Truth Comes To Us With Joy

Pentecost  May 20, 2018

Acts 2:1-11;  Psalms 104; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13;  John 15:26-27, 16:12-15

 

This is probably my favorite Sunday of the year. That may seem like a strange thing to say, given most people would choose Christmas or Easter.  But when you think about it, Christmas is the birth of Jesus, the joyful day we celebrate that God came to earth to be with us.   And Pentecost is the day that the Holy Spirit came to be with us on earth.

So why did the Holy Spirit come and what does the Holy Spirit do? Good questions!

Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and that the Spirit comes to us personally to tell us the truth. The Holy Spirit is the “Advocate”.  That title gives us some clues of what the Spirit does.  An advocate is a supporter or defender.  When we are having a difficult time, it’s really good to have a supporter.  A supporter tells you the truth about how you’re doing.  A supporter says things like, “That was really good.  Your hard work is really paying off and you’re really improving.”  A defender says things like, “Don’t worry about someone laughing at you.  You’re doing the right thing.  I will stand with you no matter what.” We all need supporters and defenders in our life.

An advocate also does things like ask if we can have a second chance to do something. An advocate really believes that we can learn to do things right after we have made a mess of something.  An Advocate prays and intercedes for us.

Let’s look more closely at our Gospel. Jesus says that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father.”  This is not to be confused with the theology of our Apostle’s Creed.  The point of what he is saying here is that the disciples… and all Christians… need the help of the Spirit as we share the Gospel in the world around us.  The Spirit “will testify” the truth to Jesus, and the disciples “will (also) testify” the truth to everyone around them – because they had heard the truth directly from Jesus all the time they had been with him.  We then carry that Truth forward, generation to generation.  WE can testify/ give witness/ share this truth because the Spirit is sent to us to personally tell us the Truth.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus says, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” The image that comes to mind is one of being in court on the witness stand, having sworn on the Bible to tell the truth. We live in the “court” of the world, where we are witnesses about the Truth of Jesus.  We can do this with confidence only because we have the assurance that the Spirit does not speak on its own.  What the Spirit speaks is exactly what the Creator has spoken.

When Jesus tells us that the Spirit “will declare to you the things that are coming,” he is telling us in yet another way that the truth the Spirit tells us is from God. There are many verses in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 46:9, which state that only God can declare the future.  Declaring things to come is not a privilege that false gods have.  An example is the dream Joseph had to take Mary and the Christ child to Egypt; God knew that Bethlehem would not be a safe place for them in the near future.

Jesus really presses this all home as he prepares to leave his disciples.   It would be normal and natural if we felt we could not possibly understand everything we need to know to share the Truth of God fully and correctly.  And Jesus assured the disciples, that there was more to know; he said, (there is) “much more” or “still many things” to learn, and we are just not able to learn it all at once.  That is why the Spirit stays with us, to guide us along the “way of truth”, reminding us that Jesus told us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

We cannot begin to understand or even image all that Jesus did for us, until we live our lives, mature, experience many things, pray, and study the scriptures. As we grow in our faith, we grow in our ability to understand what seemed impossible when we were children or new in the faith.  “I have more to tell you” is a promise that we will have a deeper and fuller faith as time passes.  The things we cannot accept at one time are the things we may find to be a source of real consolation later.  God knows and has always known all truth; we struggle to grasp truth by bits and pieces at a time.  The Spirit is there to give us the precise truth we need at the moment we need it.  We might think of it in terms of always being fed the ideal food our bodies need in the exact way we will most enjoy at every single meal.

Then Jesus says, “(The Spirit) will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it you. I get confused when I read that.  When we glorify someone, we given them honor or high praise; it also means to worship someone as greater than ourselves.  We make clear our praise by doing something people can hear or see, like clapping our hands or bowing, by giving our very best things as a gift.  We glorify God when we worship, by kneeling or bowing or giving thanks, and also by sharing what we believe with other people and encouraging them to glorify God.  Likewise, the Spirit glorifies Christ by sharing with us the truth that we in turn share with our neighbors.  It becomes, not a duty or a burden, but a great honor and a privilege to be able to share the faith.

And this completes a pattern we have seen over the last three weeks. 2 weeks ago we talked about being chosen by God and remaining in Jesus.  Last week we read that as Jesus ascended, he told us to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”  Now, Jesus sends us the Spirit from God to better enable us to awaken our neighbors that they too have been chosen.  The Spirit remains with us so that we might grow in awareness of the teachings of Jesus and the fullness of truth in God.  In turn, we honor God as the Spirit honors Jesus.

