Legacy: Sermon on John 17:1-11

Jesus leaves us a lasting legacy. The scripture to guide us and the Holy Spirit as our advocate. We are not left alone!
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

May 28 – 7th Sunday in Easter

“Legacy”.  Text is from  John 17:1-11

Sermon audio follows:

May the words of my mouth and the mediations of my heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.

We are with the disciples as Jesus looks to heaven and prays to God the Father, this wonderful, beautiful prayer of Jesus.

This prayer takes place at the end of the last meal he has with his disciple while in the world of the living. It is the final wish of Jesus for the people with whom he has come to be friends, who know him as Messiah but also view him as teacher, and intimately as their companion.  They are already coming to realize that something is coming and their world is going to be irrevocably changed, whether or not every one of them believe him when he tells them he will be going from them very soon.

Jesus ascending to heavenAnd now he makes his deepest wish known to them as he speaks to the God that he has taught them about, the one true God of Israel and all of the world. Jesus prays in no uncertain terms, first reminding his listeners, because God already knows, that Jesus was sent from God, and that the work that Jesus does is in God’s name. And then Jesus prays God will protect his followers and that they will live together in unity.

Very simply, all of the words of this Gospel points to that one phrase at the end, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

And with this the memory of prayer in our hearts, we may finally celebrate the culmination of the great Easter, that time when Jesus is no longer physically concentrated in the world around him, appearing in visions to the people who loved him, Mary and Mary, Susannah, and Joanna, Peter and John, Cleopas and the other one, the remainder of the twelve except for Thomas, and then Thomas, and all of those who would see Jesus and continue learning from him. Now we begin to understand that the work that happens on behalf of Jesus in the world is the work of the Holy Spirit, for Jesus has ascended, and now reigns over us. Indeed, this beautiful prayer of Jesus is intended for the world of his followers after his ascension, that is so vividly described in our Acts reading, lifted up into a cloud and taken from their sight.

And even then they continue to stare, while two angels appear to tell the men who are gazing after their friend and savior that Jesus is not now restoring the kingdom of Israel, but will do so at a time and place unknown to all. And there began the great wait. And while we, in the 21st century, understand that the return of Jesus does not take place in time of a single generation or even fifty generations, the disciples who lived in the beginning times were more anxious about the imminent return than we (for the most part) are today. Jesus promised to come again, and they were certain they would see it. How would they even relate to know that Jesus meant the end times would go on and on and on until long past when their lives and memories would be words on ancient scrolls?

What do you do when you are going to leave people you care about to their own fate? How do you address the concerns and well being of them? Back in the 90s, when I lived in Florida, I worked for a bank trust department, an institution whose chief function was to invest funds properly for accounts that had been set up by people who wanted to ensure that the people they left behind were well cared for. Sometimes this meant people that parents or other guardians were certain that were unable to care for their own selves, either through mental impairment or chemical dependency or other things that otherwise would effect the diminishment of hard-earned currency of those who left them. And so funds would be doled out in the hands of a trustee, someone who is what we say has a fiduciary responsibility to the well-being of the beneficiary. But it was always human. Humans wrote these wills and trusts with their own agendas, and their own preconceptions of what their beneficiaries would require, which would not always be to the best interest of them, and of course the beneficiaries were always human as well. They, more often than not, wanted or needed their money sooner rather than later, and depending on the terms would be able to access more of the principal than would keep it going for a long time.

But the trustees were always human too, and while some had the beneficiary’s interest at heart, others were less concerned with their well-being. The bank was staffed by humans. The attorneys who drafted the documents were human. In other words, the world of trust banking was less than perfect, and even when the best of people tried to follow the documents to the letter of the law, it is impossible to get in the head to understand the intent of deceased grantors when seeing to the needs of those they left behind.

It’s the same way with us in the church, when we have been given a financial reprieve as beneficiary of estates left to us, that we continue the legacy of those who left them while at the same time doing the best work of the church today. But we are not perfect nor are we always the most responsible with the funds. I doubt that any church is. But we do work hard at deciding how money is to be apportioned and do try to make sure that the work that we do is done in the name of Jesus Christ and not to our own glory.

