He Is More
Angry, hurt, and confused, Jesus’ disciples look up at the cross and think to themselves, “He is no more.” But they can’t storm into heaven and demand a refund from God. All they are able to do is hide away – fearing for their lives. What they don’t know is the story of Jesus doesn’t end with him being nailed to a cross…unlike Polly, who had been nailed to the perch. They will discover Easter does not mean Jesus “is no more.” Instead, they will find out he is “more” than they realized. This event will be a defining moment for them. As well as for us.
So let us go to tomb, where Mary’s Easter morning is nothing more than a painful extension of Good Friday. With every step she takes her broken heart weeps, “He is no more.” Out of great love for her Lord, Mary risks her life on many levels to go and properly prepare his body for burial. It’s “early in the morning, while it was still dark” when Mary sees or senses something isn’t right. The stone is rolled away. The tomb is empty. And she runs to alert the others. Right away Peter and John race one another to see for themselves.
While John wins the race, Peter is first one to go in to the tomb. Jesus’s body is indeed gone. Yet a familiar spirit lingers in the darkness. John instantly recognizes it and knows God’s hand at work. And “He believed without understanding.”
John is our “faithful witness.” The one who believes God’s words are true. He doesn’t need all the pieces of the puzzle to get the big picture. He remembers what Jesus said and the miracles that Jesus did; and he puts two and two together. Jesus is alive. Everything he foretold is true.
This is John’s defining moment. When all hope seemed lost, he recognized God’s presence – reordering and redefining everything. By seeing and believing this, his life is forever changed. For the faithful witness, Easter is easily understood and embraced. Even if it causes others to doubt and run away.
Peter has spent the last couple of days running away from Jesus. But now he runs to him. And when he gets there, he finds a reality that he can no longer run from. This is his defining moment.
Peter is our ‘fearful witness,’ the one who is unsure of what he believes or is too afraid to face what he is called to do. How many of us can identify with him? We have a good sense of God’s presence and power...but we’re too afraid to fully or faithfully commit.
We’ll go to church every now and then, and maybe do something nice when we don’t have to. But that’s about as far as we are able to go. Our life is complicated enough, without the added stress of religion. It’s okay to have doubts, uncertainties about your faith. In fact I always invite you to ask questions. Because that’s how you find the answers you seek. But when your faith isn’t engaged, it isn’t nurtured or cared for. And it does not bear much good fruit, if any at all. Jesus is alive. And because he is…so are you.
Easter reminds us that once we see God’s power and glory in the resurrected Christ, there is no turning back. In our darkest nights, in our heartbreak and suffering, in our fear and anxieties, throughout life and beyond death, God is with us, ever faithful and steadfast in love. But are we with God?
Through Jesus Christ, God came for you, to redeem and redefine you, so that you can be your greatest, truest, fruit bearing self. God wants you. And is calling you by name. How will you respond?
When the other two leave, Mary stays and weeps. In her pain and grief, Jesus meets her – calling her by name. “Mary!” This startles her… but it doesn’t surprise her. Having witnessed her own brother Lazarus come back to life, she knows what God is capable of.
Mary is our ‘first witness;’ the first to see, the first to understand, the first to embrace, and the first to go out and proclaim. Jesus is alive. And so are we. It’s time for us to awaken the world with this good news.
Easter does not mean Jesus’s life is no more… but that Jesus is more than life itself! And through our faith in him we too become more. And so we are called by name to make more of our life. With Christ as our guide, we can love our neighbors more, and be more forgiving and more understanding of other people’s circumstances. We can feed more, clothe more, and care more for those who are sick and dying. We can share more mercy and grace. We can promote more peace, more justice and more fairness in our daily lives.
Why is this important? Look around your neighborhood and you will see there is so much more that needs to be done before heaven and earth become one again. To borrow a wonderful thought from our friend Rev. Dawn, “It important we know the Easter story, but it’s more important for us to go out and live it.”
Whether we’re fearful or faithful, Jesus died so that we might live. And to live our lives in such a way that those around us can’t help but see God’s love and grace being offered for them. We are made for more. Mary, Peter and John finally get it. This is what it means to be alive, to live life in abundance –without the fear of death, or rejection or whatever. Jesus calls us by name, and shows us what it means to truly live.
This year our church has taken on the challenge to see and do what Jesus does, so we can learn and teach the will of God for others to follow. I am challenging you today to do this as well. Because this is how we are defined. And how the world will be redefined for all eternity.
In Christ, God redeemed the world so we can become our truest self – brothers and sisters with Jesus Christ…God’s beloved children. As St. Paul wrote, “It is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Easter is a time to invite Christ to live in you. And to embrace your resurrection life with abundance.
And so I challenge you to live it out in the world in such a way that when people see you, all they are able to see is Jesus. And then they too can believe.
Jesus is more. And so are you. Amen.
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Evens, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday. Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Nashville: Nelson Publishing, 2015.
Miles, Sara. Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. San Francisco: Jossy Bass, 2010.
Stewart, Benjamin. christiancentry.org. March 31, 2013. http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2013-02/sunday-march-31-2013 (accessed March 25, 2016).
Taylor, Barbra Brown. Learning To Walk in the Dark. New York: Harper One, 2014.
Long before we had the freedom to exercise our rights of free speech, there were these people who lined the streets waving palm branches and cheering loudly. They are risking their lives by welcoming Jesus and calling him the King of Israel. And they do it knowing full well that King Herod had eyes and ears everywhere.
And there were plenty of eyes looking at Jesus, as he rode towards the Temple – not on a warhorse, but a young colt just as the prophet Isaiah had said. Neither the disciples or even the most devout religious figures fully grasped this precession. They won’t understand until after his resurrection that Jesus came not to kill for their freedom but to die for it.
As the week progressed without so much as a riot, the number of these hope-filled people dwindled. And by Friday, there was only a handful of his most faithful followers left at the foot of the cross watching their beloved king take his final breath. We know how this day plays out. We know the joy that Easter will bring. But they don’t. They only know what they feel. Sad. Scared. And maybe a little bit betrayed. It’s hard to accept the death of a loved one and not think that God has let you down somehow.
But Easter is proof that God doesn’t betray us or let us down. Like Jesus on the cross, God lifts us up to places that can be difficult to understand; especially when your world is falling apart.
I’ll admit there’s been times I felt like God betrayed my faith. The job I didn’t get. The child we couldn’t have. The relationship that didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. My list is huge. I suspect I’m not alone. Have you ever felt angry and hurt by God, or doubted God’s love or felt disappointed because your hopes, desires, and expectations that you faithfully prayed for never manifested?
Sometimes it feels like God lets us down - leaving us to hold only a broken heart and shattered faith. For many people, this is what makes them walk away from God altogether. Let’s not forget God knows a thing or two about being heartbroken and let down. God watched his beloved son die at the hands of those he was sent to save.
But on that dark day, as blood and tears pooled at the foot of the cross, God did not blame us or abandon us. Instead, God stayed ever the more faithful, pouring out nothing but steadfast love upon the whole of creation. But again, this can be hard to see when your world is falling apart.