May the truth which the Spirit speaks to you fill you with joy.

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Chosen to Remain

6th Sunday of  Easter, May 6, 2018

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Ps 98:1-4; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

 

I would like to focus today on just two words in our Gospel reading. The first word we will focus on is “chose”, in the next to the last sentence: “It was not you who chose me but I who chose you…”

The first thing that comes to my mind is when we played kick ball in elementary school gym class. Two team captains would be chosen by the gym teacher.  Then those team captains would take turns choosing kids to be on their team.  Me? Well, I was never big or strong or very good at sports.   Both captains, of course wanted a team that could win the game.  So, I was always one of the last ones chosen.

We often choose our friends because they will agree with us or share their candy bars with us, and it is easy to think God chose us because we remembered to say our prayers or we didn’t say bad words. Some people might even think that they are like team captains and they are in charge of doing the choosing.  They might feel like Jesus is sitting around, waiting for them to choose him.

But instead, Jesus tells us that He already chose us. It would seem that he chose us even before we were born. St Paul wrote in Ephesians 1: 4 that Jesus chose us before the beginning of the world, that we should be holy and without sin.  This is far, far different from the idea of Jesus waiting for us, or even thinking it was just “luck” that we were chosen.  That’s not how God works.  God chooses each and every person, and loves each person as if they were the only person. In fact, God chooses us all.  In the very first sentence of our reading Jesus says, “As God loves me, so I also love you.”  Jesus was talking to all of his disciples, and he is talking to all of us.  God loves each and every person, each one in their own way, and since God is love and love is from God and God created love (that is in the 2nd reading), God is able to- and chooses to – love each and every person.

The second word we are going to focus on today is “remain.” In the Gospel, Jesus says, “Remain in me, and I remain in you.”  We might say, “Remain with me, stick around for I while, I like being with you.”   But that isn’t quite the same thing.  Think of this, we sometimes say, “I am really into ice hockey.  My favorite team is the Capitals and I am so into watching every single game.”  We want to “remain” in front of the TV during all the playoff games, eating in front of the TV, wearing our team jersey, thinking “hockey, hockey, hockey!”

Ah, now it makes sense, Jesus wants us to love him that much, that we always think about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! We always want to be with Jesus, we want to learn more about Jesus, we want to read about Jesus, we want to talk to other people about Jesus because we are so in to Jesus….and that is the way Jesus feels about us.  Jesus is the friend who never moves away, never forgets, never likes someone else better, always tells us the truth, and forever loves us.  Jesus remains in our lives, even when we miss the puck by a mile.

I knew a man once who had trouble loving. The presents he gave his wife that were things that he wanted.  He never bought her things she wanted.  For Christmas he bought her a vacuum cleaner, because he wanted her to keep the house clean.  He bought her a waffle maker for Valentines Day because he wanted her to make waffles for his breakfast.  For her birthday he bought her a big new TV so he could watch hockey.  He didn’t understand why she was so mad at him.  So she made a rule: he couldn’t give her any gifts that had an electric cord, no gifts that could be plugged in.  Gifts had to be jewelry or flowers or things that were for her to enjoy.

Jesus gave us a rule, too, to help us understand. Here is the rule:  “Love one another.”  It’s the last sentence of our reading.  It is a very simple rule, just three words.  But now that we understand about God and Jesus and love, it might not sound so easy to do, because the rule says we have to love people who might not love us back, or people who aren’t very loveable.  It doesn’t mean they’re our best friends and we want to hang out with them, but it means we have to be kind, be generous, pray for them, maybe even listen to them talk when we don’t necessarily agree with them.  Maybe give them a pencil in math class when they don’t have one, knowing they wouldn’t do the same for us.  Maybe you can pick them for your team, to give them a chance to play.  Maybe you can stand up for them when your friends are picking on them.  We can love them like God loves – love them when they need love, not just when they deserve it.

So here is what we learned today: You have been chosen by God, and God loves you with a love beyond your imagination. Jesus will remain in you, and wants you to remain in him.  The way to remain in Jesus is to love Jesus, and love other people, too.

