Thursday, May 26, 2011
Do I love Jesus?
This question is one that every Christian has answered in one way or another and perhaps time after time. The question is not usually asked as simply as I have stated it here. No, the question of loving God and Jesus is posed in the particular way we live our lives; in the relationships we have with others; in our willingness or unwillingness to forgive those around us; in the way we find to incarnate love as Jesus incarnated God’s love or to cast such love out as unworkable and impractical.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached a powerful sermon on loving our enemies in 1957 from the pulpit of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It was Christmas and the Montgomery bus boycott was underway. Dr. King had been put in jail for civil disobedience and it was from that jail cell that he wrote this sermon.
In the midst of the struggle for civil rights when stones were thrown at him; police dogs set on him and those who followed him; fire hoses used to knock him to the ground and punish those who would follow him, and the FBI was investigating him for his activities, Dr. King spoke of loving Jesus by loving what he called one’s neighbor-enemies.
He said: “First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”
Dr. King understood that to love Jesus was to love his neighbor-enemy. He talked about the capacity to forgive and to love. Capacity is created by having first experienced God’s forgiveness and love towards us. Jesus spent three years with his disciples and their capacity to forgive and love was enlarged by being with Jesus and witnessing Jesus’ loving-kindness and forgiveness that he showed for those whom the disciples might never have forgiven or loved.
But their real capacity for forgiving and loving was deepened when they abandoned, denied, and betrayed Jesus and then experienced the forgiveness and love which Jesus offered them in resurrection. It seems that experiencing our own darkness and our own need to be forgiven and loved is how our capacity for forgiving our neighbor-enemies and loving them is increased in us. It would also appear that the way we maintain this capacity is by continuing to remember the amazing grace of God in our lives and seeing God’s work of forgiveness and love as our work.
Jesus said to his disciples as he was saying good-bye to them the night of his arrest: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” What did Jesus command?
Jesus was not referring to the totality of laws and commandments contained in the Jewish scriptures. Jesus summarized the multitude of these laws and commandments with a rubric that put how we relate to God and to one another in very clear terms:
36 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" 37 He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22: 36-40)
He also offered a new commandment at that last meal with his disciples. He said:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Years later, the apostle John did a recap on His new commandment in his first epistle to the church:
“This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” (1 John 3:23)
Do God’s work in the world of forgiving and loving our neighbor-enemy that is what John’s Gospel calls believing that Jesus is God’s true child and image. It is affirming that developing and maintaining the capacity to forgive and love as God forgives and loves us is the core of faith and belief. John’s Gospel says:
“For God loved the world in just this way that he gave his one and only Son to the end that all who believe (do the work of forgiving and loving as God forgives and loves) in him (as the full expression of who God is and who were created to be) shall not perish (live and die in a world that does not accept God’s forgiveness and love, but rather clings to belief that sin can only be punished and not forgiven and that love must be earned), but have eternal life (living the life of God in the world so that others will discover the power and life of God’s forgiveness and love)"
On June 5th, we will be given the opportunity to reaffirm our faith as we welcome Bishop Mary Glasspool and support those who will be confirmed and received into the Episcopal Church. We will renew our the promises and vows we made when we were baptized or when we were confirmed. Those who will be confirmed have been prepared the best way I know how to prepare someone to be a Christian. I have invited them to fall in love with God; to allow God a place within them and for them to find that they are already abiding in God’s Trinity of love.
I invite those who read this reflection to consider what it means to believe in God and in Jesus Christ and with joy to embrace the capacity to forgive, to love, and to give God a place in the world where you live.
Every Sunday , every day, every moment is a good time to fall in love with God, but on June 5th we have a very special time to make that love public. To witness to the forgiveness and love in our lives and may God the Father and the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit increase in us the capacity for forgiveness and love of our neighbor-enemies.
I love and believe in Jesus. Amen .
Thursday, May 19, 2011
In 1965, I was graduated from Mira Costa High School and headed off to California State College at Long Beach where I would join over 19,000 other college students from all over the planet in pursuit of higher education. I had been raised in the Episcopal Church and loved my community of faith, but the times were turbulent with war, civil rights marches and protests against the Viet Nam War were daily news items as were the growing number of kids whose lives were ended by war.
I struggled to make sense of all that was going on around me. There were so many competing voices inside of my head and heart that sought to form me based upon the desires these voices spoke into me. As an emerging adult whose ego or whatever you call that part of us that thinks it can control and regulate the desires of others that almost seem pre-loaded in us, struggled with all of the conflicts which constantly fired up inside of my head and heart.
You could say that I felt tossed and turned as if in a boat on a stormy sea without a rudder, a map, a navigator, a purpose, a source of power, or an identity. Being raised in the United States of America we learn that we are to think independently of the crowd and that all of the desires and ways of others are somehow outside of us and can only come into us with our permission. We clearly believe in personal autonomy, but I was discovering that such autonomy and control of outside forces of conformity or non-conformity was not true.