I know there have been days when I’ve wanted to leave my faith on my pile of hurt. And just walk away. But I’ve also had those days where the only thing more painful than believing God has let me down, is the emptiness of not having God in my life. When I take the time to honestly look at my disappointment, it often has something to do with me taking my eye off what I am called to do. And that is to watch what Jesus does, and follow his example.
More often than not, I’m like the people who waved palm branches that day. They cheered and cried out – faithfully believing God is hearing their prayers and is coming to set them free. They were blindsided, because their hearts were focused on their needs. And rightfully so, because they were living under the rule of a foreign power. Jesus was supposed to ride in on a white horse and save the day. But when they saw their king on a colt, and heard his message of peace and love instead of violence and war, they were quickly disillusioned. Why would God betray them like that?
They were so focused on the pain in their hearts that they couldn’t see God’s heart cracked open for them. And quickly their faith shifted from cries of “God save us” to angry shouts of “Crucify him!” We still make this same mistake. Our eyes are not focused on Jesus. So when life gives us heartache, it’s hard to see what he does, much less do what he commands of us.We are blinded by our own desires and will that we forget that it’s in God’s will where our hearts ought to be.
Jesus taught us that the key to avoiding disappointment with God ... is to align our will with God’s will…even in the most difficult of circumstances. In doing this we too are able face our own cross and say boldly, with Jesus, “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Living out the will of God does not mean you always get what you want, or that bad things won’t happen. They will because heaven and earth are not yet fully aligned. The human heart is not completely united with God’s. This is why it’s imperative we keep our eye on Jesus, who shows us the way back to God’s heart. And to live our life according to God’s will. For as the psalmist wrote, “those who seek the Lord will lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10).
The cross is the perfect example that God can make good things happen out of even the worst case scenarios. From one of the most hideous instruments of death comes the greatest gift of life. An eternal life of unwavering love. No matter what you’re facing today, or what has happened in the past, just remember what God did for you on the cross.
God sent Jesus to the world, not to condemn us but to redeem us, return us back to God’s heart. He was chosen, blessed, and broken on the cross, so that our sin could be exchanged for his righteousness. When all eyes are on him, then heaven and earth become aligned.
A few verses after Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, he tells his disciples, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). If we take these words as truth, then we can see that the cross is the bridge between God’s heart and our own. And Jesus is the one who pays our toll.
By putting God’s will above his own, Jesus was raised up; both on a cross and in great glory. As a result, those who follow Jesus, in life and through death, will not be let down by God, but lifted up to be united in God’s glory.
Jesus is the king on a donkey. He is the savior on a cross. Today he reigns from his heavenly throne. And sets you free from the slavery of sin. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End – cursed by the world but blessed by God. By his death and Easter resurrection the door to true life is open to all who choose to cross that bridge and enter into God’s glory.
It is my hope that you will never take your eyes off Jesus, because in his crucified and glorified heart you will see yourself.
When you feel like you just want to run away from God or abandon your faith completely – just remember those who first looked upon the cross. Put yourself in their shoes, feel their pain and disappointment, and then look up. Put your eyes on Christ and see what they saw – our beloved king with outstretched arms.
There you will find the heart of God waiting to receive you with open arms and steadfast love. God who is always with you, always ready to lift you up with an eternal embrace where nothing in the world can ever knock you down.
Fuller, Steve. God’s Promise for the Disappointed. wwwdesiringgod.org, Dec.12, 2012. (April 10, 2019)
Nouwen, Henri. Bread For The Journey: a Daybook of Wisdom and Faith. (HarperCollin: 1997).
Kathleen and I used to live in a small community of ruffians and misfits who made up a unique kind of family for us. And it was rare for an evening to go by without a few of us sitting around the old metal patio table – sipping wine, singing songs, sharing laughs, and sometimes tears. Long into the night we spoke of our thoughts, dreams, and idea’s like families share stories of their varied day.
I loved coming home and slipping into whatever conversation was happening in that moment, to immerse myself completely in the Spirit, and be fully present in their lives. Whether my heart was happy or heavy, there was always a seat at that table. And fellowship with people who loved me as I was. It was one of the best examples of church that I have ever experienced.
I like to imagine Jesus felt the same Spirit as he sat at his friend’s table – trying to make sense of what is about to unfold in his life. Like so many of us, Jesus needed more than a meal. He also needed human companionship and comfort. A gift he knew his friends could give him.
Luke’s gospel tells us about another meal in the same house. In this story Martha plays the dutiful hostess while her sister, Mary, sits at the feet of Jesus. Martha complains that Mary isn’t helping. But Jesus is quick to remind her that the hospitality of both sisters are important. We need both food and conversation.
A few weeks ago we hosted a St. Patrick’s Day party for our friends and neighbors, as well as a few of their friends who came unexpectedly. All day and most of the evening, Kathleen was busy decorating the house, preparing the food, and and making sure everyone was fed and had fun. My job was to do what she told me to do. Which included welcoming our guest and catching up with the latest stories in their lives. Food and conversation.
This week we received a lovely card that said, “Thank you for a wonderful party. You all share your love so freely and have a gift of making everyone feel important.” Her words sum up John’s story beautifully. Life is about making people feel loved, and important. Because they are.
This is what Martha and Mary did, Each in their own unique way. I like to think they learned it by being mindfully present with Jesus. As we are discovering, we can learn and teach the will of God simply by watching and doing what Jesus does. Especially around the table, that alter in everyone’s home where God’s glory can be praised and exulted.
Martha honors Jesus by pouring out her love with food and wine. And Mary expresses her love by pouring out of the costliest perfume on Jesus’ feet. Both are sacred and holy acts towards God and humans. The disciples are watching closely. And what they learn will set the foundation for their ministry.
If we put ourselves in this story, then we might learn something too – especially what it means to be a church. In this unique gathering, we see church it’s not a building or dogma, it’s people gathered in Jesus’ name to share the gifts and intimacies of life together. It’s table fellowship and hospitality at its finest.
By watching these two amazing women, we learn how to be people who love. People who love God. People who love others. And people who love to serve both. With their gifts Martha and Mary “add to the banquet of love; filling the entire house with the exquisite aroma of thanksgiving.” (Whitley)
What we need to know is this. Jesus calls us to be more like Mary and Martha, and less like Judas who doesn’t understand such beauty and gratitude. He sees what Mary did for Jesus as useless extravagance because there are poor people in the world who could use the money. While he makes a good point, John believes that may not be his real intention. Jesus response is less of a rebuke and pretty much a lesson we can all learn from. “Leave her alone. Watch and learn.”
To borrow again from Katerina Whitley who poetically wrote, “When a heart is filled to overflowing, don’t quench it. When a throat sings of love and praise, don’t silence it, just because others are weeping.”
