I think those of us who participate in the life of the Church often promote an unhealthy attitude about what God can accomplish. We underestimate God’s ability to work in our lives, in the work of the kingdom, in transformation. And so we set the bar accordingly. In other words, low.
We have a tendency, I believe, to think that we know how all this works. That people don’t change, or that our lives—collectively and individually—will not get better.
And that anemic view of God’s kingdom holds us back. It limits what we hope for. It makes us hamstrung.
That’s not to say that I am promoting a “health and wealth” understanding of the faith. I don’t think that God’s desire for Jesus’ disciples is to be wealthy. Jesus himself was homeless, so I just can’t buy into that belief that some Christians hold on to dearly (and more often than not they are getting that idea from charismatic leaders who have created a lifestyle that others desire—yes, I’m looking at you, Joel Osteen).
This past Sunday those of us reading from the Revised Common Lectionary heard two parables about the kingdom of heaven starting small—with a mustard seed or some yeast—and getting to be huge. Jesus was saying that the kingdom is like the energizer bunny, it just keeps growing. It may look like it’s insignificant or too small, but it doesn’t stop. And then it becomes a place where the birds can come and nest.
If he were living in the US today, Jesus might say the kingdom is like kudzu—that ivy like plant that has grown over tress, signs, even houses, in the southeast. It doesn’t stop once it grows. In fact, even though it lies dormant in the winter, in the spring it picks up where it left off. The kingdom is like that.
People in my denomination sometimes dole out statistics about the church’s impending doom. That somehow we can see the end of the church. Nope, Jesus says. While we like to sometimes latch on to scarcity and the frailty of God’s work, God pays no attention to what we think and keeps on working. God wants to use us in that work to be sure, but even if we don’t God’s work continues. The kingdom just keeps on growing.
So what view do you take of the kingdom of God? Do you think of it as a dying vine or a flourishing tree? Is your view of how God can work in our world—in your life—limited or is it hopeful that God will bring life?
I haven’t been posting my sermons online this summer not because I haven’t been preaching, but because I’ve been going it without a net. No text. Extemporaneously.
And that means no texts to post.
Which isn’t really fair, I know. Especially since summertime is upon us and some might not be making it to church and may want to hear snippets from the previous Sunday. So that’s what I’m doing today. Giving you the highlights, not the full sermon. Kinda like the Red Sox in 2. Except shorter.
This past Sunday the gospel text was from Matthew 13. Read it here.
Once upon a time there was a farmer, and one day he awoke to find his only horse had gotten out of the stable and run off. When the townspeople heard about they came to consul him, telling him how awful this was and that his horses fleeing must be so devastating.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
A few days later as he was out in his field, the farmer saw his horse racing back to the farm. With him were three other wild horses. When the townspeople heard, they came to him saying, “You must be so thrilled! How amazing that your horse came back and brought these three other horses with him! What a wonderful turn of events!”
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
That weekend the man’s only son attempted to tame one of those new horses, and he fell and broke his leg. Upon hearing the news, the townspeople rushed to him, “How dreadful!” they said. “You must be so horrified to have your son injured this way. Truly this is downright awful.”
“Maybe,” he said.
Later that week, civil authorities came into town looking to take all the young men of the town off to war. The farmer’s son was left behind due to his broken leg. When the townspeople hear, they came to him. “You must be overjoyed that your son is not going off to war! This is unbelievable news!”
Jesus tells us a parable this morning about a farmer and some wheat. The farmer has done everything right, he’s planted the seeds, and is giving them lots of water and nutrients. However, sometime during the planting season, an enemy has come in and sown the seeds of some weeds, and done so without anyone knowing about it.
Did you catch it in our reading? It wasn’t until the grain began to appear that the workers of the field noticed the weeds. The Greek word is zizanion, and this type of weed looks exactly like wheat, that is until the grain head appears. And by that time, the weeds would have had their roots all tangled with the weeds. “Should we go and pull up all the weeds,” the servants ask. “No,” said the farmer. “Let’s wait.”