Another View of Easter

 

4th Sunday Easter, April 22, 2018

Acts 4:8-12;  Psalm 118;  1 John 3: 1-2;  John 10: 11-18

 

Today, we look again at Easter, starting with the Gospel of John. John inserted teaching dialogues by Jesus between some of the action scenes. The teaching we read is about Jesus’ coming death in terms of “The Good Shepherd”, which then leads into Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. John, you see, identifies the raising of Lazarus as the turning point when the High Priests began to plot to kill Jesus. These scenes flow together to build up to the crucifixion. We are doing exactly what the disciples did after Easter –looking back at what Jesus taught, and discovering new meaning in the light of the Resurrection.

Here are the key Gospel verses: “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd and I will lay down my life for the sheep. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.”

Background: Palestine is at the intersection of Asia, Europe and Africa, so there are many large wild predators – Persian Lions, Cheetahs, Lynx, and leopards. A shepherd would have good reason to protect himself, to allow these fierce cats to take a sheep, and not try to intervene. The people understood the grave danger of being a shepherd. In this passage, Jesus repeats his promise to lay down his life for the sheep 3 times; making a sacred oath that he will give his life for us.

Notice that Jesus does not put limitations on this oath. It’s not, “if” the sheep is well behaved or “if” it is obedient. In fact, there are no “If” clauses in the promise. We are given this loving protection without reservation. Those listening to Jesus, not realizing he was talking about people, found this promise extravagant and unnatural.

Our 1st reading is a continuation from the Book of Acts we have been reading since Easter. Acts is a thriller; it is high drama, with conflict and death. It is a coming of age story for the disciples. It is an exciting history of the early church. It is a self improvement book, a great stand-alone read.

Anyway, today we read the 3rd of Peter’s sermons. The 1st was at Pentecost, the 2nd was when Peter healed a man crippled from birth and was arrested for healing him. This 3rd sermon is Peter responding to the charges of the High Priests the following day. You immediately notice how bold and articulate Peter is. He is no longer the rough fisherman who denied Christ on Good Friday and fearfully hid in the locked room on Saturday. He is “Peter infused with the Holy Spirit” now.

Peter starts by telling the High Priests that the cripple was healed in the Name of Jesus (get that – merely the name has power to heal), AND that Jesus has risen from the dead. That blast of information is enough to knock the High Priests off their feet. Then Peter quotes Scripture, just as Jesus would have.

He bases his argument in Psalm 118, which shows the High Priests that they have made a terrible error in judgment. They have rejected the very person and the salvation promised in yet another promise, by God, long ago in a Psalm of King David. Jesus is the very cornerstone, the support piece on which rests our salvation. Jesus is the “promised one”. Our lectionary does not include the Priests’ response; you can read it on your own.

But our lectionary does give us part of Psalm 118. If you were a youth group, I would have scripts with your parts identified by speaker so that you could act this out. It is a beautiful piece of ancient liturgy; this is dramatic liturgy at its best, with speaking parts for the priests, the people and the king. It was written for the occasion of a great victory, a celebration which proclaimed God as their strength in danger. Each speaker proclaims God’s mercy, and there is testimony of how God saved them from what seemed to be certain death. They were surrounded on every side in battle – the “enemy encompassed me like bees”, the King says. “They flared up like fire among thorns. I was hard pressed and was falling, but the Lord helped me.” Who has not felt like that at some time in their life?   Who has never felt overwhelmed and that their problems were greater than their strength?

But the Lord makes the tiny and weak victorious over evil and death, just as the Lord had brought tiny Israel, overwhelmed by larger and greater forces, to military victory. At that time, Israel thought it was the rejected stone. But now we understand the one who was rejected as Jesus.   And Jesus has become the anchoring base for our lives, our church, and our world. “This,” the king in the Psalm announced, “is the day the Lord has made,” using the same expression we use to announce Easter. The priests respond to the king with a blessing: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” We make church relevant when we see and celebrate the movement of God in our own lives, here and today in our liturgy.

So Jesus has told us that we are of great value to him, so much so that he will suffer and die for us. Realizing that Jesus is alive, Peter is filled with the Spirit of God, boldly preaching that Jesus loves us and protects us from evil. Peter confidently places his own life and well-being in Jesus’ hands. And the Psalm assures us that God has loved and protected believers from long ago. These readings give us another viewpoint of the meaning of this Easter Season and why we celebrate it with such great joy.

