Get in the Boat

Preached on 21 June 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, Year B

I have run out of words.  Too many Sundays, I have stood in front of a congregation trying to find words in the face of violence and death; of public grief.  I’m reluctant to call it tragedy because somehow tragedy sounds like it was inevitable; there was nothing anyone could have done to stop it; there is nothing anyone can do to prevent it from happening again.

I have no words of explanation except human sin, racial hatred, hatred grown out of prejudice and racial bias.  No explanation except the willingness of the American people to put up with so much violence and death in order to protect … what?

I have no words of comfort except that God is with us in our grief.  God weeps with those who weep who have lost beloved members of their families and communities.  God is with us in our outrage.  And I believe that God is especially with those who have suffered similar violence and are now reliving it again.  I wish I had words of more comfort for them.

Perhaps I have no words of comfort because we have already grown too comfortable with violence and death.  Perhaps God prefers our discomfort and outrage.  Perhaps because we are complicit – by our silence, by our complacency, by our feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

And so, because I have run out of words, I turn to Scripture to see if I can find some illumination.  This is what I found in our readings for today.  Following Jesus, doing God’s will is hard.  It can be terrifying, risky; downright dangerous, even.  Being chosen, anointed by God does not offer protection – but it does offer God’s presence and help.

Today we have two such stories.

First we have a story about David and Saul.  You may remember two weeks ago when we heard the people reject God as their king and demand a king like the other nations.  So, Saul was chosen and anointed king.

In the part we didn’t read, Saul ruled Israel and led the people into battle as God instructed, but he disobeyed God and the spirit of God was withdrawn from him and an evil spirit from God afflicted him with terrors.

Last week, we heard how God called David and Samuel anointed him to be king after Saul.  Unaware of this, Saul brought David into his household to play the harp for him because it soothed him when he was afflicted with terrors.  The rest of the time, David continued to tend his father’s sheep.

Today, we come into the story immediately after David’s battle with the Philistine Giant, Goliath.  This time, David is brought fully into Saul’s household as a brother to Saul’s son, Jonathan, who finds in David a soul-mate.

The next thing we know, Saul is throwing spears at David! While David is playing his music trying to calm Saul’s terrors.  No protection for God’s anointed.  Doing God’s will can be dangerous indeed.

Then we come to the gospel – It’s the end of the day and evening is approaching.  Jesus has been in a boat on the lake, teaching the crowd that’s on the shore.  Now it’s starting to get dark and he calls to his disciples and tells them to do what everyone knows you shouldn’t do.  Get in the boat. But you just don’t go out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee at night!  It’s too dangerous.  Storms are deadly and more common at night.  It’s not as if they have lights or that the towns on shore are all lit up like ours are.

Then there’s their destination.  They’re not just crossing over to the other side.  They are crossing over to the side of the Other; to gentile territory – dangerous territory.  Following Jesus can be frightening and dangerous.  Of course a storm does come and the disciples are terrified.  But they are even more so when Jesus calms it.  Who IS this, they ask.

Perhaps the hardest thing the disciples did that night was get in the boat.  They didn’t know what would happen, but they decided to trust Jesus; to get in the boat and follow him.

Maybe that’s what Jesus asks of us right now – to follow him; to Get in the Boat and cross to the side of the Other.

At our baptism, we are asked to promise:
            To seek and serve Christ in all persons
            To strive for justice and peace
To respect the dignity of all persons
To persevere in resisting evil and
whenever we fall into sin
to repent and return to the Lord.
To each question, we respond,
“I will, with God’s help.”

Each of these promises is relevant to what we face today.  But I would like to focus on the last one.  I think we often focus on the last part of the promise and think that it’s about if we catch ourselves doing something wrong, personally harming another person, that we should apologize, make amends, and get right with God.  But let’s back up to the first half.

To resist evil.  This is not simply about resisting the temptation to do something bad.  It’s about offering resistance against the powers of evil in the world around us: the evil of racism; the evil of racist systems in almost every aspect of society; the evil of mindsets, organizations, industries, and institutions that promote violence, killing, and tolerance of it; the evil of doing nothing in the face of evil.  And it is about examining our own hearts and confronting the demons of fear or racism or bias that we may find there.

We promise to persevere in resisting evil.  To keep at it even when we seem to fail again and again.  To never give up. We don’t try to do it alone; we do it with each other and with God’s help. The evil we face is complex.  No single change will stop it.  However, if we persevere, the accumulation of changes can and will.  We must not be discouraged or dismissed when someone points and says, that any particular proposed change wouldn’t have prevented this event or that event.

