Pentecost re-orients all people toward the Story of God

Pentecost re-orients all people toward the Story of God – June 4, 2017

A homily by Mother Beth

The First Reading from the book of Acts 2

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”  14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 

When asked, what is the most important element of any relationship, most people say the most important element is communication.  I have spoken before about the frustration that we bring to communicating with others.  Sometimes we read into emails or notes a certain tone; depending on the last interaction that we may have had with the person.  And by far, the best form of communication – in order to be understood is – face to face communication.  This is largely because 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and only 7% is the actual words spoken.  True and effective communication is about being in the same time and space as the person that you want to build relationship with.

There are moments though when you might ask yourself – what language am I speaking?  I do not feel understood.  There are just times when despite your best efforts you and the other party just seem to be missing each other.

You may remember a little story in Genesis chapter 11 about the building of a tower.

“Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.

As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.

The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

That is why it was called Babel–because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

The creation of different languages created confusion and chaos.  Those who had been working together for a common purpose could now no longer work together because they could no longer communicate.

We hear about them scattering over the face of the earth – this is the establishing of many different nations.

So when we hear today the story of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, we may see a restoration taking place.  The tower of Babel story – creates chaos and disunity – confusion and misunderstanding but Pentecost unites humanity towards the story of God.

We hear that there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven – the whole earth is represented here.

The barrier that was created by all speaking different languages is removed here – they all hear in their own language.  The thing that normally kept them from being united – from understanding each other – is overcome by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  The good news is that God is not limited by language.  All those times that you feel like you can not be understood – or you don’t know what to say or how to say it – God, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, can provide for.

Peter begins to explain to all who are there what is happening.  He says, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh”.  This is the fulfillment of God’s promise in Joel – I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh – all – no exceptions.

Sons and daughters will prophesy – no discrimination in the sexes – both will be anointed by the Spirit.

 

Young men will see visions and Old men will dream dreams – no Ageism – God empowers both young and old alike.

God breaks down all the barriers that divide humanity – He pours himself out – please note this is not just a trickle – this is a pouring out – on all.

Pentecost is not the birth of the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit as a person of the Trinity always was – and up until this point – the Holy Spirit has been manifest in and on specific people – Moses, Elijah, David, the prophets, John the Baptist but, now God pours out his Holy Spirit on all.

Pentecost is considered the birth of the church – up until this point the average person received something from God through the person of Jesus Christ (in his physical form) or through the prophets but with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God makes himself available to all.  This is the birth of the church as an inclusive entity – the move to acceptance of all people – all ages, all races, all sexes.  As in Babel all the nations and races were separated so now all the nations and races are unified through the story of Christ as revealed to all people.

 

 

I think it is interesting to note that in each of the readings that we heard today – there is an intentional gathering of people – the disciples are gathered together in John and in Acts.  As we gather together we receive the good gifts that God has for us.  I think it is especially important to note this at Pentecost because the Spirit empowers us with gifts but these gifts are not for our own personal use – but for the building up of others – for the encouragement and equipping of the church.  As we gather together and each bring the Spiritual gifts that God has bestowed on us – we complement each other.  As we come together in the power of the Holy Spirit we make up the body of Christ.  I think it is important because sometimes we get tired of working on the relationships or we get tempted to go off on our own – just me and God – nothing else matters.  Each of the scriptures that we heard today emphasize over and over the importance of all and everyone.  It is significant that God reveals himself no longer to just one or two people – the Holy Spirit is not just dripped out on Billy Graham or your local priest or pastor.  NO.

The Holy Spirit at the Day of Pentecost was poured out on all – to break down the barriers that divide us and to unite us together in the great story of God and his son Jesus Christ – that the church might be faithful to God’s mission to this world.

Last week we heard Jesus say in Luke 24 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

May God empower us by His Holy Spirit to go out into our communities as witnesses to his son Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Heavenly Minded – a sermon for Ascension Sunday

The First Reading from the book of Acts 1-5 Dear Theophilus, in the first volume of this book I wrote on everything that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he said good-bye to the apostles, the ones he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. After his death, he presented himself alive to them in many different settings over a period of forty days. In face-to-face meetings, he talked to them about things concerning the kingdom of God. As they met and ate meals together, he told them that they were on no account to leave Jerusalem but “must wait for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from me. John baptized in water; you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And soon.”  When they were together for the last time they asked, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?”  7-8 He told them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”  9-11 These were his last words. As they watched, he was taken up and disappeared in a cloud. They stood there, staring into the empty sky. Suddenly two men appeared—in white robes! They said, “You Galileans!—why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky? This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly—and mysteriously—as he left.”