We like to make determinations about people and their status as wheat or weeds almost upon meeting them. We even use the same kind of language; “That girl over there, she’s a bad seed,” we’ll say. We make distinctions and tend to root people out right away from the field.
But Jesus says that that isn’t our job. We’re not called to judge.
A parishioner was telling me recently about a young man he met whose life had been turned around by Straight Ahead ministries. He was a former gang member, and had been shot at and stabbed. Through the ministry, he found Christ and his life was turned around. And now he was hoping to begin something new.
And he was terrified.
The parishioner looked at him and asked why, since he had been in a gang, and injured and all that. And he replied, “Because no one has ever believed in me. I’m terrified of this not working out and letting people down.”
We aren’t called to judge, that’s God’s work that will happen at the end of the age, by the angels no less. We “slaves” aren’t even inovlved in the process.
Instead, we’re called to tend the filed, to make conditions right for growing, and to go out and be wheat to the world. Wheat brings nourishment, and we’re called to be the body of Christ to a hurting world, to bring nourishment to them.
God wants to wait it out. God sees what we may think are weeds, and says, “Nope! That’s wheat. Watch what happens!” God is so patient with us. And when we say surely this person is wheat and that other is a weed, God looks down and says, “Maybe.”
We got back this past weekend from some time in Acadia National Park. We camped for 8 days — almost perfect weather! — and spent time together as a family and were mostly unplugged. 8 days with no phone calls, emails, Facebook updates, twitter feeds, online news (save Red Sox scores), and the rest.
It was heavenly.
And we so needed it. You know how it gets when you don’t get time to just be. You get harried. Fried. Overwhelmed. We were getting to that point since we’ve not had any time “away” since our arrival here in Southborough.
But part of the problem is that when we get away we still stay tethered to our electronics. We still text or check email or whatever and that means that we aren’t present with the people we’re with.
I know it’s hard. Some have jobs that mean they always need to be connected (as a priest, I know when I’m around, the on-call part is all the time). But how can you get unplugged and away for just a bit because we need the time to rejuvenate.
Here are a few tips:
1. Make a covenant with the people you’re with about technology usage.
Take time before you leave to decide what the expectations are. And be specific. Saying, “No texting while we’re eating meals” or “I won’t check email more than once a day at Noon” can help a great deal. In my case, I checked to see if I had voice mails once per day (when we got cell coverage while driving—no coverage at our campsite).
2. Try to go technology free at least part of the time.
Even if you are staying home for vacation this year, make plans to go technology free. No calls, emails, texts. I personally think we should try to do this once a week for Sabbath, but this is certainly a good idea, if not a necessity, while on vacation.
3. Spend time with the people you love doing things you love.
If the outdoors are your thing, go hiking. If it’s reading, browse bookstores. While you’re doing this you can engage in some great conversation—it doesn’t need to be “deep”—about life, or our dreams, or even what’s so great about the place you’re at. We don’t spend enough time connecting in our hectic lives, so vacation can be a time to readjust this.
4. Think about taking a vacation once a week.
Imagine taking a true day off once a week. No calls or emails. No house work. Just an opportunity to do what delights us. I’ve written about Sabbath Keeping before and I know how hard it can be at times to keep this practice up in my own life, but being away reminded me that we can “get away” once a week — and God actually commands us to do this — if we’re intentional.
So I hope you are making plans this summer to get away, and maybe even considering getting away regularly by keeping a Sabbath. If so, tell me about and leave a comment below.
When Melissa and I were getting married, the minister who did our pre-marital counseling gave us a copy of the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. The test—which can be taken online—asks if certain life events have happened in your life over the last year or so to see how stress can be wreaking havoc on your body.
