Heavy Burdens – Sermon on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

When Jesus says his yoke is easy, the yoke he’s talking about is a very burdensome object, designed for a large, heavy beast. But it becomes easy when Jesus is leading the way.
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.

July 9 – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

“Heavy Burdens”.  Text is from  Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Sermon audio follows:

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

(This portion of the sermon was unscripted)

Jesus starts off this conversation about how the children of Israel rejected both John and then Jesus in a seemingly contradictory terms; saying that John had a demon for being an a person who intentionally starved himself and that Jesus was a drunkard and glutton for eating with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus is uplifting the hypocritical nature of his critics, primarily at this time the Pharasees, in that it doesn’t matter how the person is living, as long as they say things contradictory to the way these followers of the old way practiced their faith, then they were subject to whatever creative invective was being hurled at them. All just names and words: Demon-possessed, drunkard and glutton. In a logical debate, these are called ad hominems, where one attacks the messenger rather than the message.

Evil OxenAnd I know it becomes easy to put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes, because we’ve all probably experienced at some time that someone who disagreed with us decided to look for some character trait we had, something someone might perceive as a flaw, and use it to try to derail the conversation. But it might be more difficult to see ourselves in the role of those that Jesus was criticizing. People whose world was being turned upside down, people already suffering under a tyrannical empire and now someone has come and is challenging their old ways of thinking about God?

But think about this point in Jesus ministry, we have to remember that the context of what Jesus is saying, which is more evident in Matthew’s gospel than any of the others, are such that they he says them after he has done some pretty unsettling and remarkable feats.

Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus has healed a leper.  But in doing so he has put his hands on the unclean person before he is healed.  Jesus, a holy man, has made himself ritually unclean while at the same time healing him.  He then went and brought the servant of a centurion back from the brink of death. An incredible miracle, but done on behalf of not only a gentile but a member of the harsh Roman ruling class.

And then Jesus eats in the company of sinners, further angering those who would wish for a messiah of their own choosing, one who is Jewish through and through, who follows Jewish custom and law to the “T”. This Jesus of Nazareth, who is showing so much potential, is nevertheless not falling in line with their ideals. He is turning the world upside down.

So when the very people Jesus has come to save become embroiled in the politics of the day, making the decision to follow the prevailing thought rather than the obvious messiah there before them.

And yet Jesus loves all of those people anyway. That those things that should be revealed were hidden from the wise.  Even as he criticizes us, he invites us to him. Even as we struggle, those of us who have rejected the help that we may be given, he tells us flat out,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

And Jesus, who suffered more than anyone could suffer, who had the greatest burden of all, tells us in no uncertain terms, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” What is a yoke? He is not talking about the yellow part of an egg here. What Jesus means is the harness that goes around the neck of oxen in order to pull a plow. How can a yoke even be easy?

But this passage here, these wonderful verses at the end of Matthew, have been considered by some theologians and scholars to be the heart of the gospel message. When Jesus says to take up our cross and follow him, earlier in Matthew, it seems like it is a great struggle but in truth, given the great struggles life has to throw at us, taking up one’s cross is, in fact, the easy decision.

Being a friend to people behind bars is not the easiest thing in the world. I relish my freedom, my sisters and brothers, as I’m sure do you. But also, being a person in recovery, I can tell you that when you are in the grip of dependency on chemicals, you can find yourself justifying the most ridiculous behaviors, and many of the decisions that some people make are so absurd and contrary to what society would expect from us. I can also assure you that when I put a chemical in my body, the conscious contact I feel with God becomes dulled and my ability to rely on God for good decision making becomes diminished if not completely quashed altogether.

But you don’t have to have been addicted to any substance to know that as human beings acting in a willful nature, we can do some pretty messed up things. When the consequences involve some sort of crime, we wind up having our choices taken away from us by the government. And while I have never personally experienced being locked up, I know enough people who have, and believe me, life is absolutely not easy for those people. It’s one of the main reason many people turn to God in those places, to try to seek solace and comfort where so little is to be found.

When I am fighting God and not doing what God wants me to do, I have a hard time of it. When life is causing storms and there seems to be no way out, when stress and difficulties befall me and I don’t understand what to do or how to take the next step, I do not know if I could even continue if I didn’t have God in my life.

Take my yoke upon  you and learn from me, Jesus says. And like the ox, Jesus is pulling us, guiding us where we need to go. We are the plow that Jesus pulls, we are the burden that Jesus carries. When Jesus says my yoke is easy, he means that it become easy when we yoke ourselves to him. When Jesus says my burden is light, it is us, our burden that we give him that makes it that much more light for us.