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke 24:44-5344Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”  50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Heavenly Minded – a sermon by Mother Beth

Have you heard the expression, “She’s so heavenly minded she’s no earthly good?”  This often refers to someone who has their head in the clouds – unaware of what is going on around them.   Sometimes it is difficult to balance ourselves between the now and the not yet but that is the tension that we live in as Christians.  We live in a world we can see but we live for a God that we cannot see.  I’ve mentioned before it is like straddling between two camps.  We have one foot in the world and one foot in the next world – we are here now but we know that we are promised life beyond this physical world.

Each week we are bombarded by some pretty horrific messages –  the news is almost overwhelming.  Some weeks, word of the bad news outweighs the good.  That is the time when I am tempted to just turn it all off and think about my heavenly home.  I might reassure myself by saying – “it’s ok, this world is not my home” or I might say “sometimes I hate this place – this world – this culture that allows such injustice and brokenness to reign”.

Today in the both the gospel of Luke and the Acts reading we hear about the ascension of Jesus Christ.

*A side note here is that Luke and Acts are written by the same author and they work together like a two-part book.*

The gospel passage picks up right after the resurrection of Christ.  Jesus has appeared to the disciples, and the two on the road to Emmaus and now he meets again in the upper room with the disciples.  They have seen his hands and his side – he still bears the scars from the crucifixion and now he explains to them once again how he is the fulfillment of all of the scriptures.

Jesus explains that the things that they have just witnessed – the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ were planned from the beginning – they had to happen.  He is connecting all the dots for them; reassuring them about the events so that is his absence they can know for sure that salvation could not have come some other way.

Jesus knows that as humans we second guess ourselves – once he leaves if they are not convinced, they will question whether or not it needed to happen.

By directing them back to scripture – in verse 44 he refers back to the law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms –  he is giving them the tools to reassure themselves about the outcome.  Jesus does not just tell them the answer he equips them to find the answer – to retrieve the answer should doubts arise later.

How often have you been in conversation with someone and they have tried to derail you – maybe you have been talking about your faith and

someone has an argument about what you have said.  They try to confuse you.  The good news is that scripture has a response for that.  You may not know the answer right in that moment but you can go and find it.  The scriptures provide for us a place to seek the answers – a place to hear the truth and Jesus assures us that the scriptures point us to him.

After assuring them, Christ commissions them; sends them on a mission – as witnesses – they will be empowered by the Holy Spirit – and then they are to witness to what they have seen and heard and learned.  Where are they to be witnesses?

In Jerusalem, Samaria, Judea and the outermost parts of the earth.

Why Jerusalem first?

That is where they are right now – so we need to start in our own backyard – but also it is important to remember that it would be difficult for the 1st century Jews to testify about Jesus in their own backyard.

Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was killed – and they have been very afraid.  So Christ does not send them out to do what will be easy for them but he empowers them to do what needs to be done so that others will see that the power is not in them but from God.  If we only do the things that we have always been comfortable doing or naturally able to do, how will that reveal Jesus Christ?  God is revealed in us as we are empowered to do those things that are “supernatural” or not what we would be able to do on our own.

For the disciples to be witnesses in Jerusalem in the face of fear – in the face of Roman persecution – is for them to demonstrate changed lives and to demonstrate the power of God working in them.

For you and I to witness to the changes that God has made in our lives at home and in our communities – where we are known so well – where we have made mistakes in the past – where others have seen the messes we have created – is to testify that the good news of Jesus is not about you or me but about Jesus – about God and what he wants to do in each person’s life.  I do not testify that I am perfect but rather that I have met the one who is perfect and His grace extends towards me.

Once they have been witnesses in Jerusalem then they will be sent out to Samaria – the next territory – then Judea – the next country and then the outermost parts of the earth.  I have tremendous respect for people who have left everything and gone to do mission work around the world but, I also recognize that sometimes it might be easier to step out of the broken life that surrounds me and go and be someone else someplace else.  To go where someone does not know you or the problems or weaknesses in your life and to testify about the change that God has done without first being a witness at home is to leave out the miraculous parts.  To stand in the middle of the community where you having been living your life and to witness to the faithfulness of God is to acknowledge the power of God in your life.

After all of the reassurances that Christ provides to his followers – he departs – he ascends into heaven and they stand there watching.  It is important that they get the opportunity to see him go.  This is the final act for them to witness – it will be an important part of how they tell the story to others.  They will be able to refute anyone who would come to suggest that Jesus was not in fact raised from the dead and that is why he is no longer here.  They will testify not only that they saw him after he died and was raised but that they also saw him ascend.

Two men appear and ask, “Why do you stand here watching?”  Once they know that Jesus has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, they do not need to stand there looking into heaven.  What are they waiting for?  Christ’s return?  Well certainly they were told by the two men – he will return in the same way that he left.