So you simply checked a box if the situation applied. Things like: marriage, divorce, death of parent, death of a spouse, move, work changes, change in finances, different sleep patterns, arguments, and 30+ other items. Each is given a number, and if the total number is more than 300, you have a very good chance of becoming physically ill due to the stress. If it was 150-299, you have a moderately good chance of getting ill.
In the past number of years, I don’t think I’ve scored lower than 200, most times pushing higher. I suspect many of you might be in the same boat. I’ve lived much of the last years with near constant stress. Since my ordination 7 years ago I’ve relocated 3 times for church positions, experienced the birth of my two kids, dealt with the death of my mother, had major surgery, and the list goes on. I’m not looking for sympathy as much as to say these things happen in life and often we are unaware of the long term impact of stress in our lives.
I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday that we have a tendency to isolate ourselves when things get rough. We don’t want to talk about it either because we don’t want to admit that life is difficult right now or because the constant rehashing of our experiences is emotionally draining. And not only do we pull away from friends and family members, we also have a tendency to stop doing things that give us life. We stop engaging in activities that feed us.
One of the things I often ask people who come to see me about issues in their life is this: How are you taking care of yourself? Often in stressful situations we get so bogged down by it all—the pain of divorce, the late nights with a newborn, planning for a new endeavor—that we don’t take the time to rejuvenate or to connect with God.
I wish I could say I’ve got it all figured out, but I too get caught up in the stress at times. But these things have helped me.
1. Set aside a regular time for God. Yeah, I’m a priest and I get paid to say something like this, but it actually works. When I set aside a regular time each day to pray, read scripture, or just sit quietly I am able to recognize God’s deep love for me and that God cares for me and is with me in the stress.
2. Do something I love. This takes intentionality, but if I can go for a walk, do some cooking, see a movie or one of the other things I love to do (I have a lot of hobbies), then I’m able to be fed by those things. I met a person recently who said his thing was trying new beers, so this summer he’s doing just that. Each night he’ll try a single bottle of a new brew and then keep a list of the ones he likes.
3. Connect with a friend. Tell someone you love that you’d like to do something together. Grab a cup of coffee or a meal. Browse at a local bookstore. Whatever. Spend time with them and be honest about some of the stress you’re experiencing. “Bear one another’s burdens,” Paul tells the Galatian church (Gal 6:2), “and in this way you’ll fulfill the law of Christ.” One sure way to reduce your stress is to talk with a trusted friend who can give you support.
I hope you’ll take time this next week to take an inventory of where your stress is at and also to become intentional about how to take care of yourself. We don’t do ourselves any good if we just let the candle keep burning on both ends without becoming aware of how it might damage us or our relationships.
I love the opening from Norman Maclean’s novella A River Runs Through It. He writes:
On Sunday mornings my brother, Paul, and I went to Sunday school and then to “morning services” to hear our father preach and in the evenings to Christian Endeavor and afterwards to “evening services” to hear our father preach again. In between on Sunday afternoons we had to study The Westminster Shorter Catechism for an hour and then recite before we could go to the hills with him while he unwound between services. But he never asked us more than the first question in the catechism, “What is the chief end of man?” And we answered together so one of us could carry on if the other forgot, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” This always seemed to satisfy him, as indeed such a beautiful answer should have, and besides he was anxious to be on the hills, where he could restore his soul and be filled again to overflowing for the evening sermon. His chief way of restoring himself was to recite to us from from the sermon that was coming, enriched here and there with selections from his most successful passages of his morning sermon.
The chief end of course, in this case, was to be outdoors to be recharged. To hike the hills, to fish, to enjoy God’s creation.
And why not? God has given us this beautiful creation to enjoy. We heard it this past Sunday about how God made the world and everything in it was good, and that God asks us to both enjoy it and take care of it.
I think it’s in enjoying God’s creation that we also enjoy God. Getting out to the Cape, enjoying the beach, being out on the water, hiking, biking, paddling. It all brings us closer to God and restores our tanks.