Because the legacy that Jesus leaves leaves us more clarity. We know as he prays for us he prays for protection by God and unity with each other. We know that the work Jesus calls us to do in the world is done in his name, and we have the commandments that he left us with to follow. That we act in accordance with love of one another and that we continue to love God and speak to God in prayer.  That we do the good work that we do in his name, in order to first glorify God before anything else. We serve God’s holy kingdom in all that we do.

What is it like to know that someone is praying for you? How does it feel to know that we are in the intimate conversation that someone is having with God.  How much greater it is to know exactly what that person is praying for us. Particularly in the case of Jesus, who is just about to leave the disciples, the words that he says to God the father, that in their hearing are even that more meaningful.  Jesus asks God they know eternal life, and what is eternal life? That they may know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God sent to them.

Sisters and brothers, the good news is that our lives today continue to reflect this prayer that Jesus had for his disciples, the prayer that Jesus asked for us. His legacy on earth is protected by God, and God’s agent on earth, God’s trustee, the Holy Spirit keeps us together in unity as the body of Christ, the church on earth. And we ourselves are trustees of the legacy of Jesus, giving of ourselves to ensure that the word of God is fulfilled on earth.  The promise of Jesus is alive. We know eternal life because God is with is. We are God’s people, both responsible for the care of God’s legacy and ourselves, under God’s care, entrusted to the Holy Spirit the legacy of Christ on earth, today.

Amen

Orphans – Sermon on John 14:15-21

Jesus doesn’t leave us alone to face the world, like a poor baby animal in the cold woods. He has sent the Holy Spirit to abide with us, and by virtue, HImself.
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

May 21 – 6th Sunday in Easter

“Orphans”.  Text is from  John 14:15-21

Sermon audio follows:

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.

We continue with the farewell discourse from John that takes place at the last supper in the upper room, in which Jesus is letting his disciples know what will soon be taking place and that he is going to be leaving them bodily very soon. Remember, Jesus has already predicted his death several times over the Gospel of John, and has been fairly specific in the previous chapter of John, letting them know that he would be betrayed by one of their number (Judas, who subsequently left to do the very thing he was telling them about) and then that he would be denied three times by Peter, the very rock and foundation of the world that is coming to them.

And last week, we started this chapter, where Jesus talks to his friends about his connection with God the Father and the fact that they themselves will subsequently be reunited with him as their own paths take them.

And this brings us to today’s text. Jesus has one more task for them, to keep his commandments which, as we know in John that they love one another as he has loved them. And then he offers them some good news. That they will not be alone in this journey, or at the very least, that they will not be completely without his help in their work. That God will send the Holy Spirit among them, to be with them forever, and that they already know this spirit because it abides with them and will be in them as they work in the world.

Thomas Benjamin Kennington - OrphansAnd even though he won’t be present in the world Jesus will still yet live, and the disciples will know this, because they themselves will see him. So they should not be worried they will be left without him, orphaned as he put it, and once again he reminds them to keep his commandments, to love one another as he has loved them as they share his good news and spreads his message throughout the world.

Wow. What in the world must they be thinking at this point? We have seen some of the responses of the disciples already on his leaving them. Judas the one who betrays Jesus, is angry that he was not the Messiah that they wanted and has opted to take a more evil route. Peter is in denial, a denial that will culminate in the very near future. Thomas and Phillip both seem to have missed some of the message, and are asking some questions. But now, the language that Jesus is using includes some certain terms that yes he will be gone, and in the very near future.

And he assuages this potential orphaning of the disciples and by virtue, the subsequent world of the children of God. That in his dying that he would not abandon them to the mercies of the fate of unprotected children but that they would be adopted by this, his holy spirit.

How does it feel to be orphaned? What is this anxiety that can happen when our worlds are turned upside down, that sense of security lost, that those who said they were going to protect us are suddenly gone from our midst? Or even, worse yet, to suddenly realize that those who we put all of our stock and faith in are suddenly faithless.

Our first reading from Acts has Paul wandering around Athens and seeing all of the shrines to pagan Gods. We wonder how much the people he is preaching to here actually understand of their deities, do they actually believe that Athena, Apollo or Aphrodite will provide them answers to their prayers? The Areopagus is also known as Mars Hill, and this famous sermon of Paul’s is a means to bring an understanding of a God they did not know of to light. These in Athens are true pagans. And here Paul found this altar to an unknown God, affording him an opportunity to tell them about the one God, the God of the Hebrews who is also their God as well. Who has adopted them as His offspring as well. That among all of these powerless idols that abound in their midst, there is something that can actively work in their lives. It lays the groundwork for the conversion of others, and Paul in turn shares the Good news that Jesus has provided.