Life, my sisters and brothers is about suffering. Some of us suffer a great deal more than others. But none of us is ever alone in our suffering. Part of being the body of Christ, part of being of service to each other is being able to give up our burdens to each other.

Because this is the easier way, my sisters and brothers. And knowing the good news that God gave a son to teach us and die in our behalf, taking all of the ills of the world, our sins upon him amidst his suffering so that we may live anew, and rising again that we may live under his kind and loving r

Words – Homily on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Words hurt when people hurl them at you, even when they hurt. But wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
Wednesday’s homily was delivered without notes, so you may listen to the sermon rather than read it.  

Homily delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

July 5, 2017 – Fifth Wednesday after Pentecost

“Words”.  Text is from  Matthew 11:16-19,25-30

Sermon audio follows:

 

Radically hospitable – Sermon on Matthew 10:40-42

It’s easy to understand we’re called to do radical hospitality. As Christians, though, it can be much harder to accept radical hospitality ourselves.
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.

July 2 – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

“Radically hospitable”.  Text is from  Matthew 10:40-42

Sermon audio follows:

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

Every Sunday morning we read our very familiar welcome statement which leads us into worship with a sense of who it is we want to be as a community and how we want to live. And every Sunday morning with that declaration we are opening ourselves to becoming vulnerable to whomever might come in whatever condition or state of life they may be. The statement itself is often known as radical welcome, and yet having a statement alone does not define exactly how welcoming a congregation is.

Homeless people camping by Foto blog in ParisWe can hang a banner over the front door to the street that says “All Are Welcome In our Church” but if we don’t make visitors feel that indeed, we wish to have them here beside us and being a part of our family, they probably won’t want to come back. That means people of all varieties and backgrounds, creeds and colors, gender identity. It means it’s a job for the pastor and the regulars who sit in the pews as well. It means coming to Sunday worship is more than just sitting here and connecting with God on our own, it also means connecting with the outsiders and making our home, their home.

Because I think many of us have been to a new church a first time or visited one when we went to another area. And I know what it feels like to walk into a sanctuary before service and be completely ignored by the congregation members in a place that proclaims from the rafters that everyone is welcome. Radical hospitality demands a definitive action on the part of the hosts. Because signs in and of themselves only make statements and direct people, they don’t make truths.

And so make an effort to be the people we are meant to be, and we understand what it means to be wonderful hosts of others. What it means to bring people into our lives and be a part of our family, welcoming them into our homes: friends and strangers alike, welcoming them into our lives and giving them comfort and rest.

But how much does that translate into being the guests of good hosts? How are we to accept radical hospitality, particularly when it means that we have to be vulnerable to the people who are providing it?

So we are continuing from last week Jesus’s instructions to the twelve disciples as he is sending them out to proclaim the good news and to do deeds in his name, he has just warned them of the persecutions that they will face. And now he’s promising to give reward to any person who will help the disciples along the way and who will offer support to their ministry.

And he is couching it in some language the disciples would have been intimately familiar with. Welcoming a prophet and receiving a prophet’s reward? Well, in our reading we have Jeremiah and Hananiah with two competing prophecies for the people of Judea: and Jeremiah being openly hopeful that Hananiah’s prophecy of peace for the people to come true, but also questioning, because he himself had the word spoken in different ways to him and had advised that the kingdom submit to the vastly stronger King of Babylon lest war and hardship take them away. What was the prophet’s reward? For the people of Israel, having heeded the prophecy of the true prophet of God, Jeremiah, it meant safety and security.

And what of the reward of the righteous? We have evidence over and over again that Jesus means this to be the kingdom of God. In our second reading from Roman Paul talks about our having been slaves to sin while living under the law, and indeed, the rewards of that life is death. But by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, we are freed from death and become slaves to righteousness. And the reward of this new state of being is that we become holy people, sanctification, with the end result being God’s kingdom and eternal life. The reward of the righteous is, in fact an abundance of life overflowing and sharing in the beloved kingdom of God.

The little ones Jesus speaks of are only children in the metaphorical sense. As he speaks of his disciples going out he speaks of them in the terms that they are his children in the world. And in the image of their being offered a drink of water to quell their thirst we are reminded of the welcome Jesus received by the woman at the well in Samaria, and living water that baptizes all the people of God and embodies the holy spirit present in the disciples as they go out and share the good news of God, the love of one another.

