations of various Hebrew prophets

The 10th is You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

This helps focus the members of this covenant community beyond outward actions to inner thoughts that leads to rehearsing in thought an action that threatens the stability and integrity of the family or community.

It is important to note that these commandments are promulgated for those who are within the people of Israel – the covenant community. They did not apply to how one related to those not in the covenant community.

The ten commandments are a significant step forward in the moral and ethical development of the Judeo/Christian ethos. But it is a step and not the final destination.

In the Gospels when Jesus was asked about the most important of the commandments he did not respond with any one of these 10 commandments. He answered saying “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, all your mind and all your strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In this we see Jesus building on the foundation of the Ten Commandments – most of which are prohibitions of what not to do – and creating a framework that guides us in how we should act and relate to another – whether in the covenant community or not.

We honor the 10 Commandments as an important step in the religious, moral and ethical development but see them further developed and expanded in Jesus teaching.

We see the same thing happening in the Gospel this morning as Jesus entered the Temple in Jerusalem and observed the noise, the competition among the various vendors and the profit motive that drove them and the temple officials. It was a place that had forgotten its core purpose. His response was to overthrow their tables reminding them the temple was a place for encountering the creator not a marketplace for profiteering.

In his relationship with the apostles and disciples Jesus always invited them to grow in their understanding beyond a surface familiarity and to deepen their spiritual roots.

Jesus reinterpreted the Law – even the 10 Commandments – in ways that prove to be less focused on the negative, more open to interpretation and yet more restrictive of the ungodly attitudes and actions that a strict interpretation of the 10 commandments would allow.

If we want to know what it is God wants from us and wishes for us to do we need Jesus’s summary of the law – Love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself” – not the 10 Commandments.
And if we want to provide a place to display what it is that God requires of us, the place is to write Jesus’ teaching in our hearts and memories.

Lent is that time to be reminded of what mattered most to Jesus and to commit ourselves to follow in that way of life and action.


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“Celebrating” a New Year?

There we were celebrating the first Sunday of the new church year – Advent 1 – and what are we hearing for lessons…

From Isaiah.. “we became like one who is unclean, we fade like a leaf and our iniquities take us away… you have hidden your face from us…”

The psalm asks “”How long will you be angry with us…. And pleads “restore us O God of hosts, and we shall be saved…”

Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians sounds hopeful…at least before we undestand the context.

Then we get to the Gospel from Mark talking about the end time, suffering, stars falling from heaven, and  suddenly the elect will be gathered from the four winds…

And we are told keep alert.  Keep awake… and ends with keep awake…

Doesn’t exactly sound like readings that are celebratory… doesn’t make us feel good or want to dance or even to enthusiastically praise God at the end of the reading.  What is going on here?

Let’s take a look. If we were to be transported to Jerusalem and meet Isaiah we would find ourselves among people coming back from exile to a city that is ruins.  They are confronting the reality of what has happened to them and to their city. This is part of a portion of Isaiah which is a lament.

Instead of simply blaming God for this tragic human condition, Isaiah admits that the people have a role in it too… faithlessness, hubris and pride have taken their toll, and says Isaiah “have delivered us into the hands of our iniquity.”

But all is not desolation for Isaiah almost immediately declares the hope for redemption  “…we are the clay and you are the potter” in essence saying form us – we are willing to change, to be formed, as we are all the work of God’s hand. Trust in God gives the confidence to face the future with hope. Isaiah ends with the declaration “We are all your people.”  He claims that identity. When we too claim that identity and open ourselves to God to form us aright we are given hope for the future.

In the second reading Paul writes to the Christians gathered in Corinth. They are waiting for the immanent return of Jesus to finish the work of God and bring in the reign of God where all will be as it is meant to be. We must remember that Paul is addressing a community that is a mess. Everything that could go wrong there has gone wrong among them. Yet Paul speaks positively – but with carefully chosen phrases. He gives thanks because the grace of God has been given to them in Christ Jesus. Yet he chooses not to judge them by tell them that they have utterly failed to express that grace in their community life.

He tells them they have been enriched by Christ. But he does not remind them of how they have misused or not used those gifts.

Think of the personal and professional gifts of every kind that exist within any community of faith. Paul notes the richness of gifts within the community as they wait for the return of Jesus, noting they lack no spiritual gift. What is lacking  among them is the willingness to nourish and to use their gifts in God’s service.

Paul reminds them that God is faithful and will “strengthen you to the end”. The promise of Christ’s presence among us is real and dependable. God is faithful – the implied question is how faithful are we?

You cannot get much farther from the seasonal preparation of Christmas lights and decorations than we get in the reading from the Gospel. It is almost frightening.

We must recall Advent plays two roles as a season. Advent marks the beginning of a new year commemorating Jesus birth, ministry, life death resurrection and teaching.  Advent leads us up to that yearly commemoration beginning with Jesus nativity.

Advent also looks beyond the child, matured to adulthood, crucified, brought to new life in and, who promised to return to bring all creation to its fulfillment in God.

