The Big Sister Prophet - Micah 6:3-4; Exodus 15:20-21; Numbers 20:1-2
August 9, 2020
Today’s message is a piece I wrote and delivered as part of a sermon series that was created by my good friend, and sister in Christ, Rev. Dawn Carlson of The Phoenix Congregational Fellowship. The series is entitled: “A Cup Of Tea And A Conversation” and it speaks to the voices of the many wonderful and important women of the bible.
Those of you who know me well will know that I will be having a cup of coffee as I chat about a woman whom, up until this week, I only knew as Moses’ big sister. Her name i key to Israel’s survival. She was a hero then. And is still a hero today. Paving the way for women and men alike to be faithful leaders in God’s Righteousness.
I am blessed to have two big sisters. Both of whom I love and adore for a variety of reasons. I can honestly say they have both been good to me. They always loved and looked out for me, even though they told everyone I wasn’t really their baby brother but some kid they ordered from the Sears catalogue. True story.
I am also blessed to have seven sisters-in-law. I think it’s best not to say anything more. I know better, having once said a mother in law joke in church while my mother in law sat in the pew leering at me. All nine of these women have added to my storied life - teaching me lessons that one often learns the hard way.
Now there isn’t any one specific thing that Miriam taught her brothers that’s recorded in the Bible. But if you have an older sibling, or if you are one yourself, then you know she couldn’t help herself to give her two cents. Because other than being a built-in babysitter for your parents, one of the many roles of the big sister is being bossy. Just ask my eldest daughter, who has no problem wielding her power over the other two...or over me. I will forever be the baby brother, and she uses that to her advantage.
Some of the best lessons I’ve learned from my sisters have happened by observing them. I’ve watched my sister Sally welcome people with an openness and kindness like no other. I’ve seen how she’s always ready to jump in and help out, and is always willing to listen to your problems. Her actions have helped me considerably in shaping my ministry. I have also watched both my sisters struggle with some really difficult things in their life, and as result I have learned how to persist in spite of the obstacles that try to stop me.
Miriam was like that. A persistent and strong role model for her brothers. And at a time when women were to be seen but not heard, nevertheless, Miriam persisted.
Because of her tenacity she was much more than a big sister, she was vital and invaluable to Israel’s story. Perhaps that is why she is mentioned more than 15 times in five separate books of the Old Testament. My favorite comes from the prophet Micah who does something unheard of in his day. He boldly declares Miriam as one of God’s great messengers of deliverance (Micah 6:3-4).
Although she’s often overshadowed by her famous brothers, Micah made it pretty clear that Miriam is on par with Moses and Aaron as having been appointed by God to deliver the Israelites from their Egyptian captors.
This is a far cry from where she started out – as a young unnamed girl babysitting her brother on the banks of the Nile River. You know the story. After living in Egypt for four hundred years, the Hebrew people began to outnumber the Egyptians. With a similar fear to what some of us have in our own country about foreigners, a paranoid Pharaoh declared that “Every male born to the Hebrews must be thrown into the Nile.”
Fearing for her son’s life, Moses mom hides the infant in a basket and places him in the reeds on the bank of the river. Moses’ sister, which is how Miriam is introduced, waited and watched to see what would happen. When Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the basket, Moses’ sister does the unthinkable: she approaches the princess and starts up a conversation. Like that wasn’t dangerous enough for a slave girls to do, Moses’ sister convinced the princess to defy her father’s royal decree, and even tricks her into paying Moses’ mom to nurse her own child.
Because of her bold confidence, her fearless tenacity, and her law-breaking/deal making skills, Miriam not only protected and restored her family, but also solidified Israel’s freedom and redemption. And yet, this celebrated savior remained unnamed.
That’s so like God isn’t it? Lifting up people because of what they can do; not because of who they are. It’s not that our names are unimportant, but I believe it’s our actions that people will remember us by. Miriam was no different.
Thirteen chapters later in the Exodus story, we not only learn Miriam’s name, but also discover she’s a prophet – someone who was chosen to speak for God.
My big sister Sally loves to speak for the entire family, often at a very loud decibel level. I can honestly say, none of it is very prophetic, or godly for that matter. Even though we don’t get any specific details - the Bible gives us some clues to the way Miriam prophesies. For example, after God sends the plagues upon Egypt and delivers the Israelites through the Sea of Reeds, Miriam leads all the women in worship with song and dance (Exodus 15:20-21).
Her song may not sound prophetic or even radical by our standards but remember, what Miriam did on the sandy banks of the Reed Sea was unthinkable for a woman in her day. In her defying of the social norms and rules of conduct, Miriam created an act of worship that is still practiced in nearly every church and synagogue around the world. So you see, the power of one’s actions can have historic impact throughout the generations. Even if it’s just a song.
Years ago, my sister-in-law formed a “band” with her five younger sisters. They were called Angel and the Bad Girls. Maura, of course, was Angel. That’s just one of the perks of being the older sibling. Using hair bushes as microphones, they played such venues as the Living Room or the At the Kitchen Mirror. Although the band wasn’t very popular, the sisters reunite every Thanksgiving to sing their biggest hit a cover of the Kenny Rogers classic, the Gambler.
I know for a fact that Miriam’s short song was never a Billboard hit, but it is forever recorded in the holy scriptures as the climax to Israel’s four hundred years of oppression. Ever since then, God’s people have remembered this heroic woman by singing her song during Passover. Talk about an unexpected prophetic witness.
Her song makes me wonder about my own witness. What is my song that I lift up for God’s glory? What can I do to get people dancing and moving with such exuberant joy?
Again as the prophet Micah writes, “and what does the Lord require but to love justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Love. Kindness. Humility. That is to be our song, our witness in the world.
Unlike her brothers who focused on stirring speeches, Miriam chose singing and dancing in moments of joy. It’s been said that because of her exuberant praise after crossing through the waters, God rewarded Miriam’s joy in the most unexpected way.
According to the medieval scholar, Rashi, Miriam was more than a big sister or prophet. She was literally the Well of Life. What is now known as Miriam’s well, God’s people always had water as they moved through the parched wilderness. Miriam was, without a doubt, vital to the survival of God’s people as they began their 40 year journey towards the Promised Land. This was something her community only realized after Miriam’s death (Numbers 20:1-2).
From the banks of the Nile to the triumphal exodus through the Sea of Reeds to her miraculous well, Miriam’s story is as vital to God’s people as water is to us.
A sister, a prophet, a savior and sustainer. Miriam is a heroic figure who is still able to lead us through the wilderness of our time. Micah wasn’t just being nice to include her in his prophecy; he was being accurate. He recognized her importance and made sure that her name would be forever engraved on the heart of Israel, and Christians as well.
Like Miriam, Jesus’ story was framed in water. From his baptismal font in the Jordan River, to the wedding at Cana, to the piercing of his side on the cross, Jesus is described as Living Water. It’s written in John’s gospel, that anyone who drinks of this water will never thirst again.
Just as Miriam did for her people, Jesus does for all; lifting us up and sustaining us in times of fear, uncertainty and death. Much like his ancient ancestor, Jesus defied the system and status quo to bring relief to the poor, the sick, and the marginalize. And he still does this today. His cup overflows with the love of God so that all who thirst for righteousness receive it.
On those hard days when you thirst for justice, or want to savor God’s grace; when you feel like you’re trapped inside your house or out there struggling in the wilderness; when you fear you’ll never sing your favorite hymns the way you used to or dance with joy because it feels like there is no more joy to go around, remember the story of Miriam, the big sister prophet, the vessel of God’s loving grace, a leader among men.
As J. Lee Grady says of Miriam, “She was not an inferior appendage, smiling from her tent, washing clothes and preparing food with the other women ... while Moses and Aaron managed the problems of the nomadic nation. Miriam was given authority by God to lead. She functioned, along with her brothers, as a governing elder.”
And isn’t that what Christ has called us and empowered us to do? To lead - boldly and fearlessly?
I hope that you will leave here today knowing that you too are not only a vessel of God’s goodness, but in Christ you are also a leader. One who steps up when it’s not expected, when it goes against cultural expectations, or when it means stepping up to royalty, and disobeying the written law of the land, Jesus calls us to be like Miriam, who despite the odds set against her, nevertheless, in faithfulness, she persisted.
How blessed are we that we have her story, and “the stories of so many persistent women of faith who fought against the limiting rules and unjust laws, who risked family and life, who spoke when they weren’t supposed to speak, who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, to ensure that God’s justice shall reign on earth.”
Following in this tradition, I encourage you to go and do the same. Just as Miriam was a prophet who paved the way for Christ’s reign it’s now our turn to pave the way for Christ’s return. It’s time to be the one who gets the world to sing and dance and laugh and celebrate again.
So let us go now, and fill each other’s cup with love and joy and all the goodness of life that God has given to us through Christ Jesus. Let us make that our story and our song that bring all glory to our God, now and forever, Amen.
Let us pray:
Gracious and loving God, you have a way of doing things that never ceases to amaze us. You call us, ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Making us your children, inviting us to be your presence in the world. When all we can say is thank you for all that you do for us - that is enough to make you dance with joy. Send us now out into our communities with hearts of joy to celebrate and share your name in the many ways we live out the love of Jesus. Amen
Alexander, T. Desmond and David W. Baker, eds. Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Downers Grove, Il: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003.
Artson, Bradley. Miriam: Water Under The Bridge. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/miriam-water-under-the-bridge/ (accessed Aug 07, 2020).
James, Thomas. Persistent Women: Miriam. Sermon on Sept. 9, 2018. https://wsumc.com/multimedia-archive/miriam (accessed Aug 07, 2020).
Mandel, David. Miriam. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/miriam/ (accessed Aug 07, 2020).
Siegal, Madisen. The Forgotten Sister. January 18, 2017. https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/forgotten-sister-miriam (accessed Aug 07, 2020).
Gathering Together – Matthew 13:44-53
August 2, 2020
Recently, the family and I have been enjoying old episodes Psych, a TV show about two guys who run a psychic detective agency in Santa Barbara. In the episode titled, "The Greatest Adventure in the History of Basic Cable," Shawn and Gus find themselves in a dangerous but hilarious chase with a shady group of treasure hunters who are looking for the buried stash of an old French pirate named Bouchard. It’s a treasure Shawn’s uncle has spent his entire life searching for ... but comes up short when these so call detectives get in on the action.