The lives of the early Christians were fraught with misadventure and ill. In the Acts of the Apostles we read about imprisonment and death, we read about mobs coming after Paul because of what he stood for. The Roman Catholics have documented innumerable martyrdoms of early Christians in gory detail. The gospel spread in those early years exponentially, but not without cost to those that the Holy Spirit sent out.

But within the book of Acts is also those stories of the people who welcomed the early disciples of Christ in their homes, who did the bidding of God and helped the early believers as they acted out the good that the Holy Spirit sent them out to do. Names of people like Simon the Tanner, Cornelius, Lydia, Ananias (there is a good one), Prisca and Aquila, Sergius Paulus. People who helped carry the gospel by helping the people who were carrying it. People who opened their homes, provided resources, who gave of their time and energy in order that those who carried the message would be able to get it through.

God makes a way for the good news to travel. Even as we practice a hospitality that is more than simply welcoming, it actively invitational, we must also be prepared to envision where we are made welcome to do the work of God in the world, to see those means that we are able to share the good news in the world.

Where do you feel welcome? Where do you feel at home? Where are there people opening their hearts to you and allowing you a place to be vulnerable and speak the good news of Christ? The heart of the gospel is that the kingdom of God is close and that God loves the whole world, that we are called to love one another as Christ loves us and that we offer welcome to our neighbors even as we accept their welcome in the name of Christ.

This, my sisters and brothers, is living out God’s imminent kingdom in the world that we may prepare for God’s heavenly kingdom to come. Because let me tell you, if you think earthly radical hospitality and welcome is hard to come by, we have an incredibly open and hospitable host awaiting us in God’s great hereafter. And we can but model it in our homes and in our communities, as Jesus taught us to do and with the help of God’s Holy Spirit guiding us and giving us strength, that God’s good news be declared all throughout this world of God’s beloved people.

Amen.

Justus et Peccador – Homily on Romans 6:12-23

We are all of us Saints and Sinners. And this is what it means when we’re talking about it.
Wednesday’s homily was delivered without notes, so you may listen to the sermon rather than read it.  

Homily delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

June 28 – Fourth Wednesday after Pentecost

“Justus et Peccador”.  Text is from  Romans 6:12-23

Sermon audio follows:

 

Hospitable places – Sermon on Matthew 9:35–10:23

We don’t necessarily need comfort when we share the good news. But hospitality helps us establish intimacy. We need to know who we’re proclaiming to.
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.

June 18 – Second Sunday after Pentecost

“Hospitable places”.  Text is from  Matthew 9:35–10:23

Sermon audio follows:

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

I am going to describe something to you and I want you to nod your head if you have seen it.

Image of tea setting, two cups, crackers, tea kettle, books and pensA man is standing on a box in the middle of a public square. He may be holding a megaphone or may simply have a loud enough voice that to those who hear him don’t need the amplification. He probably has some signs in front of his box declaring how and in what manner God is going to send down his wrath and what people must do to be saved, and he may be with other people. The words coming out of his mouth are a combination of bible verses picked all across scripture and his interpretation of what those verses mean to those who may be listening. He might point at one or two people walking by, almost in a carnival barker style, declaring that this woman is dressed like a harlot or this young man should change his gangster lifestyle.

Regardless of his words, and usually it involves condemnation of just about everything, yes these are the type of Christians we mainliners just want to roll our eyes at an shake our heads to, because their hellfire and brimstoney speeches are clearly giving the rest of us a bad name. But the words are almost always falling on deaf ears. How can you call something good news that does very little but frightens people listening to it? And besides all that, what kind of message is shared when the messenger is so far removed from the object of the message? With such a lack of connection, is it any wonder that these street hawkers of biblical condemnation meet with very little success?

Yes, the gospel message is offensive to those who are afraid to embrace the gift of faith that Jesus Christ has bought for us. That Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Yes, some people shirk at the mere mention of his name, because of what they think people are saying versus what the good news is all about. But that doesn’t mean that the gospel message is one that should be offensive! Christ calls us into community, and the grace of Christ is meant to be shared between people who are connected, people who are able to look each other in the eye and speak to one another by name. We break bread when we are gathered. The message that Jesus Christ is Lord is a message to be shared among all peoples, but one that is shared with kindness and love and understanding.

Today is the first Sunday in that long season after Pentecost known as “ordinary time”.  And each year, we follow along with Jesus and his disciples as they travel throughout the appointed Gospel for that year, with miracles, parables and words of wisdom.