Too many of us don’t take time to recharge. We try to squeeze in a vacation that is nearly as jam-packed as our every day lives. We rarely take time to be restored, to be filled again to overflowing, so we can be better for the work before us.
This idea drips with connection to Sabbath keeping. We don’t do this much in our culture. We stay busy to keep the balls in the air. We go 60 or 90 or 200 miles an hour most, if not all, of the time. And we don’t take any time to see the impact it has on us or our families until it’s nearly too late.
So, what is your chief end? How do you “glorify God and enjoy Him forever”? What recharges your batteries and gives you time to pause and know that you are doing what God desires for you?
For me that means hiking, cooking, being outdoors with my family, camping, biking, resting, reading, and a load of other things (I have lots of hobbies, all of which I do moderately well). But those things restore me and make me better able to do the work I am called to do.
I hope you take some time this summer to do what recharges you and that you see it as a gift from God. And maybe you will take a minute or two and comment on what you do to restore your soul.
I grew up in a pentecostal church, which meant that Pentecost was one of the few days on the liturgical calendar that we celebrated, although it often came out of nowhere and I wasn’t sure why we it was a big deal. My church experience has changed a lot since then, and that change began while attending a UCC church during my time in college. It was the minister there—Harold Bussell—who first preached about the idea of the Spirit controlling our tongues; that when the Spirit descended on Pentecost, the Spirit came in to our lives and began changing the way we speak.
That idea grabbed hold of me then and has never let go.
So this idea is not mine. But it is a very intriguing way to think about Pentecost and the idea of proclamation. With no further adieus….
I’ve heard of a marriage counselor that can predict in one session if a marriage will last or not. When he sits down to chat with the couple—whether they are already married or if they are engaged—he pays relatively little attention to what issues they are talking about–be it finances, in-laws, the kids, work, intimacy, whatever—and homes in on the way they are talking to one another. If there is any contempt in the exchange, he predicts that it will be an uphill battle at best for the relationship to last. Whether or not you agree with him, he’s on to something given his track record of prediction. How we talk to one another—how we make use of our tongues to communicate—is of vital importance to our relationships.
Tongues are funny things. They are, we’ve been told, one of the strongest muscles in the body. They control our speech, what we say, how we form our words. With the words our tongues form, we can do amazing things. And with other words formed by that same tongue we can destroy one another.
In his epistle, James writes about the tongue. He says, “A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on.” (From James 3, The Message Bible)
In the movie “How to Train Your Own Dragon,” the protagonist, a teen aged Viking named Hiccup, tries desperately hard to fit in with the other Vikings of his village. But he’s scrawny and weak, and while he tries his best to be a dragon hating person like them, he just can’t. Instead, he befriends a dragon that has been hurt and takes care of him like a pet. When his father, the chief of their village, learns that Hiccup’s been taking care of a dragon, he is overcome with rage. At the end of an angry diatribe, he looks at Hiccup before storming out and says, “You are not my son.”
He is crushed, of course, this teen-aged boy who longs for the acceptance of his father. As are any of us when someone spews angry words at us. No matter how many times we may repeat that rhyme from childhood, words hurt a lot, and often more than sticks or stones, because the damage can last a lifetime. I’m sure some of you can either recall words spoken to you, or words that you gave voice to, that you now wish you could remove from existence.
When the Spirit comes on Pentecost, isn’t it remarkable that after the rush of wind and the flames of fire alighting on the heads of all those there, the very next sign is that the disciples begin to speak in other languages as the Spirit prompted them. The Spirit controls their tongues. Immediately they begin to speak in other tongues, not unintelligible words, but they speak in the languages of each group gathered there, as the Spirit guided their tongues. They proclaim the message of God and God’s work of salvation in the world.
Proclamation. That’s what this day—this last day of the Great 50 Days of Easter —is about. Proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. And that good news can be summed up in one word: transformation.
