For the Life of the World

Text: John 6:51-58

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
 

Note: For the Life of the World

This chapter, likely, is a collection of teachings Jesus gave at the synagogue in Capernaum. I mention that because often it is easy to assume that the Gospels are written like chronological biographies. Instead, there was a lot more freedom for the Gospel authors to say something, to make a point about who Jesus is, through the arrangement of the story. Reading John 6, as we have been, is like drinking out of a firehose on the subject of Jesus as the bread of eternal life. This mattered to John; it is important in John’s understanding and transmission of who Jesus is and what it means to follow the way of Jesus. Tonight, I want to attempt to get to the heart of what John wants the readers of this Gospel to get.

 

You have all heard the phrase, “You are what you eat." That phrase was first written in the late 1800s by a materialist philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach, who believed that the material is what is. Period. None of this idealist, religious, speculation. Well, I’m going to butcher his point because “You are what you eat” has deeply profound implications that are both spiritual and material. You are what you partake in. 
 

The first people, as told through a poem in Genesis 1, were given the good, God-created world to partake in. God said to the humans God created at the end of the Genesis poem, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food. And it was so.” Everything that has the breath of life in it is given the created earth itself to eat, to partake in. The breath of life is sustained by partaking in God’s creation.
 

The Jewish listeners to Jesus’ “invitation”—to put it politely—to eat his flesh and drink his blood was the reasonable question, “How? How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” But Jesus wasn’t speaking literally—he was speaking truthfully, but a truth that necessitated metaphor. So “How” wasn’t the most pressing question, but rather “what?” What is the flesh of Jesus? What is the that which is given for the life of the world? What is the life of the world? What is the bread of eternal life? If we know what, then we can know how. 

 

The Gospel writer, John, reworked the Genesis poem at the start of his Gospel narrative. He saw the story of Jesus as beginning in the very beginning. The very life of the world involved Jesus. John writes, “Through him (the Word that would become flesh as the human being, Jesus), all things were made. In him was life, and that was life was the light of humankind.” Through this Word, who would become flesh in Jesus, was life, all life was made through him.
What is the bread of eternal life?
Jesus.

What is it that is given for the life of the world?
The life of Jesus.

What is the life of the world?
Jesus.

Who is Jesus?
Life.

 

The invitation Jesus gives is so often by Christian relegated to communion. Because it’s so weird, and relegating it to a controlled ritual is safer. But Jesus is using this metaphor of the bread of life to get at something so much bigger. It is the invitation to partake in life itself. In what Jesus later in John calls, “Life to the full” or “Abundant life.” The life of the world, the animating force of creation, the fullness of human life is the life of Jesus. Judaism at this time involved sacrifices. The point of the sacrifice was not the flesh and blood of the animal on an altar. The point was what flesh and blood pointed to—life. The sacrifice was about giving life to God, there were many reasons for that, but it gave life back to the creator of life. Jesus points to his own flesh and blood, and the invitation is to accept God giving life to us. 

 

So, as the Jewish people asked in John’s Gospel, how? How do you partake in the life of Jesus? “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” Remain, abide. When you partake in the life of Jesus, you do it by abiding in Christ. We partake, ingest, embody the life of Jesus. We abide by living into, by living the Way of Jesus. We do this spiritually, and we do this tangibly. We abide in prayer and by resting in God’s love. We abide by loving our neighbors, by sharing meals, sometimes by flipping tables, by seeking God’s Kingdom and justice and peace on earth, by laying down our privilege to love others, by resting, by cultivating friendships. We abide in the life of Jesus. We live in Jesus. That is life that not even death was able to overcome. 

That is what it means to partake in the bread of heaven. We are nourished and sustained by the life of Jesus lived out for the sake of the world—that world includes us. 

Sunday Note: I Wait for the Lord

Text: Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in God's word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with God is full redemption.
The Lord Godself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
 


Note


When I worked at a summer camp, I had a supervisor-- the Director of Adventure (best. title. ever.)-- who sang a surprisingly upbeat and moving version of this Psalm turned Christian hymn. A moodier version can be found HERE.

From the depths of woe I raise to Thee
The voice of lamentation; 
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication; 
If Thou iniquities dost mark, 
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
Oh who could stand before Thee?


I am at my core an optimist. I often have a difficult time fully embracing angst, woe, lament, and grief. Yet, a song (and a psalm) beginning with crying out from the depths resonates with something deep in my soul. Whether for a moment, in a particular circumstance or in a more persistent state, we all experience the depths of woe. We experience depths of woe of our own creation, dug with our own hand; depths of woe dug out by the sins or apathy of others; depths of woe that we fall into in the course of our human journey. We fall. Again and again we fall.

The depths that we dig on our own are perhaps the most difficult to emerge out of. Because, though we may be strong enough to power through the digging, once we are in the depths we are too weak, too weary to pull ourselves out.

Julian of Norwich envisioned the Fall-- the origin of humanity's capacity for sin and harm-- as this kind of a fall. A falling into a pit. A fall that injures and weakens us. She does not seem to be as concerned with where the ditch came from-- whether dug by us, dug by others, there by the forces of nature-- because her attention is on the One who rescues the fallen. Jesus, the Savior, who comes into the ditch and pulls us out.