Jesus is traveling throughout Galilee and doing miracle, healing every person that asks, and feeling for the growing crowds that gather around him, knowing that they are facing things in life that make it difficult for them. Is it oppression from their rulers? Is it that the people who are gathering are homeless, jobless, kicked out of their communities? For whatever reason, Jesus sees them and has compassion, telling his disciples that the people need direction, that this harvest is plentiful, and that it’s time.

Jesus gathered all of his disciples together to give them instruction as to what they should do in his name. Matthew recites the name of all twelve of them for us, and this is telling for he names them alongside of the instruction and authority that Jesus gives them: Curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers and casting out demons. Last week we were talking about people who are unworthy doing deeds in Jesus’ name. And yet it is clear what Matthew intends here, that all twelve of the disciples, including the one who was to eventually betray Jesus, are given the power and authority to perform miracles even as they proclaim the good news.  As if the power of God is greater than any weakness of humankind.

And the additional instructions, included here give us a decent idea of what is entailed with the sharing of the gospel. That the disciples, even those of them who were men of means, such as Matthew, take only the clothes on their back, no money, none of the comforts of life. That they should expect hospitality where they go, and if they do not receive it, those places are definitely not ready to hear the good news. Jesus’ message seems to become more prophetic toward the end of the instructions, because the details seem to be more about the time after the resurrection than they do the current commission.

But one thing is clear in the instructions that Jesus is giving out. He is not telling them to go to the town square and shout at passersby warning them of the impending apocalypse. He is telling his disciples to accept the hospitality of strangers and to become vulnerable to those people and therein lies the good news.

What does it mean to be vulnerable to people we are bringing the gospel to? It may seem easy at some times. People like to host guests, show that they can spend time over a carefully prepared meal and provide a welcome respite for a weary traveler. Accepting hospitality of strangers is no great chore.  But while the message is the same, the world has changed greatly. We don’t travel from town to town spreading the good news. Our proclamation happens right in our own back yard.  Perhaps that is in part some reason why some people find it simply easier to get on a soap box and shout at passing strangers with whom they share no real connection.

So what is it like to accept hospitality and become intimate with the people that Jesus calls us to witness to in this day and age.  How do you accept the hospitality of prisoners, for instance, when you’re in an environment where there is no possibility of the exchange of food, of comfort? How do you establish the kind of intimacy required to share the good news?

What about on the street with a person who is living in a doorway. Who has nothing real to offer to you except what they have managed to collect in their day to day. Where the kind of comfort one expects from living indoors does not exist. Sometimes hospitality may mean bringing your own cup of coffee and one to share as well.

How about in a nursing home? Where the resident may have a cache of candy but receives only the food that comes with their daily meals? Their home is possibly one half of a two-person unit.  Like with the others, hospitality is being invited into a space. Establishing intimacy is being able to look the other person in the eye and naming them. Being able to see the Christ in them as they see the Christ in you. Opening yourself up to the Holy Spirit to guide you as you open your heart to the person in front of you.

Because in a world where people are often mean to each other, hospitality is a unique thing. How many of us know the names of our neighbors on both sides of us? How about across the street or hallway? And how many of them know that we are Christians called upon to proclaim the good news as his disciples? In the world today, we must sometimes be uncomfortable to become intimate, we must sometimes brave strange places to go where Jesus calls us. Because the good news needs to be proclaimed, and we are God’s tools to do it.

 

Amen

Good enough: Sermon on Matthew 28:16-20

Do you linger with doubt? Jesus calls you to do his work in the world anyway.
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.

June 11 – Holy Trinity Sunday

“Good enough”.  Text is from  Matthew 28:16-20

Sermon audio follows:

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

Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity badgeDo you ever think that you’re not good enough for the gospel? Do you ever think that something that you’ve got inside of you, maybe a yearning doubt or maybe that your faith isn’t strong enough, or maybe you’ve done so much in your life that you don’t think there’s a chance in the world that you would feel the call of God to do the work that he calls you to do in the world.

Sisters and brothers, this is not an unfamiliar feeling, even to those of us who are seemingly the ones to whom God has issued a call to discipleship, whether they be pastors, deacons, leaders of the church, or other types of ministry. I know that I’ve experienced many doubts in my lifetime, unable to be certain of whether I was good enough to share the good news, or even worthy enough to earn the merit of salvation. They can be some hard feelings to overcome.

And so many of us linger, unsure of where the spirit is moving us, how the spirit is driving us. Determined that while our soul is being fed on Sunday morning, the task of discipleship is best left to others, those that are truly meritorious of this, the final commission that Jesus Christ sent his disciples out on the final days he was in the world.