But we cannot make these proclamations about how Jesus Christ transforms us if our tongues aren’t under control. We cannot be a messenger of Jesus’ good news if we are constantly spouting off at our mouths, saying why this person or group of people upsets us, or how ridiculous they are, or how that person is really just an idiot.
If we want to truly be a part of the kingdom, then we must allow the Spirit to control our tongues. And that means major transformation on the inside as well.
A friend of mine a couple of years ago underwent significant change in his life. He changed old habits and took on new ones. When I spoke with him about this, he wondered why it had taken him so long. “If I had known what a difference this would make in my life, I would have started so much earlier,” he said to me.
“Yes,” I replied. “But thank God that you began now.” What I was trying to say to him was this: Don’t shame and guilt yourself in the ways you have failed in the past. Deal with them, yes. Recognize why you did certain things. Learn from the past. But don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t have the courage to tackle them earlier, and didn’t ultimately trust then that God could bring about the change you so desperately needed. Rather, relish in the fact that God is working now. Take joy in the transformation that is going on now. Be joyful for the years ahead, now that you are changed and continue to be changed.
Transformation. That is the work of the Triune God. To break down the barriers of sin, to offer forgiveness, to shower us with mercy and grace. To help us become the people we are called to be, and to bring our tongues into alignment with that call as well. People that share the love of Jesus Christ with a broken world. People who are about the work of the kingdom of God.
And the question is this: Do you want the Spirit to bring transformation to every part of your being—to your tongue, your heart and your mind? Do you want to be about the work of the kingdom of God? Don’t worry about what you haven’t done up to this point, or how you might have been able to do more, or whatnot. What can you do now? How can you allow God to move in you? How can you more faithfully become a disciple of Jesus Christ?
We cannot become those who have visions or prophesy or dream dreams if we are always spouting off at the mouth. We cannot be the church unless we allow the Spirit to move in us and through us and to bring about change in us. And I would argue that our tongues—the very first thing the Spirit takes over in those disciples on that Pentecost Day so long ago—are where many of us need the Spirit’s leading, transformation and healing.
Perhaps you need to make amends with a family member or a friend over something you said to them that you now regret. Maybe you have hurt your spouse or children with words said out of spite. Perhaps you need Jesus to bring healing to a wound inflicted long ago when someone hurt you with their words. Possibly you’ve been feeling prompted by the Spirit to say something to a hurting co-worker or neighbor, but haven’t spoken to them because you are nervous about how they will respond. Or maybe you need to seek forgiveness from God because your words have been filled with contempt, especially toward those you live with and love.
If we are to be a vital part of Jesus’ kingdom work, then we must invite the Spirit to work in us and through us. To be counted among those of the kingdom, then we need to open ourselves up to the Spirit’s transformative power. When we do so, when we become willing to the Spirit’s leading, then we too can be like Peter, James and Mary and all the rest on that day who shared the message of Jesus with all those gather there, so that these others might also call on the name of the Lord, and be saved. That is the true gift of the Spirit. May we be empowered to proclaim the good news. Amen.
Melissa and I watched a wonderful and haunting film this week called “Like Dandelion Dust.” Two very different couples have their lives intersect over a shared love for a 6 year-old boy. One set gave him up for adoption, and the other became his new family.
Yet, the birth father didn’t know he had a son given the circumstances in his life and the troubled relationship he and his wife had at that time. And now he wants the boy back.
And that’s where the turmoil comes.
Obviously, anyone who is a parent will react strongly to this whole struggle. Who can blame a father for wanting his child back? Who can blame a mother for wanting to hold on to the child she has called her own from his earliest days? What would you do to keep your child?
While it’s definitely a tear-jerker, it’s not overly mellow-dramatic. The characters have a real depth and no easy answers are presented. Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper—the birth parents—play amazing roles, as shown in the number of awards this film picked up along the way at various film festivals.
I won’t tell you how it ends, where the title comes from or if redemption is found in this one. I’ll just say that I bet it sticks with you like it’s done to me. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time.