As Edmund Burke has said,
“No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”  and
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good [people] do nothing.”

Will we get in the boat and brave the storm; cross to the other side and confront the demons?

Let us pray.
Almighty God, who created us in your own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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How Do We Talk About Evil?

Preached on 7 June 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church
Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, Year b

When I go to the movies, one of my favorite parts is the previews – seeing the trailers for movies that will be coming out in the next few months.

Well, today, we’re going to start with a preview – what’s coming up in the next few months.  We are entering into that long season of Ordinary Time; the Season after Pentecost that begins on Trinity Sunday and ends on the Feast of Christ the King.  We will be working our way through large portions of the Bible with what is called semi-continuous readings.

Our Old Testament readings will begin with the great kings of the United Israel, before it divided into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  We will hear about Kings Saul, David and Solomon and about the prophet and judge, Samuel who anointed Saul and David; and when necessary, sometimes advised or chastised them, always speaking the word of God.

Then we’ll spend some time in the Wisdom Literature – Song of Solomon and Proverbs.  We’ll hear the stories of Esther and Job.  Toward the end of the season, to bring the story full circle, we’ll hear the story of Ruth, King David’s great-grandmother, and we’ll end with the story of Hannah, the mother of Samuel.

In the New Testament, we will read from the letters: Second Corinthians, Ephesians, James, and Hebrews.

Our Gospel readings will progress through Mark’s gospel with a 5-week interlude this summer when we hear Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John.

And now, for today’s feature stories.

First a little background context. Up until now, the people of Israel have been governed by Judges with God as their king.  God speaks to them through the judges.
Samuel is the current judge in Israel.  He is getting old.  He has delegated some of his work to his sons, but the people see them as corrupt.  They demand a “real king” like all the other nations have.

And God says, “Fine.  But you’ll be sorry.”  Samuel warns them what it will be like under a king.  He will send your sons to war.  He will make your daughters work for him.  He will take the produce of your land and your livestock and give it to his favorites.  You will end up as slaves.”

Nevertheless, the people choose to reject God.
They’ve had enough of this mysterious, transcendent god-as-king and want a real, live, flesh and blood king that they can see and hear and touch.  They want a king to protect them and fight their battles for them.

They seem to have forgotten all that God has done for them; how God brought them up out of Egypt and into the Promised Land; how God fought their enemies and gave them the land in which they now live.

And so, Saul is made king.

Now let’s take a look at the Gospel for today.  Mark’s gospel is action-packed.  In just the first 13 verses, we hear about John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism and testing in the desert. And then Mark starts to tell about the Galilean ministry.

By the time we enter the story today, Jesus has called the disciples.  His first sign was to cast out an unclean spirit in Capernaum and he has been traveling around the countryside healing the sick casting out demons, and teaching – always proclaiming the kingdom of God.  Word has spread and he is widely known; whenever he comes into town, crowds gather around him.

Today, we find him newly arrived in his hometown.
Now, he is not claiming to be king or even God at this point, but he is proclaiming the kingdom of God and his actions give credence to what he is saying.
Here is God, himself, in flesh and blood.  On the one hand it almost seems like just what the people in our OT reading wanted.  On the other hand, Jesus is nothing like what they expect in a king; certainly not like the other nations.

And groups try to discredit him.  His family arrives on the scene – probably embarrassed, even ashamed, saying, “Don’t mind him, he’s out of his mind. Come on Jesus, let’s go home.”

Then there are the religious authorities who show up.  They have seen what Jesus is doing and get it completely wrong.  Their interpretation is that he must be from Satan.  This is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit Jesus refers to.

Jesus tells them a parable.  Metaphorically, he has bound up Satan, the strong man, and is robbing his house – freeing souls from the power of evil.  He is claiming that God is stronger than the oppressor.

Jesus is pointing to the Reality of the Powers in the world working against the goodness of God.  Oftentimes, the Powers are human institutions that are started for Good.  But then they seem to take on a life of their own and end up doing evil.  Grapes of Wrath – banks.

I wonder, how do we talk about evil?  Even in the church we tend to shy away from that word.

When I think about the warnings that Samuel gave the Israelites about the dangers of a king, I wonder, what human institutions we have put in place of God?

I wonder which human institutions have taken the place of the “Old Powers?”
Samuel’s warnings seem all too contemporary.

I wonder what it says when we put away the font and the Paschal candle, the symbols of our identity in Jesus Christ through baptism, and bring flags, symbols of the human institutions of Church and State, and display them prominently in our worship space?