Be assured of that.  We can be assured of that too and we watch for that day.  It is not for us to just stand and watch – we have been given a role to play in this world – and as much as I mentioned at the beginning of this homily that there are times when I look longingly toward heaven because I am tired of the horrific things in this world.  It does no good for me to be so “heavenly minded”.  There are things to be done here.  I am a witness to the grace and love of God in this world.  There are people in my life who need to know that God loves and cares for them.  There are political systems in this world that need to be countered and fought against – there are broken systems that keep other people oppressed and imprisoned – there are injustices that need to be corrected.  All these things are yours and mine to minister to – to rally against.  There are individuals around us who need to be assured of God’s love and presence in this world.

What are we waiting for?  May God give us the boldness and the grace to be witnesses of his Love in our homes, our communities, the country and to the outermost parts of the earth.  Amen.

If you love me, keep my commandments

John 14:15-21

15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Sermon – Easter 6 – John 14/Acts 17

The gospel lesson for today picks up where we left off last week.  Jesus is giving his final instructions to the disciples – He is preparing them for his departure and encouraging them with words of comfort.

Last week – the gospel talked about being sent out to do God’s work.  You may remember that Jesus had promised you will do the things that I have done – and greater things than these shall you do.  How is it that we do greater things? Each of us is sent out in the name of Jesus – as his ambassador – to do God’s work in the community – to be his representative – his ambassador right where we are.  At the same time as we hear these words of Jesus in the gospel of John, we also hear today about the early church in the reading from Acts.  This gives us an opportunity to hear what Jesus says to the church and then also to see what that looks like as it was lived out by the Apostles after Christ left this earth.

 

So this week the reading starts with Jesus saying, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”

What are the two commandments? – Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength AND Love your neighbor as yourself.  What is more fitting then to talk about LOVE? – and the discipline and action that LOVE requires of us.  LOVE is a Verb – we show our love by how we talk, treat each other and the priorities that we keep.   Love is a language that we speak – we speak it with our words but we also speak it with our money and our time.  We have all known people who told us they loved us and yet their actions did not match up with their words.  Real love follows through – Real love demonstrates itself in more than words.

Jesus has said, “This is how people will know that you are my disciples – if you have love one to another” and He also said, “A new commandment I give onto you that you love one another as I have loved you.”

In the Acts reading we hear Paul speaking to the people of Athens.

He sees that they have a monument to an “unknown god” and he takes the opportunity – not to berate them – or to judge them but rather to do the work of God – to extend towards them.  He does the work of hospitality by creating a space for them to hear the good news of the gospel.  So he says, I see that you are religious and interested in religion – and that you speak about an unknown god.  Let me introduce you to God – let me make God known to you.  And then he proceeds to tell about God calling the nation of Israel – choosing Abraham – sending him out into the land.  Paul proceeds to explain how we are made in the image of God and if that is so then obviously God is not a statue or made of gold or silver but is alive. That God appoints places and times and that he calls people to repentance because a time is coming when we will be called to judgment and brought before the man appoint to judge all.  Who is this man?  God has revealed him by raising him from the dead.  This is man is Jesus.

 

 

You might ask, how do these two passages fit together – Jesus is speaking to his own disciples and sending them out to do God’s work and then we hear about Paul – out doing the work of God.  But I do want to emphasize that this is all motivated by love.    What is it that draws us towards God? – it is his love for us.  “While we were still sinners Christ died for us”  – Christ’s unconditional love for us draws us to him.  But that is not all.  Once we have experienced that kind of love we can not help but love him back – Our love for Christ compels us – drives us to want to do – Remember Love is a verb – and we show love by action.

But that is still not all.  God tells us that we show our love towards Him by loving our neighbor – by loving each other.

In the last part of the gospel for today Jesus says, “21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

If you want a picture of the love of God you can read about it in I Corinthians 13.  We hear this passage most often at weddings but it is not just about love between a man and a woman – the passage is revealing the characteristics of real love – true love – unconditional love.

We use the word “love” in so many ways – we overuse the word love in our everyday language.  Think about it… When we are shopping, we might say… I love those shoes.  Or when we are travelling we might say, I love this place.  When we are young we might say, I love this movie star or I love this singer or performer.  But is that really what it is to love?

Love is a verb – Love is demonstrated through actions and over time and in difficult situations.  Love is best revealed in community.   Some of you may have discovered that it is not always easy to love people.  In fact, I would say that it is often difficult to love people.  So how can we do this difficult thing?  What will empower us?