This is a beautiful image and True on a grand scale, the macro story of God's love, grace, and redemption for the children of humanity God created. And it is in this hope that the Psalmist points to-- not yet knowing Jesus, yet trusting in the Lord's grace to redeem God's people, and through them the entire world. But that is not the bulk of this poem, this hymn. 

What do we do in the depths, in the woe, in the shame, in the lament, in the grief?

As the Psalmist cries out, he is undergirded by the faithfulness of the Lord. God hears. God is attentive. God is merciful. God forgives. God empowers to service. God is unfailing in love. God redeems.

The Psalmist, in crying out for God, in the very act of demanding God to listen, to show mercy, to forgive, to love, practices trust in the very God who is all of those things. The depths of woe, the lament becomes a song of hope and praise in the crying out and the waiting. The depths become a place of grace, a crucible of trust and hope. 

In another Psalm, it is written, "Even if I make my bed in Sheol (the place of the dead, what in the New Testament is transformed in some places to hell), there You are." Even in the depths of our own making God's presence is there. Even in the hells we chose to be in are places of God's grace.

This is a hard word, as it is much easier to assume the depths to be a place of godlessness, a place to be avoided at all costs, a place to pull people out of as quickly as possible.

Yet, from the depths of woe, we must wait. We do not only learn to "live alone by mercy," as the song goes, but we actually live alone by mercy. We are not afforded the distance to learn grace, learn trust, consider lament. We can only trust, hope, and cry out.

In the depths, I wait for the Lord. And this, too, is grace.

Sermon: The Love that changes the meaning of love

Text: 1 John 4:7-21

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed God’s love among us: God sent God’s one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent God’s Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and God’s love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in God and God in us: God has given us of God’s Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because God first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And God has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

 

The Love that changes the meaning of love


I’m going to guess that agape is the most tattooed Greek word on the bodies of non-Greek speakers. No shame— I have Hebrew tattooed on my wrist that I got long before I actually learned to read it. It’s for good reason that agape is found on wrists and forearms and ankles everywhere in America. It is a powerful word. At it’s core, it means love. Outside of the New Testament, though, this word for love wasn’t all that popular. And it did not have the particular meaning that Christians ascribe to it. If you read The Four Loves by CS Lewis or google agape and click on the wikipedia page—which exists—you’ll learn that agape means unconditional, sacrificial love. It is God’s love for humanity through Christ. But prior to its use in letters like 1 John, agape was used sparingly in Greek writing, and was used as kind of an affection for something. Affection that wasn’t sexual. When something or someone was held in high regard or there was a preference based on virtue or morality. For example, if my husband Ed lived in Greek antiquity and ice hockey existed there, he probably would have said, “I agape hockey because it is morally and virtuously the best sport.” Many of us would have disagreed. And that’s not quite the self-sacrificing, unconditional, highest love that agape became.

Christians transformed the meaning of agape by using it to describe a love that language did not yet have the capacity to describe. We read this morning 1 John chapter 4 versus 7-21: 15 verses. Agape is used 29 times in 15 verses. The least used word for love is used excessively here. What’s happening here is that the writer(s) of 1 John is tripping over themselves to describe the invitation and call and movement of God’s love. I read awhile back an earlier draft of Scott’s— a former professor and current friend and mentor of mine—manuscript. And there was a word in it used differently than I am used to reading it. It took on a different meaning than I attribute to it. And the first time it was used, I think there was a footnote explaining what it meant and why it was being used that way. But for a long while as I read, I would stumble every time this word appeared. But eventually, seeing it again and again in context, I began to re-define it in my mind. I began to create the capacity in myself to understand not just a word used differently, but the new concept that it pointed to.

This was the challenge of the church in the first and second centuries. Agape is not the only Greek word Christians transformed— “ekkelsia” (what we now call church), “gospel” were words that had their meanings changed after Jesus. The meaning of love need to be transformed in light of Jesus. The gods were not self-sacrificing for humans. Humans sacrificed for the gods. And love was from duty, from loyalty, from preference, from, perhaps morality and virtue. It was conditional.

But when you read of love 29 times in 15 verses, you start to get a glimpse of what is meant by it. You start to be formed into a new understanding of love just by having the words wash over you. So what is this love that changed the meaning of love…


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Immediately preceding our Scripture reading this morning, the writer of this letter talks about discerning and testing the spirits. How can you tell when something is from God? How can you tell when someone is speaking truth? How can you tell the difference between a prophet and false prophet? This was a common anxiety for the apostles and the first generations of church leaders. These communities of Jesus followers, who had heard the stories of Jesus, who had passed down the teachings of particular apostles, who did not yet have a New Testament canon, and there were essential things itinerate preachers and teachers and people claiming to be prophets disagreed on. Paul— whose letters make up most of the New Testament—was really concerned about this. And for good, theological and practical reasons. He’d go to a place, proclaim the story of the Gospel, tell those who were not Jewish that they, too, were grafted in and part of the community of God through Jesus Christ. As they were. No conversion to Judaism, including circumcision, necessary. They, like Jewish followers of Jesus, were saved by grace, by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Then someone else would roll through and tell them that they were not included unless they got circumcised. Now— if you are a grown, Gentile man, you might want to know who is right. You want to follow Jesus and be part of Christian community, but does that mean getting baptized or getting circumcised? Essential question to answer.