Definitely queue-worthy. Tell me what you think of this one.
I’m really in awe of the Apostle Paul in the story from Acts 17. He’s in Athens waiting for some friends, but then he sees all the idols and altars the Athenians have made. What he does is look at their culture finding the good qualities. He engages with the culture he sees and uses it as a jumping point to talk about Christ. Rather than saying, “Hey, you need to worship like me, you heathens!” he commends them for their deep spirituality.
So, I’ve been pondering what he might say to us. This sermon is something of an outgrowth of that.
Paul does something pretty amazing in the story we heard from Acts this morning. While he’s in Athens waiting for his friends Silas and Timothy to arrive, he goes wandering around the city. We’re told he’s distressed that there are so many idols. But notice he doesn’t unleash rhetoric on why they are so bad about this or how they are disobeying God’s commands. Rather, he looks for their good qualities—their longings—and seeks to tell them about Christ through what they are already longing for.
He tells them he’s seen this altar with the inscription “To an Unknown God.” He knows that there are deeply spiritual people, that there is a longing deep within them to connect with the spiritual realm. And so he tells them, I want to introduce you to the Unknown God, who is, in fact, the Creator of the Universe. Paul shares with them the message of creation, how God made us, not how we fashion gods of our own devices. He tells them that the Creator doesn’t live in temples or shrines or other buildings, that God doesn’t need us to wait hand and foot on him, as if God somehow needed us to do that.
But what God does, Paul tells them, is gives us plenty of time and space in order to truly seek after God; more than just groping around blindly in the dark trying to find God. God longs to be known by us in order to bring about a better life for us and in this created world. God desires repentance, true life-change, and God will one day have us give an account of our lives, with Jesus the resurrected one as our judge.
We in this day and age live our lives with great passions as well. While we don’t erect shrines for idols as such—although on the week when the latest American Idol was crowned, it’s a little hard to make this statement—we do build massive stadiums to follow our sports teams—and what a great week it has been for that as well as the Bruins get back to Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in over 20 years and the Red Sox have moved into first place after their ghastly start. We also honor education, and the arts, great food and spending time outdoors doing recreational activities. We do these things because of the longing for joy that we have. We think that if the home town team wins, or we hear a wonderful performance or hike a gorgeous trail or get the elusive degree, if any of those things happen then we will find what we have been searching for. Inner peace. Joy. Wholeness. When that inevitably doesn’t happen—when we didn’t find completeness after the Sox won not just one but two World Series—we go searching for something else. Maybe the answer would be found in weight loss or a new love interest or other pursuits.
But if Paul were here, I’d think he’d tell us that while our longings for some many things is noble—and in fact God-given—that what we don’t recognize is that we are truly longing for God. For God’s unconditional love for us. God’s deep desire to be known by us. God’s longing for us to not just grope around blindly but to truly seek after and find God and the life God always intended for us.
Whenever we talk about God, however, our defenses go up. We say things like, “Well, I’m spiritual but not religious.” Which is a code way of saying that we don’t like organized religion (or disorganized religion, for that matter). We don’t care for institutions, or the people who run them, because often such places are full of hypocrites or demand us to give them our money or make us live our lives in a certain way.
Yet, the reality is, that sentiment doesn’t actually make sense. You cannot be spiritual without being religious as well. You might try to have spirituality feed a longing in you, but soon you’ll tire of whatever you are trying and move on to something else. If you are truly spiritual, you’ll recognize that you cannot do that work alone, neither can you do it haphazardly. Being religious—that is, being dutiful in your commitments to the faith you desire—is best done (and I would argue, only done) in community. By connecting with others we can explore the deep longings we all have—seeing them as gifts from God, an innate curiosity to discover the goodness of God and to have fullness of life—and in doing so together, deepen our devotion to God.