Jesus promises in the gospel for today – to send another advocate.  I will not leave you orphaned or in other words, I will not leave you all alone.  I have been your advocate – your helper – the one who is looking out for you and when I leave my Father will send another one to look out for you – the Spirit of Truth.   So we can be assured that we have the Holy Spirit – empowering us – encouraging us – equipping us and giving us the words to say – the works to do.

Someone said this week, “to be willing to be uncomfortable so that someone else can be comfortable that is love”.  God asks us to step outside of our comfort zone in order to extend love to others.

This week I also heard someone say,  “Visitors don’t usually come to a church because of the coffee or the music, they come because someone invited them.”

Many times in the church today, we get distracted by thinking that we need to change to draw people in – we need to do something really impressive and then people will be drawn to that event and start coming to church.  But the truth is… Love is what we need.  We need to be so motivated by the God’s love for us that we love him unconditionally.  We need to be so motivated by the love of God that we long to do his works – to demonstrate our love for him and in appreciation for his love for us.  We Love Him so much that we Love those people that he loves.

For God so loved all of the people in this world that he sent his Son so that anyone who believed on Him would not die but have everlasting life.  Have we received the love of God?  Have we accepted that he loves us no matter what we have done?  Have we fallen in love with Him?  What about those people around us who God loves… do we love them?

This is how others will know that we are his followers – we will love each other – we will love those around us.  May God give us the grace to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Amen.   

 

Preparing a Place – an act of hospitality

Sermon –Easter 5 – John 14:1-14

John 14:1-14
14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”   Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?   Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.  Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do

it.

 

Preparing a Place

The passage from John’s gospel is probably most recognizable to us because it is read at the beginning of the funeral service.  It is a passage that speaks of the promise and hope of what lies beyond this world and this life.  It seems fitting to hear these words on the same Sunday that we hear the story of the first martyr, Stephen.   We know that in this world terrible things happen to good people – Good Friday reminds us that death is an all too present reality – that the world is threatened by those who do and say things that are challenging.  In the face of that reality, we hear John 14.

John chapter 14 is part of a larger passage that is known as Jesus farewell discourse – that is – Jesus is preparing the disciples for a time when he will no longer be with them and so he gives them his final words of advice.

To place this on the timeline of Christ’s life, I will tell you that in the previous chapter, he has partaken in the last supper – and washed their feet, but he has also announced that one of them will betray him and that Peter will deny him.  He has spoken quite bluntly about the fact that things are going to get very difficult.

This is where we come into the story – Jesus encourages the disciples by challenging them to believe in God – believe also in me.  He is speaking words of comfort and trust.

Do you know what it is like to be forewarned about something? To see ahead of time what is to come?  In some instances it can be disappointing because it can reveal something that was intended to be a surprise.  As a small child I remember asking for pots and pans for Christmas – my sister and I really loved to play house and I had spotted this shiny red set of pots and pans at the toy department in the Eaton’s store.

About a week before Christmas my sister, brother and I were playing hide and seek and I decided to hide in my parent’s closet.    I looked up and there I saw the shiny red pots and pans that were one of my Christmas gifts.  At first I was excited to realize that I was getting the very thing that I had asked for and then it began to dawn on me that I now knew ahead of time what would be in that beautifully wrapped package on Christmas day.

How could I pretend to be surprised as I opened that gift when I knew ahead of time what was in it?  That glimpse of what was to come left me a little disappointed.  The joy of the surprise taken away by knowledge ahead of time.

On the other hand, sometimes a glimpse of what is to come can be reassuring.  I remember watching the Wizard of Oz with my children when they were much younger and as we sat cuddled together on the couch my son began to grow uneasy.  The appearance of the witch had scared him and he said to me, Mommy, I will only continue to watch if you can promise me that this movie has a good ending.

Have you seen it before?  Do you know what is going to happen?  I assured him that I had seen it before and that I could promise that the movie had a happy ending.  He settled down and continued to watch; trusting that I had not steered him wrong and that things would get better.  Isn’t this the assurance that we are all looking for in life?  We want to know that things are going to get better and that there is a happy ending.  This is often what motivates us to keep going through the tough times.

Jesus, knows that the road ahead for his disciples will be difficult and that there will be moments when they doubt or when they just want to give up or run away and so he speaks words of assurance to them.

“I am going to prepare a place for you if it were not so, would I have told you that? And I will return and come to get you.”  Jesus is preparing them to carry on without him.  He knows that it will be hard for them to keep on so he gives them something that they can hold onto.

Jesus further assures them saying, “you know the way to the place  where I am going”.

Thomas asks, “How can we know the way?”  Isn’t that like us.  We want to know the steps.  We want to know the details.  Draw me a map, Jesus so that I do not get lost!

Jesus responds, “I AM the Way, the truth and the life” – Jesus says look to me, follow me – knowing me that is the way – that is how you will know the Father.

