Sunday, April 13, 2014

Entering Holy Week - Matthew 21:1-11


Biblical Scholar Marcus Borg paints the picture this way. That fateful day in Jerusalem in the year 30, two processions enter into the city of Jerusalem on opposite sides. The first procession is a group of peasants, waving branches and laying down their coats, laying down what they own at the feet of a man riding in on a donkey. An odd site at best. On the other side of town, the Roman Governor, Pilot, is entering with soldiers processing before his war horse. He has arrived to bring order to the potential political chaos that could erupt during the Jewish ceremony of Passover, when they remember when they were brought to freedom. Pilot came to remind them that they are under the rule of Rome and are no longer free. He came to remind them who is in charge. 
We don’t know if Pilot really entered the city of Jerusalem the same day as Jesus, but this with version of the story, Borg portrays the events in a way to heighten the tension between Jesus and Rome. Between who the Messiah is and who the people wanted him to be. 
As we sit in our pews this morning, we know the ending of the story. We know that Jesus came to be killed and conquer the grave. But knowing the ending sometimes makes us forget to appreciate all of the tension of this scene. Jesus enters into the city with one thing on his mind, that which will pass by the end of the week. The people don’t know that’s why he is there. The disciples don’t realize that by the end of the week their master will be hanging on a Roman cross. 
If the people knew how the week would end would they still be singing praises? Over the last three years the crowds have come to Jesus, some like Nichodemus coming under the cover of night, others like the woman at the well coming in the light of day. They’ve listened to his teachings, although they often did not understand them fully. They’ve seen the miracles, like the raising of Lazarus, and healings, like that of the man  born blind, that he has performed and have started to wonder if he is the One. The Messiah. The Son of David. 
And as they started to wonder if he could be the Messiah, they started to fill their heads with cultural ideas of what that could mean. The Messiah would be the one to come and violently overthrow Rome. The Messiah would be a conquering King. Freeing them from the oppression of the Governmental Law. I have to wonder if they were disappointed when this didn’t turn out to be the sort of Messiah Jesus was. 
For instead of coming in on a war horse, Jesus chose a donkey. A humble animal. Pacing slowly down the street. Instead of the elite of the city or the zealots leading him in as an army, it was those who had been attracted to his teachings over the years, the peasants, the lowly. Instead of heading into war, Jesus was heading towards death. This was the entry of the Messiah, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. If Jesus is the Messiah, then the crowds leading him in, surely need to set aside the popular notions of what a Messiah will do. Or what he represents.
For Jesus came to serve, not to be served. His leadership was one of gentleness, humility, accountability, reproach, peaceableness, self-sacrifice, and mercy. And if we stop long enough to consider what type of Messiah Jesus is, we may realize that these aren’t the characteristics we would necessarily want in our Lord either. Especially when we want to be saved from the powers and principalities of the world. In fact, this type of Savior may just scare us. 
When we look at Jesus coming into Jerusalem so differently than how we would expect that day, it hits us smack dab in the face that God’s ways are not our ways. That we don’t worship a Savior who makes us comfortable, or forms cozy alliances with the government, but instead whose very presence is an act of protest. 
Honestly, it seems that very few Christians, followers of Christ, have been able to live into the true tension of who people thought Jesus should be and who Jesus was and is. But there have been some. People like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who kept proclaiming that Jesus was Lord, not Hitler during the World War 2 Era. Or people like those Christians who risked life and limb during the Civil Rights Movement because they believed God loved all people. These times, among others, were when faith in Christ lead for a community of faith of do amazing things for the Kingdom of God. Because even though Jesus did not have formal authority in the world, just as he did not have formal authority when he came into Jerusalem, these followers lived into the belief that Jesus had all authority in their lives. That he was the final word.
But Jesus having authority in our lives is once again scary. Its not comfortable and it will often beckon for us to do the opposite of the world. Just like the parade leading Jesus into the city, we don’t fully comprehend what the arrival of Jesus in our lives mean, but we do know that it changes things. 
This authority that isn’t recognized by the world often lead to conflict, both external and internal. For we cannot celebrate Christ this palm Sunday without looking towards the cross, and the events that will come this Holy Week. We cannot celebrate with praise this Sunday and next without examining the grief, and loss, and dismay that is in between. We cannot cry out “Hosanna!” today without remembering that those same cries will turn into “Crucify Him!” mid week! We cannot wave our palm branches without remembering that the redemption we are celebrating comes with a very high price. 
The people present with Jesus that day slightly understood the cost. They knew the chief priests and scribes were not fans of Jesus. They may not of known they were plotting to kill him, but they would have known it was a risk to praise him. Yet they continued to shout “Hosanna!” This is the one scripture where Jesus isn’t talking to the people, rather they are proclaiming with their own lips who he is. 
Do we take the same risks to follow Christ today? Is there any risk for us living a Christian life or crying “Hosanna!”. Have we been able to live into the tension of who people think Jesus is and what he says and who he truly is? Does the way of Christ scare us? Or have we made it overly comfortable and familiar? 