In order to satiate our desires, we often pursue things that we think will make us feel fulfilled—we entertain ourselves, seek comforts, look for joy wherever we can find it—but in the end, many of us feel unfulfilled. And so we ask ourselves is this all there is? When we reach something we’ve been longing for and see that it doesn’t bring the serenity, we have deep questions.
I was a big fan of the TV series Lost, a drama that told the stories of the survivors of a plane crash who ended up on a mysterious island in the Pacific Ocean. We learn along the way that the characters—like Jack, the gifted surgeon with significant issues around his father, and Kate, a fugitive on the run—cannot get away from their pasts even on this island where no one seems to know them. Many of the survivors had achieved something they were longing for in life—a big pay off, the end to problems, marriage, success—yet even when they had, they still longed for something more. They were left searching for something else.
And so they were both literally and figuratively lost. They were searching for meaning, for something else that was more elusive in their life.
So are we. All of the pursuits we have and enjoy, all the hobbies, and the work and the things that delight us and entertain us, and those things that distract us, the addictions, the vices, all of it grows out of deep yearning from within. A profound ache in our souls.
That for which we long is wholeness. To be fully known. To experience true joy.
And that is found in following Christ. The God of Creation—the One who made us—knows our longings and wants to bring us wholeness, reconciliation and healing. God does this when we seek for him, when we turn our full attention to God and God’s work of establishing his kingdom.
It’s important for me to say this, because this is the work that I feel called to do as your priest. In a few days, I will officially be installed as your rector, and I want the focus of my ministry to be on inviting all of us into a more meaningful relationship with Christ, in sharing the good news with our neighbors, and working together in service to the world. I personally know that it is when I do these things that I find myself experiencing great joy in my life. While things I may pursue for myself in the world are fleeting, the things of God are lasting.
So that is why I desire to focus on faith formation for all ages, in outreach, providing opportunities to connect with one another, and above all else to live authentically as disciples of Jesus. I want to point all of us to the one we’ve been longing for, whether we know it or not. The God of the Universe is for many in our society the Unknown God, but that doesn’t stop God from reaching out to us. God is so full of love for us—we heard it again this morning in John’s gospel—and God wants us to become the people God created us to be. Our longings can indeed be satisfied when we actively pursue God through Jesus Christ.
Will we? Will we seek and find the God of Creation? Or will continue to push God aside as we follow after all that is short-lived in our world hoping to find contentment and joy? God longs for us, and whether we know it or not, we long for God too. May we, as we continue our journey forward both find God and be found by God. Amen.
It was a great day yesterday at St. Mark’s. I was given the great blessing to baptize 8 young ones and welcome them on behalf of the church into the Christian faith. And whenever I baptize someone I am reminded to think seriously about my own baptismal promises, and the desire I have to follow Christ on the way. Our gospel was from John 14 when Jesus tells his disciples that he is the way. As I mention in the sermon, since I’m reading Eugene Peterson’s book The Jesus Way with the vestry right now, I couldn’t help but to draw form it and make connections.
So, here it is. A baptismal sermon on the importance of following Jesus on the way.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about Jesus’ words that we heard this morning, especially when he says that his disciples know the way to the place where he is going. Thomas—always seeming to speak aloud what many of us are thinking—says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” To which Jesus responds, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” Jesus is the way.
And the way of Jesus is always a way of humility, of peace, of love. A way of sacrifice and of giving, a way of reaching out to those on the margins. It is a way of life. Your vestry has been reading Eugene Peterson’s book The Jesus Way together this year, and in our reading so far we have looked at how the way of American culture—and even the way many churches operate in the US—is extremely different, if not downright destructive of, the way of Jesus. Peterson focuses on how our society and our churches have become places where consumerism is king. Our wants and desires need to be met and fulfilled, so we believe all that Madison Ave. has to tell us and go looking for salvation in a plethora of ways.
Peterson writes, “We Americans have developed a culture of acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting more, requiring more. We have a huge advertising industry designed to stir up appetites we didn’t even know we had. We are insatiable…. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel in consumer terms: entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem solving, whatever. This is the language we Americans grew up on, the language we understand.”