I wonder how we discern when a Power for Good crosses the line and becomes a Power of Evil?
When industry crosses over from lifting people up and providing jobs, to pushing them into crushing poverty with low wages while increasing their own profits?
When we move from using the wonders of medicine to give people a new lease on life and improve the quality of their lives and cross over to allowing our fear of death to prolong a life of pain and misery?
When the military moves from protecting vulnerable people to protecting profits or even producing profits for war profiteers. I don’t pretend to have answers;
I hope to encourage conversation.

Evil in the world is dead set on standing its ground against the kingdom of God.
The Good News is that God is stronger than every oppressor.

Now I know that I’ve said some challenging things today.  My point is to encourage us to question things we may take for granted.  I will be available in the parish hall after the service if you would like to discuss these ideas with each other or with me.

God in the Particulars

Preached at 31 May 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church
Trinity Sunday, Year B

In the year that King Uzziah, a good king of Israel, in the year that he died, the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord.

That morning when I sat in front of the TV and watched the twin towers crumple to the ground, I prayed, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth.”  And for the first time, I really meant it.

The night when my first baby was born and I held her in my arms, I thought my heart would burst.  I never  knew I could love someone so much.  And at last I had an idea of just how much my mother loved me.

The day you heard that President Kennedy had been shot…

The moment when you first kissed the man who would one day be your husband; the woman who would one day be your wife….

In the year that she was being treated for cancer…

In the year he went away to college…

The week he heard, your unit is being deployed to Afghanistan.  Again….

The moment she heard, we’re shipping out – you’re going home….

That time when they were lying on the grass, holding hands, watching the clouds against the clear blue of the sky and sharing their dreams….

God is Mystery, Other, beyond our knowing.
Yet God wants to be known and reveals God’s self in the particulars of our lives.  We know God not through doctrine, but through story; and most profoundly through the unique ways God comes to us in our own lives.

In the darkness of night, Nicodemus goes to visit Jesus – a particular time and place; a particular expression of God, incarnate in Jesus.  Nicodemus goes in with some knowledge of and some experience of God.  He knows enough to recognize that Jesus is from God.  And then Jesus reveals a whole new idea that utterly confounds him – being born again from above; being born of water and the Spirit.  How could that be?

We don’t necessarily understand what is revealed right away.  And sometimes what is revealed is the mystery.  Sometimes, we don’t recognize God until long afterwards.

The Trinity is one of the ways in which God chooses to make God’s self known to us.  Each is a unique expression of God.  Jesus, the Incarnate One.  The Holy Spirit the One with us and within us now; who goes ahead of us leading us, pulling us into the future.

The Wonder of the Trinity is that God is already eternally relational within God’s own self.  And yet God invites us into that relationship.  God comes to us again and again reaching out to us in the particular events of our lives; in ways that are unique to each of us, and calls to us.

God calls us and sends us.  In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw the Lord.  “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,” he cries.  A seraph cleanses him and his sin is blotted out.  Then he hears the voice of the Lord, “Whom shall I send?”  “Send me,” he says.

We are called and we are sent.
Sunday by Sunday, we are called.  We gather, we are fed and transformed through the Word and Sacrament, and we are sent. The prayer we say after communion is also known as the Prayer for Mission.
“Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart” we pray.
Or “Send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”
Or in Rite I, “so to assist us with thy grace,… and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.”

We are called to be sent.

We are sent with the Promise offered through the Holy Trinity.  We are promised the Holy Spirit – not only with us and within us, but going before us, leading us, pulling us into the future.

The Holy Spirit is more than a friend, a companion, a comforter and guide.  The Holy Spirit is our assurance, our “adoption papers” so to speak.

Paul writes to the Romans, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God… you have received a spirit of adoption….  When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very spirit bearing witness that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God.”

I belong, you belong, to the same God that appeared to Isaiah on the heavenly throne;
to the same God who confounds Nicodemus;
to the same God who makes Lebanon skip like a calf;
to the same God who came to us as one of us in Jesus;
to the same God who loves you like a mother and longs to gather you to God’s self.

That is the beauty and the wonder and the promise of the Trinity – that God comes to you in the particulars of your life because you belong to God.

God Is on the Loose

Preached on 23 May 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church
Day of Pentecost, Year B

Let’s start at the very beginning.
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.  And the Spirit moved upon the face of the deep.  And God said, “Let there be light.  And there was light….”

The Spirit of God is there from the very beginning of Creation.