But we have the love of God within us. And we have the peace that Christ offers us. And through the communion of the Holy Spirit, we are compelled to act in ways that are contrary to often selfish human nature. God calls us into discipleship. And in the words of Christ, it doesn’t matter whether or not we believe strongly enough or behave righteously enough. He sent all of his disciples into the world to do the work, as we read at the end of Matthew.

The final commission completes the Gospel of Matthew, and takes place not long after Jesus has risen from the dead. All of the disciples return to their homeland, in Galilee, where Jesus appears to them all at the same time time (at least in the Gospel of Matthew). The end of the Gospel of Matthew is the beginning of the work of Christ in the world.

Jesus’ place here is no doubt. This dialogue takes place after all the miracles he has performed. All the prophecies he has fulfilled. This happens beyond the Last Supper, the betrayal, suffering, crucifixion and death. We have witnessed the empty tomb, and Christ has appeared to the women, Peter, John, the rest of therm. There is no question that Christ is Lord and that his divinity is from God’s own self.

And so the command that Jesus gives the disciples, to go out into the world and make other disciples, stems from that divine authority, directly from God.  To baptize them in the triune name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The same authority that Jesus had to forgive sins, that the Pharisees called blasphemy. Jesus is telling his followers to baptize in his name. In the name of the Father. And in the name of the Son. And in the name of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is God. End of question. And he has given this special commission to each and every one of them.

And so, when we read what Matthew tells us in verse 17: “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” My mind simply boggles. After all this time, after following Jesus, after seeing him appear to them already several time and after listening to the testimony of others, some of these people continue to doubt. Some of these human, frail, imperfect human beings doubted that what they were witnessing was, in fact, the return of their teacher, their friend. Despite all the evidence.

But that’s not what really throws me.

Because despite that doubt. Despite that disbelief, Jesus still sent them out to make disciples. Yes, you who doubt me, go and make disciples of humankind. You who resist the faith that I have entrusted to you, yes, you over there, you are yet qualified to baptize in my name, in the name of God the Father, in the name of God the Son, and in the name of God the Holy Spirit, make disciples, and tell them to obey all the commandments that I have given you.  Love each other as I have loved you. Love God with everything you’ve got. Love your neighbors like you would yourself, and I don’t mean the way you fail to love yourself when you harm yourself but the way you’re intended to love yourself to preserve yourself and make yourself feel good. Yes, do that with your neighbors too.

This I tell you to do everywhere in the world you may go.

These are God’s commandments that Jesus tells them to do, but in the resurrection, they are not simply God’s commandments, they come from Jesus too. And he has the strength and power to instruct anyone to share the good news of his new covenant with mankind. Even those who doubt. Even those who are less than perfect.

And so we can doubt. And if you realized this was Holy Trinity Sunday and was hoping for a sermon whereby the pastor explained the hypostatic nature of the Holy Trinity, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Because I can’t even say I completely understand it. I know and declare that God is the Creator and Jesus is God and God, the Holy Spirit directs us in our day to day activities. That God, the Parent made us and loves us and that God the Son and the Word gave his life for us and rules over us and God the Holy Spirit breathes in us and enables us to live righteously and love each other. And we don’t need to understand the nature of the Trinity to be God’s wonderful servants, to be disciples.

We don’t need to lead perfect lives and we don’t need to be exemplars of faith, and we don’t need to worry about all of our past deeds. Faith is a journey and we journey together.

If we want to lead more holy lives, we can take a loo at what it means to declare everything that we do, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” What would it look like if all of our efforts were done with the understanding that right there, in the room with us, were the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That all the promises that they entailed, all of the meaning that went with them. How we behave and how we experience each moment. Every meeting, every dinner, every car wash, in the triune name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Any fear we have will be assuaged. Any doubt we experienced is relieved.

Sisters and brothers, the doubt that we sometimes fear is not somehow telling us that our faith has failed or that we are somehow unworthy of God. It is telling us that we are human, and therefore absolutely loved by God, and as Jesus has called us to act as disciples, and given us authority to do great things in his name, having doubts doesn’t discount that. Being imperfect simply reminds us that we need God to complete us, because in no way are we able to have the strength on our own, and God is always there to do that.

God loves us, just as we are. Jesus calls us into mission, no matter how we believe. The Holy Spirit moves us forward, whether we’re ready or not. And the good news is that we never have to doubt. We never have to fear. Because God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is with us, from beginning to end.

Amen

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

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