Mary spills her perfume so recklessly simply because Jesus is there. She doesn’t want to waste another moment holding back her love and gratitude. Judas doesn’t get it…because his heart is elsewhere. Jesus is present in this moment, and a mindful Mary feels the need to be extravagant. Not only is this a great lesson for us, but it’s also a great picture of God who knows a thing or two about being extravagant with love and grace. The food and conversation of life.
Jesus tells the group he will no longer be with them in the flesh, but that they will always have the poor… so serve them with the same love and extravagance. For just as we serve the least of these our brothers and sister, so too do we serve our Lord.
As the church, and as her people, let us never forget that a meal is an opportunity to define who Jesus is and to share God’s love with everyone. Because of what these siblings have done for him, Jesus “will carry the aroma of their love and devotion with him” to Jerusalem, to the cross and into the grave. Setting our hearts towards Easter, God gives us this assurance that such love will resurrect and ascend with him as well. And the aroma of his spiritual gift will linger – an open invitation for all to dine in the house of our Lord.
In the midst of all the moral and emotional poverty in our world today, God continues to call upon us to welcome others with arms of kindness. And to invite everyone to come, sit and feast on everlasting life given to all through Jesus Christ.
As the church, and as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to share the good news – proclaiming God’s love by being God’s love. To set the table where laughter breaks into song, and bellies overflow with tears of joy.
The love we give is an open invitation to sit in the company of Jesus himself, the Christ who reigns in us, through us, and all around us, now and forever, Amen.
Boff, Leonardo. Table Fellowship: Rebuilding Humanity. Translated by Anne Fullerton, April 18, 2008 http://www.leonardobuff.com.
Gonzalez, Justo. Living By The Word. ChristianCentury.org, April 7, 2019.
Whitley, Katerina. Comfort in the Midst of Suffering. Episcopalchurch.org. April 7, 2019.
...there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
It seems cliché to say grace is an amazing gift. But it is. In fact, it’s one of Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. “The Buddhist has an eight-fold path, the Hindu has karma, The Jew has the covenant, and the Muslim a code of law – each offering a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional" (Yancey) To many that seems scandalous to say the least.
Jesus taught us to see grace everywhere. Even though he barely used the word, Jesus describe its power in parables. Today’s reading from Luke we get three perfect examples one parable. The first is a lost sheep, followed by a lost coin, and then the well-known lost Prodigal child.
Charles Dickens described the parable of the Prodigal as “the greatest short story ever written.” But instead of reading Luke’s account, I want to share my excerpts from Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace?
Yancey tells a story of a young teenage girl from rural Michigan. Her parents are Uber religious, and very conservative. Their way of life clashes with her wild spirit. They argue constantly, always trying to change her to fit their ideals. One night, the girl decides she’s had enough. She executes a plan that she has played out hundreds of times in her head. She runs away.
Her second night in Detroit she meets a guy in a fancy car. He tells her how cool she looks, sets her up in a hotel and cares to her needs. He teaches her how to make money just being herself. She learns men will pay extra for someone like her. For a while she feels important and empowered. But time changes her. The streets make her tough, and hard around the edges. When signs of her addiction begin to show, she is no longer valued the same way.
The guy in the fancy car leaves her where he found her. She scrapes up whatever she can for a room, a meal or just a quick fix. But it’s never enough. In her time of need the world abandons her like it has with so many others. Then one night as she’s crouched over a metal grate trying to stay warm, she thinks of her dog asleep in her parent’s house. She begins to sob, longing for home.
The next morning, she leaves a message on her parents answering machine, “Mom. Dad. I’m catching a bus up your way. It gets in at midnight tomorrow. If you’re there, great. If not, I’ll understand.”
That journey home took longer than she anticipated. But when she saw the sign that read, “Travers City – 15 miles” her stomach began to twist. Looking at the nicotine stains on her dirty fingers her plan didn’t seem so good anymore. What if her parents were on vacation and never got the message? What if they moved on, or worst, what if they had written her off as dead? And if they did show up, would they even recognize her?
The bus pulled into the station. She wanted to stay on the bus, but she had nowhere else to go. She was broke and broken. So, she shuffled her way inside, blinded by the bright overhead lights. It took a moment for her to focus on all the people in funny hats jumping and waving and blowing noise makers. It was her brother, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles and her parents. A big sign behind them read welcome home!
From out of the crowd her father ran to greet her with the biggest hug. She stuttered to say something, anything. But her father quickly said, “Hush child, we have no time for that. You’ll be late for your party. A banquet is waiting for you at home.”
Even though I edited this story down quite a bit, it still chokes me up. Because like the prodigal in Jesus’ parable, this young child was not able to express her apology that she’d rehearsed on that the long journey home. Why? Because the love of the father wouldn’t have it. She was back in his arms and that was all that mattered.
Grace is the key that unlocks the front door to God’s house. Only we’re not the ones doing the unlocking.
As Jesus tells the story, “when he was yet a great way off,” his father saw him and runs to embrace his hungry, tired, broken child. The father can’t help himself! His heart races as he throws the door open and bolts across the field to cover his child with kisses and to restore him to his rightful place in the family.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what God looks like, there is no better picture than the one Jesus gives us. Yet his parables aren’t about how we see God. Instead they are about how God sees us. Gushing with pity and unrestrained tenderness, the father’s embrace of his son symbolizes God’s steadfast love for you and me. Once in God’s arms there is no casting up of sins, no shame or guilt – all is forgotten. God “kisses the past into forgetfulness.”
This is what makes God’s grace so scandalous to the world. No one deserves it, or earns it, or buys it. It’s given to us through Jesus Christ, so that anyone who follow him will find their way back to the open doors and the welcoming arms of God’s love and care. Yancey writes, “Jesus is pretty clear that there is nothing that can disqualify us from God’s love. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There’s nothing we can do to make God love us less.” Let that sink in for a moment.
Grace does not depend on what we do for God but on what God willingly does for us. God is willing to become vulnerable on so many levels, just to retrieve, recover, and return us to our rightful place in the family. And when we come home God rejoices! No matter how badly we’ve mess up.
Lent is a time for self-reflection; to search your heart and find who you really are – God’s beloved child. As you fast from the things that cause you to run away from God’s love, don’t forget to feast – to rejoice and to celebrate – because God loves you no matter what.
God is calling you home. As we move towards the cross and Easter celebration, let us not lose sight of the fact that we belong to God’s family…called to follow Jesus… to the cross, through the resurrection, and into the arms of God. By seeing and doing what Jesus does with God’s grace, we learn the way back to God and can teach others to do the same. That is our mission as a church and as a people.
In closing I’d like to leave you with these words from Henri Nouwen who wrote, “God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted. No, God rejoices because one of his children that was lost has been found.”
As the manifestation of God’s perfect love, Jesus lived out God’s heart perfectly – taking the brokenness in the world and blessing it. How might we do the same? Jesus comes to us and loves us where we are, just so we can return to where we first came, and where we always belong. At home with the one who loves us, no matter what. It might sound like a cliché but …Grace is amazing.