From classic movies like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World to the billion-dollar franchises of Indiana Jones, The Hobbit, and Pirates of the Caribbean, Hollywood has always capitalized on the treasure seeking spirit within us all. I mean, who doesn’t love finding a hidden treasure? There’s still a part of me that hopes every time I dig a hole in my yard, I will find gold, or oil, or my first wedding ring.
A while back I saw a man with a metal detector walking in front of my house. Apparently, there are people who like to search around the property of old homes like ours hoping to find antique coins, bottle caps, and other weird stuff. Watch only one episode of Antique Roadshow or Storage Wars… and you’ll learn everything has a value to someone.
Which takes us to today’s lesson, and our conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon of the Parables from Matthew 13. To recap Jesus has compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a sower sowing seeds, and weed that grow among the wheat, and last week it was the mustard bush and a batch of yeast. Today, Jesus teaches his disciples about the worth of this heavenly kingdom and what makes it so valuable.
Read Matthew 13:44-53
Having left the public, Jesus and the Twelve go to a private house where he tells them two sets of “Twin Parables.” Some people called than that because they share the same blood, but are both uniquely their own.
In the first set, you may have noticed that one focuses on a random discovery, while the other is an active search. Yet both express great joy on behalf of the one who finds them. A joy so great that they are willing to sacrifice everything to possess the treasure for themselves.
It’s worth mentioning that the man who finds the treasure buried in the field will be set up for life, while the pearl the merchant procures will cost him everything he has. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like: a kind of joy that sets you up for life if you’re willing to give up everything to obtain it.Again, this kingdom is not some far away home in the sweet by-in-by. It’s a part of the here and now. Jesus brings this to our attention as we learn how to exist with one another.
Why is this important for us to know? Because the other second set of parables remind us of the eschatological nature, or the end times, of these stories. As if Jesus is saying, our future is tied to the ways we behave towards one another this side of eternity.
One could argue these parables are about our faith and willingness to follow Jesus. And in many ways, they are. He shows us the way to live into God’s righteousness. Others might argue they are about the goodness of God, which is the biggest theme of the entire Bible. You might be like me and see a mix of both. For example, I see God as both the treasure and the treasure seeker.
Now what do we know about treasures, other than pirates like to steal them? Up until the modern banking system, it was common for people to bury valuable possessions as a means to keep them safe from thieves and wild marauders. This was a great idea unless you were killed or died without telling anyone about your secret hiding place.
To this day people are still digging up priceless treasures all over the world. Nearly all of them remain a mystery to who buried it and why. Some of these discoveries include antique vessels filled with gold coins, precious gems, and various kinds of heirlooms. Other’s have been sports memorabilia or antique cars abandoned in storage facilities. Again, everything is worth something to someone.
Just last week I found this old spike while digging in my yard. It’s not worth much, but it was kinda cool to find. The joy I felt when I found it doesn’t compare to what Howard Carter experienced when he discovered King Tutt’s tomb. For those of you old enough to recall, my discovery was still more exciting than watching Geraldo Rivera hunt for Jimmy Hoffa.
This is what the kingdom of heaven is like: Joy. Delight. Excitement.
In this kingdom some of us are rubies. Some of us are diamonds, gold doubloons, an old photograph or love note. It doesn’t matter who or what you are. God knows your heart and sees your value. Jesus calls you a perfect pearl. One that God is willing to sacrifice everything just to hold you in his hand.
Here’s what I learned about pearls. They’re the only gem formed and found within a living creature. Sapphires, diamonds or emeralds can’t make this claim. Moreover, pearls are formed out of great suffering. For example, a parasite or a grain of sand works its way inside an oyster. In order to sooth the pain, a fluid is produced that coats the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating is built up until the lustrous gem is formed.
Every pearl is made this way, yet no two are the same. Some pearls are created naturally in saltwater, others are farmed in freshwater. Some are various shades of white, and others various shades of black. Yet all are worth everything to God.
This is what the kingdom of heaven is like. It’s joyful and priceless. It’s where something as banal as a grain of sand can be transformed into a unique, intrinsic, highly desired gem. No wonder Jesus said a person will give up everything to have that treasure.
Now, imagine you are the treasure seeker. What exactly are you looking for? More importantly, what are you willing to give up in order to obtain it?
The disciples have given up everything – their families, their jobs, their safety and security – all to follow a man who had nothing material to offer them. What did they expect to gain in return for their sacrifice? A mansion and Ferrari in the afterlife, streets paved with gold as if the best God could come up with was Beverly Hills but with better weather and less smog? In his book Love Wins, Rob Bell writes, “How we see heaven will directly affect how we understand what to do with our days in this age.”
The next two parables, I think, allude to the eschatological nature our actions. The good and the bad, the new and the old. They are parables like the wheat and the weeds that tell us not everything will be welcomed in God’s realm. Things like greed, injustice, anger, violence, racism, rituals, doctrine and dogma all come to mind.
Basically, I’d say whatever does not reveal the love and goodness of God’s righteousness is not worth holding on to; especially if they keep you from thriving in the kingdom. It’s best to let them go, if you want to go with Jesus.
Truth be told, it’s not that great of a sacrifice considering what you’re getting in return. Letting go of bad things free us up to joyfully embrace the goodness of the kingdom - bridge building, peacemaking, pursuing justice, and showing mercy and kindness. These are the treasures God is looking for in us. The very things that ignite God’s delight and joy and excitement when found.
Now let’s go back to finding that treasure. In 2013 a Northern California couple had an experienced that would make for a wonderful, modern parable. While walking their dog on their large rural property, they noticed a rusty can popping up from the ground. Curiosity got the best of them and they took to digging it up. And boy, were they glad they did. That old can was filled with gold coins.
After quietly celebrating, the couple returned with a metal detector, and unearthed seven more cans for a total of 1,427 uncirculated and mint condition gold coins from the 19th century. No one knows where they came from or how they got there. Only after the last can was uncovered did the couple notice an odd-shaped rock tied to a weathered leather thong, and left hanging from a tree, right there in plain sight, marking where the treasure was.
This is the kingdom of heaven. It’s full of joy, unexpected surprises, and plenty of clues revealing the mysteries of God. Jesus is one such clue; showing us that the true treasures we seek are within our grasp.
It doesn’t matter if God is the treasure or the one looking for it, or we are. When the two come together, the human and the divine, there is great joy and delight. Every time we love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, seek justice and demand equality, the kingdom of heaven is revealed. As Jesus put it, “Whoever gets in trouble for doing the right thing will be blessed in the kingdom of heaven.”
God knows the treasure that is in us, and the treasure God is. Now it’s up to us to discover its true value.
Despite the division, the pain and suffering our country and the world is enduring, God, in Christ, is making something very holy and sacred happen in our lives. The more we become aware of it, and move to participate in it, the more we discover and uncover the real treasure of God’s love right here and right now in our lives.
Whether you’re a treasure buried deep in the earth or sunk at the bottom of the ocean, remember this there is no place to far or to deep for God’s grace to find you and redeem you back into his heart. That’s the good news. That God is willing to joyfully enter life, to look and search for us, and then claim us no matter the cost, is the greatest treasure of all.
Jesus asked his disciples if they understood what he meant. We know in hindsight, that their ‘yes’ was premature. They will not fully gasp it until they go into Jerusalem with him one last time and witness the power of God’s redemptive love.
Though we have the gospel stories that tell us what happened after Jesus gave his life for us, we don’t really know what God is capable of doing because it’s still being revealed to the world. We have to trust that God knows what God is doing, and stand firm in God’s righteous, even if we get in trouble for doing so. But in return for such faithful action, comes the kingdom of heaven.
So, I’ll ask you one more time, are you ready to let go of the things that are keeping you from living and thriving in God’s love, peace and joy?
Are you ready to live into your faith, to be a valuable part of the body of Christ, the visible presence of God’s grace here on earth as it is in heaven?
If so, then here’s one last parable for you to ponder. The kingdom of heaven is like you. And you are worth more to God than any earthly treasure.
Let us pray:
Blessed Lord, thank you for seeing our value when we are not able to. Thank you for making us worth something in your kingdom when the world believes we aren’t so worthy. Thank you for Christ, who gave all that he had for you, your glory, and our salvation. May we always walk in his way, and pray in his name. Amen
Works CitedBell, Rob. Love Wins: a Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. New York: HarperOne, 2011.
Lockyer, Herbert. All the Parables of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963.
The joy of having a mobile church is that you can worship literally from anywhere. Like the kitchen inside my house. And without some great institution telling me what to do or say, I pretty much have free range to share what God puts on my heart.
For example, I can stand in my kitchen and read the ingredients on the back of a bottle of mustard if I want to. By the way, did you know mustard is made with: distilled vinegar, water, number one grade mustard seed, salt, turmeric, paprika, spice, natural flavor, and garlic powder? The particular brand of French’s Yellow Mustard claims zero calories, no artificial colors or flavors, and it’s gluten-free.
Why am I doing this? Because there’s a good chance you have a bottle of mustard in your kitchen. It’s a common condiment one keeps on hand and yet we barely know anything about it. I think it’s safe to say that mustard takes up less space in one’s head than it does in one’s refrigerator.
When I think of mustard, I am reminded of a trip I took with two friends for spring break. Like most starving students, we barely had enough money for gas, and hardly enough for beer. Food was an afterthought. But we had to eat, so we hit the grocery store and grabbed whatever we could afford.
As I was standing in line with my provisions, my buddy Gordon came up behind me balancing a jar of mustard and a loaf of bread on top of three cases of beer. No cheese. No meats. No other condiments. He had no need other than those three things. For Gordon, there was nothing better than a mustard sandwich and a cold beer. Who would have thought something as common as mustard could bring a person so much joy?
I see this story in a different light now that I’ve come to understand what an ancient mystic meant when he said, “God is nothing.” That is to say God is no thing, but all things. Even a common plastic container of mustard or a loaf of bread? I think Jesus gives us some clues in his parables.
We’ve spent the last two weeks dancing around Matthew 13, skipping over some pretty import stuff. Like these two parables found in verses 31-35.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” 33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” 34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:“I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
You might have noticed a theme evolving. Not just seeds, plants and things that grow. But a bigger theme that’s been hiding in plain site. And that is: The kingdom of heaven. The realm where human and divine mingle together.