At this later date, when this letter was written, we don’t know exactly what the debate was about false prophets versus real ones. It seems there were teachers coming through telling people that Jesus was not fully human, fully God, or was for a time, but the God-part got out of there during the suffering of the cross, some separated flesh and spirit so much as to call the flesh evil, others just less-than the spiritual, true self. Whatever the particular teaching the anxiety was still there. This question for early Christians of how do we know when it’s God’s Spirit or something else continued to be asked. 

If you have followed Jesus, if you have wrestled with Scripture as holy text, if you have practiced prayer and discernment, you have probably asked this question: How do I know when it’s God? How do I know when it’s the Spirit’s movement? The answer given in 1 John is, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” What a weird and seemingly unhelpful answer. This discussion of testing the spirits and listening to God’s Spirit, who acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh leads into our passage today about love. And I think they are connected.

They are connected because at the heart of this entire chapter is: INCARNATION.


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I want to turn to John’s Gospel—and the story and teachings that seem to have most influenced the community responsible for this letter—the beginning of chapter 1…skipping around a bit

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world…

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.


The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Jesus— wholly God, wholly human; spirit and flesh united—that’s incarnation. That’s the measurement of God’s spirit speaking. That’s the crux of agape love. The love of John’s letter is an incarnate love. A love empowered by the Spirit and embodied. A love that unites spirit and flesh. A love that is from and of God, yet a love we cannot know without seeing it and experiencing it and participating in it with real, embodied people. John, with the one word agape, tears down the the dichotomy of mystic and active; of contemplative and justice-seeking; of personal and social faith. The love of God, John says in this letter, is made complete in us if we love one another. God’s love is not complete without embodiment—embodiment in us.

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The love that we are invited to and called to this morning has the potential to make us all a bit uncomfortable. In the dichotomies that agape love breaks down, I find myself most comfortable with the active, justice-seeking, social faith expression of agape love. Love isn’t love unless its a verb. I like the way the NIV translation says that “God lives in us” and “Whoever lives in love lives in God;” it is it is movement and action oriented. And at this time, that speaks profoundly to me. And we need it. We are called to it. We cannot know God’s love without actively loving our neighbors. 

And the discomfort for me is that the contemplative, the personal, and the mystic is essential to this love. Another way to translate the “lives” word I like, is abide. God abides in us; whoever abides in love, abides in God. A stillness. A rooting.

Others of you may find your comfort in the mystic, personal, contemplative love. Your comfort may be in love, not so much as an active, pushy verb, but as a noun, a state of being. Perhaps you, too, see the profound need for this in this time and place. A profound need for us to know deeply our belovedness. To be rooted and still. Because God is love and God first loved us. 

And the discomfort for you will be the active, the justice-seeking, the social. Because whoever lives, moves, tries and fails, walks alongside their siblings in the streets, shows up, lives in God and God in them.

On top of discomfort, there is a cost required by agape love. When we allow Jesus of Nazareth to define this incarnate love, it is clear there is a cost. John writes, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent God’s Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Jesus’ life and ministry was an embodiment of agape love. Spirit and flesh unified. Love incarnate. And the powers and principalities— political, religious, economic, along with a mob, and human sin and corruption, and what the Bible calls Satan, the spirit of accusation—in a word: sin—collective and individual— killed him. Communal embodied fear killed the embodiment of complete love. Human and divine, flesh and spirit— love hung on a cross. That is the pinnacle of love and the pinnacle of love’s cost. We are not called by God to bear guilt, to bear shame, to bear the sin of the world— Jesus has freed us from that in his death and resurrection.

But we are freed to live in the same embodied, agape love as Jesus. And that means to come up against these same systems and communal sins, to come up against this embodied fear, to come up against those things in ourselves, in others, and in the world. To love incarnationally will cost us our pride, as we stumble and ask for forgiveness, will cost us our self-righteousness as we forgive, will cost us our time, our resources, our tribal identity, as we love across enemy lines. It will cost us our vengeance; it will cost us our preferences; it will cost us privileged comfort if we have it.

But in the discomfort and the cost, there is this love that is God. There is unity with God. There is the force that is reconciling all things to God in Christ. There is the love that overcomes sin and death. There is the love that will outlast everything. It is the love that you are already caught up in, and are now invited and called to live and abide in.

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I know for being a sermon on embodied love, this has been a bit heady. But I hope that you’ll allow it to sink down into your bones. To help that along the way, I reached back to a sermon Martin Luther King, Jr preached on loving your enemies. Because this gives sight of the cost and the ultimate liberation of agape love. The movement lead by Martin Luther King, Jr. gives us an example of what this complete agape love looks like in context.

Let me lay bare the undergirding concern of this sermon: I am convinced that right now we need Spirit-empowered, embodied love. And for far too long, especially in whiter, more privileged churches and writing and speaking, there have been two paths laid out. To be firmly rooted in God’s love for you, in the sacrifice of Jesus, and in individual devotion to Jesus’ teachings and way in your life is incomplete agape love. To be on the streets marching side-by-side with our siblings in Christ, to embody love to our neighbors in need, to work for justice and healing in our world is incomplete agape love. Both paths are forged with love, both are of God, both are good— but they are incomplete.