Let us pray:
Merciful Lord, how blessed is your name. May we never lose sight of the power of your love and grace to transform us and returns us back into your heart. May way we share your grace with one another in the name of the one who gave it first to us. Amen.
Lockyer, Herbert. All The Parables of the Bible. Zondervan: 1963, pp. 281-89.
Yancy, Philip. What’s So Amazing About Grace? Zondervan: 1997, pp. 45-53.
I love to garden. I love digging in the soil, planting stuff, and snipping and pruning as I attend to the plant’s wellbeing. It’s relaxing – my time to be with God. But I also love to reap the fruit of my labor. Especially my avocados. So it’s easy for to sympathize with the landowner in this parable.
The guy wants a fig, but the tree is barren. This is interesting to me because our neighborhood is littered with fig trees. People often cut them down because they can’t eat all the of fruit that one tree can produce with little or no attention. For a fig tree to be fruitless it has to work pretty hard to be something other than what it was created to be.
It seems clear to me that God is the landowner in this parable, frustrated because this creation isn’t doing what it was created to do...to bear fruit! I understand why God would want to just get rid of it. Back here where our orange tree is… we used to have a Japanese Maple. It was a pretty tree that had lovely red leaves. But it barely produced any shade, and it didn’t do much but take up valuable space. So we got rid of it. We chopped it down. And now in it’s place is a truly life-giving tree.
God is a God of life, and God expects nothing less from us than for us to bear the fruit of life in abundance. God is the landowner, and each one of us is a tree. And the onus is on us to either produce fruit or risk being composted.
To borrow a question often asked by Barbara Walters, “If you were a tree, what would you be?” A giant redwood? A stately elm? My mom would probably be a Christmas tree. And Kathleen would most likely would be the avocado tree in our front yard. I’d be a blood orange tree...it’s a uncommon take on a classic fruit. It’s full of vitamins and flavor. It’s blood red pulp is both tangy and sweet. Plus the tree stay green year round, it doesn’t go bald like I have. And when it blooms the sweetness of the blossom is intoxicating. I think that sums me up, sweet and intoxicating.
For my birthday this year, my awesome son gave me a blood orange tree which I planted outside our kitchen door. It’s already starting to grow new shoots and leaves. I’m excited to see how it will bear good fruit in the coming seasons. But what good would this gift be if it didn’t produce any fruit?
How would I react if all the time and energy I spent to make this young tree thrive, amounted to nothing? Would it be my fault or the tree’s fault for it’s fruitfulness? This is God’s dilemma. God wants us to be who we were meant to be, the loving caring children of the living God. But when we turn away from God’ will to do our own thing, what good are we to God or to each other? I don’t think the landowner is looking to fault anyone. Instead he puts the tree in the care of the gardener who is willing to give the tree the special attention it needs to eventually be productive.
If God is the landowner, and we are the tree, then it’s safe to say Jesus is the gardener. He is our advocate who pleads for us, and who makes sure we are given every chance before a final verdict is made. Through Jesus, God gave us the assurance that we will not parish but have everlasting life!
Some time ago, Kathleen found a battered young ficus tree on the curb. She made the conscious decision to pick it up and to give it care. The soil was so dry and hard that when she went to water it the liquid just rolled off the surface. This tree was in dire need of love. It needed to be cared for and repotted. And it needed water and special nutrient enriched food if it was going to survive.
This is a great example of Jesus in our lives today. He chose to be with us, to take us in when life abandoned us. He cracks our hard, weathered soil. He rips up the weeds and rocks, and soaks us with his living water until our deepest roots are quenched. With love and care, Jesus snips away the dead branches and the stuff we don’t need so we can grow stronger and reach our potential. He even gives us his holy manure to feed on (but that’s a sermon of it’s own).
We might say that the moral of this parable is that with Jesus, God gives us a second chance. But that’s not completely accurate. Yes, the gardener intervenes on behalf of the tree. But the deal the includes a dire prospect: if the tree does not flourish in a year, then yes, grind it up, roots and all.
This parable is not just about Jesus’ loving care for us. It is also a sharp reminder of the seriousness and finality of God’s judgment. There’s no time to waste. Spring is but one season of life. Prepare now and you’ll be ready for the harvest. This text forces us to live within that tension between God’s judgment and God’s grace. For the same God that waits one more year will one day judge us all the same.
Of course the one who balances this tension for us is the one who is willing and determined to tend to our fruitlessness. Jesus’ mission is to save the tree, us. If we truly desire to follow him, then it must be our mission as well. Together with Christ, we share in the nurturing and care of others, especially the ones kicked to the curb or abandoned by the world. For when we see and do what Jesus does, then we learn and teach the will of God for others to bear good fruit.
And what is that fruit exactly? St. Paul tells us it’s, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Are these the things growing in you?
I want to leave you with one last thought. As I was taking in the spring beauty budding all around me, a little busy bee caught my attention. I watched as it hopped around the orange blossoms with speed and accuracy. I thought to myself, “This is Jesus” blessing my bloom so that I might reach my potential.
But then I noticed this bee was not alone. There were many others buzzing about. We are called to join Jesus in the garden of life to germinate the word and will of God so that everyone has a chance to propagate the good fruit of life. By this we are judged, and the world is saved from itself. Repent, return to God and flourish.
Spring is but one season in the year. There is still a lot of work to do. So let us put on our gardening gloves and pick up our shovels and get to work. Let us be the busy, buzzy bees that we are called to be.
Nearly three years ago we set out to build a church, not with walls but with people. A church whose vision is to love God, love others and serve both. I don’t know where we are in that journey, but I know how far we’ve come. The trees in our yard are blossoming like mad, and soon fruit will begin to weigh down the branches. But my only goal for this church, and for all her people, has been to make sure when the landowner comes looking for fruit, he will be pleased with what he finds. Go now and be busy buzzy bees for the Kingdom of God so we all might flourish and truly live. Amen.
Bartlett, David L, Barbara Brown Taylor. ed. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Barreto, Eric D. Living By The Word, Christian Century Magazine. March 24, 2019.
This mission would be a great challenge. First getting there was dangerous and not very accessible. He would need to catch a ride on a boat going to a place that was visited less by merchants and more with the pirates and runaways. He was also a fugitive; if his old captures found him again there’s no telling what they’d do to punish him. And of course there was also the problem of language.
The Hibernian people had not been conquered or influenced by outsiders and so their language was oral and not written out. One of the greatest gifts Patrick gave to these people was the creation of a special alphabet; translating their sounds into words. After years of this tenuous work, Patrick was finally able to share the Good News with them in Gaelic...which is still spoken to this day.
As he was learning their language, Patrick taught them the gospel in a different way – by living in community with the people, working closely with them, building trust by becoming one of them. The only word he had to speak was: Love. Well actually, two words: God’s love.
Patrick understood what God’s love meant to him and he would risk everything he had to share it. His story speaks to the heart of another great saint, John the Evangelist, a.k.a. the one whom Jesus loved. In the 3 chapter of his first letter, John wrote this to the Christian churches.