Matthew first mentions this kingdom in chapter three with John the Baptist. When Jesus went to the wilderness to be baptized by him, John proclaimed, “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” We see it again in chapter four, when Jesus begins his ministry saying the same thing, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”
As Talitha Arnold points out, “Jesus demonstrates that nearness every time he heals someone, reaches out to outcasts, respects women, and cares for the poor.” To expand on her point, God’s kingdom is not some esoteric far off place; it’s literally down to earth, here in this present moment. It’s as close as our breath behind a mask, or mustard on a hamburger bun.
Jesus said it’s been hidden from the world up until this point. But it’s been hidden in plain site. As these parables demonstrate, God’s kingdom can be found in every nook and cranny of our daily life. We can see it with our eyes, touch it with our hands, and taste and savor its sweetness as well as its bitterness. The kingdom of heaven is near.
If Jesus were telling these parables today, I imagine him saying the kingdom of heaven is like a maid who cleans your hotel room no matter how big of a mess you make. Or the kingdom of heaven is like a sandwich artist at Panera who gives you a little extra meat because you look hungry.
While God’s grace, mercy and love are extravagant and elegant visions of heaven, they are also as commonplace as holding the door for someone in a hurry. God’s realm is found and discovered in everyday people doing everyday things. Which tells me, what we do in this kingdom is actually pretty important.
In her award-winning book Liturgy of The Ordinary, Tish Warren sees everyday tasks as the extraordinary ways of worship. She writes, “In the overlooked moments and routines, we can become aware of God’s presence in surprising ways.” We can use the ordinary to be extraordinary for God’s glory.It’s up to us to embrace the sacred in secular life.
Recently a friend posted pictures of her trip into the redwood forest. In describing her pictures, she used words like majestic, wondrous, and heavenly. The same kind of words the psalmist used to glorify God. However, this person does not believe in God. Yet here she was giving God praise.
Eugene Peterson wrote, “Everything that is made is a clue that leads us back to God.” Every small seed and gigantic sequoia; every cry of a hungry baby; every hollow gaze of a thirsty drunk. All things lead us back to God, if we only open our eyes to see. As Peterson noted, “Our ability to see anything and understand it is because of God. Even our questions about God are evidence of God. Our enlightened minds, which we may use to deny God, are a gift from God who gives us life.”
Jesus got that. And revealed it to us in parables. Thanks to Jesus, we have the ability to see the kingdom like he did. Through him, we can embrace and embody the incarnation, the mystery of the oneness between the divine and human that was revealed at his birth.
What does this mean for us today? Let me just say Jesus isn’t merely opening our eyes. He’s calling us to open our hearts and hands too to do the kingdom work – revealing God’s righteousness in the most mundane and majestic ways.
I’m sure you’re laughing right now, believing there’s nothing divine about you. I know I have doubted this about myself more than once this week. And it’s only Sunday.You might be doubting your ability to make a difference in God’s kingdom. You might think because you don’t have the education, or you don’t know the bible very well, or that you’re shut away in your home that you’re not worth much to God.
Think about this: In Ancient Israel, yeast was commonly used in stories to illustrate corruption and impurity. Jesus used it to describe the religious leaders who were out to get him. And yet in this parable, it’s a good thing. Just as the yeast of the Pharisees revealed God’s glory, so too can you be the same.
An ordinary seed that produces a tree of life. Corrupt leaven that can make enough bread to feed the multitudes. If this is how God’s kingdom works with insignificant everyday objects, then just imagine what God can do with ordinary people like you and me.
Because of Jesus we are not only able to see the nearness of God but we can also be the nearness of God by embracing every moment as sacred...and human as divine. This is what it means to be the church, the body of Christ, that lives life like he lived his – loving others as he loved, forgiving as he forgave; praying, healing and caring for those in need, just like he did.
We cannot make the kingdom of heaven happen, that’s not up to us. But as the church, as disciples and students of Jesus Christ, we are called to partake in it; to play in this heaven realm and share it with everyone. Through the smallest of acts of charity to the grandest gifts, we too can reveal the secrets of God’s kingdom and its nearness in our lives. Every smile we give is a smile God gives to that person receiving it. Every meal we make, every flower we plant, every child we teach, every wrong we let go of … a little bit of heaven is revealed.
In closing I want to leave you with these words from the great American poet, Wendell Berry who wrote, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” Think about that today. Through Christ Jesus, God has opened our eyes to see the world as God sees it – as a holy and sacred space. A place where people of every color, class, and condition can live together in peace.
As you move in the world, remember Jesus has employed and empowered you to move into those desecrated places and reclaim its sacredness by being holy and beloved children of God.
You are God’s abundance. You are the visible presence of thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. You are the mustard and bread of life … blessed by Holy Spirit … to nurture and nourish the world … one sandwich, one smile, one person at a time.
Let us pray
Gracious Lord, for some reason you believe in us. Despite all that we have done to reject you, you still continue to accept us. Help us to remember this as we move from here out into your kingdom to shine the light of Christ and to see and embrace all people like he did. Not for our glory but for yours. amen.
Arnold, Talitha J. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
Berry, Wendell. How To Be A Poet. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/41087/how-to-be-a-poet (accessed on July 25, 2020).
Peterson, Eugene. A Year With Jesus: Daily Readings and Meditations. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006.
Warren, Tish Harrison. Liturgy of the Ordinary. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.
Growing Together – Matthew 13:24-43
July 19, 2020
I’m not going to lie, but it’s been a tough couple of weeks. Nearly every day something new happens in the world or in our community that challenges our faith and our commitment to it.
I’ll confess, there have been days recently where I feel completely overwhelmed, lacking the words of comfort, or a clear vision on how to make sense of all that is happening. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling exhausted and drained of all energy. I saw the doctor last Monday and after a thorough exam, he gave me a clean bill of health. And prescribed for me to take the week off.
Like those on the front line fighting the seemingly never-ending pandemic, professionals in the care-giving field are beginning to show signs of serious burnout. I fear this might be a new pandemic to hit us. And by us, I mean all of us. No matter what your political affiliation is or what you believe about wearing masks - we are all in it together.
In an essay published in April, Brian McLaren realized how, “We used to think that we caught diseases as individuals. But now we realize we catch diseases as individuals who are part of families, and families who are part of cities, and cities that are part of states and nations. We realize now that our whole species can become infected, and that our whole globe can be changed because of our interconnectedness.”
Doctors, ministers, teachers, nurses, parents, kids, we’re all affected by this we’re all susceptible to burnt out and to the bad things that cause it to happen. In today’s gospel, Jesus reminds us that, for better or worse, we all share this world. At the end of the day, it’s how we live together that is going to make the real difference.
Read Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
Jesus’ “great sermon on the parables,” as Stanley Hauerwas calls this section of Matthew’s gospel, is filled a bunch of lessons about the kingdom of heaven. This particular parable of the Wheat and Weeds is a continuation of last week’s parable of the Seeds and Soil. Only instead of good seed planted by a good sower, here we encounter two kinds of seeds sown by polar-opposite sowers. One good. One bad.
Jesus teaches us that the seeds in this parable are not so much about faith like last’s week lesson, but about two different kinds of discipleship.The kind that is the life-giving seed of Christ. The other being a weed producer that has no use in the kingdom of heaven.
This opens the door to all sorts of questions about good and evil, or why God allows evil to persist, and so on. Truth be told, I don’t know why a God who makes all things good allows bad things to happen. Unless of course evil is part of a greater plan that has yet to be revealed. But again, I don’t have a sufficient answer for that.
So instead I want to point your attention to the bearded darnel. In writing on this passage, Talitha Arnold addresses this particular weed, which in biblical terms is often referred to as ‘tares’ or ‘thistles’.
Arnold says, “The bearded darnel defies Emerson’s poetic notion that a weed is “a plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.” She goes on to call it “the devil of all weeds” because its insidious roots surround and strangle the roots of good plants. As Jesus pointed out, it’s impossible to uproot darnel without causing more damage to the good crop.
To make matters worse, this sinister plant looks identical to wheat; yet unlike wheat, the seeds of the bearded darnel can be fatal if ingested. Because it lacks any good qualities, Arnold believes darnel is “the perfect illustration of the pernicious nature of evil, underscoring both the necessity of eradicating it and the difficulty of doing so.”
In the eves of our home is a birds nest that’s been there for at least 8 years. Multiple times a year, the mourning doves come and hatch new babies there. This year, a swarm of wasps have decided to build their nest right next door. It’s too close to the baby birds to spray it or knock it down. I wouldn’t be able to get rid of one without getting harming or damaging the other. So, I let them live together until the time comes when it will be safe to do so.
This is similar to the parable Jesus tells. And it’s a great reminder that while we like to see ourselves as good people, doing our best to live as faithfully and kindly we can, given the circumstances we face, there’s always a little bearded darnel lurking around us intertwining itself - in our souls, our hearts, and our minds.
Think about all that’s been going on recently, all that has come to light as we’ve seen “the social and spiritual viruses spreading among us from individual to individual; causing all kinds of sickness [and death].” Evil viruses like racism, white supremacy, human supremacy, Christian supremacy, the kind of evil that is spread through prejudice and fear mongering. (McLaren)
This evil is real. It’s not a hoax or fake news. And we all are affected by it. Not even the church is immune. As you’ve heard me say before, the church is not a building, it’s people people who are susceptible and vulnerable to the world around us.
Thus, this parable is perfect teaching tool for today - reminding us to remain present and fully engaged in God’s righteousness even as evil encroaches on us. We are all in this together. And we need lean into God’s righteousness if we are going to grow through this.
When the servants want to rip up the weeds, what does the landowner tell them to do? “Let them grow together until the harvest.” Now, you don’t have to be a farmer to understand what darnel can do to a crop, or what evil can do to your faith and the greater community.
So why would Jesus want us to let them grow together? What would be the purpose for the two to intermingle? It’s not like Jesus didn’t understand the power of evil. He had his own darnel to deal with in those pesky Pharisees who would eventually grow to killed him. Jesus saw evil reveal itself in the most unassuming places and in the most brutal of ways. Yet, it did not cause him to give up doing what God called him to do.
Jesus knew a thing or two about the goodness of God, who often used evil to reveal the greatest of God’s glory to the world. When I read this parable, I couldn’t help but see it as a call for us to be patient so God can do what God does best. Jesus knows we have to live side-by-side with others who don’t think like we do, or share the same faith.