Hear these words from Martin Luther King, Jr. on what agape love of enemy looks like:

To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

That is love that drives out fear. That is agape love, empowered by the Holy Spirit, deeply rooted in the beloved child of God, and embodied in the world. This agape love is not reserved for spiritual giants or social movement leaders— it is for and with and in you.

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The love we need and are called to at this time— in a fear-filled time, a time of great need, a time of falsehood and false prophets— is the same love that these early Christians were called to by John centuries ago. It is the same love that Martin Luther King, Jr. preached. It is agape love. It is the love incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. It is the powerful love that lives and abides in you and in us. The love that proclaims good news to the poor, that sets prisoners free, that gives sight to the blind, that stands with the oppressed, that cancels debts. The love that heals, that turns over tables, that forgives, that overcomes sin and death is in your and in us.

That is the call on us today: To be deeply rooted in agape love and boldly active in agape love.

May it be so. Amen.

 

Sunday Note: Practicing Compassion

Text: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

...

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
 

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Note: Practicing Compassion


Jesus’ disciples return from their journeys to different towns, where they proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was near and that the people should repent, healed the sick, and casted out demons. They are excited to tell the amazing stories of their missions to Jesus, and they are exhausted. Jesus, presumably, has continued his work of preaching, teaching, and healing, and he, too, is in need of rest. 

There are necessary, healthy rhythms that we must honor or we will feel it in our bodies, our minds, and our souls. One of the most important of these rhythms is work and rest. When we only work, and go past our capacity to do all of the things, we feel it. We get sick, we can’t sleep well, we change our diets, we can’t focus, we can’t think clearly, we are irritable, we feel it further in our bones, we lack connection with the Divine, we lack deep connection with others— our bodies and minds and souls must have rest. Real rest. A quiet space. Equal and opposite reactions occur when we don’t have meaningful work. Not necessarily a job or career or school in our context, but work, purpose, a doing, a happening— something that moves us from being still, quiet in ourselves to action and connection in the world. 

This rhythm of work and rest for Jesus and his disciples is interrupted in this week’s lectionary text. If you are a parent, you know this feeling. You just need some sleep, but your child wakes. If you leave your email notifications on, you likely know this feeling. You sit in the quiet, pause for a moment, and *ding* an email. You’re body is trained to respond. There are a thousand ways we experience these moments— we sit for a minute, we start to read, we go for a walk, we go on vacation— and whether it is the external need of others or the internal inability to quiet down, we are interrupted by work, by purpose, by doing.

Jesus’ response is unpopular in our current context. He and his disciples are on their way to be by themselves, to rest in a quiet, solitary place, for just a moment to be away from the crowds and away from their work. But people see them traveling to this remote place, and they run to meet them. A crowd gathers, work shows up. Jesus has compassion on the crowd, and he goes back to work. It is, honestly, difficult for me to write about because it pushes against what I have been told— guard your rest, practice Sabbath, prioritize self-care. If you believe these things, as well, please do not stop reading. I do not believe this text is to say we ought not rest, but it reorients our rest by placing in front of us the question: Why do we rest? It reorients our practice of rest to be in line with Jesus’ way of compassion.

Practicing rest and rhythms of work and Sabbath is for the sake of compassion. Compassion requires that we are fully present to another person, that we are fully present to a situation, to a people. Rest gives us the energy for this, and, perhaps more importantly, it is the practice of compassion to ourselves. It is the practice of being fully present to self. It is a practice of loving ourselves. It is a practice of loving God, whose image we bear. Rest is a practice of compassion for the sake of compassion.It primes us to be present to the needs and the person and the situations of others. 

And here is where it gets tricky. Sometimes our rhythm of rest will be interrupted by the needs, the situations, and the presence of others. Sometimes our rhythms— our good, thoughtful, life-giving plans— will be thrown out of whack by other people’s issues. Likely, you have experienced some version of this in the past week. And Jesus reminds his disciples and us through his reaction to this crowd that rhythms and practices and plans are for the sake of compassion. They cease to be good once they legalistically keep us from loving others. This is why Jesus chose to heal on the Sabbath, scandalizing the religious elites.

Practice rest. Practice self-care. Practice Sabbath. Know your limits. But also, know that the compassion you cultivate for yourself is meant to expand outward to others. Do not let your rhythms and practices and plans and boundaries harden your heart. Let them be entry points into the love of God, which is co-suffering, sacrificial, compassionate love.

Jesus and his disciples rested after they dismissed the crowds later in the day. Their work and their rest was all for the sake of compassion. May we go and do likewise.

Amen.

Sunday Note: The Gospel According to Moana

Text: Mark 6:1-13

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

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Note


Yesterday, I watched Moana again. I have watched Moana more times than I can count. I now know every word to every song, a significant amount of the dialogue, and exactly when Junia (my 3 year old daughter) will need her hand held when the "lava monster" appears (she doesn't 100% get the movie). Luckily, my daughter's two favorite movies-- Moana and Coco-- are really great. It's not a terrible task to watch them again and again while drawing pictures and eating cereal on Saturday mornings. 