We are now entering Holy Week, the most important week of the Christian calendar when we remember the story of who Jesus is and who this Messiah is that we worship. But it is also a time when we remember who Jesus calls us to be as his disciples, and consider how we respond. Ask if we live more like we are followers of the world or Christ. Ask if Jesus truly is the Lord of our lives. What are your answers? Amen. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

“Unbind Us” - John 11: 1-45

Jesus disciples have to think that he has lost his mind. They have just narrowly escaped being stoned to death by those infuriated with their presence and their ministry and now Jesus is speaking about walking right back in the direction from which they came - the place filled with hate and anger.
They question Jesus as to why he would want to risk his life to travel this path, not realizing that in a few days he would lay down his life completely. His response is perplexing “Our friend, Lazarus, is asleep”. 
Death is a hard thing to talk about. So we try to make it pretty, make it acceptable. We tell small children that Grandma is sleeping or Grandpa went away for a while. And the children often become confused - why did he go away? Doesn’t she want to wake up and play with me again? As we get older our attempts to sweep death under the carpet become slightly more sophisticated “She passed” or “He is in a better place.” But our responses are no less confusing. In fact, they are often infuriating. How do you know he is in a better place? Where was God when she was suffering?
Jesus finally has to state it plainly. Lazarus is dead. I wonder if the disciples whispered amongst themselves about why they were going to visit the dead or if they were stunned into silence. They had met Lazarus. They knew he was dear to Jesus. They had spent time in his home. Met his family. Now he was gone. 
Maybe they started to wonder how many other people they knew, they loved, had died during their three year journey with Jesus. When we hear about the death of someone, whether we knew them or not, it brings back a flood of memories of ones whom we love who have died. Ones who we know who are suffering daily and battling death. 
The sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, are sitting smack dab in the middle of the ugliness of grief. They realize that watering it down by saying “He passed” or “He is in a better place” won’t bring them relief or comfort. Instead they cry out to Jesus a statement that perhaps you have made at one time or another “If only you would have been here, Jesus.” 
There is so much packed into such a short statement. It is drawn out of us in times of grief and heartache, which seem to always be present in our lives, waiting just around the corner. God where are you? God where were you? Why did you let this happen? Sometimes, just allowing ourselves to state these questions is an act of great faith. 
I never really liked Jesus’ answer in this passage, even though it is almost identical to what Jesus told his disciples in the story we heard a few weeks ago about the man born blind. Jesus told the sisters that Lazarus died so that the glory of God could shine. It seems cruel. To let someone you love suffer, just so God can be glorified. Just so that we can be shown that Jesus is one with God and that God’s power is working through him.
And yet. And yet, as cruel as the answer may seem, as much as I wish Jesus would have made it to the home of Lazarus to heal him instead of to the tomb to raise him, Lazarus’ raising from the dead gives us a preview of deliverance from death itself. There was no mistaking that Lazarus was dead. In this ancient culture, four days was the amount of time it took for the soul to leave the body. Practically speaking, four days was when you knew someone was really dead because their body would begin to decay. And with that smell you knew that they weren’t simply just asleep, a mistake had not been made. They were dead. And it is out of this real death that Lazarus is raised to real life. Lazarus tells us not of a general resurrection, where everyone is generically raised to life, but speaks to our personal promise of resurrection. This was one whom Jesus deeply loved who was raised to life. And one who knew him, like his sisters, to the the Christ, the Son of God. Lazarus arose when he heard the voice of his Shepherd calling, a voice that he recognized. A voice that called him out of death into the presence of new beginnings and new life. 
Lent is a time to do the hard work of reflecting on death. To live into the tension between the hope of the resurrection of Easter and the finality of death on Earth. We live into the tension of knowing that God promises to be with us in Entirety and that God promises to be with us right now, here today, on Earth. We have been struggling with this tension throughout the season by laying aside our wants and desires. By spiritually journeying with the one who is leading us to the cross where he will lay down his life for us. And to reflect upon the small ways that we are dying every day. 
For the truth is that we are all bound in death clothes that we do not even recognize and they are suffocating us. We are bound by self doubt, fear, anxiety, isolation, oppression, grief, just to name a few. But for those who are bound in every day deaths, the story of Lazarus gives us the hope not only of a resurrection, but a hope for an unbound life now. A hope to experience life anew.
We know that we are living in a world that is not as it should be. A broken world inhabited by broken people. One of my favorite bands, Over the Rhine, states it this way in their song “All My Favorite People are Broken”. “All my favorite people are broken;
Believe me, my heart should know; As for your tender heart, this world's going to rip it wide open; It aint gonna be pretty, but you're not alone.” 
This world is going to hurt us. It is going to bring grief and people we love are going to die. We are going to ask God why from time to time. Because this world is not as it should be, not as God intended it to be. So it is going to rip us wide open. But when we get caught up in how hurtful the world is, to the point where we remember that we are not alone, but are journeying with a Risen Savior, then we can no longer hope. And that is a pain worse than death. 