John’s gospel is Jesus’ gospel. The good news of God’s love. As John reminds us, it’s one thing to love someone, but it’s another thing to love as confidently as Jesus did; laying down his life for us. Such confidence and love go hand in hand. If you know God’s love for you, then you can love God and love one others. Better yet, you can live confidently before God and before your fellow human beings; without fear of failure or worrying about what others might think or do. God’s love is bold with us. Which leads me to ask, “Is our love the same towards God? Do we boldly love others?”
As Jesus, John and Patrick all illustrated, love is more than a feeling. It’s an action. John writes: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” How do we do this? Are we to take a bullet for someone? I don’t think it has to be that complicated or dangerous. In fact, John said “If anyone sees a brother or sister in need, have pity and help them.” Love is bold, and daring, and risky. No one knows this better than Jesus. His story is nothing less than the perfection of God’s love made manifest.
I’m sure Patrick could have gone back as a zealous missionary with a savior complex. He could have used shame and guilt, or beaten the fear of God into the people until they submitted to his religious beliefs. But instead he took God’s words to heart and showed the people what the gospel is all about by embracing the living Christ and being Christ among them.
I know it’s important to tell people that God loves them. But words are not enough. As John put, “Don’t just talk about love; get out there and practice it.’ This is what it means to follow Jesus, to demonstrate your love in the same way that Jesus did. God calls us to act – especially towards the poor – by addressing poverty, injustice and violence that keep people from thriving in God’s Kingdom.
Let’s face it, even bigots and racists have words. But their actions often lead to the very things that God abhors. Our words must build bridges not walls, embrace peace not war, offer forgiveness and hospitality, hope and care to all people, especially the least of these.
God’s Love is the Gospel of Jesus. Made manifest in the Christ who would risk it all to give it to us. This is why it’s called the good news! When we see and do what Jesus did, then we too learn how to manifest God’s love and teach to others to do the same. Patrick knew that to live Christ is to live in community with others bearing God’s love as the source of healing for the community.
Patrick is a perfect example for us to have during Lent – showing us how we can make Christ alive in the world. As Richard Rohr wrote, “To live out Christ in the world is not to speak about Christ...but to live in the surrender of love, the poverty of being, and the cave of the heart.” Lent is a time to search our heart deeply as we fast from the things that are keeping us from abiding in God’s commandment for us.
As I discover every year, there is a very good chance you are going to fail to uphold your Lenten fast. Everyone does. But each time we stumble is our reminder to feast; not of corn beef and cabbage, but on the love of God that has been poured out for you through Jesus Christ.
No one is perfect. But even in your imperfect love John reminds us that the Spirit is at work in your life. By seeing and doing what Jesus did, Patrick was able to open up his heart and showed the people what God’s love looks like. And we can do the same.
My challenge to you this week is simply to go out and be the gospel, sharing the good news of Christ Jesus – always ready to show mercy, grace and love to others as God has commanded. What does God command? John boils it down to this: Accept the divine love that comes in the name of Jesus Christ and to share that love with one another. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate St. Patrick than with corn beef, cabbage, soda bread, a wee dram of Jamesons...and sharing an endless feast of God’s love with everyone in the world.
Let us pray: Holy, Holy, Holy God…thank you for the love you gave to us through your Son, the Christ. Fill us with the same Spirit you gave to him so that we might be more like Jesus and less like ourselves. Amen.
Years ago, my wife Kathleen stared in a commercial for a burger chain called Jack in the Box. Each commercial always featured the character Jack – a normal guy that just so happens to have a giant ping-pong ball for a head. The guy who created this character also wrote, directed and did the voice of Jack in every commercial. Rumor had it he would have played Jack, but his ego was too big to fit into the costume. Ergo the ego.
In the late 1800’s Sigmund Freud made the word “ego” commonplace in the world of psychology. Today, it’s still a part of our lexicon used to describe a person’s conscious mind – that part of us we identity as our "self." These days, the word is often seen as a negative connotation; like egocentric, egomaniac, and ego trip. But actually ego has both positive and negative aspects.
For example a person with a strong ego could be someone who has “a healthy and strong sense of self that allows him or her to instantly access an inner truth in any given situation.” These are often traits of business leaders and mavericks. Yet a person with a strong ego could also be someone who is “narrow-minded, arrogantly self-centered, and unable or unwilling to be humbled. He or she always has to be right. And any contradictory perspective is always wrong.” The traits of someone who goes into politics.
As you begin your self-exploration in Lent, there’s a good chance your ego will be put to the test. You will either emerge with a stronger sense of our self, or you will throw your hat in the ring of people running for president in 2020.
On the first week of Lent, we always read one of the three gospel stories of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness – each on the heels of Jesus’ baptism. Today our message comes from Luke 4:1-13.
READ PASSAGE HERE
Every time I read this passage, I am left with giant head full of questions. The obvious being why on earth would God deliberately send Jesus out to be tempted by the devil? Does God try to trap us? Isn’t the Holy Spirit supposed to protect us from stuff like this and not lead us into it? And why is God in cahoots with the devil anyway, aren’t they mortal enemies? More importantly, exactly who or what is the devil?
If we believe God created all thing and declared them good, does that include the Devil? If so, does that mean there’s a flaw in God’s design? Or is the flaw in us? See how the questions just keep coming? Ergo the ego…we always need to know the answer to God’s mysteries.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of theories about the devil, but none that have convinced me it’s some guy in a red suit holding a pitchfork. After years of thinking about all this…I too have developed my own theory (and that's all it is my egotistical theory). I believe this thing we also call the tempter is nothing more than our ego. After all, it’s one thing all humans have, including Jesus.
God gives us our conscious self to help us survive, and to flourish, and evolve in this wilderness we call life. It’s a good thing, until it’s not. Our egos can push us to create wonderful ideas, amazing music and beautiful art that inspires others to do the same.
But it can also push us to hurt someone who disagrees with us, or cause us to blame others when life doesn’t go our way.
Take Adam and Eve for example. God gave them a conscious and commands them to use it to multiply and create. When they are caught disobeying God’s command to not eat from this one particular tree, Adam immediately blamed Eve. And Eve quickly blamed who? The serpent or the devil. Having something to blame is easier than bearing our own wrong-doing. Ergo the ego.
So, for sake of argument, let’s take Luke’s story and replace the word devil with the word ego, and you’ll see how we all fall short of God’s glory. All of us…but one…Jesus.
Luke writes, “Full of the Holy Spirit Jesus was led by the same Spirit to be tempted for 40 days by the “Ego.” Without the ability to shift blame on something else, neither the devil or the Holy Spirit can be blamed for leading us into temptation.
The way I see it is that God’s Spirit guides Jesus to a place where he confronts his humanness in order to find and embrace his Divine nature. This tells me that God guides us also to places to discover who we are and what we are called to do. But it’s up to each one of us to either to shift our self towards God’s will, or go into politics.