But yesterday, as I watched Moana, I had this story of Jesus offending those in his hometown in the back of my mind, "A prophet is not without honor," he says, "except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home." The tension created in Moana is a classic hero's journey-- the journey of leaving home to pursue an often misunderstood greater calling. And in many stories of the hero's journey, the misunderstanding of those back home is in part due to the hero seeming unqualified and not up for the task. The other part of the misunderstanding is a disbelief that anything could be worth pursuing outside of the hero's home.

Moana leaves her island in search of Maui to return the heart of Te Fiti and stop the spreading darkness (I won't give spoilers as to how this all shakes out). But her people do not go beyond the reef that encircles their island. Her father, the chief, has created this blanket rule out of his fear for the safety of those on the island. But Moana, from the time she is young, wants to explore further out in the sea.

The tension builds on the island as we watch Moana grow and wrestle with external expectations vs her desires in the first act of the movie, but the story doesn't really start until she leaves her home.

This likely goes without saying, but Jesus and Moana are not exactly alike. However, Jesus deals with this tension as he teaches in his hometown of Nazareth. The people of his town ask, "Where did this man get these things? What's the wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?" And it seems at first as if the people are just amazed...amazed of what Jesus, who they have known or known of from a young age, has become in his adulthood. Amazed at his wisdom and his teachings. Amazed at his stories of his healing. But the questions take a turn from wonder and amazement...

Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?

And they took offense at him.

Jesus was the son of a carpenter. Jesus was born and raised under oppressive conditions in a town that was impoverished and viewed as a place where only the lowest of the low lived, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip is asked by Nathaniel when he hears about Jesus. And Jesus was not just born in a place where people were assumed to not amount to much-- he was born out of wedlock in this place. "Isn't this Mary's son?" is a loaded judgment, not an honest question. This is not Joseph's son, a standard way to ask in a patriarchal society-- he is Mary's, born a bastard child.

The people of Nazareth had internalized the common narrative about Nazareth. And what is more offensive than a man, who is not the best a group has to offer, but one of the most embarrassing, walking around teaching and acting as if he is a prophet-- a person chosen by God to speak authoritatively to God's people. Even if his words wise and he is healing people and he is speaking with authority, he cannot be called to something greater-- nothing good comes from Nazareth, especially not Mary's son.

Only a few chapters earlier in Mark's telling of the Gospel, Jesus' family went to try to take him home because they thought he was out of his mind. Crowds were listening to him, and he was traveling from town to town claiming that the Kingdom of God was near, calling disciples to follow him as if he was a trained rabbi, performing healings, and casting out demons. His family feared he had lost it. Who did Jesus think he was to do these things?

Jesus knew he was the Son of God. Jesus knew his purpose was to bring about and proclaim the presence of God's Kingdom. Jesus knew he was beloved by God, sent as the Messiah to the people who God loved and would save from their sin.

God did not choose to be present in the flesh to humanity by being born into a position of power, by gaining the proper permission and credentials to teach, or by playing by the rules of respectability-- God choose to be present in the flesh to humanity through Jesus, a child conceived out of wedlock to parents who would flee to Egypt for their safety then return to the impoverished, oppressed, looked-down-upon region of Nazareth. 

There are several points in Moana when she is questioned (or questions herself) on her worthiness for the task to which she has been called. She is a young woman "self taught" in sailing, she grew up in a place that did not allow her to explore past the reef...as Maui angrily says at one point, "We're here because the ocean told you, you're special and you believe it."

But the unqualified, the looked down upon, the dishonored are exactly the ones that God has chosen to work through, and ultimately to be born into as human being, Jesus of Nazareth.

There are two questions this story forces us to confront:

Can we listen and learn and be healed by those to whom we take offense? Can we hear those who are not of the right background, who do not speak in a way that we like, those whose very presence challenges the way we live and identify?

And do we have the courage to leave behind the expectations placed upon us when God calls us out? Do we have the courage to leave the comforts of our homes-- be it our theological, political, cultural, geographical, economic, racial comfort zones-- to journey with God? Do we have the courage to return changed to our people and risk rejection?

Sunday Note: What is the Kingdom of God Like?

Text

Mark 4:26-34

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

 

Note

Jesus spoke more about the kingdom of God than about anything else. Often this gets confused with more modern concepts of “heaven.” But this “kingdom” was never about the afterlife. In the words of NT Wright, noted New Testament scholar, “It is about the establishment of the rule of heaven, in others words, the rule of God here on earth.” In my words, it’s about the way of God, the way of heaven here on earth. It’s about relationships, families, communities, policies, economies, governments, borders, individual hearts and global relations mirroring God’s way, God’s character, God’s very being. And that begins on earth and extends into eternity—in New-Testament-speak, it begins in this age and extends into the age to come.

It is a new social ordering that mirrors the way of God from the bottom-up, individual to communal, grassroots to highest office. Where the least are first; where the hungry are fed; where the thirsty find drink; where the naked are clothed; where prisoners are set free; where the oppressed are unchained; where the poor are given good news. It is the Kin-dom of God, the Commonwealth of God, the Economy of God.