It’s like he’s telling us that it’s in our being, in our struggle to stand in the world as people of God’s righteousness, that we can shine the light of God’s glory upon the bad things that lurk around us. That’s our job, to be the salt and light of the world. I think Jesus is also warning us to be patient because he knows our impatience can lead us to separate from one another - using fear, anger, and violence to do so.
So as we draw lines between us and them, remember Jesus told us not to be so quick to judge others. Instead be patient, don’t worry about what going on worry about what you’re doing to others. Trust me, God knows which plant is good and which one is not.
I think it's okay to say that this parable is a model of God’s infinite patience that frees us to live with one another with peaceful intentions in this age, right now, which of course prepares us for the age to come.
Like James Finley once stated, “In light of eternity, we’re here for a very short time. We’re here for one thing, ultimately: to learn how to love, because God is love. Love is our origin, love is our ground, and love is our destiny.”
So why does landlord tell his workers to be patient and wait until the harvest? Because that’s when the true fruit of the plant is revealed. Love will always rise to the surface and make itself known.
Eventually a politician’s lies will be exposed, a criminal’s past will catch up, corporate greed will run its course but the good fruit of God’s righteousness will always reveal the glory of God’s love in you and me.
Later in Matthew’s gospel Jesus names the very things we will be judge by. Our only litmus test, Jesus tells us, will be based on how we produce good fruit in the ways we care for one another. In the ways we love others as God loves us. At the end of the day, this parable is about us, the church and it’s about us, the state. It’s about individuals and families and communities and a global interconnectedness. It’s about us being in the world, while not being of the world.
In his first epistle, Peter reminds us that we are only temporary residents here. He warns us to live properly among our neighbors who see the good things we do in Christ name, and when their day of judgment comes they will be able to glorify God (1 Peter 2:11-12).
Jesus knows the evil that runs amuck in our world. He knows that failure to deal with it will allow it to spread like a virus, or seeds of noxious darnel. Just as we all should wear a mask during a pandemic to slow or stop the virus from multiplying, by imitating Jesus in the way we live we can slow down or maybe even stop the spread of evil from contaminating God’s creation even further.
Love is the way Jesus invite us to usher in the kingdom of heaven. Love is the way we carry on his ministry throughout the ages. In the sermon on the parables, we can see that kingdom isn’t just “up there” somewhere, but everywhere we intermingle and grow together. It’s here we join Jesus in sowing good seeds – in the way we love, forgive, care for and tend to the needs of others, in the way we serve even our enemies instead of demanding to be served ourselves.
Jesus invites us into this holy space, even if it looks like the weeds have taken over. For it’s here we lean into the power and glory of God, whose angels will come and reap the fields – separating the good from the bad. Just as God’s love is more powerful than any virus or politic, it’s most certainly stronger than any weed-sowing enemy.
In a world where the seeds of hatred, injustice, and division are sown daily,God is still in charge; working through us and in to bring us all back together. I don’t know about you, but I find comfort to know God doesn’t just mixed and mingle with good and evil. Through Christ, God also acts to judge and redeem as well.
While I burnout on all the bad news out there, I hold tight to the good news of the grace and love God gives us through Jesus Christ. If you are suffering from exhaustion or worried about what’s going on in the world, I hope that you will remember that “God doesn’t get burned out.”
As Henri Nouwen told us, “God is gentle and loving. He desires to give you a deep sense of safety in His love. Once you’ve allowed yourself to experience that love fully, you will be better able to discern (who you are and) who you are being sent to in God’s name.”
Jesus is calling you to follow him on this journey. He is inviting you to open your heart to embrace the fullness of God’s glory; to shine like the sun in the kingdom of heaven; to accept your calling as a beloved child of God, today until the end of the age when we will be gathered together ... as one people... in one glory... in God’s one and only eternal love.
Let us pray:
Great and loving God, in this time of worry, when fear and anxiety ride high, when it seems there is nothing good happening, open our eyes and our hearts to the good news of Jesus. Through him, your plans don’t depend on our perfection any more than they are at risk by our mistakes. Because of Jesus, and the kingdom to which he invites us to partake in, your harvest and resurrection will take place anyway. Send us now your Holy Spirit to begin preparing our hearts for that day, and to empower us in this moment to be like the One who, despite the evil of his death, lived to reveal your glory. Always and forever, Amen.
Arnold, Talitha J. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
Finley, James. “Practice That Grounds Us in the Sustaining Love of God,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (April 26, 2020). (accessed on 07-16-2020)
McLaren, Brian. “We Are All Connected,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (April 20, 2020) (accessed on 07-16-2020).
Seedlings – July 12, 2020
If you’re a regular here, you’ve probably heard me talk about Ed the tortoise. I know some of you have asked to see him. Today would have been the perfect day for it, and if you stay with us you’ll see why.
A couple of weeks ago Ed officially became a free-range tortoise. We built him a house under the orange tree. And now the backyard is officially his. This move has really brought out the best of Ed’s personality. Believe it or not, for a tortoise Ed has a lot of good qualities. One in particular is his love for eating dandelions. They’re like natures donuts to him.
Long before Ed became an outdoorsmen, I was obsessed with having that picture perfect green lawn, the kind you see on commercials. No matter how well I seeded, watered, aerated and fertilized, I couldn’t get rid of those damn-delions. Whenever I saw a little yellow bud appear, I’d be on my hands and knees digging with great precision to keep the root in tact.
Yet every now and then, one would slip passed me, and transform into a puffy white bloom. My kids thought these cottony puffs were magical. They called them wish-makers. Apparently someone who hated lawns told them that if they made a wish while blowing on one ... the wish will come true. Whether or not that is true, I can say that every time my kids blew one of these puffs my blood would boil as I watch hundreds of tiny seeds scatter in every direction. Believe it or not, Jesus had something to say about this as well. Not the blood boiling part, but the scattering of seeds.
Today’s reading is a parable found in Matthew’s gospel 13: 1-9 and 18-23.
Jesus begins his parable with, “A sower went out to sow.” Having lived in rural Michigan for a brief moment, I learned if you are going to sow seeds, i.e. plant them, you have to first prepare the soil. It needs to be till and turn to break up the dry surface so the seeds have an easier time to take root. You also have to remove any rocks or other impediments that will get in the way as you plow the rows for the seeds to be carefully dropped in. I’m sure there are a few more steps you have to take if you want to be successful.
But that’s not how it goes in Jesus’ parable. He says, this sower just went out and started throwing seeds everywhere. There was no method to his madness whatsoever. I imagine this guy is walking along, maybe whistling a happy tune as he grabs handfuls of seeds from a sack that’s slung over his shoulder and randomly tosses them up in the air without a care in the world. It doesn’t matter to him where they land, he’s just walking and tossing.
To most people this would seem like a waste of seeds. But not to this guy. Apparently, he’s got more seeds than he knows what to do with, and he’s going to cover literally everything in hopes that something takes root.
Of course, Jesus’ parable is focused on all the different places that seed lands on. Some hit the road and get gobbled up. Others take root in rock piles but don’t last very long. Some land among some not so good plants and get twisted up into nothing good. But a few lucky ones make it into the rich garden soil – yielding an amazing and bountiful harvest.
I’m sure if you put your mind to it, you can picture someone from each of these different soil “types.” Of course, we like to believe that we are the good soil. But let’s be honest, we probably aren’t – at least not all the time. Most of us shift between one soil and another - sometimes on the same day or even within an hour. Which is why I don’t want us to focus on the soil as much as i want to focus on the seed that is being thrown around so frivolously.
Here’s what I know about seeds. They are life giving and fruit bearing. Often, they are tough and pretty resilient if not downright defiant (like the damn-de-lion). But they are also vulnerable, and susceptible to all sorts of harmful things. Strong or weak, each one carries the DNA for great potential – even the tiniest of seeds can grow into a massive tree in just a short period of time. Moreover, a seed, which begins the life cycle, can actually move through death as a means to reproduce new life. This sounds like God work to me.
It begs the question: What is it that God has in great abundance that can be so easily tossed into the wind like a dandelion puff?
If you were to guess, what would it be? I believe the answer is love. God’s love to be exact. For divine love is the first and final word of the kingdom of God. Thus Jesus gives the impression that the sower isn’t all that concerned about which soil He allows His seed to take root in. The footpath, the rocks, the weedy soil – they all get a shot.
As my friend Roxy taught me, “God isn't content just to sow in the good soil. Though the farmer would want to preserve his seed for the field, God prefers to be extravagant in casting His seed as far and wide as He can – even to those who don't care, or won't respond the way God would like.” St. Paul called this grace upon grace. And we all might be happy to receive this grace from God since most of us aren't great soil to begin with. As Roxy explained, after living in this world like we so often do, “It takes a while to cultivate our hearts to be good soil.”
I would like to point out again that God does not discriminate where this seed is scattered and sown. God doesn’t think twice about grabbing a big handful of love, and liberally throwing it at us if for no other reason but to see what kind of love it will yield.
Grace, mercy, forgiveness these are just some of the fruits born out of God’s love for us. Love is the good news, the Word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ, the very seed of everlasting life. Will we allow God in Christ to take root in us? Now before you think to yourself that you’re not good enough, or faithful enough to receive this seed...
I‘d like to point out that just because the soil seems bad doesn't mean some seeds won’t take root. The Burren National Park in County Clare, Ireland is a great example. The name ‘Burren’ means, “Rocky place.” The area got its name because it’s literally hundreds of acres of exposed limestone that lacks any normal soil base.
Yet this park is covered with wild nutrient rich herbs and an abundant of floral species that grow inside the hidden cracks and crevices of these rocks. In fact, Burren is home to twenty-three of Ireland’s twenty-seven unique orchid species. Now, imagine all the missed opportunities to bear rich, diverse beauty if God only sowed in those who were already good.
The good news is God doesn’t overlook any one of us. Whoever we are, wherever we are God’s greatest love has already been abundantly sown in us through Jesus Christ, who took the soil of death itself and harvested everlasting life.
I think the sower throws seed amid the rocky, barren, broken places because God’s vision for the world is often found in our brokenness. Like pesky dandelion seeds, God’s love floats all over creation, and finds its way into all sorts of nooks and crannies.
The question you must ask yourself is will I allow God’s love to take root in me? Are you willing to accept God’s love and a grow to produce the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?