The story of Lazarus asks us confront death. To not shove it into a funeral home or death bed, but to really face it. To open ourselves up to the grief of the death of those who have died before us, and to still ask “where is the hope?” The story demands that we examine our own lives for those things that are killing us every day, and lay them at the feet of the cross and claim the hope of a risen Savior who raises us too, both to new life and new beginnings. The story beckons us to live into the tension of the grief of dying and the hope of living, and listen to the voice of our Shepherd who is calling us to his side, the side where we will live again. Amen. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

come and see - john 4:5-42

Saint Patrick of Ireland understood John 4. This missionary lived in the 5th Century and through his service to the country he became known as “the Apostle of Ireland”. What made Patrick such a wonderful evangelist was his desire to truly get to know people, to build relationships with them, and through those relationships come to share Christ. 
Building a relationship is exactly what Jesus did that day at the well. He came across someone who didn’t know him - didn’t know of his fame. When he looked at this woman, he saw her brokenness, it was etched on her weary face. It was demonstrated in the fact that she was coming to the well at the hottest point in the day, when no one else would be there. But he told her that he would like a cup of water. 
Jesus was reaching out to this woman across so many barriers. By all social standards he shouldn’t have been talking to her. She was a woman. He was a man. She was a Samaritan. He was a Jew. She was a sinner. He was the Messiah. But Jesus didn’t see all of the differences when he looked at her with his compassionate eyes. By asking her for water, he affirmed that she was worthy, no matter what others may say.
As with most people when they first encountered Jesus, the woman didn’t understand. She didn’t know who he was. She simply though he was a stranger in need of a drink. The woman also didn’t understand that this stranger was about to turn her life upside down and offer her the living water, the water of grace, that she had never tasted before. 
Over a cup of water the woman and Jesus start to get to know each other. However, she only tells him half truths about who she is, what her life is like, where her husband is. But Jesus, Jesus reveals the whole truth to her. The transforming truth. The Truth that she has been hiding from in the middle of the day. Because they built a relationship across and despite their differences, this woman became an evangelist. Leaving behind her water jug. Leaving behind her burdens. And runs to tell the very people that she had been avoiding to come and see. The woman met the One who could offer her living water and she moved to deep belief, from darkness to light, from being parched to having her thirst quenched. And from being ashamed to being one who proclaimed.
This is one of my favorite texts in the Gospels. It tells the story of someone who was a nobody in everyone else’s eyes who was deeply loved by Jesus. What a reminder for us as the Church, the hands and feet of Christ, to not let our hearts and eyes judge others, for our tainted natures may not see people as Jesus sees them. This text is good news for anyone who ever felt like a nobody. Ever felt like no one understood them. Or they didn’t belong. Or weren’t good enough. This text tells of Jesus’ heart which desires to be in relationship with us, no matter how other people label us or treat us.