Today, we hear the psalmist extol the marvels of Creation and God’s utter delight in it.  Even the Leviathan – the terrifying sea monster – delights God.
“You send forth your Spirit and they are created;” the psalmist sings to God, “and so you renew the face of the earth.”

The Spirit of God is always present, always creating, always renewing the earth.

Fast forward to first century Jerusalem.  Jews on pilgrimage throng to this anceitn city from all over the world to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost.  Pentecost – 50 days after the Feast of Passover.  You see our feasts are rooted in Jewish tradition.

Passover celebrates God bringing the children of Israel out of the land of bondage.

At Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in which he conquers death and brings God’s children out of bondage to sin.

50 days later, we find the people of Israel gathering at the foot of Mt. Sinai while Moses goes up to meet with God in fire and smoke and trembling earth to receive the Torah.

All of these celebrations are not simply remembering a spectacular event from a long time ago.  In each case it is a celebration of God’s continuing action in the present.
God continues to free God’s people from bondage.  God continues to give the Torah.
God continues to conquer death and free us from bondage to sin.
All are celebrations of a present reality.

And what happens in our story in Acts?  They have come to celebrate Pentecost and God shows up again.

And It. Is. Spectacular!

We have come to use powerful words to describe the mundane.  It seems that everything and everyone is awesome these days.  The trouble is, those words have become tame, domesticated and we lose the ability to describe the extremes.

The text describes the people as amazed and astonished, bewildered and perplexed.  But these words can’t even begin to capture the experience.

The Holy Spirit shows up in FIRE and violent Wind.  The people are more than confused or puzzled; they are undone; they are Blown Away!

God is on the Loose.

“What does it mean?” they ask one another.

And Peter steps right up to interpret what is happening, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
He reminds them of the prophet, Joel, who said, “God will our out God’s Spirit on all flesh – young and old, men and women, slave and free – all will be filled with the Holy Spirit and they shall prophesy.”  He explains that’s what’s going on right here.  The prophecy is being fulfilled in their presence.

What happens next?
Peter goes on to preach the Good News; to tell them about Jesus and the salvation they are offered.

The text goes on,
37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”  41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Watch out!  God is on the loose, tearing down walls and opening up new possibilities for the People of God.  God will not be tamed or contained.

And so, we say, the church was born.  Still, we baptize and devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  We will renew those vows of our baptism in just a few minutes.

The people were gathered in Jerusalem on Pentecost to celebrate God’s giving the Torah not as a past event, but as an ongoing reality of their lives.

We gather here, wearing red, today, to celebrate Pentecost.  For us it is the sending of the Holy Spirit on the church and on all flesh – on us – as an ongoing reality of our lives.

God cannot be tamed or contained.  Not in our buildings or our traditions; not in our liturgies or our theology; not even in Scripture.

God is on the loose tearing down old boundaries, doing a new thing – always drawing us into God’s self.
God is on the loose – recreating the earth, the church, the people; recreating us, recreating you.

You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.  You are baptized into the Body of Christ; a part of one body that extends over all the earth.
And you are part of the Body of Christ in this place at this time.

So, what now?  What’s next?
What is the Holy Spirit doing here at St. Luke’s?
Come Holy Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.

How’s Your Prayer Life?

Preached on 17 May 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Tacoma
Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B

How’s your prayer life?

At this time of year, our lives can get so busy , we are so overwhelmed that our prayers lives may be put aside.  We just don’t have time to pray.  Ironically, when we take time for prayer, often our lives seem less chaotic, more serene  and we often find we accomplish more.

For the last few weeks, we’ve been listening in on jeus’ final evening with his disciples before he is arrested.  This morning, we hear him praying fervently for them while they listen in.  It may be just as important for them to hear the prayer as it is for God to hear it.

He knows that their lives are about to get crazy and very dangerous.  In the days that followed, I wonder if the disciples remembered that prayer and used it to shape their own prayers.

In our liturgical season, we’re in that in-between time – after Jesus has returned to God and before the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost.  I wonder what it was like for the disciples.  They have lost Jesus again!  How will they go on?  They return to that upper room to wait and pray.

Easter season is winding down and we head into the long season of Ordinary Time after Pentecost, when our lives get busy and schedules are irregular – how will you go on?

What makes you feel alive?

This seems like just the right question to ask for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, doesn’t it? What will keep reminding you of the resurrection? What will help you remember that resurrection is here and now. What Easter feeling will remain in your memory so that you can draw on it when you need it the most?