You see, just as every botanist knows, seed bearing plants always yield more seeds. Just as seeds produce more seeds...love produces more love. Kindness produces kind results. Same is true with generosity and gentleness.
If we choose to follow Christ, then in essence we are not merely the soil, We are also the seed and the sower as well. Jesus invites us to accept God’s love and grows God’s love and scatter God’s love all over the place without ever worrying about running out.
Jesus knows that some of us will reject God’s love with hardened hearts, but even the hardest objects can radiate God's truth and beauty. A diamond is a perfect example. Sadly, too many of us don’t see ourselves as valuable.
Jesus also knows the abundant ways of God. He says some of us will receive God's love and even thrive in it. But when the struggles get real, those people flee. What they tend to forget is that seed has already been planted. Where there is a seed there is an opportunity for a new life to sprout even if it’s been dormant for a while. Think about Amaryllis bulbs...for most of the time they just sit buried in the ground or frozen in your freezer. But once a year they let their true beauty shine.
As Jesus pointed out some of us will work hard to grow stronger in our faith and understanding. But we have to be careful. We are vulnerable too. The ways of the world can still overpower us and draw us away from fully relying on God’s abundance.
And of course, some of us will thrive; producing a great yield - some even a hundredfold. They are the ones who give us hope and remind us of the power of God’s love to transform dark, barren soil into thriving, life giving plants.
Here’s what I hope you will remember: God is patient and purposeful; sowing the seed of love anywhere and everywhere because God’s redemptive love can reach everywhere and anywhere.
God is not concerned about which soil the seed falls on because God is confident of the power of the seed. Instead God’s attention is focused on the harvest, the spiritual food that will feed the world. God knows love has power to take root in the harshest ground, but will it bear the fruit of justice, mercy and grace in spite of the terrain? I guess it all depends on how we respond to God.
This week I hope you will take some time to think about this parable. As you do, ask yourself if there is any place in your life where you feel God is not present. Maybe there’s a difficult challenge you’re facing alone. Maybe you have fears or doubts that are causing you to look elsewhere. Maybe you’re stuck in a place you DON’T want God to be present. Maybe you’re in a dark place right now. If that’s the case, then remember this; all seeds thrive in darkness.
It’s there the shell cracks and falls apart. It’s in that dark place, the plant first takes root – descending deeper into the dark ground to find its foundation before it sprouts upwards towards the light. The darkness cracks us open so God can do something great. Eventually our faith becomes rooted enough to begin to grow big enough. And before we know it, we are bearing the good fruit of God’s kingdom – yielding a hundred, sixty, or even thirty times the amount of love we are given.
Seeds producing more seeds. Love producing more love. This is the Kingdom of God that Jesus invites you into.
Let us pray:
Thank you God for your abundance and generosity of love, patience, kindness, grace and mercy that you have given to us out of great love for us, through Jesus Christ, Amen.
*This is a refreshed version of a sermon originally given on July 16, 2017 which can be found at https://www.jesusnotjesus.org/be-kind/sowing-seeds-of-love
Rest is important. Just ask my kids who have embraced the pandemic as an opportunity to spend more time with their pillows. They are also the first to let me know that I of all people should know that most religions require a day of rest. And even science agrees. Rest reduces stress, inflammation and heart disease. It restores mental energy and creativity. And if you’re the type of person who likes to work out, rest helps restore muscles.
Of the nearly 700 laws in the Old Testament, taking a day of rest made it on the top ten. So, It’s that important. The Hebrew word is – sabbath. A day God expects us to take off from work so we can enjoy the fruits of our labor. This rest was meant for you, your family, your workers, and even your animals. God also commanded us to let our land go fallow every seventh year in order to restore its health and fertility.
All of this might seem like a foreign concept in a busy culture that takes pride in working around the clock. If it weren’t for holiday weekends sprinkled into our calendars, would we ever catch our breath? Enter COVID. I find it a bit ironic that it has forced us to slow down, but at the same time made most of us more exhausted.
Let me ask you this. Are you tired of living in the fear of getting sick? Are you worn out from the flood of depressing news that’s out there? Are you feeling fatigued from all the political divisiveness, or the angry arguments you’ve had to endure? Are you tired of struggling to get ahead or keep your head above water? Are you exhausted from keeping up appearances or putting on a brave face? Are you overworked? Over stressed? Or simply over it all? If so, listen carefully. Jesus has something to tell you. It comes from
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."
If you ask me, this is one of the best bits of advice in the entire bible. Of course, what Jesus is talking here is tied to a much greater story in Matthew’s gospel. And I don’t often like taking a small slice of scripture out of its context. But sometimes we have to let the Bible speak to us, where we are, if it’s really going to do what it’s supposed to do.
In the modern translation from the Message, this passage begins with Jesus asking, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burnt out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.” That is music to my ears. Ministers are often the first to get burnt out on religion. If you are physically, mentally or even spiritually exhausted, Jesus has your remedy.
He knows how exhausting it is to be human. He knows what struggle and hard labor feel like to tired muscles. He knows what doubt and anguish can do to one’s mental health. And the toll that a corrupt system can take on a person’s well-being. Jesus knows what you’re dealing with. He’s been there, done that. Which is why he’s offering you a solution – a teaching, a way of living to help you reclaim your life. He’s inviting you to find yourself again in Him. “Come to me. Bring me your burdens. I will give you rest.”
I invite you to think about this: What are the burdens you’re still carrying? Some shame or guilt over something you did – something hurtful that ended a relationship? Maybe it was something you didn’t do when you should have. That weight can be just as heavy to carry. Maybe something happened to you, a past mistake or regret that’s too hard to deal with. There are so many burdens we carry. The stress alone is enough to kill you.
Jesus is calling. Offering you just what you’re in need of so you can live life abundantly. And what is that, you might ask? It’s a Yoke. Not a joke, but a yoke. And not a yoke like that yellow blob inside an egg. Or that heavy wooden contraption that hangs over the shoulders of oxen. The yoke Jesus is talking about is something completely different.
As Rob Bell explains so well, in ancient Judaism it was the responsibility of the rabbi to study scripture and interpret it in a way that people could understand what God was saying to them about how to live faithfully to God’s words. Different rabbis had different ways of interpreting Scripture. Each rabbi had different sets of rules of what people could and could not do.
That set of rules on how to live out a particular interpretation of the Torah, was known as a Rabbi’s yolk. To follow a rabbi meant you believed his interpretation and lived it out by taking up his yoke. Most rabbis taught a yoke of a well-respected Rabbi who had come before them. Yet every once in a while, a rabbi would come along teaching a new yoke, a new way of interpreting the Torah [Bell, 2005].
Enter Jesus, who didn’t just interpret God’s word, but lived it perfectly. He was, as John describe him, the very Word of God.
If you are burnt out on the life that you are living, Jesus is inviting you to walk with him and watch how he does things. He said, “Come to me” and “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” He promises not to “lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.” Jesus is the way, you might say, to the right way of living into God’s righteousness. And thus, into God’s peace.
This text wants us to believe that following Jesus is easy. In many case it is, and many cases it is not. What we need to remember is what Jesus offers us isn’t freedom from work but having real work to do. God’s work. The easy yoke Jesus offers calls out to anyone who wants to see God's Kingdom realized. It teaches us a way to put God’s love, mercy and grace at the center of everything we say and do. I can honestly say, following Jesus’ yoke is not exhausting like running, instead exhilarating, life giving, true God worshipping.
Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” That is his promise. However, to accept the yoke of the gentle and humble Lord means answering God’s call to embrace a life of work that puts the soul at ease.
What that means for us today is exactly what it meant when Jesus first invited his disciples to follow him. That is to say, to go out into the world and be his yoke. Go out and be the visible presence of God’s love wherever you are. In being peace makers you find your peace. In blessing the meek and the poor, you find yourself and your true worth in God’s Kingdom.
Take what the Apostles did for example. They took Jesus’ yoke and built the church. They became the visible body of Christ – teaching his way by living it. Yet sadly, somewhere along the way the church forgot the yoke of their humble teacher. Choosing instead to take up the yoke of the world.
Richard Rohr often says, “The Christian tradition became so concerned with making Jesus into its God and making sure everybody believed that Jesus was God that it often ignored his very practical and clear teachings.” We’ve seen how Christians are willing to sell their vote in exchange for political favors. When did Jesus ever do that? When did he ever put his needs, wants or desires above someone else?
Joseph Pagano warned his post-Apartheid church in South Africa, “We must guard against turning Jesus into someone or something he is not. He is not a commodity that we distribute to consumers. He is not a professor of political theory. He is not a modern therapist.” I would add, Jesus is not ours to exploit, but only to follow.
Jesus says, “Come to me.” And when we go to him, we find our peace and rest in him. For he is the personification of God’s love in the world. He is the incarnate One, the Anointed One, our Emmanuel, God with us. He is our rabbi, our teacher, our savior who saves us from ourselves.
He is calling us to be with him. It’s in our going, in our commitment to take that next step, that we learn that Jesus is the One who teaches the way of God and shows us how to live it in our daily lives. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. It is not dominated by doctrine or dogma. But can be taught with a single word: Love. It’s what is, what has been, and what always will be. Love is who God is, Love is who Jesus is, and love is who we are meant to be.
On this day of sabbath rest, I encourage you to stop for a moment and listen to what Jesus is saying to your heart in these words. Give him your burdens and learn his way of gentleness and peace. Free yourself from all that stuff that has weighed you down - any shame, guilt or past mistakes you have made.
Give yourself over to him, put on his yoke, his way of living God’s truth in the world and see how it fits. Be the love that Jesus has given freely to you. Be that for yourself and for one another. And you will find rest for your weary soul.
Let us pray:
O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that follows the way of Jesus; willing to be vulnerable as we share each other’s burdens and the weight of your glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. Help the church to be more like Christ – taking his yoke as our own to be as One people, united in your love. Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, Amen.
Works CitedBartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol. 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
Bell, Rob. Velvet Elvis. New York: Harper One, 2005.
Pagano, Joseph S. Come To Me. 06 29, 2020. https://episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/come-me-pentecost-5-july-5-2020 (accessed 07 03, 2020).
Rohr, Richard. Yes, And. cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.