When I was in seminary we had to teach an interactive Bible Study for one of my classes. This particular class was taught by a professor who believed in the power of story. So much so that when it came time for us to present the text, she encouraged us to let it speak for itself. The text my particular group was assigned was this one - John 4. We asked a friend of ours to dance her interpretation of the story. And it brought tears to my eyes. Watching her dance first as a defeated woman, who met Jesus and through his love, became who Jesus saw her being. Friends, that is a powerful story. One that needs to be told.
This text is good news for anyone who has ever felt ashamed of their sins. This woman was carrying around the weight of the world. She had five husbands in a day and age where having two husbands would have been taboo. And now she was living with another man without being married to him, which was unheard of. She was so ashamed that she changed her daily routine in order to avoid the gossiping tongues and wayward glances of other women at the well. Remember that this was a social society. You needed other people to survive. And she was isolating herself because of her shame. 
But Jesus met her shame with honesty. He brought her sins into the light, not to condemn her but to set her free. When Jesus told her what she did, she was emboldened to run to the towns people and say “come and see this man who told me everything I’ve ever done.” Paraphrased it could be “come and see the one who has told me everything I’ve been too ashamed to face, but loves me anyway.” Jesus can take our shame and transform it by his grace into perhaps our most powerful evangelistic tool - our own story. The story of how our lives have been impacted by the love of Jesus Christ. Transformed by a grace that we have to go and tell about, because we cannot contain ourselves. 
This text is also good news for those who believe in Christ but still are blind to his ways. The disciples return to find Jesus chatting at the well with a woman and they are confused. Confused about why he would do this. And confused by what he tells them next about the harvest being ready. In an agricultural society everyone would have known that the harvest was four months away - so why was Jesus telling them that it was ripe now? Because he saw something they did not. He saw that the harvest of God - the people ready to hear and respond to the love of God - was ripe right in front of their eyes. The disciples didn’t understand about this harvest or that Jesus was the bread of life. The were like the world that couldn’t fully know Christ because they didn’t realize what they were seeing, even though they were his closest companions.
Church sometimes we miss the point and don’t see with the eyes and motives of Christ either. We foolishly seek out relationships just to covert people and then forget about them. We forget to see people as children of God and love them solely for this reason alone. We go around proclaiming with our words and actions “Jesus is the Messiah and you should believe in him now or else” when we forget that Jesus didn’t even approach people that way when he was alive. Instead he built authentic relationships marked by love that lead to discipleship. Lead to others spreading his message because their loves had been touched and transformed. 

The word “Gospel” means good news, and brothers and sisters, this story is overflowing with the good news of Jesus love and grace. Good new for the outcasts, the nobodies, the misunderstood. Good news for those carrying around the weight of shame. And good news for those who believe in Jesus but just cannot see as he sees. This story has the power to teach each and everyone of us, if only we let it sink into us, search us, and send us out with our own story of how we came to know and love Jesus Christ. What is the good news of this story in your life? Amen. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Healing Meditation

