Thursday, August 30, 2012

Home, Part 2

Part 2 of my sermon from last Sunday.

The sixth chapter of John is 71 verses long. That’s pretty long – so long, in fact, that it takes up five weeks of lectionary readings. A church could concentrate just on the 6th chapter of John for the entire month of August. I think, though, that to understand today’s reading, we need to see it in the light of the rest of its chapter.

Chapter 6 of John begins with the feeding of the 5000 – that’s 5000 men, and their families. Andrew, who was always bringing people to Jesus, brought a little boy to him with two loaves of bread and five fish. Andrew did it, I think, not believing that it could be any help at all in feeding the crowd. Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and gave it to everyone there. Once everyone had had their fill, Jesus has his disciples gather up what was left over – 12 baskets full. I wonder about that particular action – I wonder if Jesus was trying to teach something about faith – something about who he was to his disciples by having them collect the leftovers. I wonder if later they would remember the full baskets.

Next in the chapter comes the passage where Jesus’ disciples are in a boat, out on the water. They are frightened to see Jesus walking toward them – on the water. Jesus tells them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” That could also be translated as “I am – do not be afraid.” Sound familiar? I am – In John, walking on the water is not so much a miracle of Jesus’ power over the forces of nature, but what one commentator called “a miracle of theophany, of the revelation of the divine in Jesus. An encounter with God.

So, two miracles in the 6th chapter, and then three discourses, or discussions. The first is with the crowd, and then with the crowd and disciples, including the Jews, who ask him questions and complain, and then a final discourse with the disciples alone. Throughout these discussion, Jesus is speaking about being the Bread of Life. It includes another I am statement – I am the Bread of Life. It’s interesting to me that the chapter begins with Jesus feeding bread to the crowd, and then revealing that he is “I am”. All 71 verses are connected to each other, and they seem to culminate in the reading we have today.

And we get there, right at this culmination, and we hear the verse 56: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” and we say, “Oooh yuck.” When we get past that reaction, we can hear something else. We find the heart of the verse -- the word “abide.” What does it mean to abide?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Home, Part 1

My sermon from last Sunday, based on John 6:56-69, Part I

Many, many years ago, my family and I were sitting in worship.  The pastor – not the one we have now, and not the one before him, but the one before him – was talking about communion.  I was watching my son, who was about four at the time, and who was listening intently to John, the pastor, as he talked about the bread and the juice.  Grant (our son) was paying attention as John spoke about the body and the blood of Christ.  I was feeling great about this.  I was feeling blessed to belong to a church family where our sons could learn about Christ, could grow in their faith.  I thought John was doing a great job explaining a hard to understand topic to all of us, but especially to our four year old.  I was smiling to myself.

Right until our son yelled, “Blood!  We drink blood?!” with a oooh yuck kind of tone.  I was stuck trying to explain to him, during the communion liturgy, that we do not, indeed, drink blood.

I think my son’s reaction to John’s explanation of communion might be very similar to my own – and to yours, perhaps – when we listen to the passage that was read from John’s gospel this morning.  It’s one of the lectionary readings for today, and when I read it, I thought, “Oooh yuck, I don’t want to preach about that.”  And then I read it again, and I realized that once I got past that initial reaction, this passage of scripture is filled with words for us to hear.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Kingdom of the Now and Not Yet, Part V

Finally, the fifth thing that living in the kingdom now and not yet is that "we do not have to carry around the baggage of our past.  We can give up our sins to Jesus and find in him the courage to sort out and deal with our hang-ups."

What stands between you and God?  What stands between you and someone else?  Are you willing to allow God to remove it?  Will you let go of the grudge?  Will you forgive yourself? 

It's hard - in fact, I think it might be impossible at times.  God makes things possible that are actually impossible.  What we cannot forgive, God can lift away.  The requirement is that we allow it.

God will do it today, right now, in the kingdom that is now.  God will do it to prepare us for the kingdom that is not yet.  God will even work with us from the moment into the future because sometimes it takes that long.