The Smallest of Acts. Matthew 10:40-42
June 28, 2020
In one of his blogpost this week, alternative business guru Seth Godin had this to say about compassion. “It’s natural to believe that everyone else is as confident, assured, long-term thinking and generous as you are on your very best day. But that’s unlikely. Because everyone else is probably not having their best day at the same time. Once we realize that the world around us is filled with people who are each wrestling with what we’re wrestling with (and more), compassion is a lot easier to find.”
As followers of Jesus, our mission is tethered to acts of compassion – be it God’s compassion for us, or our compassion towards others.
If you’re like me, then it’s safe to say your compassion is probably running a little lean these days. We have to pick who gets a piece of your heart, knowing others will lose out. We’re only halfway through the year, and the only things I am sure of is 1) we still have six months of crazy to get through, and 2) there’s no way I’ll be able to do it without God’s grace and intervention.
I’ve decided that 2020 is the year of taking two steps forward to get knocked four steps back. We need to rely on God now more than ever to pick us back up and send us on our way. But there are days when as I lay on the ground and wonder...if God is coming.
This sentiment is as old as time. Thousands of years ago, an ancient poet put these words to paper. And they’ve been passed on through the generations in the book of psalms. Psalm 13 is a heartfelt cry that opens with this lament, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”
Do you ever feel this way? Abandoned by God? Left alone to suffer with the pandemic and political unrest? Have you ever thought that maybe God has forgotten us? Maybe just walked away for good?
How much longer, Lord? As this question echos in my heart, I hear the faint, tender voice of Jesus answering my pleas.
Our reading from Matthew’s gospel, concludes the instructions Jesus gives the Twelve before they go out on their first mission trip. You might recall the previous instructions to from two weeks ago: Go heal the sick and cast out demons, take nothing with you, rely on the goodness of others, be careful of those who aren’t good. Read all of Matthew 10 to get a complete list. Today, Jesus concludes in a way that I believe speaks volumes to the discipleship of the church. We who are called to give are also called to receive.
Read: Matthew 10:40-42
Emerging from this text is the theological idea of compassionate welcome. It’s no surprise why. In these three short but powerful verses Jesus uses the word “welcome” six times; pointing us to the importance of hospitality in furthering God’s Kingdom of love and grace. This is the goal of the church, and for anyone who accepts to follow Jesus.
Yet there still are so many who are too afraid or simply unwilling to truly welcome all people in the name of Christ. You might have been a part such a church, or perhaps you have been rejected by one. If so, I hope this message speaks to you. Today, we are going to look at what it mean to welcome someone with the same compassion that Jesus gives to us.
To begin, we must be like Jesus and approach one another and every situation with a God-filled heart. As Emilie Townes notes, this is where “genuine human relationships emerge.” Whether they are close, loving relationships or distant, occasional ones, with God at the center of our welcome “we’ll find our rich rewards.”
On Wednesday, I had everything in order and ready to go to refinance the house. But when our lender began the process, we discovered that Wells Fargo had put a forbearance against our house – a precautionary measure made at the beginning of the pandemic. After being on hold for an hour with the bank, Kathleen and I decided to go there in person. The young man who greeted us was eager to help, but honestly, I was not eager to accept him. I was angry, frustrated and had little compassion in my heart. So, I let Kathleen do the talking. She’s the diplomat in these kind of situations. Better able to see the divine in others, when I can’t.
Kathleen knew it wasn’t this man’s fault. He didn’t mess up our refi...someone at the corporate office did. By this small understanding, she was able to enter into the conversation with a Christ-soaked heart. A heart with God at the center. Despite his best efforts to remedy the situation, Kathleen and I left - with me still angry and frustrated but her quietly calm and at peace.
By placing God at the center of this ordinary, albeit unwanted situation, Kathleen knew God was working it out. And by the next morning, everything was good to go; the forbearance had been removed. No matter how big or small a situation might seem if God is in the middle of it, so too is God’s compassion and power. This is our reward.
Which takes me to the second point. We must practice our compassionate welcome all the time, no matter what.
I’m not saying you have to always do grand heroic acts of mercy, or put yourself in harms way. All God wants is for to act, to do something that helps the other. Jesus said it’s as simple as giving someone a drink of cold water.
As Marcea Paul observed while most of us prefer to be the heroic quarterback, Jesus leans his heart towards the water-boy. She reminds us that a God-centered life of faith is made up of many small gestures of love. Yet, according to Jesus, every gesture is large. And eternally significant.
Two days ago, while Colleen was out walking the dog, she passed a guy working in our neighbor’s yard – a day laborer who was sweating profusely, and fatigued from the monotony of hauling dirt from the yard to a dumpster. His hat was his only source of shade from the hot sun.
Colleen noticing how thirsty he looked, and having no clue what I was preaching on today, ran home and got the man two bottles of water and a big plastic cup filled with ice. While I wasn’t there to see it, I can only imagine how surprised and grateful the man was to receive such a thoughtful gift.
Jesus knew that a cup of cold water is one of the smallest of gifts - one almost anyone could give. Yet, it’s precious – even life giving – to the person who is really thirsty. The smallest of acts done in love.
It happens every time you say good morning to a neighbor or check in on a friend who lives alone. It might not seem like much but it’s amazing how powerful it can be for the one receiving that gift from you. When we put God at the center at everything we do, then everything we do becomes a holy act.
Which leads me to my third and final point. Our righteousness is intimately tied to how we show compassionate welcome towards one another, especially those who are most vulnerable among us.
Jesus made this perfectly clear in his final parable in Matthew’s gospel – the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. In that parable, Jesus reminds us that the way we treat others is, ultimately, representative of our response toward him. It ties directly to our reading today with Jesus declaring, “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me and the One who sent me.”
To follow Jesus is to live into his way of righteousness – which is to say God’s way of righteousness – giving water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, justice to those who are oppressed and imprisoned. You don’t have to turn on the news to see that people in the world are hurting. Men and women, kids and grandkids are suffering in our country, in our communities and on our streets. How we show the love and grace of God in the world matters. It has eternal consequences.
As followers of Christ, we are called to promote compassionate welcome like he did. This requires us to trust God, to be vulnerable, and to share what we have with one another, if for no other reason when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Christ and the One who sent him.
To borrow again from Marcea Paul, “Our efforts to welcome and love others are important because Jesus sees it and receives it as worship.” Like I spoke of last week, this is how we are to be as a church, to be as a people who dares to call Jesus our Lord and to make this world holy through the simplest gestures of compassion and kindness.
After a decade off from religion, I found myself back in a church – one that was filled mostly with men who had been denied or forced out of other churches because they were gay. The moment I walked through the front door I was quickly greeted by an overwhelming sense of God’s Spirit. It was refreshing to see a church so welcoming and inviting to me, a nervous stranger. It’s something, I am sad to say, that I hadn’t really experienced in a church. Which was probably why I stopped going.
After a few more visits, I decided to partake in the Eucharist. An experience I don’t remember doing as a child. And only did so because the priest invited everyone to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” From the altar the priest explained that in this church no one would be denied a chance to receive Christ’s love. Love which was fully alive in the bread and cup ... just as it was alive in the hearts of every person kneeling at the altar rail and in every priest dutifully serving. To experience my first communion with a community built on such compassionate welcome ... moved me to tears. Literally.
By the time I got back to my seat, I was sobbing. Yet I felt no shame or embarrassment; only an overwhelming sense of God’s love engulfing me. Love that was made manifest to me in a woman named Judy who moved closer to hold my hand. And in a man named Jose who wrapped his arm around me and allowed me cry into his shoulder.
Here we were, three strangers with God in the center of our most vulnerable selves... welcoming and loving each other in our belovedness. Because of those simple, small gestures, I am where I am today. This was the God I desired. And the Lord I wanted to serve.
Friends, Jesus is calling us to continue his missional work. I know it sounds scary and daunting, but it’s not. It takes only the smallest amount of faith in God’s love for you, and the willingness to be vulnerable in that love, so that you can give God’s love away in all that you do.
Because of his love and compassion for all people, Jesus sends us to share the Good News; to meet those crying out and alleviate their suffering; to meet real needs, to work real miracles of love and healing through acts of kindness if only because they too are God’s beloved.
I invite you to answer the call. The call to be the visible presence of Christ to one another. As you leave here today, let us not forget that “It doesn’t take much to be hospitable, welcoming, and accepting of other people in the name of Christ who is our greatest, most blessed and eternal reward.”
Let us pray: Lord Christ, thank you for showing us the way to share the love of God with one another. Keep your spirit in us, to push us to do more - to show more love, more compassion, more mercy and more chances to welcome others in your name. Amen.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
Godin, Seth. Everybody Else. June 25, 2020. https://seths.blog/2020/06/everybody-else/ (accessed June 25, 2020).
Paul, Marcea. episcopalchurch.org. June 22, 2020. https://episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/even-one-cup-pentecost-4-june-28-2020 (accessed June 26, 2020).
Why Are You Here? - John 12:44-50
June 21, 2020
On Facebook this week a friend asked: Name one thing you learn from your Dad? I wrote, I learned how to be a father. Thank you, dad (and mom) for showing me how to be a loving, patient parent. And refusing to give up in spite of your child’s best efforts to make you want to do so.
Just like it is with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day can be hard for so many people. For those of you who have lost a father, or never really knew him, or were abused by him...today can be unbearable. So instead of talking about father’s today, I want to talk about something else I learned from my dad how to be a follower of Christ.
In his book the Irresistible Revolution Shane Claiborne makes this poignant observation. “If you ask most people what Christians believe they can tell you, ‘Christians believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that Jesus rose from the dead.’ But if you ask the average person how Christians live, they are struck silent.”
Shane Claiborne is the founder of The Simple Way, a radical faith community in inner-city Philadelphia that connects and encourages communities around the world ... to live just like Jesus taught ... or as Claiborne puts it, to live as ordinary radicals.
In his work Claiborne noticed that, “Christians pretty much live like everyone else; they just sprinkle a little Jesus along the way.” Does that describe you? Moving through life, doing ordinary things and only allowing Jesus to come out when it’s safe to do so? It makes me wonder what’s the point?
Nearly 50 years ago John Lennon sang, “Imagine there’s not heaven. It's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today.” Although I never really like the song for many reasons, it makes me wonder: What brings you here today? Is there something you’re looking for? A golden ticket into heaven? Or simply a get out of hell free card? If there were no heaven or hell, would you still show up? Would you still chose to be a Christian?