And how will you reconnect with it?

One way is to attend to your prayer life.  But how will you fit prayer into an already too-full day?

Of course there are many ways to pray and we will each find different ways to pray fit better with our personality and our lives.

Breath prayers at stoplights – Be still and know that I am God.  Or call to mind a ‘Resurrection Moment’ that connects you with God; that connects you with that which makes you feel alive.

Centering Prayer

Praying with the newspaper

Examen – review your day.  When did you feel most alive, that you were loved or loving?  When did you feel most yourself?  Connected with God or the earth or another person?
Then ask yourself what made you feel disoriented or tangled up?  What deadened you?  When you felt you were not loving or loved?  When you felt separated from other people, or from God?

Forward Day by Day.

Prayer Book – daily devotions; MP, EP, Compline

Prayer list from Sunday.

Walking / meditating

Dancing

Writing

Prayers while you wash dishes or fold laundry or take a shower.

There are many, many ways to pray, to spend time with God.  And many ways to fit prayer into your day.  You’ll be glad you did.

Resurrection Life – God Is Doing a New Thing

Preached on 10 May 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Tacoma
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Here we are in Eastertide, a time to focus on the Resurrection; on Jesus, risen from the tomb.  Except our readings for today won’t let us rest there.  The lesson from Acts leaps ahead past Pentecost while the gospel pulls us back to the night before Jesus was crucified to hear more of what Jesus had to say to his disciples that night.

In the gospel, Jesus is preparing them for what is to come; how they are to continue his work after his crucifixion; after his resurrection; after his ascension; after the coming of the Holy Spirit.  He can tell them, but he knows they can’t possibly comprehend what he’s teaching them.  Not yet.  So he reminds them again and again.  “Keep my commandments.  Abide in my love and I will abide in you.  Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know you are my disciples if you love one another.”

Last week, we talked about abiding.  I suggested that we think of  “abide” as meaning “deeply home.”  Jesus knows that if his disciples are deeply home in him and in his love, they can face anything the world will confront them with.  If they abide in him, they can go wherever the Holy Spirit leads them; they can do whatever the Holy Spirit asks of them.  That’s Resurrection Life.

In Resurrection Life, God does a new thing and invites us into it.  God initiates, the Holy Spirit goes before us; is already there and we are invited to participate – to act.

Last week and today, we hear two examples of this in our lessons from the Acts of the Apostles.

Last week, we heard about an Ethiopian eunuch.  He has been to Jerusalem to worship and is returning by chariot where we find him reading from the book of the prophet, Isaiah. The Ethiopian isn’t identified as a gentile, so he is probably a Jew of the diaspora.  But as a eunuch, he would be excluded from the Temple. An angel of the Lord tells Philip to go to him.  He joins him in the chariot and helps him understand what he’s reading and tells him about Jesus.  He proclaims the gospel to him.  When they happen upon a pond, the eunuch asks Philip, “Here is water, what is to prevent me from being baptized?”  Philip immediately responds.  They go down into the water and he baptizes him.

God does a new thing, breaking down old barriers, and invites Philip to participate.

Today, we come in at the end of a story, so let me fill in some details.
Cornelius is a centurion in the Roman army, stationed in Caesarea.  He is what is known as a “God-fearer.”  He has not converted to Judaism, but he worships the God of the Jews and studies the scripture.  He is known for his devotion in prayer and his generosity in good works and gifts of charity.  He is seen as a righteous man, but he is still a gentile.  While in prayer, he has a vision and an angel tells him to send for a man named Peter who is staying in Jaffa, a town nearby.

Meanwhile, Peter has a vision as well.  He sees a sheet with every kind of animal on it – both clean and unclean.  A voice tells him to kill and eat; but he responds that he has never allowed any meat from an unclean animal to pass his lips.  But the voice responds, “Do not call profane, that which I have made clean.”  This happens three times.  And then Cornelius’ servants arrive.  The Spirit tells Peter to go with them and the next day, they set out together with some of the other disciples from Jaffa.

When they arrive at Cornelius’ house, they find that he has gathered together his family and relations and close friends.  Peter addresses them and tells them the good news of Jesus Christ.  While he is still speaking, the Holy Spirit comes down on the people gathered and anoints them so they begin speaking in tongues and proclaiming the greatness of God.

Hold on!  This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be!  They’re gentiles.  They haven’t been instructed or circumcised or baptized with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  How can this be?

But Peter, abiding in Jesus and finally, fully understanding his vision realizes God is doing a new thing.  He is invited to participate, to baptize them and welcome them into the Body of Christ.