While Jesus is out there what does he do? He begins to fast – a Jewish ritual of “self denial” that prepare one’s self to stand before God in repentance and atonement. I don’t know if Jesus needed to do either of these things, but in this sacred action we learn how to humbly set aside our needs, putting God’s will above our own. But the ego is crafty. It knows when we are our most vulnerable and hungry. It tempts Jesus to “command these stones to become bread.” The ego desires to be in control and to command others to do what we want? Quoting from Deuteronomy Jesus reminds us that it takes more than food to really live. It takes faith in God’s word.
Tapping into our human desire for power, the “Ego” tempts Jesus again by telling him, “The whole world will be yours if only you bow down and worship me.” But Jesus knows better. He knows God’s word is true, and all the power in this little planet doesn’t come close to the glory God has in store for us.
Jesus had the power to turn stones into bread. He had to power to command the people flocking to him, to bow down and worship him. But he doesn’t act on his power. Instead Jesus lives in God’s word, and reminds the “Ego” that all glory and all power is God’s.
Our ego was given to help us create and flourish in God’s love for us. But eventually we all have to make the choice: You can follow your ego’s love of self, or follow the way of Jesus, the perfect manifestation of God’s divine love given to you. To follow Jesus means to always cling to God’s Word and be mindful of what God is saying because the “Ego” will tempt our faith, and even use God’s own words to do so.
In its final attempt, the “Ego” meets Jesus at the top of the Temple, and said, “If you really believe you’re the Son of God, then jump. And if God’s word is true then angels will intervene and you won’t so much as stub your toe.” With great faith, Jesus fires back, “It is also written, ‘Do not dare tempt the Lord your God.’”
Jesus knows the power he possesses. He knows what he can do as a human. But he also understands the power of God’s word and how much more he can do by humbly giving his whole self, including his ego, to God. Ergo our ego too.
This is important, because the game is not over. Luke ends the passage with a cryptic message. “The Ego left Jesus until an opportune time.” In other words, your ego is always with you, lying in wait for another opportunity to win you over.
Therefore it’s not enough to simply fast during Lent. We need to be constantly grounded in God’s Word daily, and be mindful always of what God is calling us to do. This was the way of Jesus, who overcame the temptation of his human self. And found his Divine truth. By seeing and doing what Jesus does we too can learn how to do God’s will and teach others to truly flourish in God’s glory.
In John’s gospel Jesus said, “I am the way.” I don’t think he meant it as an arrogantly self-centered egotistical statement. Instead I believe Jesus is drawing us into his inner being, his true self. He is inviting us to practice his way, the way that humbly leads us to a true relationship with God.
The way of Jesus is self-denying your hunger and desire for power and control, it puts God and other’s first, and love at the beginning of every encounter you have. By following the way of Jesus, is to live faithfully in God’s words where you find your way through the challenges we all face in the wilderness of life. By being grounded in him, the living Word of God, we are able to overcome the temptations that wait to trap us.
Whether you are an advertising executive, a business maverick, a student or the president of a large country, Jesus is the way of life where the Word of God speaks louder than the egotistical voice inside each one of our heads.
Ergo the ego is always where it was created and meant to be…in God’s divine self.
Mamas, Michael. Ego. Is Bigger Better? https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/281170 Sept. 19, 2016. (accessed: March 7, 2019)
And all were astounded at the greatness of God... - Luke 9:43
Last night at dinner, friends of ours were telling us about the movie “The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From A Mythical Man.” From what understand, it’s a documentary that follows the great comic actor as he engages with ordinary people in ordinary situations. Recognizing that he had the power to help on a macro-level, Murray sets out to change people lives simply by showing up and listening to them. I can’t wait to see how he does it.
But first, we have the gospel of Luke, which gives us this story about Jesus who changes both himself and those who are with him. Luke 9:28-43.
Writing on this text, Joshua Wood makes this bold declaration, “To see God is to be changed.” I couldn’t agree more. Looking back on all the scripture we’ve studied since Epiphany, we have seen Jesus through the eyes of those who first came to the realization that he is actually the Christ, the Messiah.
We stood on the banks of the Jordan River as heaven opened and a voice proclaimed, “This is my Son.” We sat in on a worship service where Jesus declared that in him the scripture had been fulfilled. We went with him as he taught along the seaside. And witnessed what happened to those who obeyed him when he told them to go out and cast their nets in the deep water. When he said, “Love your enemies” and “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” Some were amazed, others angry. But each one changed. How could they not be? To see God is to be changed.
The Bible is filled with stories of people whose lives would never be the same after their encounter with the divine. Noah, Abraham and Sarah, and of course Moses, who appeared on the mountain top with Elijah. His first encounter with God was on a mountain in a burning bush. It was there he was called to lead God’s people out of bondage and into the Promised Land.
Out on the plains of the wilderness…Moses would climb up another mountain where he caught a glimpse of God’s backside. Yes…he saw God’s butt. When he came down from Mount Sinai, he not only had the tablets containing the Ten Commandments… but his face was shining so brightly because of that encounter they had to cover it with a veil. Moses saw God and he was changed. Not only in appearance, but deep down in the core of his being. To see God is to be changed.
Luke offers us another mountaintop encounter with God. Jesus took three of his closest disciples up the mountain to pray. These guys left everything to follow Jesus. They had heard his teaching, asked questions, and witnessed countless miracles. Yet it wasn’t until this particular time and place that their eyes were opened to see Jesus as the Christ transfigured before them. And just in case this point wasn’t clear to them the voice of God called out, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
It’s right to think that when God speaks, we ought to listen. In Jesus, God is telling us something. So we ought to pay close attention. See what Jesus does and then go and do it. This is how the glory of God is transfigured in us. Peter, James and John got a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, there was no turning back. Once you see God’s glory, you can’t unsee it. Yet while they finally comprehended the importance of this event, the disciples did not immediately act on it. And for obvious reasons, they were human – afraid of what might happen.
As a young teenager, I had a similar experience that changed my life. I don’t often talk about it because I learned early on, that a vast majority of people, especially the so-called faithful Christians, don’t always believe someone who claims to have had visions of Christ. But what I saw and heard, I could not unsee or unknow. The feeling I felt in the deepest core of my being would forever change me.
The biggest change was knowing, without an iota of doubt, that God is real. This had a major impact on the way I fearlessly and stupidly approached life. Possessing this knowledge both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because God’s promised grace is real. But it’s also a curse because if God is real, then all that stuff we were told to do is real as well. “This is my Son, the Chosen, listen to him.” Watch what he does, then do the same to others. That isn’t as easy as it sounds.
For a while I pretended it was all a dream. I tried to ignore it, bury my head in the sand so to speak. But no matter where I stuck my head, I kept running into God. Eventually I got tired of playing hide and seek. I knew God was real. Yet it wasn’t until I actually accepted this truth that I was able to truly see the Kingdom of God in all its beauty and depth. As you might imagine this was life changing for me.
When each of my children were born, I saw God in full glory. When we suffered the loss of someone we dearly loved, I knew God was there sharing our pain and anguish. Whenever I hike or play golf with Kevin, I can’t help but see God all around us. And every time I meet someone new, I have another new encounter with God that transforms the way I see the world. I have come to realize that wherever I am…God is there too. In Jesus, God opens our eyes to this divine revelation.