For me, it’s not so much about losing out on some after life that makes me to follow Christ. It’s about losing out on the joys, peace and fulfillment I enjoy by following his way. After all, this kingdom Jesus ushered in is not just something we hope to be a part of after life, it’s something he invited us to live today.
Our reading for this morning strays from the lectionary text. It comes from John’s gospel. And is a summary of Jesus’ teachings that comes right after he drops the news about his death to his disciples. Reads: John 12:44-50
It’s not a stretch to say the central focus of Christianity is Christ. Christians are Christians because they follow Jesus, the Christ. The Anointed One sent to live among us and teach us how to live right with God. His way of living is so important that we’ve immortalized it as a religion, created doctrines and methods of worship to exalt him. But is that the point of following Christ? To worship him with words and songs?
It always makes Christians nervous to learn that Jesus never said, “worship me.” But here’s the thing, Jesus was theocentric; meaning he put God at the center ever everything he did. Every miracle, act of forgiveness, prayer, every word of Jesus uttered always pointed back to God. “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in the One who sent me.” Jesus is so united to God that He does not speak in His own name, only God’s.
Hundreds of years earlier, a psalmist wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Like Jesus, and all of creation knew, everything we do ought to reveal the benevolence of God. Every word we speak and every deed we do should cause people to stop in their tracks ... and stand in total awe as they witness the greatness of God’s love in their midst.
To me, this is what it means to be like Christ, to take his name and be called a Christian. That is why I can say if you want to know what God looks like, then look no further than Jesus. He is the light of God’s glory in the world, illuminating God’s righteousness for all to see.
That’s what light does. It exposes and reveals things that we might not be able to see without it. Like a high-watt lightbulb in the center of the room, Jesus helps us to see and navigate the space between us and God. It’s such a powerful light that John declares darkness cannot overcome it. Jesus enlightens our hearts and illuminates our faith ... exposing who God is, and what God is revealing to us.
Yet many Christians still prefer to live in the dark, or choose to keep their eyes closed to what Christ is calling them to do. They show up to church on Sunday and maybe support it financially, but as for the rest of the week ... well maybe they’ll “sprinkle a little Jesus along the way.”
That won’t suffice. We have to pour out God’s glory in all that we do. Jesus makes it very clear that the one who does not act upon his words only brings judgment on himself. According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said we will be judge by way we show or don’t show love and compassion towards others. That’s it!
To a fault, Jesus remained active in the word of God, perfectly living out the Torah law by helping people and tending to their needs as God has asked us to do. If we are to claim his name as our own, then we can’t shrug off his warning to serve others. We must make the effort to constantly move towards loving our neighbors otherwise our life is just wasted energy. And we find ourselves in a hell of our own making instead of the heaven that Christ ushered in.
Jesus isn’t making this up to scare us into following him, or to bump up his approval rating. These are not his words, but the word of God that were given to him. Jesus trusted in God’s word so completely and lived it out so fully; making himself vulnerable, even to the point of death. He knows God’s commandments are not only real, they are eternal.
John goes so far as to describe Jesus as the Word of God. The word of God is life, and the light we are to live by. It’s in this Word, this Light, we receive grace upon grace.
So then, how does this Word speak to us today? How are we to truly live into God’s glory like Jesus the Christ ?
In scripture it’s written, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is within your power to act.” The prophet Isaiah said, “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow.” And the Apostle Paul wrote, “We are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” And “Therefore, as we have occasion, let us do good to everyone.”
Of course, Jesus summed up all of scripture in two easy to understand steps: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. By following these two commandments we uphold all of scripture. One might say, this is the politics of Jesus like John Yoder once brilliantly wrote.
Yet politics aside, I can say with great confidence that wherever Jesus shows up, people see what God looks like. He is the face of God’s love that reminds us we live in a benevolent universe. In Christ, God is present in every moment – not just in the great miracles, but even in the smallest things he says and does.
With all that is going on in our streets and communities, with all the mess in our country and world, now is the time to affirm God’s glory through acts of charity and love. Now is the time to stand up for what is right and just. It is time to stand with Christ to help those crying out in pain, to take down the systems of oppression, and raise up God’s glory.
Inspired by the word of God let us “be wise in the way we act toward others. Let our conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” The time is now to allow the Word of God to dwell richly in us, and flow through us so freely that we, in imitation of Christ can say "I speak just as the Father has told me."
Let us go out and do good to everyone. Let us be the living embodiment of God’s glory. Jesus is our blueprint that shows us the way to live into God’s love and light so perfectly that he is able to declare, “I am the way, the truth and the light.”
To follow Christ is to faithfully follow God like he did, practicing his way of living out God’s truth and light out in the world. This is what it means to be the church. And why we gather together in his name. It doesn’t mean much to only praise his name if we do not practice what he taught. As the great Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh realized, “We must practice living deeply, loving and acting with charity if we wish to truly honor Jesus.”
As we come together in the name of Christ, let us now go out in his name, to do good, to uphold justice, to show mercy and recognize the divine light in everyone.
Let us go out into our communities and be the visible presences of God, to love and serve one another in such a way that we can boldly declare, “whoever sees me, sees not me but the One who sent me.” I can’t imagine a better way us to honor and worship our Lord God than this.
Let us pray: Lord our God, through Christ you assure us that He came not to condemn us but to bring us life, a life worth living, a life that is rich and refreshing us and our world with love and a spirit of service. Let Jesus stay with us as the light in which we see all that is good and worth living for and let us share in His life that has no end. We ask this through Christ who is in you and with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, Amen.
Christian Woman's Corner. May 1, 2020. https://christianwomenscorner.wordpress.com/tag/reading-and-reflection-from-the-gospel-of-john-1244-50/ (accessed June 19, 2020).
Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an ordinary radical. . Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006, pp.101-102, 135.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. Living Buddha, Living Christ. New York: Riverhead, 1995, p. 101.
Leech, Kace. Clergy Stuff. March 13, 2018. https://clergystuff.com/daily-devotions/f49ctmalvd8oktam5nhysv17co9hvk (accessed June 19, 2020).
ocarm.org. May 6, 2020. https://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-john-1244-50 (accessed June 19, 2020).
If you’ve been following my Sunday messages for the last few weeks, you’d know I’ve been talking a lot about the Disciples and the Great Commission, a blessing Jesus gives to his disciples to continue his ministry.
Before he does that, he sends them out to do some field work - applying their learning and gathering some first hand experience.
Read: Matthew 9:35-10:15.
In a wonderful piece entitled, Dozen, Ken Kesselus describes the Disciples as “The Dirty Dozen,” comparing them to the soldiers from the movie of the same name.
Based on a story from WWII, The Dirty Dozen was a special military unit headed by an unorthodox officer who selected an unlikely squad of thieves, murderers, and scoundrels. Together they set out on a daring mission with a very high probability of failure.
Yet, despite the unlikelihood of success or survival, this rag-tag band of brothers combine their special skills and got the job done.
I love his analogy. After all, Jesus was an unconventional leader who gathered his own unremarkable dozen to take on the most momentous mission of all time – to usher in the Kingdom of God.Like the dirty dozen, Jesus’ twelve were taken apart and rebuilt for their mission. They had to learn a new way of living, thinking, speaking, and doing. That is to say, they had to learn God’s way. And who better to teach them than the Incarnate God of the Trinity that we spoke of last week. Real life was their classroom.
As they followed their teacher from town to town. They observed him as he taught religion to the religious. And stood by him as he tended to the sick. Together, they learned what it meant to live out the good news of God’s kingdom.
This story is not just about a dozen men learning to evangelize the gospel. It is a story about us who have chosen to follow Jesus. It’s about how we take his teachings out into the world as the living embodiment of God’s love and grace.
So what does this story tell us about Jesus, the one in whom we follow?
We know that He traveled, he taught, he tended to the sick. No distance was too great. No group too skeptical. No ailment too impossible to cure. Jesus goes here, there and everywhere to get the job done.
We are his disciples, his students called to follow his lead – seeing the world through his eyes, and loving the world with his heart. As the church we are to be like the one who saw the crowds and “he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
In the Greek “compassion” means to be moved by your whole being towards mercy and pity. It’s like seeing the effects of systemic racism and knowing it isn’t right because you feel hurt deep in your soul. It moves you to get involved and to make a difference.
Jesus didn’t just see the oppressed, but felt their pain in his heart, lungs, and guts. When he saw how they were treated unjustly his entire being was moved to help. The crowds flocked to him, because no one had ever loved them or cared for them like he did.
This is the first lesson for us who wish to follow in Jesus’ footsteps: The Kingdom of God is compassionate.
There is deep hurt in the world. People are suffering greatly from inequality. No longer can we - who chose to follow Christ - stand on the sidelines pretending it’s not happening in our own communities. Just as Jesus had compassion, so must we. And we, like him must act on it.
For some that’s protesting. Marching side by side, demanding justice, and not giving up until change happens. For others, it’s about looking inward to see what they need to change within themselves, in order to have the kind of Christ like heart that moves them to stand up for justice and peace.
Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion. But he also recognized that there is way too much work to be done for just one person. He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” And so he calls us all to look deep within ourselves, to put aside our own prejudices, and show mercy and have compassion to those who are suffering in the world.
This might make you feel a bit uncomfortable. It might make you feel a bit scared. Kesselus reminds us that, “When Jesus picked out his twelve, he obviously didn’t seek the best and brightest but the ordinary. He selected a group of mostly lackluster and untested commoners, some of whom seemed failures by modern worldly standards” (Kesselus, 2020).
And this is the second lesson: The Kingdom of God is participatory.
I like to think that when Jesus first saw his dirty dozen, he saw you and me among the ranks – ordinary, everyday people who do not possess any great qualifications or credentials. What we do have, whether we know it or not, is God’s compassionate heart. A Divine imprint of love that was placed in us long before we took our first breath.
We all have what it takes to continue Jesus’ mission of compassion but do we have his willingness to act upon it? To show mercy to those crying out for help? You see, we are his twelve. Our mission, our purpose, our call is to go out and redeem the world with all its political realities, social divisions, and systemic disorders.
It’s our job to reveal God’s compassionate heart from town to town, and person to person. We are the church, the body of Christ, the visible presence of God in the world. But are we willing to love has he loved? To care as he cared? Will we cast out the demons that have harmed our communities? And take the time to heal the brokenness that is causing others so much pain and suffering? Are we willing “to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near”?