Philip responds, “Show us the Father and then we will be satisfied”.  How often have we said, “I just need this one thing – I just need to know this one answer – I just need to be sure of this and then I will be ok – then I can go on and not worry or wonder”?

Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  I am in the Father and the Father is in me.  Believe me.  But, if you cannot just believe me then look at the works that I have done and believe because of the works.

You see, Jesus does the work of his Father in heaven.  It is only God that can forgive sins.  It is only God that can do miracles and heal sickness. The disciples have witnessed these things.  The works that Jesus has performed point to the fact that he does the acts of God.

And you may have noticed over the last several weeks in particular, that Jesus often expresses not just assurance but also instructions.  Jesus says, Believe in me and those who believe “will do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father”.

How is this possible?  Jesus takes these followers who aren’t sure that they know the way – who need to see the Father to be reassured and then he blesses them by saying that they will do the amazing things that he has done – and even greater things they will do!!

 

We hear that it is possible because he will do whatever we ask him to do if we asking in his name.  This is Jesus extending his power – his authority to us.  Praying or asking for something in Jesus name – is to say that Jesus has given you the right to ask on his behalf – it is as if he is asking the Father for it himself.

Ok maybe we can get our mind around doing the things that Jesus has done because we do these things on his behalf – we ask in his name that it be done.  But Greater things?  How can we do greater things?  I have heard it said that we do the greater things because there is more of us.  When Jesus walked this earth, he was the only one doing God’s work – he was limited by his human body to only be able to reach so many people.  But now that He is seated at the right hand of the Father and he releases us to do work on his behalf – we can all be out doing the work of the Father.  How great is that?  What if everyone of us here went out and did God’s work today?  What an impact we could have on this community!

What will it look like for us to prepare a place in our lives and in our community for others?  I am struck by the idea that Jesus is modelling for us a great picture of hospitality.   The reassurance and peace that we have gained through our own personal connection to Jesus Christ compels us to speak words of hope and peace to others who have not yet experienced it.  I am challenged anew by this passage to begin to explore the ways that I might begin to prepare for new relationships with friends, family and the community around me.

Whatever you are facing this week, do not let your hearts be troubled.

Believe in God and know that he is preparing a place for you – is there anything as wonderful as being welcomed home?  That is what Jesus promises – that he has gone ahead to prepare a place where you and I can be welcomed home – be assured of that.

In the meanwhile, we have been given the name of Jesus and sent out to do the works of God at home and abroad.  Wherever we find ourselves on this planet, we go as Christ’s ambassadors that the world might see and know that God loves them and that they too might be assured that Christ is preparing a place for them.  Amen.

 

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd – Easter IV by Mother Beth

Have you ever noticed that it can be difficult to figure out who has your best intentions at heart?  If you enter into a business transaction – say to purchase a used item – a previously owned vehicle or a refurbished appliance.  If the sales person says, “I am trustworthy” – it does not necessarily assure you that they are trustworthy.  We are suspicious of people who claim that we can trust them.

The gospel reading for today is commonly known as “the good shepherd” passage.  Although we hear this passage out of context, let me remind you where this occurs in the gospel.  In the 10th chapter of John, Jesus is responding to events that have happened in the earlier chapter.

Several weeks ago we heard about the man born blind – Jesus spit on some mud and put it on his eyes and told him to go wash.  You will remember that the man was healed but, because of that healing there was great discussion about who Jesus is.  The leaders of the synagogue were upset that Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath – because they consider it work – and they interpreted God’s commandment about keeping the Sabbath as highly important and did everything possible to refrain from work on the Sabbath.  So who is this Jesus who heals and disregards the Sabbath – surely he cannot be from God – he must be a sinner – he must be evil.

There are many people who still have the same struggles today.  The Easter season asks the question over and over again – who is Jesus and what will we do with him – what place will we give him?

So right on the heels of all this discussion about who Jesus is and whether or not they can trust him – Jesus says, Very truly I tell you….

In other words, Jesus is saying, I am telling the truth – you can trust me.

He goes on to talk about the others – the thieves and bandits that find some other way to enter the sheepfold – not by the gate but by any other way.  Those people are up to no good – they do not have good intentions for the sheep.

But the one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The one who is given permission by the gatekeeper – that is the one you can trust.  And you will know that you can trust him because he promises that his sheep know his voice.  He calls them by name.

One of the things that parents and children are encouraged to do today (especially in the city where there are many adults coming and going from schools and daycares) is to establish a “safe word”.  In the event that someone other than their parent comes to pick them up – that adult would know the safe word to say to them.  So if a neighbor is sent on the adult’s behalf then that adult must say the “safe word” so that the child knows the parent has sent them.