For better or worse, the very self I believed to be autonomous was a composite of all of the other thoughts and desires of those who preceded me in the world and for whom my survival depended. These thoughts and desires also established a sort of Internal Operating System that put everything in some sort of order so that I could function on a daily basis. I came to believe or understand that this configuration of thoughts and desires did not always result in behavior towards others that demonstrated love, care, or even consideration.
Faced with the existential realities of life in 1965, I happened upon a little book written by an Episcopal priest named Malcolm Boyd. I had never heard of him, but was shocked to discover that he was called the "espresso priest" because he was reading poetry or prayers or something in a night club called the Hungry I in San Francisco. I was amazed that what had been church had somehow found its way into a night club and that people were flocking to hear what Malcom was offering.
Malcolm captured my sense of being lost in one particular poem called “Are You Running with Me Jesus?” I was clear that my Internal Operating System was fickle, unstable, and breaking down. While giving the impression that I was in charge, my IOS was falling apart and unable to make sense out of the world as it was coming towards me.
Malcolm helped me turn towards God in a real and life changing way. Here is what Malcom wrote that found its way into my life:
It's morning, Jesus.
and here's that light and sound
all over again.
I've got to move fast ...
get into the bathroom, wash up,
grab a bite to eat,
and run some more.
I just don't feel like it, Lord.
What I really want to do
is to get back into bed,
pull up the blankets, and sleep.
All I seem to want today
is the big sleep,
and here I've got to run all over again.
Where am I running?
You know these things
I can't understand.
It's not that I need to have you tell me.
What counts most is just that somebody knows,
and it's you.
That helps a lot.
So, I'll follow along, okay?
But lead, Lord.
Now I've got to run.
Are you running with me, Jesus?
Malcom Boyd (1965)
Malcolm found a way of expressing our human need for bringing order out of our “unruly wills and affections” that resonated with me. There is a passage from 1 John 4:4 that reads: “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” The God who can live within us and become our strength, purpose, power, guide, and identity that seems to elude our own IOS is greater, larger, more comprehensive, expansive, creative, loving, inclusive, and most importantly, transcendent than the all of the desires and thoughts of this world that would deprive us of the truth that is in us.
To follow Jesus, to know that God in Christ cares for us in the most personal and intimate way and to be known to God in this way is to replace certainty with faith and death with life. Jesus is a life donor. He gives of God what only God can give to us and we are bid to share this great gift with others. Forty-six years ago Malcolm Boyd re-introduced me to the God whom I had loved in Church. He showed me that this same God in whom I had found love, grace, purpose, and identity was not just in the church, but was running wild in the world and could become the center of my life both inside and outside of the church.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Give your hearts to God. Give your hearts also to me. In my Father’s house there are many places for you to live and thrive. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go there to prepare a place for you? And if I go there, I will return, so that where I am you may be also.”
Are you running with me Jesus? Thank you.
Thursday, May 05, 2011
We live in confusing times and so when there seems to be a moment where we can claim certainty of any kind, we jump on it like thirsty people in a desert. This past week we have discovered how very thirsty we are for moral clarity and how such clarity brings a sense of celebration. The death of a man who admittedly orchestrated the deaths of many people of all different faiths and of no particular faith at all on 9-11-2001 was just such a moment of clarity for many Americans and for some others around the globe.
But moral clarity in our world of sin, human wrath, and death never really quenches our thirst for righteousness or for unity or peace. No, that righteousness, unity, and peace can come from God alone. True justice does not come from simply killing the bad guys while remaining blissfully unaware of the part we have played in the evil in the world. Jesus understood the rules that create such blindness that poses as moral clarity and his death on the cross was the light shining in our great darkness of certitude. To end this game of human wrath, God entered into it and revealed himself in life giving bread.
The disciples who were headed back for Emmaus after Jesus’ death had accepted the moral certitude of those who had arrested, tried, and executed him. The moral clarity of the mob and the leaders seemed to trump all of their experience of being with Jesus. Imagine having spent three years with Jesus as he taught, healed, fed thousands of people, absorbed the threats and accusations of a growing number of people, forgave sins, and raised the dead and then have your whole opinion of him demolished in a day.
Yet that is what happened and their conversation reveals their great disappointment that Jesus was not the one for whom they had been hoping.
They too sought moral clarity, but even more, they sought moral certainty. Moral certainty is intoxicating and can result in the very sorts of zealous and self-righteous acts of violence we see as monstrous in our world today. Moral certainty seems to blind us to the humanity of others. The deaths of others become simply collateral damage or necessary deaths in fulfillment of our sense of making the world into our image.
But what God offered the world is a Savior and a Lord who did not promise moral certitude in judging others, but forgiveness and love instead. We have been given the law to help guide us in our actions towards each other. We have had the law summarized for us by Jesus and others: Love God and love your neighbor. Yet even the law whose purpose it is to help us live graciously with each other has been turned into a tool of moral certitude or as St. Paul called it, sin.
But it is God’s grace, forgiveness, and love for us all that allows us to truly see one another as God sees us. To fully live in God’s grace, forgiveness, and love disarms us and puts us in a position of increased vulnerability. We may have a sense of what is right and wrong that governs and directs our own behavior, but in whatever we do or say, we are aware that God is calling us not to judge others as worthy of death, but to love them into life. As Jesus told the disciples such love often results in suffering.