Sisters and brothers, our texts today are reminders that God is with us wherever we go. That God is not just some something that we connect with on Sunday morning but that his Holy Spirit calls us to do his work all throughout the week, each and every day that we go out and do things in the world, we bring this Spirit of Truth among us.

There was a time I used to be afraid of describing anything as evil, as if that very word gave the devil power of me, but the longer I live, the more that I see that with the agency of human beings, there is indeed something that can be described as evil that causes us to falter as we live. That we habbve lusts in our hearts, and I mean of all things of the flesh: sex, greed, overeating, chemicals that make our brains go wow or let us escape from the real world. Anything that we put in front of our relationship with God can give evil influence over us, like baby wolf cubs in the wild, subjected to the elements and things that could harm us.

But we are not orphans in the world. God has not abandoned us. In the promise of Jesus we are given a protector, an advocate, a paraclete. The Spirit of Truth lights our path and we are given hope, strength, and wellness of mind. God is among us, within us, and with us and we need not fear for our lives.

Sisters and brothers, I ask you to let that spirit be known. We are a small congregation, but with that spirit among us we are powerful. This church on University Avenue does so much of God’s good work. We have good news here in our midst, in the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit that we can be a light and shining beacon everywhere around. Let it be known to all the world, that we do not do this on our own but in the name of Jesus Christ, that God’s Holy Spirit abides in us and we abide with God.

Amen


Father Mother – Sermon on John 14:1-13

Jesus calls God the Father. He literally said “Abba” which meant Poppa or Daddy in Aramaic. But there are many instances where God takes a maternal role as well.
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

May 14 – 5th Sunday in Easter

“Father Mother”.  Text is from  John 14:1-13

Sermon audio follows:


Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.

This text comes from Jesus’ farewell discourse in John to his disciples at the last supper.

In chapter 13, Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples and he has predicted the betrayal by one of their number. Judas slips away from them; and then Jesus tells them he will only be with them a short time longer and that they cannot follow him, and then he foretells the denial by Peter.

And now Jesus is telling the disciples to trust him, to believe in God and to believe in him. That his destination of ascension is also going to be the same place for them. And Thomas, always taking what Jesus says literally, and likely what’s on everyone’s mind, asks Jesus about his destination, asking how are they supposed to follow if they don’t know where he is going?

And Jesus is kind in his response, not reproving Thomas at all, but gently telling him and all of them, that he is “the way, the truth, and the light,” and that he is the way to God, the Father. And then the good news follows, that knowing Jesus is knowing the Father and that they already know the Father because they already know him.

Philip, not quite certain of what Jesus is saying, takes over the questions, and asks to see the Father. Jesus gently reminds Philip of his connection with the Father, in an abundance of words, and repeats. He seems almost frustrated with Philip, or perhaps with the disbelief present among them. But then he offers them a promise, that anyone who works in his name will do greater works than he has done and that if they wish anything in his name, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that he will do it for them.

This is Christ the roadmap, very simply. He offers the way and means to our ills and woes and that we need only seek Christ to find all the answers we seek. His words offer proof of his indwelling with the Father as well as his indwelling with his believers, the disciples, and us, all of us who believe in him.

But this language of the father. Given the importance of the celebration on this day, the day we set aside to honor those in our life who act in a maternal role, we have a gospel reading that underscores the patriarchal nature of not only society in Jesus’ time but also the millennia of church. Our passage is not exactly a long one, but the word Father is mentioned thirteen times, offering stark contrast to the sense in our hearts of the dedication that many of us are making today to the people in our life we celebrate on Mother’s Day. How do we look at such a text in light of that.