The Metanoia Road

3rd Sunday of Easter, April 15, 201818

Acts 3: 13-15,17-19;  Psalm 4: 2-9;  1John 2: 1-5,  Luke 24: 35-48

I will go out on a limb a little here, and hope that most everyone knows the story in Luke about “the Road to Emmaus”. It’s all in the very last chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Luke tells about a group of at least 5 women finding the tomb open and empty on Easter morning. They told the apostles, but the men did not believe them. That same day, two of Jesus’ followers left Jerusalem and started out, feeling sad and discouraged, on the 7 mile walk to Emmaus. Jesus joined them on their walk, but they didn’t recognize him. Jesus then interpreted the scriptures to them, explaining all that Moses and the many prophets had fore-told about him.

When they arrived at Emmaus, the men eagerly invited him to sit down to eat with them. But when Jesus took the bread and blessed it, they suddenly recognized him, and he disappeared. Usually we end the story with the verse “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked and opened to us the scriptures?” But that is not the end of the story. Our Gospel today is what immediately follows.

Much of the time Jesus spent on earth, as the “historical Jesus” in the Gospels, he spent physically moving about. In a different way, he moved people around a lot too. He moved them from pain and disability to health. He moved people from doubt to belief. He moved people from confusion to clarity. He moved people from sin to grace and mercy. He moved those fishermen right into being fishers of people.

I would define a church as a group of people who want to be moved to love more, to be kinder and more compassionate, to being more generous, to better understanding the Risen Christ in their own lives. And when people choose to make their church a place of that type of movement, something else happens. People want to help other people, people outside of their church group, to move closer to Christ and make all those other good moves, too. And all the people begin to understand that this journey we are on moves along easier with a better understanding of Scripture. It just makes sense to follow Jesus’ lead on this!

So when the two men return to Jerusalem from Emmaus, they share their experience with the Risen Lord with the apostles and other disciples, when suddenly Jesus appears in the room. They don’t understand; they are terrified and Jesus has to show them his hands and feet and have them touch him, and he eats some fish in front of them to prove he is real. And once again, he explains the scriptures. He continues this time, and reminds them that he had told them it was their job now to teach repentance, for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all the nations.

But we have a language problem. “Repent” seems to imply that we have already done something wrong, regret it, and now want to behave differently. But Biblically, this is not all there is to it. In the gospels, the Greek word used for repentance is metanoia. Literally this means to do an about face, to turn around, to face in an entirely new direction.

So, metanoia means to move us beyond our present mindset, beyond our present way of thinking.  To repent is to let the soul, which is the image and likeness of God within us, re-configure us so that we are so overwhelmed with compassion and love that indeed we do turn and change how we think, how we understand, how we order our priorities, and how we react.  We must move past regret focused on our mistakes, and respond like Peter, in our first reading.  He meets some of those men who coerced Pilate into killing an innocent Jesus merely to make the social, economic, and political structure of the day benefit them a little longer.

Amazingly, Peter was so filled with compassion and love that he would joyfully lead them to repent and have their sins wiped away. The Catholic Church leadership was traditionally rooted in Peter, who clearly understood deeply and acted out “All Are Welcome Here – even the murderers of Jesus.”   It is a tradition to be proud of, and continued; to welcome man or woman, clean or addict, poor or rich, whatever color or race or sexual orientation, political affiliation, education level, ignorance quotient and so on and so on.  Only metanoia-style repentance can produce that level of welcome.

By now it is becoming clear that Jesus’ followers have to change. They no longer can be just followers of Jesus. They must begin to preach the Good News of Forgiveness and New Life in Christ. For mature Christians, Scripture and the Eucharist are sources of the necessary strength and connection with Jesus. That is what Jesus left his disciples. But many people today have never studied Scripture or been taught the meaning of the Eucharist. And those people will be the next generation of the church only if we want them to join us on our journey down the metanoia road.

Think about how those disciples felt that night, together with the Risen Christ. What is it they will go and do as a result of this experience? They will build a new “Way” for believers to worship and act out in faith. How were their lives different than before? They become bold and articulate, eager for difficult challenges. The life journey of those two men going to Emmaus Easter Day was certainly very different than the one they had planned. Spiritual leadership is about taking people on a journey, and every single Christian must participate fully in spiritual leadership before their joy will be full. What will be your first step on this journey? Where will you begin?