It is our relationship with God and through God to one another that denies us the moral certainty that put Jesus on the cross. It is God’s love into which we were all baptized that is the death of moral certainty, but the beginning of a new life of loving and serving Christ in others. We are called (vocation) to even or more especially love those others whose moral certainty has convinced them that we deserve to die.
There are times when stopping someone from killing others is the most loving thing that can be done, but hate generated from moral certainty cannot be killed by a bullet, bomb, or knife. It can only be healed by loving acts directed towards those who are out to get us. We must take the initiative rather than waiting for others to do so.
The disciples on the road to their home in Emmaus had accepted the judgment of the world that Jesus deserved to die. They had lost a friend, but must have felt very disillusioned by his inability to be what they had hoped he would be. When a stranger joined them on the road home and asked them about their conversation, they began to pour out the story of their failed moral certitude.
The stranger upbraided them for being dull of mind and hard of heart and began to unpack the scriptures from beginning to end that would allow them to see and understand that their need for moral certitude was a symptom of the very soul-killing disease called sin that separated them from the life-giving love and presence of God.
It would be nice if these two disciples had simply and completely understood what the stranger was saying to them, but they did not. As they approached their home in Emmaus and saw that the stranger was intent on continuing his journey into the dark night, they wholeheartedly invited him to spend the night with them and to dine with them.
As they sat at the table with the stranger, the stranger took the bread on the table and did what the host would normally do: he took it, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his hosts and it was at that very moment that these two disciples recognized that the stranger was Jesus. They had been in the presence of the one they thought was dead physically, spiritually and morally. Once the crucified and risen Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave the bread, he disappeared from their sight.
The message of scripture that Jesus had led them to understand was that the messiah must suffer before entering into his glory. If God was to speak to us clearly, God had to suffer by our hands and in the place that we all occupy, the place of being accused, judged, and sentenced for being guilty of being human. This is the place of deadly shame that is the work of the accuser, often called Satan.
The moral certitude and its judgments against those who offend is cruel and final and we all seek to avoid being judged in this way by pointing our fingers at others. The messiah stands in front of all of our fearful, wrathful, and violent fingers and bears that certitude and judgment on the cross for us all to see. The messiah takes our human wrath that is directed towards us all and redirects it towards God in him.
Like the disciples, we are on a journey home. We have had many moments of moral clarity and certitude that in the end may have proved to be dead-ends. For some of us these dead-ends are seen as temporary setbacks, sort of like our home town team losing the championship. Because we may have won more championships or games than we have lost, we continue to believe that the game and the rules of the game are good. It is an awful like Las Vegas gambling that gives us a sense that we can win all if we just keep gambling.
We, like the disciples, are confused by the complex and challenging issues facing us. We want a quick fix to protect us from those who judge us as we have judged others. We are foolish and our hearts are slow to believe that there is any way of being human outside this closed system of human wrath and judgment. It is in the midst of this state of disillusionment that Jesus seems to appear to us and offers us an understanding that the rules of the game are not God’s rules and not God’s game, but our own.
The messiah is not just someone sent from God to win our game by playing by our rules of wrath, judgment, sin, and death and using his great power to put down with moral certainty all of the evil ones in the world. Jesus says, “the messiah must suffer…” It is in the breaking of the bread which is his body that the rules of our human game are shown to us as broken and the cause of all human pain and suffering. That is the moment when the disciples finally recognized Jesus. He was no longer a stranger with whom they chose to share their home and their meal, he was God among us as Savior and Lord.
We gather each week and sometimes more often to hear scripture read and unpacked by the preacher and then we gather around the Table at Christ Church to break bread together. In an instant we may see in that broken bread, not a stranger, but Jesus. We may rejoice that having heard the Word, we now make that Word a part of who we are in ways that are not always dramatic or earth shaking, but true.
Now you might just ask where Jesus went once he had offered his disciples the taken, blessed, broken, and given bread. I would suggest that he was deeply within the hearts and souls of these two followers and that they carried him with them back to Jerusalem and throughout their lives as the one who had liberated them from the death of a game where there really are no winners, only losers and delivered them into the heart, mind, and hands of a loving, ever-living, always forgiving, pain bearing God.
As we prepare for this Easter season celebration of the resurrection of Christ, let us pray:
“O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
Collect for Easter III
THE READINGS ASSIGNED FOR THE DAY
Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the multitude, "Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified."
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him." And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17 Page 759, BCP
I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, *
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.
The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
I came to grief and sorrow.
Then I called upon the Name of the LORD: *
"O LORD, I pray you, save my life."
How shall I repay the LORD *
for all the good things he has done for me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.
I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the LORD *
is the death of his servants.
O LORD, I am your servant; *
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.
I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.
I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people,
In the courts of the LORD'S house, *
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
1 Peter 1:17-23
If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
That very day, the first day of the week, two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" He asked them, "What things?"
They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.