Jesus asks, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like?” To what can this Commonwealth, Kin-dom of God be compared that we already have, that we already can experience?

It is like a man scattering seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.

It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.


The kingdom of God is naturally, organically growing under our noses.Planted and wanted (as grain) or unwanted and invasive (as mustard plants) God’s kingdom is here and growing. Will we take notice? Will we reap the harvest of what God is doing in the world? Will we find shade and rest and a home in it like the birds?

It is much easier to see the places where the kingdom of God is pushed back, where this harvest is being burned, where this mustard plant is being cut down. It is easy to see where our relationships, families, communities, and inner turmoil are not mirroring the way of God, shown through Jesus. It is easy—sometimes too easy—to see where our policies, economies, and governments are not mirroring God’s commonwealth.

The Kingdom of God is both something intentionally seeded and an invasive species. In barren places, we are called to plant the seeds again and again then wait for the harvest. And even as we wait and rest and wonder if the planting make any difference at all—God is at work growing the harvest.

And we are called to pay attention, to notice when God’s Kingdom is sprouting in unwelcomed places. In the midst of all that is un-Christ-like, Jesus invites us to take notice of the invasive species of God’s Kingdom. And maybe throw some extra water and light on it.

Plant, cultivate, and notice the Christ-like—in yourself, in your closest community, and in our larger systems. Do not only kick back darkness or rage against injustice-- Create and lean into the light, the good, the beautiful, the just. And rest **do not miss this** rest, be at peace, perch in the shade in kingdom places. Because it is God that makes the kingdom grow, and it is God who will bring it to fruition. Where you are--saint and sinner--and where the world is--kingdom of God and kingdom of tyrants--God is present and at work.

So, what shall you say the kingdom of God is like?

Sunday Note: Breaking the Sabbath

Text for Today

Mark 2:23-3:6
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

 

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Breaking the Sabbath

To the modern reader, this Scripture passage may seem unremarkable or, perhaps, a bit perplexing. What's the big deal? Why does it matter that Jesus' disciples picked a few heads of grain while walking on a Saturday afternoon or that Jesus healed a person's hand after sundown on a Friday? Other than the miraculous healing, these acts of rebellion seem mundane. How in the world does this text end, "Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus"?

Violating the Sabbath law was scandalous-- for both religious and political reasons. In the Hebrew Bible, the command to keep the Sabbath day holy contains the longest explanation of the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God:

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but God rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Exodus 20:8-11)

Keep the Sabbath holy because it is intricately connected to understanding and honoring who God is and how God created. Even those who are not Hebrews must keep the Sabbath if they are residing among Hebrews. In Deuteronomy, the author gives a different explanation for this commandment:

"Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." (Deuteronomy 5:15)

The Sabbath is a practice rooted in the defining, relational act between God and God's people-- God freed you from slavery, so you must honor God by resting.

There is such beauty to this command. A decree to rest. A command to be freed from work. A demand to order our creativity in the image of our God.

In 2014, Walter Brueggemann published a book called, Sabbath as Resistance, urging the practice of Sabbath as a prophetic act to a workaholic, consumerist, performance-driven culture. Sabbath as a life giving force that can reshape a person, community, or even society to be freer and more like our loving, creative God.

But, as we read in Mark today, somewhere around 30AD, the Sabbath was clearly not for the sake of more freedom or remembering the God who brought God's people out of slavery or imaging the Creator, who rested. Sabbath was not about honoring the creative life giving God, rather, it was about making sure you followed the code-- or else. This legalism had a long legacy. In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Numbers records a man, who was ordered by Moses to be stoned to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15).

In Mark's Gospel we see Jesus, the "exact imprint of God's nature," as the author of Hebrews writes, challenging a law given to Moses ostensibly by God, 

Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to kill?

From the perspective of the religious and Jewish political leaders, this rabbi questioned God's law, from which their authority is derived. This is a threat to their power, to their beliefs, to their religious and political norms, to their laws, and, even to their God.

Yet, from the perspective of the Christian Scriptures, Jesus is not some rabbi challenging God. Jesus is God. So what does it mean for God, who commanded the Sabbath to advocate breaking it?

The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.

Laws, codes, practices-- the way we live in community with God and others-- are not the end, but the means. The means matter, but the end dictates them. The end-- love of God and love of neighbor, as Jesus summarizes all the commands of God-- must always dictate the means.

In practicing piety, are we loving God and our neighbors? In following the laws of our land, are we loving God and our neighbors? In the way we live among our communities, are we loving God and our neighbors? In the moral codes and norms of our cultures, are we loving God and our neighbors?

Sabbath was always meant to be a prophetic, life-giving, creative practice to love God and neighbor. As soon as it was not that, as soon as the answer to Jesus' question, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath?" defaulted from doing good and saving a life, it was time to let the practice go. It was time to be prophetic, life-giving, and creative through resisting the Sabbath.

In our time, there are laws, moral codes, and religious practices that do not do good and do not save lives. There are laws, moral codes, and religious practices that-- even if commanded in Scripture-- break the ultimate command to love God and neighbor.