If we follow in the footsteps of Christ, with all his compassion and conviction, then our mission will rub people the wrong way. We’ll upset the status quo and probably lose a few Facebook friends. For Jesus is sending us out there like sheep among wolves.But here’s the thing to remember. In spite of our limitations and the obstacles placed in front of us, Jesus calls us – not because of any special power we have but because of the boundless power of God that he gives to us.
Which takes us to the third lesson: The Kingdom of God is powerful.
Despite the challenges, despite the questionable likelihood of success, and the inevitable difficulties we will face, Jesus sends us out – giving us the power and authority to do what he does. Although we might seem inept or unable to cure diseases or cast our demons, let us not forget “the seemingly impossible things that God has done through others beyond the original dozen.”
Many diseases that were once thought incurable have been eradicated, the demons of unjust laws that have possessed people to do horrific atrocities to other human beings are being overturned, and people who believed some doors would always be closed have seen them blown wide open.
“Throughout Christian history, the dozen apostles have been replaced by a never-ending series of other dozens who continued to carry out the never-ending instructions of Jesus to go out among the people as his agents of love.”
Many of us are not sure that we have what it takes, that we’re not good enough, or smart enough, or righteous enough to agents of love. But that’s not the case. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. So, Jesus calls us to take nothing more than faith as we go out into the fields - proclaiming the good news through works of charity and mercy.
And this leads me to the last lesson for today. In the Kingdom of God, Jesus isn’t banking on our faith, but God’s faith in us.
This is why Jesus can send his followers out on seemingly impossible missions...because it’s not us. It’s about God working through us to bring love and mercy into the brokenness of the world. This is what salvation looks like to me. This is the purpose of Discipleship. This is the call for all who call themselves Christians.
Love is our purpose. Love is our mission. Love is the faith God has placed in us. Faith is an active verb that calls us to bear the good fruit of God’s kingdom. It’s not about sitting idly by as the world continues to cry out in pain. It’s about being willing to move with compassion and conviction to complete the mission of Christ.
Jesus didn’t choose us because we possess any particular qualifications for transforming the world. We were chosen because God needs us to usher in a new way of thinking, and speaking, and doing, and caring.
It’s time for us to go out and show compassion from the depths of our innermost being to those who are crying out for mercy and justice. Through Christ, God has chosen us and put faith in us to spread the love of God to every corner of the world.
The time is now. The world is ready for harvest. There’s work to be done. But are you willing to go?
Let us pray:
Lord God, you have made us and called us your beloved children. You have blessed us with your love, and given us your name. As we leave here today, we pray that you will continue to fill us with your Spirit so that we can proclaim the good news of your love as we walk in the footsteps of Christ in a manor worthy of your glory. Amen.
Bartlett, David. L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 140-45.
Kesselus, Ken. Twelve. epsicopalchurch.org. June 8, 2020. (accessed June 11, 2020).
Holy Trinity Sunday – June 7, 2020
It’s been a wild week, hasn’t it? COVID continues to linger as protests continue to grow all over the world. To think it was once Jesus who was out there demanding justice and reform. Because of what he did, we are here today.
Similarly, we’re able to exercise our right to worship because of those protesters who got fed up with paying taxes without having any representation in the new world. Filled with the Spirit of Freedom, they stormed British boats and dumped their tea into the water. and now we have the right to assemble, and worship without government interference. And so we bless those who are peacefully exercising their rights, standing up and speaking out against the ill’s and injustices in our county.
May we never forget that we all are blessed because there were those before us who gave of their lives to protect our freedoms. Yesterday was the 76th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, when 155,000 Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Northern France. Their bravery and sacrifice led to the downfall of Hitler and his Nationalistic agenda.
It wasn’t one person or one nation, but a unified force created to restore peace and freedom to all - especially the marginalized and oppressed. We must never go backwards, but continue to evolve, onward and upward. Together, as we gather today from different cities and countries, let us celebrate the blessings that God has given us through all these different ways. That’s how God works... in many different ways.
Today is no ordinary church day. It’s a day that honors God - Creator, Savior, Sustainer. That’s right, it’s Trinity Sunday. Or Heresy Sunday as some call it because of all the bad sermons given to explain a Triune God. Martin Luther famously said, “To try to deny the Trinity endangers your salvation, but to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.”
The protestors, who are exercising their right on the streets probably don't care what liturgical day it is. They just want justice and equal rights for all people. The folks who are saying their goodbyes to someone they love because of this viral pandemic are probably not thinking about how God is 3-in-1. They just want to know where God is or what God is planning on doing to stop the pain and suffering from Covid-19.
If you have lost your job or your retirement savings because of the economic turmoil, does it really matter that scholars have spent centuries trying to make sense of one particular statement Jesus made when he gave his final blessing to the remaining 11 disciples? I doubt it.
If you’re like me then you just want to know that God knows who I am and what I need. I’m struggling daily just to answer my call to be more like Christ. I don’t need church doctrine to make it harder. And yet to live into my faith and to evolve as a follower of Christ, I have to acknowledge and figure out what Jesus meant at the end of Matthew’s gospel even if it endangers my mental wellbeing.
Our reading today comes from Matthew 28:16-20
Considered to be one of the most important teachings in Christian faith, the doctrine of the Trinity is also one of the most difficult to understand. It suggests that God is most perfectly revealed as Three parts in One substance. It’s a mathematical conundrum and divine mystery that surrounds the person or persons of God.
Over the years I’ve seen people use all kinds of creative ways to describe the Trinity. Some have used water. It’s not only a liquid but also a gas, and a solid. Three different ways God is revealed to us and yet still God. But water can be polluted and contaminated, whereas God cannot. So that one falls short for me.
Then there’s the egg analogy. It has a shell, a yoke, and that clear gooey stuff; three parts yet one egg. But if you’re making an Angel Food cake, then you know you only need the egg whites; the shell and yoke get tossed out. The problem here is it’s impossible to separate God from God.
The most famous illustration is probably the one from St. Patrick who held up a shamrock and asked the Irish pagans, "Is it one leaf or three?" They would reply "It is both one leaf and three." Patrick would conclude, "And so it is with God." But the Trinity is more complex, and the shamrock doesn’t explain exactly how each part interconnects.
My friend Dawn advised me not to over think it. She said it’s as simple as a name. “I am Ian. I am a husband, a father, and a son, but I am still Ian.” Yet I am so much more than that.
Which tells me there’s more to what Jesus is talking about in Matthew’s epilogue. You see, there’s a reason Jesus meets his disciples on some unnamed mountain in Galilee. And it’s not to give them a doctrine, but final instructions on what he expects them to do after he ascends. The time has come for them to take his gospel to all the nations – baptizing and teaching them so they can go and do the same.
Now if Jesus is giving them a doctrine, then it’s one that they will have to go and figure out on their own – in the way they care for the widows and orphans, tend to the sick and dying, bringing justice and mercy to the poor and oppressed. It will come out in their willingness to spill their own blood for the wild notion that the Holy Spirit had gathered them into the life of God who in Christ was making peace with the world.
Likewise, I don’t think Jesus sent them out to perform the ritual of baptism, at least not like it’s practiced today. I’m sure Jesus knew that racism cannot be fixed by dunking everyone in a baptismal font. Saying the words, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” will not magically stop people from hating and harming others who are different from them. Baptism, like what John was doing in the Jordan, was preparing people to enter into the Temple. Jesus is the new Temple, the place where we go to meet God. I believe Jesus sent his disciples out to prepare all people to be a place where God comes alive in them.
Jesus calling them to go and fill others with the same empowering Spirit of God that he gave his disciples. Likewise, we are to go be the light of love in the darkness of the world by caring for the hurt and broken, the weak and the oppressed. Jesus invited his disciples to share the power of divine life. He sent them out to every tribe and community... so that everyone in the world would come to know God, and God’s redemptive grace given through Christ by the Holy Spirit.
Which brings us to where we are today, and where this church is headed. At Bible Study last Wednesday, Rev. Bob announced that he going to be teaching about Discipleship and what it means to take Jesus as his word. As Bob explained, a disciple is just an ancient word for student. The Christian disciple, therefore, is a student of Christ. And Jesus is our teacher. Our goal, then, is to learn from him and live out his teachings in such a way that the world can’t help but see Christ in their midst.
Like I told my daughter a couple of weeks ago, we never really graduate because we are always learning. As students of life we are constantly watching, taking notes, asking questions, making mistakes and hopefully growing from them. Discipleship is no different. You don’t have to be a priest or a saint. Or fully understand doctrine or perform rituals. You just need to show up.
As disciples, we are be both learners and practitioners of Christ, students who rely heavily on God’s mercy and grace. By living out the gospel, especially in places where it lacks, people are able to see Christ alive in you and learn how to be like him. For example, Jesus taught people the way of peace by being peace – not by beating peace into people. We don’t beat people back to God, we show them the way by practicing the way of Christ.
In a world steeped in injustice, hatred, bigotry, violence and nationalism this can be hard to do. No one knows that better than Jesus, whose life was lived under constant threat be it occupying forces or the religious elites of his own church. Thus, he doesn’t leave us powerless but instead gives us a power that is greater than that of the world. Not the power that dominate or harms others, but a power that loves and forgives and cares for the needs of all. The power of God’s own love, mercy and grace.
In following Jesus, the Son, we can be immersed into the whole being of God, the Father, whose Divine power, the Holy Spirit, flows in us and moves through us and all around us.
You can call it a doctrine. But I call it the Good News. The gospel according to Jesus the Christ. If we want to know what the Trinity is all about, then we need to look no further than ourselves, where God has chosen to take up residency. The doctrine and rituals are worked out when we accept Jesus’ invitation to actually follow him, and embrace this wild notion that the Holy Spirit has gathered us to God who in Christ is restoring peace to the world.
Like Jesus, we become the fullness of God’s glory – drawing people back to God by being people of God. The same God who is God for us as our God the Creator. The same God who is God with us as our God the Incarnate Savior. And the same God who is God in us as our God the Holy Sustainer. The trifecta of one divine presence in one divine life, is ours if we want it, now and until the end of the ages.
Let us pray: Wonderful Creator, Merciful Savior, Blessed Sustainer; Holy and Almighty God we thank you for the way you have given us to traverse this creation, and for the patience you show when we stray or get lost. Bless us now with your Spirit of love so that we can take what we have learned today and share it with others, so they can know Christ and honor your glorious name.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 44-49.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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