God is willing.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Kingdom of the Now and Not Yet, Part IV

The fourth point about living in the kingdom of the now and the not yet is that it gives our lives meaning.

Why do we do what we do? Why bother to get up on Sunday and go to church? Why work on a Sunday school lesson, preparing to teach? Why love our neighbor when it would be much easier to ignore him or to even hate him? Why resist the urge to get even? Why work so hard to forgive?

If God lives with us now, if we are living in the kingdom today, then we have faith that we are loved by God and that God's grace surrounds us. That requires our commitment to what we are called to do -- it is the only response to kingdom living. Living the kingdom gives purpose to what we do.

Living for the kingdom that is not yet brings us hope, and also gives us purpose.

Purpose comes from God -- in the now and in the future.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Kingdom Now and Not Yet, Part III

Living in the Kingdom of the now and the not yet -- the third point in the lesson from Sunday school last week was this one:
We know that no terrible circumstance has the last word.  We believe that the last words will be from God, and they will be words of joy, comfort, righteousness, security and peace.  
For me that is a statement of faith in the kingdom that is not yet.  If God hasn't had the last word, then the last word has not yet been uttered.

In the book The Will of God,  Weatherhead talks about God's will in three ways.  He says the intentional will of God is sometimes blocked.  In those cases, the circumstantial will of God finds a way through tough situations.  God's ultimate will, however, will not be thwarted.  It is "God's final realization of his purposes" -- God will not be defeated, and his ultimate will for us -- redemption and reunification with God -- will happen. No circumstance can defeat his ultimate will.

In the kingdom of now -- God present -- we can find comfort in that realization -- in that trust.  We are not promised that only good will be found in our lives and circumstances.  We are promised that God will see us through.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Kingdom Now and Not Yet, Part II

Living in a kingdom of now and not yet means that we live in a kingdom in the presence of God, and in anticipation of his coming.  I think this dovetails neatly into the idea that we should do God's will.  We should be obedient to his calling, for the benefit of the now and the not yet.

If we are in the kingdom now, and God is in the room, isn't that a motivation to do God's will?  It might not be the best motivator, but if my boss is in the room, I might be more motivated to do his will.  There is an increased awareness that he will know if am following his lead or not if he is present.

If we are living in the kingdom that is not yet, and we are living in the kingdom that is now, then we are also motivated to do God's will because we have a roll to play.  We contribute to the transformation of the kingdom now into what it will become by following the will of God.  In the same way, we contribute to our transformation from who we are to who will will become by following God's will.  Potential is reached.  Perfection (wholeness) is achieved.

And in the kingdom of the now and the not yet, we come to realize that there is an undeniable link between our own happiness and our obedience.  When we follow the will of God, loving God and loving our neighbors, we find blessing - happiness - fulfilment. 

No where in this post did I say we earn our way into heaven by obeying God.  I didn't say it because I don't believe it.  Obedience grows from faith, and faith is given to us by God.  Our faith is grace, and by grace we are saved.  And that's the best reason to be obedient.


Monday, August 20, 2012

The Kingdom Now and Net Yet, Part I

Have you thought about what it means to live in the Kingdom of God?  We live in it, today, right now.  It is the now.  It is also the not yet, because we will live in it someday. 

It's a challenging and fascinating dichotomy.  The now and the not yet.  What does it mean to live in the Kingdom of God now and not yet?

I taught Sunday school yesterday, and hidden in the lesson plan, right at the end, was a list of five thoughts about just that question.  One little paragraph -- a whole lot of meat, and it was stuck at the end.  Reading through it and teaching it, I thought it might make a nice five-part blog series.

The first thought is that we live in the expectation of the coming of Christ.  We believe he is coming again, a second time.  We wonder if we are prepared, if we are preparing correctly.  We wonder when it will be.  Now?  Later?  Much later?  And we live in the idea that we are not to know that answer to that question.  All of that means we have to trust God.