I think the first thing we can look at here is the way Jesus often referred to God the Father. The Aramaic word that we know that he used was “Abba”, which is more in line with an affection term such as Daddy or Poppa.  It makes his relationship to the first person of the trinity more intimate. More tight knit. And while it may not lessen the sense of male superiority that emanates from our Gospel reading, it at least contextualizes it into a more emotional link that one might have that is not necessarily or always featured in a son’s relationship with his father. In fact, I know that the language we find in the gospels about the father loving the son and the son loving the father is not a strong feature of many paternofilial relationships. I know that here in the Western world, in our time, expressions of love from a father to a child are often far less frequent as those from a mother to a child.

However, I despise gender normative assumptions, which makes it in some ways easier for me to read this in light of the relationship we have with God. We find in many places in scripture not a harsh, overly masculine God but a God is much more maternal, who seeks to bring God’s people into God’s bosom and nurture and care for each and every one of…his…her… children. God is a providing parent. God gives to God’s children everything they need to grow and thrive, they only need receive it in faith.

So while the language of our gospel today may seem to be overly alienating to some of us, particularly those who see fathers in a harsher light, who have had experience with fathers that cause them to question any references to Father such as these, let us all remember that the Father Jesus is referring to, to his disciples, is neither simply a Father in the classical sense or one that we understand, but also the God of grace and mercy, the God of love and nurture. The mothering God who birthed us and breathed life into us, who holds us in our dying days and carries us forth into the promised land.

God, who created humankind in their own image, male and female God created them. God the Father is always God the Mother as well because whatever roles we might assign in our heads to those names, God has already exceeded beyond our wildest expectations. God is our Creator, our Founder, our Caretaker, our Bulwark.

And lest any of us be uncertain about the scriptural support we have for God’s gender-defying parental role, I invite you to reread with me the first paragraph from our Second Lesson today, First Peter chapter 2 verses 2 and 3.0020

2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

God is the Good Parent who claims us as God’s own, who feeds us and nourishes us that we may become all that God wishes us to be. God is the Good News, the Son, Jesus Christ, who gave his life that death may no longer have power of us, and who rose into heaven and rules us from his heavenly throne. God is the Good Advocate, the Holy Spirit that enriches us and pushes us forward that each of us may be more than our society-assigned roles lay us out to be and able to achieve greater miracles as we claim God’s faith and united together as God’s holy people, in the foundation of the church, the body of Jesus Christ on earth.

Amen

Sheep Grace-Sermon on John 10:1-10

Jesus is the gatekeeper. Watch out for thieves and bandits. And remember, we recognize his voice even if we don’t always listen.
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

May 7 – 4th Sunday in Easter

“Sheep Grace”.  Text is from  John 10:1-10


 