Jesus is telling those around him – you can trust me – I am the shepherd – the gatekeeper has vouched for me and let me in – I came through the proper channels – I know your name and I even know the “safe word”.   This is not a trick – I did not sneak in!

But the scripture goes on to say, “they did not understand what he was trying to say to them”.

So Jesus tries another approach – “I am the gate for the sheep” and “whoever enters by me will be saved”.  You may have heard that in some instances the shepherd acted as the gate for the sheep.

The sheepfold was built with a gap for a doorway.  In this gap the shepherd would stand, sit or lie and this would keep the sheep inside the fold.  More importantly though, the shepherd could provide protection against any attacks.  With the shepherd right there keeping watch it would be difficult for thieves and bandits to steal sheep.  It would also be difficult for animals to get by to hurt the sheep.  The shepherd protects against predators.

Whether we realize it or not there are still predators out there.  There are people who are not trustworthy.

It is important to know who you can trust.  It is comforting – in difficult circumstances and in the face of fear – to know that the Shepherd is trustworthy.  The protection of the sheepfold is that the sheep are huddled together.  In a group they are safer than they would be on their own and the shepherd protects the whole group.

The passage does not end there – it is not just about being huddled together in the safety of the fold.  The sheep “come in and go out and find pasture” – the Shepherd leads the sheep out to find pasture – to enjoy the sunshine and the fields – to be nourished by the grass – to have the freedom to run and play.  It is not a picture of the sheep cowering in the corner for fear but rather a picture of security, safety and freedom.

Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

And that is what he offers. Abundant life.  What does abundant life look like for you?  For the man born blind, abundant life is to be able to see – to be freed from disability.  What does abundant life look like for you?  To walk in wholeness – to be set free from emotional or psychological baggage?

In Isaiah 61:1 we hear, The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, [Isa 61:1 NIV].

This is the passage that Jesus stood up and read in the temple in Luke 4 – Jesus declares that he is the fulfillment of this prophecy.

The abundant life involves freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom from oppression.

The Easter message has reminded us that we are saved from sin and death but this passage adds to that that we are saved for something – we are saved for abundant life – The good shepherd leads us from the safety of the sheepfold to the pasture of abundant life.

So do not be discouraged; imagining that the Christian life is one of restrictions and “thou shalt nots” – it is so much more than that.   The truth is – the shepherd can be trusted – he leads and protects.   Jesus says, “The thief comes to kill and destroy but I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly”.    O Lord, help us to trust you and to let you free us to live an abundant life.  Amen.

Life is a Journey

Life is a journey – We are all on a journey – Easter III – by Mother Beth

Reading from the Gospel of Luke 24:13-49 

The gospel reading for this Sunday is about two people walking along the road to Emmaus – they have been in Jerusalem and now they are headed home and as they walk along they are in conversation.  As they walk and talk, Jesus appears and walks along with them.  But they don’t realize that it is Jesus.  And as they walk he joins them in conversation.

There are a couple of wonderful things about this.  First, it is a lovely image of Jesus walking with us as we journey – whether we recognize him or not – Jesus is with us!

Second, as we journey, what are we talking about?  What are the things that consume our conversation?  Have we been so impacted by the things that God is doing – by the truth of the resurrection that we cannot help but talk about it??

Third, is our conversation appropriate?  Would we be ok talking about these things if we realized that Jesus was with us.

Think about the times that you are watching TV – if someone else walked in the room would you be able to keep watching?  If you told that joke in mixed company would it still be appropriate? Are we speaking words that are encouraging and helpful or not?

When Jesus asks the two what they are talking about.  They say, “are you the only one who doesn’t know about these things?”  Actually he is the only one who does know about these things – He is the only one who can explain these things!! AND He proceeds to do just that.

They are discussing the details of the events that have happened and in doing so they retell the various reports that they have heard – They tell their own perspective saying, he was a prophet – and we had hoped that he was the one –

The tell what the Women say  –         The grave was empty but they saw angels

Then we hear what the angels say – He is alive

The Disciples say – the grave is empty but they did not see Jesus

So as they journey along together these two followers of Christ have been weighing the testimony and examining the facts and trying to make sense of what has happened.  This is a lovely example of what we do in the church – we walk alongside each other and we share our testimonies about what we have seen, or heard or experienced and we try to make sense of it.  The good news for these two as they walk along is that they are not alone – Jesus walks with them and we need to remember that too.  We are not alone, Jesus walks with us and he wants to explain through scripture and the Holy Spirit how the pieces of this life fit together.