As Christians we proclaim that we believe in healing. But do we live as if we believe this? Healing has gotten a bad reputation over the years, and for several good reasons. Because we have all heard people proclaim that “if only you had more faith” you wouldn’t be sick or your loved one wouldn’t have died. We have seen the news articles about people who discontinued treatments as a mark of their faith in the healing of Christ - only to have things not work out as they hoped.
So now we approach healing with caution. Saying that it will only happen if it is the will of God. Some may even doubt that God wants to heal us. 
But this scripture lesson reminds us that we do worship a Lord who heals. Who didn’t just heal long ago for signs and wonders, but heals us today. Heals us in so many ways. May even heal our deepest hidden places where we didn’t admit we need healing.
The truth is that our bodies are frail. And that we all have struggles. And we are all in need of healing at one time or another. But today’s scripture reminds us that healing isn’t just for us, to satisfy our wants and needs, but for the praise of the Kingdom of God. Not just right after we are healed but forever.
For healing changes our lives. It propels us into a different place with our relationship with God. Sends us forth to be his disciples.
But this morning in worship at this parish we also discussed how healing is risky. We may just get what we pray for and it may change our lives. Our relationships. Our way of relating to God. Healing can be messy.
Even with its messiness I have been captivated by healing for quite some time. My fascination with healing first came when I was in college, attending a very large prayer service conference. One of the friends I was with was having deep, personal struggle. After about an hour she went to be prayed for, seeking healing, only to be turned away by the healing prayer team - because they didn’t pray for things like that. Didn’t believe that she could be healed of her struggles.
Every time I think back on that event I am caught between wanting to scream in anger and cry with grief. The prayer team that day didn’t get it. Didn’t get what healing prayer is about. They were like the disciples asking “who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Not seeing with the eyes of Jesus the opportunity at hand. The opportunity to be a channel of love and grace.
We seek healing to be able to see the light of the world, Jesus Christ. We seek healing to have love and grace lavished upon us. Will there be times that we don’t get exactly what we are asking for? Yes. But I firmly believe that it is because God wants to heal us in an even more powerful way. 

Let us reclaim our faith in the healing power of Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters. Let us come and be prayed over by people who love us, who are on this journey of faith with us. Let us come and receive what God has for. And then may we go forth and proclaim our stories of healing for the glory of God. Amen. 

The Cost of Healing- John 9:1-41

The first time I remember really wrestling with the question of God’s goodness and sovereignty was a few years ago while I was going through chaplain training. During the program I was assigned to several units: Medical Intensive Care, Pediatrics, the General Floor, NICU, and Obstetrics. While I was visiting patients one day, I came across a young woman, who was about my age. She was preparing to give birth. I didn’t think much of the encounter until later that evening when I was paged to go see the same young woman. Her baby boy was born with several medical issues that were unknown until birth. A few days later I was paged again to sit with her as they removed life support and she said goodbye to her child.
I found myself wondering in the days and weeks to come, how God could be good and all powerful, yet allowed this child to die. I started to wonder if God caused the birth defects, caused him to die, caused his mother so much pain. At some point in our faith journeys we have to wrestle with these big questions about the God and evil. About  our God who is faithful and pain. 
When I think back on my struggles around the death of this child, I feel a bit more sympathetic to the disciples in today’s scripture passage who ask “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” They felt the need to place the blame for the man’s blindness of someone, and surely it wasn’t God’s fault. For if it was what would that say about God? So the disciples got caught in the trap that we still find ourselves in today - measuring our sin against others. Feeling that either this man or his parents must have committed a grave enough sin to cause his blindness. And a question behind their question reveals itself - what do I have to do to make sure I don’t sin so badly as to be punished in this way?