And we live in the expectation that Christ is here now.  Sitting in the room with you as you read this post, as I write this post.  Christ is in the hospital room of the dying grandfather, in the car with the speeding teenager, in the classroom with the struggling student.  Christ is in the office with you, and he is in the kitchen with you.  Christ is in worship, and he is outside the church, hoping to be invited in.   Christ is here, now. 

That should make a difference in our lives.  It should transform the way we live our lives.  We are never alone, and we wait for God.  And God waits for us.  A fascinating dichotomy.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

And also...

I usually wake up at about 5:00 AM.  I don't get up, but I'm awake -- either for a few minutes or until the alarm goes off at 5:55. 

This morning, after I woke up, I started to think about yesterday's post.  All of the items I listed as ways the spirit is fed were "being" things -- learning about God, speaking to God, etc.

There should be "doing" things on the list.  Service is a major way the spirit is fed.  Loving others.  Living a life of grace. 

Important ways, and they came to me at 5AM. 

Maybe God found a quiet time to remind me.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Being Fed

One of my favorite Old Testament images is from the first book of Kings, when Elijah flees from Jezebel. He runs into the wilderness and comes to rest under a broom tree. And angel cares for him.

The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:4-8, NRSV)

Get up and eat.

Elijah's body needed support in order to continue on his journey. And maybe more than his body needed support. Maybe his spirit needed revival, too.

How do we feed our spirits to continue on the journey? How do we connect to God? How do we re-energize and strengthen ourselves?

Do we try to fool ourselves into thinking we don't need to be fed?

Bible study. Prayer. Solitude. Christian conversation. Communion. Worship. Relaxation. Fun. Laughter.

What's on your list?

Labels: ,

Monday, August 13, 2012

Religion vs Gospel

Religion versus Gospel.

I saw a post on Facebook, coming "religion" to "gospel."  It was a list of items like:

Religion:  Do good works and God will love you
Gospel:  God loves you; therefore, love others through your good works.

Warning -- I made that one up.  I don't remember exactly what it said, but it's unimportant for this discussion, and my made-up example gives you the idea.

There seems to be a trend that I'm hearing about that -- young people don't like religion.  They love God, but not religion.  Religion is bad.  It is organized and irrelevant.

Is it?  Is all of it?  Do we believe that religion is bad just because there is some bad religion?  Is there not a value to organized faith?  Do we throw it out and say it is bad?

Or, do we realize that religion is neither good nor bad.  Religion is a tool.  Use it well or use it poorly.  If it is spreading the wrong gospel, is it the fault of religion?  Or is it the fault of the user?

Is it user error?  And if it is, what do we do about it?

Labels: ,

Friday, August 10, 2012

Where is the door?

On the way home from work yesterday I stopped at the store. It was a Foodland in Charleston where I don't stop very often. I could be wrong (and just unobservant) but it seems that since I was there last they have remodeled the front of the store. I got out of the car and looked at the store, and had no idea how to get in. Where was the door? The store has no visible front doors.

Doesn't that seem odd? Wouldn't you think that a grocery store that exists only to sell food to customers would make it's front door very visible? And I imagine that the manager of the store would never think that anyone would have any trouble finding his or her way inside the store.

Are churches the same way? I don't mean literally -- I don't mean that we hide our front doors, but do we sometimes assume that people know how to "do church" when they are really just standing outside, wondering what to do? Imagine for a moment that you have never been to church. Carry that rookie status with you to worship, and experience it with those eyes.


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Sower

I just finished reading a sermon from Barbara Brown Taylor's book, "The Seeds of Heaven."  It centered around the Extravagant Sower Parable in Matthew 11.

What does it mean to look at the meaning of the parable as centered around the sower, rather than the plants?  What does the certainty of abundance do to our perspective?  The sower is obviously unconcerned with how much seeds he sows -- he isn't afraid he'll run out or that the production will not meet his needs later. 