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.2 Sheep at the 2016 California State Fair
For the last few weeks we’ve been looking at the post-resurrection visions of Jesus, but now we’ve taken a step back. At this point in our cycle we come to the week 3 weeks after Resurrection Sunday that we commonly refer to as “Good Shepherd Sunday.”
Our text from John comes right after the account of the man born blind in which Jesus heals a man blind from birth. This account takes up an entire chapter, and finally ends with the Pharasees throwing the man born blind out of the temple, for basically being honest with them, and then Jesus is speaking to them:
‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.
It is at this point that Jesus moves into the beginning of the shepherd discourse by describing a gatekeeper and the sheep and the thief. He tells them that the gatekeeper is the only entrance to the pen and the gatekeeper is the only one who opens it. That those who enter the sheepfold any other way can only be thieves or bandits come to steal the sheep away. That the sheep only know the sound of the gatekeeper’s voice, and only listen to the gatekeeper because the gatekeeper knows them by name. That the stranger’s voice will cause the sheep to run away.
Jesus has to further explain these metaphors because the listeners don’t understand what he is saying. That when he talks about a gatekeeper he is talking about himself. That when he opens the gate that the sheep who pass through his gate discover salvation and find good pasture. That when he talks about a thief he is talking about someone who will steal the sheep away and kill them.
And then he tells them how the sheep who follow him, the gatekeeper, will have abundant life. Later on, after our passage, Jesus tells them that he will lay down his life for them. He also tells them that there are other sheep who are not among this fold that he will bring in as well.
So the allusions are clear. Jesus is telling his followers, the Pharisees, and everyone else who is listening, and in turn, us, that he is the way to salvation. That he paid the price for being that way to salvation. And he is also telling us that there are other voices out there that aren’t him. Voices that will try to steal us, and lead us astray. But that he knows us by name. And that those who are being saved know his voice. And finally he offers life, abundant life.
It may be easy to get caught up in those two words, there at the end, abundant life, because being human, we think of things materially. What do you think of when you hear them? I think having enough finances, having a large house, enough to take care of one’s self without having to want or need ever again. Honestly, after having paid last year’s taxes, and dealing with two months of pain since I broke my left arm, I have a few ideas of what material abundance might be…because it involves financial security and freedom from constant and nagging pain.
This is why preachers who preach the prosperity gospel are so lucrative. The prosperity gospel for those of you who don’t now it is the idea that Jesus wants everyone to have material things, in this world. It seems to me to be a twisting of scripture passages in order to make certain people wealthy, and if you’ve ever seen pictures of Joel Osteen’s house, you might know what I am talking about. But when Jesus tells us about abundant life, he is not talking about bank accounts, property or stocks and bonds.
Jesus has just taken a man who has been begging for all of his life, and given him the sight he has never experienced, so that the man turns to follow Jesus. What the man now has is an ability to govern his own needs and to experience salvation of the kind that Jesus describes…and life without end. And life with the comfort and presence of God holding us close.
And so why does it become so easy to be swayed by the promises of wealth and security? Because so many of us lack both of those, and we see those around us that have those things. It’s why playing the lottery becomes so appealing, despite the scientific evidence that according to the numbers, you will inevitably lose more than you put in, and only a very small percentage of people will actually win. But those people are the ones we hear about, because those are the ones with the compelling stories.
But those stories always have another side. Because for every one who makes it, there are a multiple of others that fall through the cracks. The United States is a wealthy nation, but one where the riches are concentrated among a very few. We are a nation where poverty and food insecurity means not that children are emaciated but that we have an obesity problem, because affordable meals for the very poorest are those that are the most filling, most caloric, and least nutritious. Health problems are on the rise but those that receive the worst nutrition are also among those unable to receive simple preventative medical care.
And yet, millions of other families in the world are suffering the opposite. Children are dying of starvation in places like South Sudan. It is easy to mistake the abundance of riches in places like the United States for being God’s fortune when you look at abundance with a material perspective, but how can we be any kind of *great* nation when we categorically ignore the crying out of the earth around us and allow such misery to take place, both within our borders and without. So if you want to tell me that abundance means that we can sit on our thrones and be wealthy while there are others in the world who suffer? That doesn’t sound like the voice of my good shepherd. That sounds like the voice of the destroyer, the one who leads the sheep astray.
And so, in this world, what do we need to recognize the voice of the good shepherd? How do we discern the love of Jesus calling to us amidst the cacophony of voices that would lead us with promises of riches and wealth and all sorts of other things that pretend to make us happy? What does it mean to live in a world where Good News and abundant life means not that we have won the Mega Millions in the lottery but that we have finally heard the voice of Jesus Christ, and discovered happiness, security, and the provenance of spiritual gifts.
Do you recognize the voice of the good shepherd over all the other voices? One particular thing that comes to mind for me is conspicuous consumption, because here it becomes hard to live without sin for almost any of us. If you drive a car regularly, if you eat anything but locally processed foods, if you use electricity or even any modern cellphone or a computer, you are already contributing to the decline of the ecosystem and the oppression of underpaid labor in foreign nations. Please let us be clear, I count myself among the afflicted of this particular sin of conspicuous consumption. It is a sin I believe very few of us can escape.
Does that mean that the gate that Jesus describes is closed to us? Pastor Sharon and I had a discussion about this particular thing a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t know which one came up with this term.
SHEEP GRACE.
We are forgiven. When we lay our sins down before our lord and seek his absolution we acknowledge those sins we may not be aware of, but being aware of this we acknowledge it as well. Being aware of this sin, we try to do better. When we don’t have to drive down the street, we can ride a bicycle or walk instead. We can take five minutes less online, we can turn off our cellphones for a while, and disconnect from the web. We hear the voice of our shepherd and follow him.
Jesus has laid down his life for us that we may be among the flock who enters in. The good news is that we do hear his voice. We are granted a measure of joy and Jesus has earned for us our salvation. And abundance means not for us the comfort of material wealth by the faith that our spiritual needs are fulfilled and God is with us, now, and forever.
Amen.

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