He asks, “Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people when they have already received the Holy Spirit?” And so he baptizes the whole household.  For the first time, gentiles are baptized.

God is doing a new thing. The boundaries of who is in and who is out are expanded.  Who is Peter to try to stand in the way of God?

God initiates and the Holy Spirit goes before them.  Peter is invited to participate, to act.

This is Resurrection Life.  There is no reason to think that God has stopped doing new things.  All through the Bible, we find God “doing a new thing.”  The question is, will we notice?  And How will we respond?

Look around, what signs do see that God is doing a new thing now?  This is especially important right now in the life of St. Luke’s; in this time of transition.  What new things is God doing in your midst?

What are you being invited into?  How will you respond?

Remember, whatever it is, God is already there.  The Holy Spirit empowers you.  Remember what Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you.”

Abide in Christ and pay attention.

God is doing a new thing.
You don’t want to miss your invitation.

Deeply Home in God

Preached on 3 May 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Tacoma
Fifth Sunday of Easter

Home.  What does that word bring to mind?  What makes a home more than just a place to eat, sleep, shower, and keep your stuff?

Now, I realize that for many people, that word has a lot of baggage.  Where they live, the place they call home may not inspire good feelings.  So let’s think, now about what you might consider your ideal home; and I’m not talking about the floor plan or the furnishings.

What would it be like?  I think of home as a place of safety, perhaps even a refuge from the stress and even dangers of the world.  It’s a place where you are loved, not judged or criticized; a place where you can be comfortable just being yourself.  A place where the people care for one another.  A place to pursue your dreams, your passions.  A place where you experience that peace that passes understanding.

This week, I heard someone define “Abiding” as being deeply home.  It is less about a place and more about a state of mind, a way of being, a condition of your soul.  It’s about being fully alive, fully free to know and to become the one whom God created you to be alongside your sisters and brothers in Christ who are also fully alive and fully free to become whom God created them to be – even while living in the wilderness of this crazy, broken world.

Today, we hear about identity and discipleship in the writings of John.   This is about what comes after “Alleluia, Christ is risen!  Now what?”

It’s about Resurrection life.

The gospel and the letter of John are both written by the same person –  most likely the apostle, John or his disciples.  They were written about the same time near the end of the first century.

In the gospel, we hear Jesus talking to his disciples on the last evening, the last hours before his arrest.  He uses the metaphor of a vine to talk about the relationship between him and those who would be his disciples, even after he is gone.  Comparing this relationship to the connection between the vine and the branch, he tells his disciples to “abide in me as I abide in you.”

Now think about that idea of abiding as being deeply home.  Imagine being deeply home in Christ and Jesus being deeply home within us.  This is about identity.  We find our identity at home in Christ.  Imagine God as the vinegrower caring for and nurturing us in that relationship and in our lives so that we will be fruitful.

When you think of our lives bearing fruit, what do you think of?  What would it look like for this community to bear good fruit?  Does it make you think of yet another task to add to your already too-full schedule, along with things like exercise or get more sleep?

If we stay with the vine metaphor, what if we were to think of the fruit of our lives as not something that we produce through our own action and will, but rather as evidence of a healthy vine?  I used to grow raspberries in my backyard.  Sometimes the berries were sweet and sometimes they were tart.  Then one day someone told me that the secret for sweet berries was to make sure the vines got plenty of water.

So, if we find we are producing tart fruit, the answer is not to try harder to produce sweet fruit on our own.  Remember, Jesus said the branch can produce nothing on its own without the vine.  Rather, perhaps we should attend to the vine.  Has it become dry and cracked?  Does it need more water?

Are we abiding in Jesus and making room for him to abide in us?  Is Jesus where we are deeply home?  Or do we just stop by to catch a quick shower and grab a bite to eat before heading out to our next activity?

Is he the one in whom we live and move and have our being?

In the first letter of John, the author systematically outlines what it means to walk in the light; to live as a child of God, and finally, in the passage we heard this morning, he reminds us that God is the source of love.  We love because God first loved us.  Those who love, abide in God and God abides in them.  There is that word, abiding again.  Love is the fruit and the vine and the water. And God is the source of that love.

Walking in the light, living as a child of God, loving God and loving our neighbors.  That’s what it is to be a disciple

Jesus is the vine, we are the branches.  God is the vinegrower.  God’s love is the fruit and the water, and the nutrients.

May we always be deeply home in Christ that the fruit of our lives may be as sweet as honey; as honey in the comb.