The sower is fearless.  If he were afraid of running out of seed, he would be more selective about where he plants it.  He would avoid the thorns and the path.  Instead, fearlessly, he throws seed anywhere, everywhere.  Nothing in the parable tells of his frustration or anger at the results. 

God must be like the sower.  He joyfully and without worry sows his love anywhere and everywhere.  He cares for all -- even those who don't demonstrate (to us, anyway) potential to bear fruit.  He just loves, without limit. 

He calls us to love the same way.  We are to love without regard to what will grow when we plant the seeds.  We are to love with the certainty that we will always have enough.  We are to love radically and without thoughts of scarcity or outcome.  We are to love.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, August 06, 2012


The question from RevGalBlogPals this past Friday was, "What are 5 things you do or things you have bought that have made your life simpler/easier to manage?"

  1. When we bought our new TV, we ended up with three remote controls, and no real way to reduce that number to just one, until I found a Logitech universal remote control. I downloaded a program to my laptop, plugged in the remote, and programmed it to work our devices. Genius.
  2. I'm not sure if this makes my life easier or simpler, but maybe it does. At the beginning of the year, we bought a new fridge. I love it. I love the water and ice in the door, the extra space -- I love everything about it.
  3. My iPad has been a great purchase. It felt like a luxury when I bought it -- and it probably is -- but it has been great to be able to take it to church meetings and have all of my paperwork for meetings with me. Whenever I go to a meeting, I scan the agenda, minutes, etc, so that for the next meetings, all of my information is with me. And then, I throw away the paper copies (recycle them). Great -- no messes.
  4. I get hot during the day, and I was always turning my air conditioning in my office down and then up and then down and then up. I found a little fan, the size of a small melon or large tomato. It sets on my desk, and I turn it on when I get hot and then off. So great. So easy.
  5. The Kuerig coffeemaker. I don't make coffee, but I use it for tea and even hot cereal (using it for hot water). Steve uses it faithfully every day -- great for coffee


Friday, August 03, 2012


Couple of quotes from the sermon The Open Yoke:  Matthew 11:25-30 by Barbara Brown Taylor in the book The Seeds of Heaven:
  • I may beleive that my life depends on God's grace, but I act like it depends on me and how many good deeds I can perform, as if every day were a talent show and God had nothing better to do that keep up with my score.
  • Human beings have a perverse way of turning Jesus' easy yoke back into a hard one again, by driving ourselves to do, do, do more and whipping ourselves to be, be, be more when all God has ever asked is that we belong to him.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Forming a Line

There is a lot of talk about having a literal interpretation of the Bible. What would it mean if we did? How would it change the world if we loved God; if we loved our neighbors, as much as we love ourselves?

How would the world change if we lined up to work in homeless shelters? If we formed lines to bring food to the food pantries? What if we formed lines to teach children to read or to join a mission trip to build a dorm at a university in Africa? How would the world change?

How would the world change if we lined up for all of those things instead of to buy chicken?


Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Examining the Fruit

The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 11, tells of John the Baptist, from prison, sending word to ask Jesus, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"

According to Barbara Brown Taylor, Jesus doesn't just say, "Yes, I am the one."  Instead, he says:

Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. (Matthew 11:4-5)

He doesn't affirm that he is "the one."  Instead he asks John to make the judgment based on the fruit of his ministry.  A couple of things occur to me as I read that.

First, Jesus leaves it up to each of us to judge who he is.  Who do you say that he is?  Does the evidence you see and know lead to faith?

Secondly, who would others say that we are by looking at our fruit?  On the school bus once, during high school, a fellow student asked me, "Are you a Christian?"  I was taken back by the question, and I didn't really answer him.  What if someone were to ask me, "I've heard about these Christians.  Are you one of them?"  Could I answer similarly to how Jesus answered the question John asked him?  Can other people look at the fruit of my faith and know whose I am?

Labels: ,