Once we accept this profound truth, we are able to see God’s Kingdom for the greatness that it is. And we can fully participate and thrive in it. Through Jesus , God opens our eyes and changes our perception, not just of ourselves but others as well. God says, “This is my Son, listen to him.” This is not so much a command, but an invitation to live and participate in the Kingdom of God. To see and do what Jesus does in order to learn and teach others of God’s grace and truth.
I like to think God has opened our eyes, not just to see the truth about Jesus, but the truth about us all. We are all beloved children of God. To see the face of Jesus changes us. But more importantly, to see that same face in others can change the world. Imagine if we put the face of Christ on a person we hate, then rage can be changed into love; war into peace; and weapons into plowshares. True transfiguration…from the human way to the Divine will of God.
Luke concludes this story with another life changing event. When they descended the mountain, they were immediately confronted by a man whose son had been seized by an evil spirit. The demon dramatically threw the child to the ground, but Jesus was unfazed. He rebuked the spirit, healed the young boy, and returned him to his father. Luke ends the passage stating, “And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” They were changed. How could they not be? How could we not be? To see God is to be forever changed.
The disciples had their mountain top experience with God. But it was down in the streets that they would begin to fully comprehend what God had invited to do…to participate in God’s Kingdom by being mirrors of the Christ throughout the world.
As you leave here today, I hope you will remember that every time you interact with others you encounter God. Think about how that might change the way you speak, or listen, or care for those around you. Through Jesus, God not only opens our eyes and our ears but our hearts and our hands as well. To see the Kingdom of God and to follow participate in its glory. Through Jesus, God speaks to us and invites us to be a mirror of the Christ transfigured…so others can have a life-changing encounter as well.
So my challenge to you is this: Go now and be God’s glory in the world; astounding all with the greatness of God in all that you do.
Wood, Joshuah. "episcopalchurch.org." The Episcopal Church. March 3, 2019. (accessed March 1, 2019).
The other night at dinner, I heard Colleen tell her sister that a woman they both admired was also a PK. For those of you who do not know what a PK is, it’s an acronym for Pastor’s Kid. There’s a special bond that PK’s share and apparently you have to be one to truly understand it. I’ve been told it’s like being part of a survivor’s group…and that they’re connected by kindred spirit that comes alive whenever they run into one another.
As my kids can attests, it’s not always fun being a PK. First, you’ll live in a glasshouse...one where literally the entire world can judge you. Not only are PK’s called to behave differently than other kids, but they are also constantly called upon to answer all religious questions. But probably the worse thing about being a pastor’s kid is knowing that whatever you do or say will eventually wind up in a sermon as you will see here.
A few years ago, I caught a particular PK’s about to take a swing at his sibling. When I yelled “What the heck do you think you’re doing?” he shot back, “She wants me to hit her.” And before I could respond he told me, “Jesus said it’s ok!”
If you’re a PK then you know you’re going to get a lengthy, exegetical heavy sermon as part of your punishment. But in this particular case, I was more curious to learn where exactly in the Bible Jesus said it’s okay to hit another person. “Do to others what you want them to do to you” which this PK had interpreted to mean “She hit me…so I guess she wants me to hit her back.”
That is a long walk to get us to our reading today. Gathered with his disciples out in the countryside, Jesus begins one of his most famous sermons. And in doing so, he opens the door to the Kingdom of God for us to enter. Today the lectionary only gives us a small part of this magnificent discourse found in Luke 6:27-38.
Although my child’s take on this passage was creative and new, these words weren’t exactly something Jesus just came up with. Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers had been teaching variations of golden rule for years. Jesus just gave it a radically new interpretation, applying it to God’s Kingdom where generosity and kindness turn a hostile and violent world on its head.
Jesus taught us that in the Kingdom of God love and mercy is the bar by which all life must be measured. Love your enemy, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who hurt you, and give without expecting even a thank you in return. And just as we’re about to tune him out, Jesus reminds us, “This is what God has done for you, so go out and do the same for others.”
Still, I can understand why my PK might have been confused about the whole turn the other cheek idea. After all, when someone hits you, human instinct says hit back. Whether it’s a verbal, physical, or mental attack our gut response is return it, word for word, blow for blow. Jesus isn’t set up for a fight or to accept more abuse. He’s simply calling us to do something so radical and revolutionary – something that runs against our thinking, our inclinations, our desires, and our will – that we don’t want to hear it for the truth that it is.
Jesus teaches us to respond to the worst of humankind in the way God responds to the world – with grace and kindness instead of reacting with anger, judgment or harm. This requires a giving over of one’s self, just as he did for us. When we live Christ in the world – by practicing love, mercy, grace and forgiveness – then other’s are able to see God’s glory. I can’t think of a better way to honor or worship God.
And this takes us to a question that Rob Bell always likes to ask. “What if Jesus meant what he said?”
This is something we all need to ask ourselves everyday. Was Jesus just blowing smoke when he said, God is kind so you be kind? Did he actually mean it when he said be easy on people and you’ll find life a lot easier? Is it true that if you give away your life; you’ll find life given back with bonus and blessing?
The point is this. If we only listen to what Jesus says, but do not put his words to practice then what good are his words? If we take God’s grace but do not offer it to others, then where is the real joy of that life-giving gift? Faith is much more than some proclamation we make. Faith is a way of life, a way that is contrary to our own inclinations. Jesus says love, do good, offer and give…And guess what? He meant it.
Mr. Rogers had a beautiful way of interpreting Jesus’ words. He said, “All we are ever asked to do in this life is to treat our neighbors – especially the neighbor who is in need – exactly how we would hope to be treated ourselves. This is our ultimate responsibility.”
On his show and in real life, Mr. Rogers taught compassion because he knew the moment our anger transforms itself into compassion we no longer fear those who look or sound different than us. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood broke down the walls of racism, and sexism, and all the other ‘isms’ that divide us from one another. He saw and welcomed all people as God’s beloved children, because he took Jesus at his word.
Gandhi was another who believed Jesus meant what he said. When Gandhi said, “love is the force that can liberate,” he meant we have to love our enemy to truly be free. Even if our enemy is cruel, or sowing terror or injustice, love must be the bar by which all life is measured. In the Kingdom of God, righteousness isn’t born from human anger, but from God’s love. And it grows in all the ways we share that love with one another. Jesus is the perfection of God’s love manifested. As Christ followers, our mission is to manifest God’s love just as he did.
Love is our goal. Through Jesus, we receive God’s divine love and grace. This is why we call it the good news, because let’s face it, we are not always the person being slapped or taken advantage of. Sometimes it’s our hands, our words, and our actions that harm others.
If Jesus meant what he said, then God’s mercy and grace is generously given to us through him. Despite our failures to love our enemy, God still loves us. While we might have trouble forgiving those who have hurt us in the past, God still forgives us. Jesus isn’t setting us up to fail, but inviting us to thrive.