The problem is that the American way for church is downright more exciting to our tastes than the Jesus way. Especially when you have a story like the one we heard this morning about Stephen being martyred for his faith in Jesus. If the Jesus way leads to death, are we sure we want to follow this way?
And let’s make no bones about it: Jesus’ way does lead to death. Death to self, to our desires, to that which says “me first” in our lives. Jesus’ way is the way of the cross. And talking about self-sacrifice is not easy nor always appreciated. But it is the way of Jesus.
We’ll hear language about death as we go to the baptismal font today. Whey we gather there, we’ll pray, “We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” We die to sin and are led to eternal life.
And the life we’ll invite these eight children into this morning here at St. Mark’s is one that is challenging. We’ll welcome these young ones into a life of building relationships, of serving others. When we give our lives to the way of Jesus, while we aren’t promised riches or having all of our needs met, or even happiness at every turn, we are promised a deep and meaningful life. The way of the cross is, as our prayer book puts it, the way of life and truth.
To be fully alive means above all else that we live relational lives, that we live incarnationally. We can invest in the people who live with us and near us—our neighbors—and recognize that we can make a difference in this world right now. Just before Jesus told his disciples he was the way, he showed them what his way meant as he washed their feet at the last supper. Taking time to serve, to take someone else’s feet and gently wash them, to see that we all need support and care and that we can truly change each other’s lives.
That’s where the American way has fallen down. We have lost our connection with one another. We have grown further and further apart from one another, thinking instead that people are merely objects, they are the way to meet our desires. We tend to think that we are islands, as those who can live walled off from one another. We need to be reminded from time to time by the John Donne’s and the John bon Jovi’s of the world that none of us is an island.
So when these children take these vows, and when we all renew our baptismal covenant this morning, what we say is that we will follow the way of Jesus, no matter where it takes it, as best we can with God’s help. We will not put ourselves first. We will seek to share the good news of Christ. The news that the Christian life isn’t spent to be worrying about when judgment day is coming, nor how to get to heaven, but how to bring Jesus’ message of hope, love, and peace to a broken world, to our broken worlds.
And that is ultimately what the Jesus way is about. Life. Healing. Restoration. Renewal. When we die to ourselves, we find life in Christ. We find a life that is based in the here and now and not just some time in the future. May we find Jesus to be the way we follow. May we see that the way to God entails self-sacrifice and extravagant love. May we become aware of Jesus’ desire to bring reconciliation, and may we bring his reconciliation to others. And may we, on this day, remember that we have been marked as his followers, and may we have the courage to follow wherever he leads. Amen.
A bunch of us saw Rob Bell’s Nooma video called “Noise” at our adult forum on Sunday. (Want to see it, get it here at You Tube). It raised a lot of questions for me about how noisy our world is and what that is doing to us, especially spiritually. We have a lot of noise thrust on us and also thrust a lot of noise on ourselves.
And we were reminded in the video that when God came to Ezekiel, God wasn’t heard in the earthquake or fire or wind, but in the sheer silence (see 1 Kings 19:11-13).
Can you remember the last time you were in the presence of sheer silence?
Yeah, it’s hard for me too. I try to get away once a year on a silent retreat to do this, but it’s hard, especially for those of us with younger children. There is never a time of sheer silence.
But if God is to be heard in the sheer silence, how can we open ourselves up to the possibility of hearing God in those times? What would it be like to turn of the cell, get away from it all and experience some uninterrupted silence?
Scary for some, I’m sure. We keep it so busy so we don’t have to deal with some of the inner thoughts of our hearts. But what if God wants to bring healing to us, and the only way to receive it is for us to be still?
So, think about your life and try to find some time for quiet. Maybe a walk or shutting the doors, or just getting away somewhere to steal some time and experience the quiet. It might not be easy, but every time I do it, I know it is so worth it.