Jesus in this Markan passage speaks in symbols, with images of clouds, angels and the gathering of humanity to indicate that time when God calls all creation (including us) to an accounting.

When this portion of the Gospel was written the Roman threats against Israel were becoming real, false messiahs were arising saying they were the second coming. The signs were all around the early followers. They were torn between giving themselves up to despair or reaching out for a flicker of hope. There are all manner of signs around us as well. We have to decide whether to give in to despair or to look for the hope in the midst of the signs.

This is usually seen as judgement. And most depictions of what we often think of as the last judgement (including last week’s separating sheep from goats… seem frightening or negative.What I see here is not threat but rather advice on how to wait for that time when all will become as God created it to be. It is telling us we need to spend our energies and time living responsibly in the present.

Nancy has spoken of how as a child this gospel was frightening because she knew she could not stay awake all the time… Jesus says three times to stay alert and awake… for what?

To stay alert to the fact that our life, as one who tries to follow Jesus, is lived knowing there is accountability for our actions and inactions, for our attitudes and ignorances, and for using or burying the gifts we have been given, in order to move us closer to what God created us to be.

We know neither the day or hour when we will be answerable. In Jesus parable the servants keep doing their work knowing that the master will at some point return they will give an account of their life and work.

Years ago a doctor by the name of James Moody published “Life After Life”a study of near death experiences. In most of them the person undergoing clinical death met a being of light who asked them something like “I gave you life what did you do with it…?

This is what I see our accountability will be like. Not ledges or tomes with entries of misdeeds, not anger nor bitterness. A simple question we answer by our reviewing our lives and actions. This is actually a question we can ask ourselves even now.  What have I done with that gifts I was given? What do I want to do with these gifts now and in the future?



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“COMFORT my people” says your God

Last night we attended an annual community “Messiah” sing along as is our custom. The orchestra and most of the soloist were members of the community. I marvel at their willingness and courage to give public voice to this wonderful and often difficult music.

I was moved once again by the aria “Comfort ye my people…”  I was noting within myself the sheer numbers of people who need solace in our current culture and society when it struck me  – I had it all wrong.  I was thinking of the present primary definition of comfort; which is solace, easing grief or trouble, to console. But at the time of Handel and the King James translation of scripture comfort was not about solace, or ease – to comfort meant to strengthen!  Strengthen wills and hearts, and lives to address brokenness and fear. Strengthen willingness to engage the oppressive powers of the world and seek compassion, generosity and caring for the “least and the lost”.

In that aria last night I heard a prophetic call from biblical times issue forth to us in this beginning of the 21st century telling us we not be complacent and compliant with the forces that seek to dehumanize us and challenge those values we see in Jesus’ teaching, life and death.   We, as the people of God, are to be strengthened and are to strengthen others! We do this not for our ease, and not for our well-being. We strengthen and are strengthened so that we may feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and alien in the land, tend the sick, clothe the naked, care for those on the margins such as  those in prison, and those who are so easily oppressed and denigrated by those in power and with great wealth.  This is God’s agenda that we are invited to continue.

I am to use my voice and use my powers to influence the direction of the political process that deifies political and economic ideology and wishes to destroy rather than build up the “least and the lost” whom scriptures tell us God favors. And it is these we are commissioned by Christ to defend and to serve.

May you be comforted to continue God’s work of recreating the world as God would have it be. Or as another aria tells us “Lift up your voice, lift it up –  be not afraid…”


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Who are the saints?

Who are the saints?

To call someone a saint currently gives a sense of someone who has achieved perfection, leads an extraordinary life, or who has patience beyond measure. But that is not what we celebrate on All Saints Day. Anyone reading credible biographies of saints soon learns that some were grumpy, some were not all that sociable, and several seem perverse. The qualities they exhibited were human qualities but with an extra ingredient.

According to writer Frederick Buechner, “In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.”  But our favorite definition of a saint comes from a child – probably thinking of stained glass window depictions. “A saint is someone who lets the light shine through.”

All Saints Day and All Saints Sunday are days when we celebrate all those who have been saints in our lives or the lives of others. But as we celebrate them we should recall that none of them and none of us achieve perfection in this life.  What makes us saints is the recognition that we need grace, help and inspiration to be better than we are, and that we recognize the forgiveness, love and light we have experienced and are willing to let it shine through us to others.

As the hymn says “the saints of God and just folk like me – and I want to be one too.”


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What’s with all the pillows?

(This was caught in the drafts for well over a year… time to set it free… Don)

Have you noticed that there is an outbreak of pillows? I wonder if global warming has affected the ability of pillows to reproduce and thereby increased the pillow population somehow?

In the past 20 years the number of pillows on beds (both hotel and residential) has increased dramatically while the number of heads to be placed on a pillow has remained essentially the same.

In visiting in homes I have also noticed that the number of pillows on sofas and chairs has increased geometrically as well. This is a strange phenomenon considering that the statistics are clear that the Body Mass Index of the US population is increasing while the space not taken up by pillows and thus actually available for sitting area is therefore decreasing.

In addition I am told numerous times by hosts as I am contemplating how and where to sit “Oh just put them on the floor!” IWhich makes me wonder if they wanted them on the floor, why put them on the chair in the first place?