Mercy, Grace and Love; this is what the Kingdom of God is made of. Jesus shows us the way. He generously and lovingly gave his life so we might live – not with our hatred, anger and fear, but with God’s love, generosity and peace. Thus, as Eugene Peterson so creatively wrote, “Let even your enemy bring out the best in you, not the worst.”
Jesus is the manifestation of God’s divine love. Now, it is our job to go and do the same, by giving generously to others what God has given so generously and freely to us. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pastor’s kid, or anyone else’s kid, thanks to Jesus we are all made to be the beloved children of God. As God’s beloved, we are called to live in such a way that the world is able to see God’s Kingdom open for them.
When we can manifest understanding, compassion and tolerance, loving kindness and generosity as Jesus did, then Jesus is not only present, but his words become the truth by which all life finds its rests in God’s heart and home. You. Me. And yes, even our enemies.
Let us pray: Lord Christ, thank you for your generosity, and for your words that have transformed our hearts. Lead us out into the world to serve you in all that we do and in all whom we meet, so that your name will be glorified, now and forever. Amen.
Anderson, T. Denise. Reflections on the Lectionary. Christian Century, Vol. 136, No.3, January 30, 2019.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year C Vol 1 Westminster John Knox: 2009, pp. 380-85.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. Living Buddha, Living Christ. Riverhead: 1995, pp. 78-86.
Rogers, Fred. Life’s Journey According to Mister Rogers: things to remember along the way. Hyperion: 2005, p.91.
If this passage is all we had to know about God, then Jeremiah didn’t start out on the right foot. Spitting out curses is not the best way to introduce yourself unless, of course, you are one of my ex-girlfriends.
You might remember from a few weeks ago that Jeremiah was just a kid when God calls him to do something really big. Grown up big. In fact, it was so big that it required the guts of a young child with…little understanding of the ramifications of what God was calling him to do.
If you know kids, then you might know they have a way of trusting that is better than adults. Probably it’s because kids need to trust in order to survive. Once they can feed, clothe and do things for themselves, they begin to see how trust becomes a choice; an important one to say the least.
The adults in this prophecy chose not to believe Jeremiah when he warned them not to go to war with the Babylonians. They didn’t heed his advice to put their trust in God’s protection. Instead they made alliances with other countries. Now these same people find themselves living in exile in a foreign country. Trust is a choice that can bind us or free us.
Of course, the kind of trust Jeremiah is talking about isn’t as simple as asking my southern mother for directions and trusting they’ll be correct. Instead it’s a more radical kind of trust – one that goes over and above dependence on other human beings. It’s the kind of trust that saved Noah from the flood, and led Moses through the wilderness and God’s people to the promise land. And allowed Jeremiah to speak fearlessly even though he was just a kid.
It’s the radical trust we learned about last week that got the disciples to drop their fishing nets and follow Jesus. To go from the seashore to the cross without fully understanding what great impact it would have on their lives, and the lives of so many others.
Of course, radical trust in God isn’t always so extreme, sometimes it’s basic and childlike. I remember when I took Fiona boogie boarding for the first time. On a small sand bar close to the shore I pushed her on the rolling whitewater as she held on to the board for dear life. Once I thought she had a pretty good grip of the concept, I took her a further out to where the swells were beginning to crest. Fiona was not so sure about this idea.
So, being a good dad, someone who was going to be a minister one day, I asked her “Do you think today is the day God is going to call you home?” Before she could say “No” with any great confidence, I pushed her into the next wave. Which, to my surprise, was a little bit bigger than I had hoped for.
My head began to panic and my heart pounded so loudly that I didn’t hear Fiona screaming. She rode that wave all the way to the beach. With the boogie board tightly clenched in her hands, she turned around and shot me a look that only Fiona could give. And let me tell you, the smile on her face said it all. It was nothing less than pure joy. The look of life lived abundantly.
Fiona’s natural instinct was to trust like only a child is able to do. While the adult in the water, the one who was going to be a minister one day, completely forgot what God is capable of doing. So yes, “Blessed are those who put their trust in God...” They will bear good fruit that will bring them joy in the most difficult circumstances.
If you ask me, trust is the key to unlocking your life, and finding the blessings contained within it. As my favorite proverb states, “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not into your own understanding. In all ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.”
Jeremiah’s words invite us to look at our own life and ask, “Is it all about me? Or is it about God?” The prophet is not so subtle with his answer. He insists that those who trust solely in human wisdom and power will suffer hardships, while those who trust in God, fully and faithfully, will possess the deep resources necessary to flourish, even in times of drought.
When we only trust in our self or the things we can touch or see or prove, then we are limited by our ability to understand and our capacity to control a given situation. Our joy and purpose in life will seem small…and shallow.
But a radical trust in God leads us to where we need to go and to find who God calls us to be. It leads us out into the deeper water where divine mystery constantly catches us by surprise. And empowers us to do more than we ever thought was possible.
As my classmate pointed out, Jesus challenges his followers to trust God so completely that we are able to love one another and show God’s grace in all that we do. And to do so with childlike instincts. But it’s a choice we have to make. We can see and do what Jesus does, and learn and teach the will of God for others to follow. Or we can hold off by ourselves and rely on our limited understanding and power. One welcomes peace. The other invites turmoil.
When we trust God, like Jesus did, we are able to move beyond our old selves that clings to brokenness, fears, and dead ends. Jesus draws us into God’s heart and lifts us out of where we are so we can flourish and thrive in God’s infinite love.
Trust begins in the heart – where pure joy is born and faith takes shape. It is here, inside each one of us, that God searches our hearts, and tests our minds, as if to ask, “Can I count on you?” Trust is our way of saying, “Yes.”
Trust is the love that connects the head to the heart and the heart to the world, and the world back to God. Jesus is God’s reminder that we cannot get back there by our own device. We need God to bring us safely home. And Jesus is the proof of how far God will go to do just that.
No one trusted God more radically, more profoundly, or more honestly than Jesus who took to heart the words of the Psalmist who wrote, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act.”
In Christ, God acted in the most radical way, so that our limited human life can flourish in unlimited ways. Now it is up to us to decide which path are we going to take. Will we live a life on our own terms, led by our own self-righteousness and ego, where we only have ourselves to rely on? Or will we chose to trust God and live in God’s righteousness, a river flowing with endless blessings?
In both there will be hurdles to face. While one leaves us dry, thirsting for more… the other keep us deeply rooted and does not cease to bear the good fruit. The fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
So if it all comes down to one word, one idea, then let it be trust. For within that one simple word we see God as the loving parent, smiling and delighted as we ride the wave of life safely to shore.
Let us pray:
Lord God, you have cracked up our hearts and minds to help us see your power at work in our lives. As we move one with our week, empower us with your Holy Spirit to follow the ways of your beloved Son who we trust with our life to leads us home to your heart. It’s through his holy name we pray, Amen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol.1, Westminister John Knox: 2009, pp. 338-343.
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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