What practices might you need to let go for the sake of love, goodness, and life? What laws and codes might you be called to resist, or even break, for the sake of love, goodness, and life?

May you be freed to follow Jesus. May you be freed to love God and your neighbor. May you be freed to live by the grace of love, goodness, and life over any law.
Amen.

Sunday Note: Seeing Anew

We got a little behind in posting our Sunday Notes to the blog. This Note is from May 27th.

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Text for Today : Trinity Sunday

John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

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Seeing Anew

One could describe John 3:1-17 as the gospel reading with verses most likely to be plastered on billboards.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.”

 “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” 

These verses are powerful and beautiful, but very truly these billboards feel out of touch. When these words are written on billboards, they appear as acts of desperation. Its as if Christians are shouting along highways hoping someone speeding by may hear these words and change their entire perspective on life. Putting these words on billboards and church signs feels distant from the intentional and powerful Spirit of God present at Pentecost giving birth to the church. The Spirit that comes to break down walls of division and create space for unity among all people.

The Christian community has a history of extracting these token verses from the story of Nicodemus without much thought to the larger narrative. Thomas Long writes that the story of Nicodemus is not a “crisis of God brooding in heaven waiting on us to make a choice, withholding a verdict on our souls.” Rather, it is a crisis of understanding the message of Jesus. It is a crisis of understanding what it means to be a child of God and what it means to be able to participate in the kingdom of God.

There is so much more to the story. Who was Nicodemus? What does it mean to be born from above or born a new?

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, Israel’s highest legislative and judicial body. He was the most renowned teacher of the Law and Torah of his day. He visits Jesus in the middle of the night and shows respect to Jesus because of his signs and miracles. 

However, Jesus is not impressed. Instead of focusing on the miracles, Jesus shares with Nicodemus that no one can see God’s kingdom without first being born again. Unfortunately, Nicodemus takes this information quite literally and tries to understand the biology of being born again in our mother’s womb. Not quite what Jesus was going for…

In ancient Palestine, birth determined a lot about a person’s life. It determined their social status, inheritance rights, and occupational opportunities. Being born again held potential to drastically change a person’s situation in life.

Nicodemus was a man of status and wealth. He was born Jewish, which meant he was born into the inheritance of the kingdom of God. When Jesus states that all must be born anew, it was a challenge to Nicodemus to expand his understanding of the kingdom of God. It was a challenge to see that all have access to God’s inheritance. Those who believe they have sole ownership must be prepared to see anew. To see that Jews and Gentiles a like are called to be daughters and sons of God. 

No one can experience, encounter, and participate in the kingdom without seeing anew. Nicodemus is focused on the miracles. He is focused on the heavenly things without understanding the earthly things. 

Jesus calls for us to be rooted in the abundance of this earth. For God so loved the world (the actual world, the whole world), that God sent Jesus to dwell in human form among us, that we might have union with God and that peace may fill the earth. The message is not about escaping this world, but extending peace to this world. 

This is good news. It is so good that we might want to plaster this message on billboards, but we need to remember that Jesus did not focus on the miracles and signs (pun most definitely intended). He focused on the message. A message grounded in relationship and embodied in extending peace to others. For God so loved this world. We do not have to fear and we do not need to act of desperation for God does not abandon the world that God loves. 

I have hope that kingdom of God is more than billboards. Our society is somewhat obsessed with posting our positions on billboards without the desire to be in relationship or to understand others points of view. This passage challenges Nicodemus, challenges the present day church, to see anew. Are we willing to expand our vision? Are we willing to engage the world and extend God’s peace?

Sunday Note: The Whirlwind and Fire

We got a little behind posting these to the blog. This Sunday Note is from May 20th.

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Text for Today : Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

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The Whirlwind & Fire

Today the Church around the world will celebrate the day of Pentecost. In our text from the book of Acts, the followers of Jesus waited in Jerusalem, gathered like thousands of other Jews from the diaspora for the festival of Shavuot, called Pentecost in Greek. It is the festival of the wheat harvest and a commemoration of the Hebrews receiving the Law (the Torah) from God.

For the Church, Pentecost now commemorates and celebrates this story in Acts-- the day the Holy Spirit rested upon the followers of Jesus. It is the day that God again encountered the people, but this time with Spirit rather than Law.

So this day is a celebration of God's Spirit resting upon and dwell within ordinary people. It is a day that remembers the way that God's Spirit translates the way of salvation and the promises of God across language and culture. It is a day that recognizes the presence and power of God's Spirit still at work in the world and in us.

Yet, this day in 2018 is a day of where we are mourning for young lives cut short this week during a school shooting in Texas. This is a day of remembering lives lost in Gaza this past week. For many, it is a day in the midst of family strife, of struggling to make ends meet, of fighting sickness, of walking alongside family, friends, and neighbors who are suffering. It is a day that we may wonder if the presence and power of God's Spirit is still at work in the world and in us.

The Holy Spirit often has the reputation of being gentle, flying under the radar, and working out circumstances in particular ways. And there is some truth there-- the Spirit manifests in the Scriptures as wind, as breath, as a dove. The Spirit seems to set up circumstances to inhibit Paul from going certain places. The Spirit hardens and softens hearts.