Nancy says I just don’t get it! (Now that is a category of conversation that has an inexhaustible supply of content). “It is style,” she tells me. She knows I usually give up when she plays that card. I don’t know or understand style. I once mentioned in conversation that I was out of style. “You can’t be out of style”  she murmured sweetly in my ear, “when you have never been in style!”

But I am not deterred. I am thinking of starting a “Free the pillows” movement. We could set up pillow sanctuaries where newly homeless pillows could live out their days in dignity and peace without the indignity of being relegated to the floor, heaped in the closet or unceremoniously tossed in attic or basement . We might also recruit style mavens to give foster care to the pillows that used to adorn hotel beds only to be tossed aside when it is time to really sleep. And if motels and hotels did not have to have such an outlandishly high pillow budget we might get nightly rates that are lower than an apartment security deposit.

So let’s hear it: “Free the Pillows! Free the Pillows! We want our space back! Free the Pillows!”

The Pillow Grinch –  aka Don

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Sabbatical Sermon

NOTE:  Nancy and Don hare leaving May 14 on a sabbatical pilgrimage and will return ot St Paul’s on September 3. This is our sermon for May 14th….

Leave Taking  Easter 5 – 2017

Don:  On an airline flight 2 men sat next to one another & struck up a conversation. On discovering his seat mate was a priest the other man said “Well it is all so very simple. All religion can be summed up in “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you!”

The priest then asked what the other’s profession was. “Oh”, he said, “I am an astronomer.” Replied the priest and “That too is very simple it is just “Twinkle twinkle little star.”

Nancy:  The first letter of Peter acknowledges that we may begin our faith journey with a simple understanding, like newborn infants but reminds us we do not have to remain there.

Growing in the faith requires care and nurture, and feeding the spirit within us. Feeding it with spiritual milk as the reading suggested – feeding it by actively participating in a faith community; by engaging scripture and seeing within this spiritual library and specific books and passages the various levels of meaning as people of faith through the ages have struggled to understand how our life lived in God fits or contrasts with the world as we see it and experience it.

D:  The writer goes on to use the image of being “living stones”.  We know stones are inanimate… so how do they “live”? How can we become living stones let along build ourselves into a house?

N: Think of a coral reef. These small creatures focus their efforts on building a home that is strong, that is safe, and while it is not their primary purpose what they do benefits the environment in which they build it. It is work that is intentional and focused and brings about good for those beyond the one doing the work.

D: The stone becomes a cornerstone – chosen and precious. Remember that without power tools, working with stone was hard and laborious.  Stones for particular uses were often specifically chosen so that they would best fit the purpose and could be more easily shaped & formed for that purpose.

N: The writer of the Epistle indicates that we, as living stones, might not be chosen by a secular builder, but in God’s economy we may become the cornerstone in building something new in serving God’s people and creation.

This reading tells us that we are God’s people, chosen, not to simply be observers – but to be active in living into a deeper knowledge of who and whose we are and living out the work of God.

D: As with so many other places in the Gospels today’s passage begins with assurance in the admonition “Do not let your hearts be troubled…” That, like “do not fear” is a consistent theme of the scriptures… It is relevant because we are approaching a new time, a different time – which we have planned for and know about.  Yet it will still give us new people, new experiences and new things to think about. It will give us the ability to stretch and grow. And that can cause us to be troubled or have some latent fear about the unknowns.

N: Philip asks to see God in order to be satisfied. Jesus tells Philip that Philip can see God in Jesus. Unlike those apostles we do not directly and clearly see Jesus in the flesh or risen. Rather we see Jesus in and through other, in the breaking of bread, in the works of Jesus that we witness.

D: Jesus tells these friends and followers to ask God in Jesus’ name and it will be done. We understand that if we allow the spirit to dwell within us what we ask is more likely to be that which is in accordance with God’s dream to re-create the world as God would have it. And that work begins with God’s Spirit re-creating us in ways we cannot know or fathom.

N: Today we begin an experiment of a sort. A short time apart on different journeys, traveling in different ways, having different experiences which we will try to share with one another as we are able.

We know that if we engage this journey and these events and activities…

if we open ourselves to the experiences and the Spirit when we come back together in September we will be changed.

We will in some way be different and be better able to look again at the faith community known as St Paul’s  Jeffersonville in a new light and ask what God would have us do to live into the future where God calls us to journey.

D: A Jewish friend of mine described his son asking their rabbi “Why did God create people?”  The rabbi smiled and enthusiastically said “Because God loves stories!” Scripture is filled with stories, and as we gather here we tell various stories; and as we gather round tables in the parish hall we share stories.  In September may we have many stories to share.

May we recognize more clearly the presence of God on the journey…

May we be grateful that we have had the gift of this special time in which we have tasted that the Lord is good.

May we know gratitude for being formed as a spiritual house and a royal priesthood  – especially when we may see ourselves as odd rejected stones – so that we may we know ourselves to be chosen and precious and ready to share our story with others who need good news.

Don & Nancy

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