But Jesus answer surprises them, surprises us. “Neither...he was born blind so that God’s work might be revealed in him.” Which brings us right back to the question of God and evil. Did God really cause this man’s blindness? 
However, that’s not what the text says. It does not say that God caused this man’s blindness or that all situations we face are God’s will or works. Rather, the text says that in this specific instance, God was redeeming the situation for the Glory of the Kingdom. Before we too quickly brush this off as semantics, think about your own life. Have you ever faced a situation where you really wrestled with rather God caused ill to befall you or one you love? Or conversely have you ever proclaimed that surely God will provide with your lips, but in your heart you had your secret doubts about God’s ability or timing?
The disciples only had one frame of reference - people sin and are punished. They assumed that natural evil, this man’s blindness, was the result of moral evil, sin. Jesus threw them for a loop by saying this wasn’t the case at all. Not all bad things that befall us are punishment from God. And just because we can’t understand something, doesn’t mean that it is limited to our thoughts and perceptions. We may never understand the ways of God. Not even the man who was healed in the story fully understood what happened. But that doesn’t mean that we need to give into black and white thinking - that either God caused the blindness or the man or his family caused God to punish them in this way. 
We live in a world where bad things happen for no apparent reason. But we also believe that we have faith in the One who can heal. This is one of my favorite healing stories in scripture. When Jesus healed the man he didn’t just speak a word over him for a distance. He bent down, spat on the mud, and scooped up spit filled dirt and rubbed it on the man’s eyes. It sounds a little gross to me, but it is a reminder that healing can be messy. Which this healing certainly was.
For as soon as the man was healed chaos erupted. Here is a man who was dependent upon his community for so much. Dependent upon his family. And suddenly everyone seemed to reject him. Sometimes we struggle with the wish that things would go back to simpler times when everyone took care of everyone else and family was the center of society. First century Palestine was that time, brothers and sisters, but this story serves as a reminder that earlier times were not necessarily better or less isolating, because no one’s reaction is what we would expect those who care about someone to have. 
The neighbors who lived near the man their entire lives - those who saw him every day, played with him as a child - didn’t even recognize him. They claimed that it had to be someone like the person they knew, but not him. How is this even possible? Could it be because they had labeled him simply as “the blind man” or cared more about his disability then about him?
Then the Pharisees, the religious leaders who should have been praising God for this healing, this sign of God’s power, claimed to not believe him because the story was so different from what they wanted it to be. They wanted this Jesus to be a sinner, one who would be punished, not a healer. The wanted their God to be nice and neat, just as the disciples wanted with their earlier question. They wanted to have sole control over and access to God. And now here comes Jesus, healing on the Sabbath and threatening their understanding of God. It wasn’t fair to them. So they blamed the poor previously blind man.
The man’s parents even failed him with their reaction. If anyone should be excited it should be the man’s parents who struggled all of these years with the same question the disciples asked. Struggled watching the one they love and caring for him. But instead they thought about their own safety and self-interest.
Which brings me to the second reason I like this healing story. The man was not only healed of his physical blindness, but of his mis-perceived relationships. This healing turned the world around him upside down, and he came to realize that Jesus was the only one who could come through for him. The only one he could trust. Jesus stood with him in the midst of the chaos and invited him to come and know him, to come and be a follower. Jesus provided the man with much more than a healing of sight, he provided him with a new set of relationships and purpose in the world.
I have to wonder how many times this man and his parents prayed for healing. Would we still pray for healing if we knew that Jesus would turn our lives upside down and sideways? Would we pray for healing if it would change how we think about and relate to God? Would we want healing if it provided us with more than we asked for? 