But here, in this Pentecost story, we are gifted with the Spirit as whirlwind and fire. Spirit that is poured out powerfully. Spirit that causes a commotion, that propels the people to proclaim loudly the work of God-- so much so that some mistake the Spirit's work for drunkenness. Spirit that speaks truth across divides.

This Spirit of whirlwind and fire is the same Spirit that hovered over the darkened chaos at the emergence of creation. It is the same Spirit that Jesus spoke of as wind-- no one knowing where it comes from or where it will go. It is the same Spirit whose movement bears the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

It is the Spirit that causes sons and daughters to prophesy, youth to see visions, and elders to dream. It is the Spirit that created and creates-- around and in and through all people.

In our celebration, in our mourning, in our remembering, in our suffering, and in our joy, the Spirit's presence and power continue to create, making way for her fruit to be born in the world and in us.

I see today the Spirit's work in sons and daughters speaking prophetically to those in power, creating new possibilities. I see today the Spirit's work in young people seeing visions of what can and must be. I see today the Spirit's work in elders dreaming and scheming alongside those who are young. I see today the Spirit at work in translating across difference, in burning down the walls we have built up to separate us from each other, in saving us for the sake of one another.

The work of God's Spirit is not always quiet and gentle. And if you find yourself in a season of movement toward speaking hard truth, challenging power, envisioning new futures, tearing down walls, it may feel like going through the fire and whirlwind. 

Take heart-- God's Spirit is with you. God's Spirit is in the fire. God's Spirit is in the wind. And God's Spirit is always in the business of creating fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control-- that is where this fire and whirlwind will take us.

So today, may we get caught up in the movement of the Spirit-- prophesying truth, envisioning new ways of loving our neighbors, and dreaming how the Kingdom of God may come on earth.

Sunday Note: Where Is There Life?

Scripture

1 John 5:9-13
We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which God has given about God's Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made God out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about God's Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in God's Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.


Sunday Note: Where is there Life?

There is a story in the Gospel of John about a woman, who encounters Jesus at a well (John 4:1-26). This woman was Samaritan-- a religious and ethnic group, closely related to the Palestinian Jews, but despised for both religious and political reasons tracing back hundreds of years prior to when Jesus walked up to the town's well. In the heat of the day, this woman went to draw water, a purposeful decision to avoid the morning when most other women went to draw water. 

What follows in John's Gospel is the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in the New Testament. Jesus-- a Jewish man-- speaks to this Samaritan woman. A Samaritan. And a woman. And, as we quickly find out, a Samaritan woman, who has had five husbands and now lives with a man, who is not her husband. We'll come back to that. 

Jesus instigates this conversation by asking for water. And soon he offers the woman "living water." Water, of which he says, "whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." And when the woman asks for this water, Jesus' response is like a punch to the gut:
“Go, call your husband and come back.”

There has been much ink split over what sins this woman must have committed to be in the "no husband" circumstance she is in. She has had five husbands, and the man she is currently living with is not her husband. There is, though, no plausible explanation for a first-century Palestinian woman to be getting married five times because she's just a harlot. Likely, this woman was the one sinned against-- discarded again and again-- with little to no recourse.

That was her place of deepest wounding. That was her place of deepest shame. That was the pain and the shame that brought her to that well alone in the heat of the noonday sun. As Nadia Bolz-Weber points out:

When she says Give me this water so that I may not thirst he then goes straight for her wound. She says give me this living water and he asks about her husband.
He wasn’t avoiding the subject – he was avoiding the BS...
The Living water offered by Jesus Christ finds your lowest point. It flows to your original wound.


(You can read the full sermon here)

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John talks a lot about Jesus bringing, embodying, and offering life. Eternal life. Not life that starts in some disembodied ether-world after death, but literally life "from age to age", life that is "unending." Life that beginning here and now is abundant and will not end. 

John's community-- likely the authors of 1 John after his death-- were shaped deeply by this. The letters of John speak again and again about life. In fact, the very start of 1 John explains why they are writing: To "make their joy complete" by telling others about the Word of life, who was made manifest. They write to experience together eternal life-- beginning here and now-- in Jesus.

Our text today comes from the end of this letter, and the purpose is made clear again: And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in God's Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Another way to translate this: I write these things to you who trust in the Son of God so that you may experience the unending life that you have.

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How do can we experience the unending life that we have? What does this trust in Jesus look like?

The woman at the well may ask: What is your greatest wound? What is your greatest shame? What bs are you covering up with short-term fixes?

The unending life starts there. Because to experience unending life, means letting go of temporary life--temporary fixes, temporary hiddenness, temporary happiness to trust God's love shown to us in Jesus. To trust God's way of life shown to us in Jesus.

Too often followers of Jesus read of living water and abundant life and think it means we need to believe harder, to buck up, to bootstrap our way to joy, or just to hid our pain and woundedness under false smiles. That is the junk Jesus came to save us from.

Life begins in the healing of our wounds. Eternal, unending life is experienced only when we drop the facade, and trust in the love and goodness of God for us, as we are.

Where there is trust in our belovedness; where there is authenticity; where there is Jesus-- God's love in flesh and blood-- there is unending, abundant, eternal life. 


Amen.