So as they walk along – Jesus says – don’t you understand and explains the scriptures to them.  This may remind us of the story we have heard of how he was explaining things in the temple when he was just a boy.  Jesus is able to explain how and why it is that the Messiah had to suffer

 

 

and die.  27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

Notice that he is able to explain the whole of scripture and how it relates to what he had to go through.  Jesus is not God’s afterthought – his role was planned from the beginning of Israel’s history and the scriptures reveal that role right from the beginning.

All this time the two people have not been able to recognize Jesus.  Luke says, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him”.   So what was it that kept them from recognizing Him?

What keeps us from recognizing Jesus?  We too have heard the story – we have heard all the things about the events in Jerusalem so what keeps us from recognizing the truth of who Jesus is?

Maybe we are disappointed – we were told that things would be different – changed – wonderful after we became a Christian –

but bad things still happen or we didn’t get “blessed” in the way we expected – our family is still struggling – our job is still difficult – we still have days when we want to pull the covers over our head and forget the world around us – Maybe this new life doesn’t look like we expected.

The two on the road – also say we had hoped that he was the one – Rome is still in power and the Romans put Jesus to death – therefore Jesus did not overthrow the government as we had hoped – we are still at the bottom of the rung of the ladder – our social status did not change – our economic status did not change – this is not what we were expecting

Every week we come and have the scriptures opened to us – we gather together – two or three – we journey along – we discuss what we have heard – what we understand – what we do not understand.

We break bread together – the Eucharist – communion – we share coffee time or breakfast or lunch together – what is it that keeps us from seeing Jesus.

Once the two invite Jesus to stay with them and they are having a meal together – we hear that, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him;

So what happened?  Is there something about the way in which Jesus prays and handles the bread that is obviously his style?  Maybe but, I think there is more happening here.    Is it their willingness to sit and visit with the stranger – the act of hospitality?  We have heard the scripture in Matthew that says, “as much as you do it to the least of these you do it unto me” – perhaps their openness to listen to a stranger and to invest themselves in that visit.

The importance of breaking bread – what is it about eating together that helps us to know one another better?  There is something about taking the time to share a meal with someone that helps you to hear them in a new way. There are fewer distractions – you are attentive to them – your time is invested in being with them.  To yes to spending time with someone you are saying “no” to many other things and as such you are giving them value – investing in your relationship with them.

Maybe they finally saw Jesus because they stopped to listen.

Someone has said “The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand – we listen to reply”   We are so busy thinking about our answers we are not listening in the first place.

Maybe their eyes were finally opened because they stopped and actually listened.

Are we prepared to listen to what God has for us?  Are we prepared to lay aside our preconceived ideas about what God should be doing for us so that we can actually see what God is doing in and through us.

We all want to be used in big and miraculous ways – but faithful with little means faithful with much.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  Luke 16:10

When the followers finally recognized who Jesus was, he disappeared.  And they ran to tell the others what they had just experienced and how they had seen Jesus.

While they are telling their story – Jesus appears.  There is something really amazing about this – is our testimony such that it enables people to see Jesus?   May it be so.

Because Jesus does not want them to be confused about who He is and whether he is just a ghost – he again offers them the opportunity to see his hands and feet and he eats a piece of fish – a ghost can not do these things.  HE is not an apparition or a figment of their imagination – He is really in their presence.

And once again he opens the scriptures and explains how HE is and has been part of God’s plan from the beginning – that all of scripture is fulfilled in him.

Now they are sent out to continue the ministry of the gospel. He says,

“that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. “

As we journey through life, what is our conversation about?  Are we careful to speak words of encouragement and hope to those around us?  Does our conversation enable others to see Christ or are we so busy with our own thoughts and ideas that we have not yet taken the time to see who Jesus really is?  God wants to help us understand his Word and our role in these things.  O Lord, open our eyes to see you – help us to be willing to sit and hear from you so that we might go from this place empowered to be your witnesses.  Amen.

 

Second Chances

Second Chances – by Mother Beth

Do you ever wonder or worry that maybe you’ve missed it?  There was this one chance to do the right thing or to realize your full potential but that time came and went and you missed it.  So what is there for you to do now?   All of the excitement and adventure is behind you.  There is sometimes a feeling of letdown after a major festival.  We put so much of our heart and energy into preparing for that one big day whether it be a wedding, Christmas or even Easter.  We make all the arrangements and plan everything to a T and then when it is over there is a mix of emotions.  We are happy and pleased but also relieved that it all came together.   Sometimes we are disappointed because things didn’t go as planned and now it is too late.

As we age I think it is easier to look back wistfully at how things were when we were younger – the things we could do – opportunities taken or missed.

The good news on this second Sunday of Easter is that God wants to be in relationship with you – He wants to reveal himself to you – it is not too late – the journey is still ahead – you have not missed the boat.