Healing is often messy, brothers and sisters, and comes with more than we could ever expect. What do you need to be healed of this Lenten season to truly follow the Light of the World as a disciple? What do you need to come and know Jesus in a new way? And are you willing to be healed, no matter what it may cost? Amen. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Don't Cease - Col 1:1-14

“I’m too busy”. This is an excuse that we often give when we are asked to do something that we do not want to do. It’s also the reasoning we have to give, regrettably, when there is something we really want to do, but just cannot manage to fit into our schedules. To make something a priority, we must shift around the things we are already doing, and possibly even have to give up something that we really want to do. What we spend time doing, and the attitude that we approach the things we do with, speaks to our character, the very core of who we are.
I don’t feel that you would get much argument from people if you stated that the apostle Paul was a busy man. He founded churches throughout the Mediterranean. He was well educated and well traveled. He was a tent maker to support his travels so he would not have to ask those in the areas he was reaching out to, to reach into their own pockets on his behalf. And yet… And yet, Paul was never too busy to pray. He tells the Colossians, “In our prayers we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all the saints.” Paul and his appetence Timothy, took time to pray and every time they did so they thought of the Colossians. Paul was not too busy to sing God’s praises for a community that he had not been with for some time, but felt called to remember in prayer. Paul goes on to say that the apostles have “not ceased praying, since the day we heard it.”
Often in our own prayer lives, we pray for the many things that we, or others, struggle with. We petition God to hear our cries and respond, because we know that God is faithful to listen to us. But why would Paul not cease praying for the Colossians when they seem to have it all together? He says that they are bearing fruit and being in love with the Spirit of God. Shouldn’t Paul put better use to his prayers by praying for all of those other churches that seem to be in so much trouble?
But Paul knows the truth – that the Devil lurks around when things are going well, just as much as when they are seemingly going aerie. Therefore, the Colossians need to be filled with God’s understanding and wisdom so they can continue to please God. For only through God can the Colossians be filled with strength, patience, and joy for all they do. In other words, even when things are going well, the journey is not over yet. And God is worthy of all praise.
There is a story told about one of the saints of the church named Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence was a monk who was given the most degrading and meaningless tasks to do all day, in hopes to discourage him from continuing to be a monk. Only this plan backfired. It was in those moments, washing the dishes, when he learned one of the greatest secrets to the spiritual life, practicing the presence of God through a life of unceasing prayer. He transformed his time in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning, to a time of worship that was just as meaningful for him as if he was on his knees praying in the church. He learned to praise God in the moments that others would dismiss as being not needing God’s attention through prayer.
The Jewish tradition would call what Brother Lawrence did ‘hip-boo-day-doo’, or becoming so intimate with God that you are constantly praying through what you say through your heart or your lips. Moments of sincere prayer when you whisper “thank you” or “help me”.When we start to see our lives as living in the presence of God and embracing all that life gives us, the wonderful moments and the trials, as opportunities to be in the presence of God through prayer, then our core being can be transformed.
I believe the passage given to us today by the apostle Paul, and the story of brother Lawrence leave us with questions for us to use to examine ourselves this week. I encourage you to reflect on these questions throughout the week and use them as a lens to examine your own core. When you become busy, do you pray more or is prayer something that you often find yourself thinking that you are “too busy” for? Do you find yourself asking God for things in your prayers more, or praising God for the gifts you or someone you know have been given? Do you find your thoughts shifting to people to pray for throughout the day? Have you found a way to live in the presence of God in whatever you do? And what does praying without ceasing mean to you – is it possible or unattainable in your life?
I know that these are hard questions to wrestle with, but know that you are not wrestling alone. We are examining ourselves together this Lenten season. We often beat ourselves up about not praying more than we actually pray. But what if, for this season of Lent, we take at least five minutes a day to pray to God? Five minutes to sit with God and build your relationship. Over time, maybe you will find prayer not to be the daunting process you imagined it to be, but rather a time to be refreshed by the Spirit. Maybe then, a bit at a time, you will find yourself slipping into a life of prayer that doesn’t cease.
Lent isn’t just about setting things aside, its about growing deeper in love with God along this journey of faith. But we also don’t enter into the season of Lent alone. We don’t learn to grow in a life of prayer alone. Look to your left. I would like us to covenant with each other to pray for that individual – thanking God for how they were created, for their gifts, and asking for the Spirit to strengthen them, make them patient, and bring them joy this season.
Brothers and sisters, may we strive to see ourselves as a community like the Colossians, bearing many fruits amongst each other’s and beyond these walls and falling deeper in love with the Spirit of God as we grow in a life of prayer. Amen.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Disciples Follow the Spirit - John 3: 1-17