The gospel reading for today picks up where we left off last Sunday.   Peter and the beloved disciple have been to the tomb and have seen that Jesus body is gone and Mary has encountered the risen Christ and returned to tell the disciples about her encounter.

We hear that the disciples are assembled together in a room with the door locked and they are afraid.  It is not clear exactly what they are afraid of – they may have been afraid of what would happen to them since Jesus was put to death and as followers of Jesus they could be next or they may just be afraid that now they will be put out of the synagogue and no longer allowed to worship with everyone else.

As they are gathered Jesus appears to them –speaks Peace to them and then he shows them his hands and his side.

By showing them the wounds in his hands and side – he is assuring them that he is in fact the bodily resurrected Christ – he is not an apparition or a figment of their imagination.  Once they realize that he is the Christ – they rejoice.  But the journey does not end with the resurrection – John goes on to tell us that Jesus says to them “Peace be with you as the Father has sent me so send I you” – Just as Jesus was sent to them so they are now sent to others.  They are commissioned by Jesus to go and to tell others about the forgiveness of sins.

You see they have been locked up in this room wondering what to do – afraid and probably more than a little disappointed — everything that they had hoped for and planned had ended and even once they realized that Christ had been raised, they were still left alone – Christ was gone but what did that mean for them?  There is no “this” without “Him”.

But now Jesus appears before them and gives them new instructions.  It is not over – they have work to do and they are motivated by seeing Christ – resurrected – in the flesh – but also his words of commissioning – sending them off to keep up the work of the ministry – to continue preaching the kingdom of God.

And then we catch up with Thomas.  Somehow Thomas has missed the meeting with Jesus and he is not content to just take the others word for it.  HE now he insists that he too must see with his own eyes to believe – he insists that he must put his hand in Jesus side before he will believe.

The church has traditionally given Thomas a hard time for not believing the word of the other disciples; calling him “Doubting Thomas”.  I am encouraged by his determination to see for himself.

So if you are disappointed today – if things have not turned out the way you had hoped or planned, be encouraged.  Thomas could have thought he had missed it – there was one opportunity and he was off doing something else.   But instead of giving up and assuming that he doesn’t need to know, Thomas insists that he see for himself.

Don’t settle for less than a real encounter with the living Christ – Thomas doesn’t – he is bold enough to admit that he is not interested in just taking the word of the other disciples – he wants the full experience himself – and why shouldn’t he get it – the others did

How badly do you want to know the truth?  Are you interested in a real experience or content to just take someone else’s word for it.  We hear a lot of things in bits and pieces now – the result of research and discovery is saved for those who are employed to do such digging or for those who like to do it.  We often want the quick fix – maybe we think, I don’t need to know how to get the answer – I just need to know the answer – think about calculators for mathematics class – there was a time when we were training to know how to solve the problem ourselves but now we use machines to do that.   Often it is the same with church, we want someone to tell us the answer BUT, the truth is to be sought after.  It is good to listen and learn from others but we should not check our brains at the door – we need to seek and find.

Thomas insists on a personal experience – and a week later, Jesus shows up and shows Thomas his hands and his side; allowing Thomas to touch and be sure that He is in fact, present in bodily form.  It’s not too late.  Thomas did not miss the opportunity.  Jesus takes the time to alleviate whatever doubts there are.

And the good news for us is that the encounter does not end there.  Jesus goes on to affirm those who will believe without seeing.  This is a word of encouragement for those who would read John’s gospel from that time to the present time and beyond.  It’s not too late!

Jesus is speaking to us – encouraging and blessing us – for believing without seeing him in the flesh – for persevering in faith even if we have questions or so called “doubts”.

Thomas was brave to voice his demands – to insist that he get his own opportunity to see Christ.

Are you brave enough to ask God for the assurance that you need?

Do you have doubts that need to be laid to rest?  It is not too late to have an encounter with the risen Lord.  It is not too late to believe.

God wants to hear your concerns and questions – HE can handle them.

And once you’ve had an encounter – the good news is – it’s not over – there is still more for you.  Christ comes speaking peace and breathing the Holy Spirit into and over you so that you might go out and tell others about the forgiveness that you have found in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Easter Sunday may be over – the excitement and anticipation set aside but we are not finished – we have not missed the opportunity – there are still many opportunities to be taken and experienced.

This is just the beginning of our ministry – Christ calls us to take up his charge and to go and tell.  The words he uses here are powerful.

23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

God gives us the responsibility to help others come to an understanding of forgiveness.

The good news is – it’s not too late for us – for God to reveal himself to us – for God to use us.  But it is also good news for those around us – in our homes – in our community – it is not too late for them – God wants us to go out and reveal his love to them – to show them the good news of God’s forgiveness.

Easter Sunday may be over – but it’s not too late.