Edward Hays tells the following story entitled The Great White Rabbit: There was a young person trying to decide why so many followers of Jesus walked away from their spiritual disciplines after a short time.  He went to a desert hermitage to speak with a monk.  The monk told him the following:
One day my dog saw a large white rabbit run by the hermitage.  My dog leaped to his feet and began chasing the rabbit while barking loudly. Soon other dogs, hearing the loud barking, joined the chase.  Over hills, into creeks, through thickets they ran.  The chase went on for hours. As the day grew late, one by one the dogs stopped chasing and went home. At the end of the day only my dog was still on the chase.
The young person asked what has this story to do with people who abandon the spiritual disciplines. 
The hermit said you are missing the obvious question; “Why did my dog stay on the chase and the other dogs leave?” 
The young seeker said, “I do not know!”
The hermit exclaimed, “My dog had seen the rabbit! You must see the rabbit in order to stay on pursuit.”
Nicodemus has caught a glimpse of something - a movement of the Spirit as seen through the signs and wonders of Jesus. Now he has come to Jesus under the darkness of night to decide if he is going to chase after it. If he is willing to risk everything he has worked so hard for in the light of day. We are told that Nicodemus is a Pharisee and a ruler, a member of the Sanhedrin. But even as such an elevated religious ruler he doesn’t have a context or a frame of reference for what he sees taking place through Jesus. It has been years upon years since God has used someone in a powerful way. Its been years upon years since God has even sent a prophet to the people of Israel. Yet, here is this man that makes him begin to doubt that the law, the only thing that he has had to teach and rely upon is enough. So he comes under the cover of darkness to see the light.
Nicodemus has gotten a lot of flack over the centuries from the church. Questions arise about why he couldn’t just see what Jesus was doing and get on board. Why he wasn’t willing to risk more to follow the one who is the Light and the Truth. But I believe the main reason Nicodemus has been scrutinized is because we recognize something about ourselves in his story and that makes us uncomfortable.
This ruler caught a glimpse of the movement of God. But then he faced the choice, like the dogs in the hermits story, to follow it or not. The thing about following the Holy Spirit is we can’t do it half way. We can’t follow the Spirit sometimes and ignore it others. We can’t believe in Jesus with our minds, but deny him with our actions. We can’t regulate the Spirit to moving only some days of the week, where it is safe and comfortable to be a Christian, and push it aside the rest of the time. That simply won’t work. And yet that’s exactly what Nicodemus is trying to do. He is trying to come under the cover of night as a curious seeker of this thing that he has experienced, caught a glimpse of, but can’t quite explain. He wants to come in the middle of the night to keep his curiosity, and perhaps even his growing faith, a secret. To keep this Jesus from getting too close to the rest of his life and muddling up his success. 
Have you ever met a Nicodemus? Do you recognize Nicodemus within yourself? John Calvin labeled those who believed in his reform of the Church but were afraid to publicly support it “Nicodemites”. Can you think of a time when you wanted to compartmentalize your faith - believing in Jesus with your mind, but being resistant to follow him with your actions. Maybe you are fine coming to Church for an hour or two on Sunday mornings, or even serving with fellow Christians on a few projects, but the thought of actually incorporating your faith into your daily life, seems like too big of a risk. So like Nicodemus you come to Jesus in secret, trying to compartmentalize your life.
But for the Gospel of John that isn’t faith; isn’t life. Jesus came to make us whole, not compartmentalized people. In this Gospel the message is clear, believing and doing are inseparable. And Nicodemus is struggling with that. He is struggling with this Jesus, this one he has caught a glimpse of God in, who doesn’t speak his language of the law and doesn’t give concrete answers. He struggles with the metaphors and images of faith. And he struggles with wondering if this belief is really worth what it would cost him. 
However, Jesus sees Nicodemus’ struggle and he won’t let him continue to live in his darkness of indecision so he pushes him, pushes us, to come into the light of a full and healthy relationship with God. He is asking him if he will take a risk and walk in the light of day. If he will believe in the ultimate Truth, not just in his mind, or even his words, but also through his actions.
The Church throughout history has had enough fair weather Christians friends. Enough people who claim Christ for their own personal gain a few hours here and there, but don’t live like true disciples, ones who follow their Master wherever he goes. Jesus is calling out to us, collectively as the body of Christ, and individually, asking us if we are willing to be disciples. Asking us if we are willing to take a risk of faith.
The problem is that we’ve bought into the lie, like Nicodemus, that we can have it all. We can have a secret faith and the trappings of success. But we can’t follow everything at once. When I read the hermit’s story I hear the call that we cannot multi-task our faith, we have to choose to follow the Spirit or something else. Choose to have worldly success or life to the fullest.
What about you, brothers and sisters? Are you believing in Jesus under the cover of darkness, as a secret, or are you living in the light all the time? Are you chasing after the Holy Spirit each and every day, or only when you are around other Christians or it is convent? Because what Jesus is trying to tell Nicodemus and each of us, is that discipleship is a full time commitment. For Nicodemus it takes him a long time to take his discipleship publicly, moving into the light. What can we learn from him about our own discipleship? The way that we are living our lives? Jesus is calling us to come forth into the light - come forth to a mature faith that is integrated into every aspect of every day. 

Friends, Have you caught a glimpse of the movement of the Spirit? Has your entire life been captivated and define by Jesus Christ or are you not sure yet? What do you need in order to let God shine through your life? And what do you need to give up this Lenten season in order to be willing to follow him into the light? Amen.