Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works…
Make room in your hearts and for the World…
It seems to me that this is the message we get from today’s readings. Make room in your hearts for God and for the World
Today’s Gospel is tough to hear. Why would Jesus sound SO harsh.
The Gospel of Matthew is a Gospel written to an early Jewish-Christian community. They are primarily Jews - and a lot of the emphasis in this Gospel, is that the message of Jesus Christ is not solely for the Jewish community, but is made for the whole world.
This Gospel includes the feeding of the 5000 as well as the feeding of the 4000. They are nearly identical stories, yet the second gathering of the 4000 is in a Gentile region.
I also always love numbers when they appear in scripture. They often give us clues. In the feeding of the 5000 Jews we have 12 baskets left over. While in the feeding of the 4000 Gentiles we have 7 baskets left over.
It is very likely that the 12 baskets represent the fulfillment of the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus was going after the lost sheep of Israel. Now the number seven is almost always used to describe completion. Jesus message is not complete until he has gathered all of the peoples of the Earth. (Seven baskets).
This passage with Jesus and the Canaanite woman is the turning point in Jesus’ ministry between these two feeding stories.
Now what proceeds their encounter is a teaching about what “defiles.”
The strict orthodox tradition believed in certain dietary restrictions and held to purity laws and rituals.
And what follows their encounter is the feeding of the 4000; a clear indication that Jesus and his message is meant for more than the select Jewish community.
Jesus teaches that it is not what comes into the body that defiles us, but what we harbor in our hearts.
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
Purity is not to be sought from the outside. Purity is an interior state. It is found in the mind and the heart; that singleness of mind and heart, where we perceive unity, rather than separation. From this space love flows.
Jesus’ response to the Canaanite woman is an immediate demonstration of this concept.
His initial remarks appear very harsh to us. And what happens? We respond with what?
“Weren’t our hearts burning within us?”
Aren’t we moved? (the disciples and readers of this scene) Aren’t our hearts stirred to cry out in solidarity with the woman?! We know what is called for here… and I believe Jesus knows that we know. A singleness of heart…It is our knee jerk response: Save her! Of course you will save her daughter, of course we know you are the Messiah for the whole world…
That is the turning point in the disciples’ ministry. That is the great conversion (not of God’s heart) but of those who listen for the heartbeat of God.
His message yet to come is:
Your feeding of the 5000 will be completed by the feeding of the 4000 who are Gentiles. Who are “Other” and who are equally deserving!
“for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.”
Paul in Romans is also trying to convey this idea, saying, “I ask then, has God rejected his people? By no means!” He speaks of this inclusivity in quite odd terms:
“For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.”
It sounds strange, but he is trying to put to words the breadth of God’s mercy.
Paul is saying, it is not a bad thing that God’s Mercy is meant for all…because it is by the very fact of the need itself, that we come to know that we are all deserving of God’s Mercy. It opens us up personally and to others.
It reminded me of The First Beatitude:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
We are looking at this passage in our current book study. Cynthia Bourgealt presents this beatitude from a wisdom perspective:
Blessed are we all, who are poor in spirit, because in this state we are actually available to receive the gifts of God. We can be filled with God’s mercy and love. That’s what Paul is getting at here.
After all, Jesus said “Those who are well have no need of a physician,
but those who are sick.”
If we are filled up with ourselves and our own self- righteousness there is no room for God’s grace.
The Canaanite Woman offers us an example of this need and this receptivity even while Jesus makes the outrageous claim that she and her daughter are not worthy of healing.
He equates them as being as low as dogs…
But she immediately responds with a plea that even the dogs eat crumbs from the master’s table.
She is ready to be filled…
She is famished…in fact:
Her yearning is so great. She is an open book, completely receptive.
And this conversation is meant to be overheard by the disciples and by us.
She has faith that even God’s mercy is powerful enough in a dose …as small as a bread crumb.
Does this remind you of anything else?
Faith as small as a mustard seed?
Faith as small as a mustard seed can indeed bloom into a massive tree.
It is that tree in which we are a part, the branches of which Jesus is the central core: the vine “Grafted in our hearts…”
The message of Jesus’ is meant for all people. All people who come to him, receptive, Poor of Spirit, and “imprisoned’ as Paul describes it.
Faith will set us free.
Faith will help us to be healed, fed, and nourished to grow beyond our small exclusive identities… to grow into the knowledge that we are all one: That “singleness of heart” that Jesus describes - and that we pray at the end of every service.
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Empty yourself and Open your hearts and minds to the love and knowledge of God.
May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
2 Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations...
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.
This week we have New Testament readings that speak to us about Faith. In the Gospel Jesus famously "walks on water." Peter then attempts to join Jesus but begins to sink in the face of the storm. He cries out for Jesus to save him, and indeed Jesus does.
But then he questions Peter: "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Now we know why Peter doubted. It said he was “frightened.” When he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened.
Jesus asks (as a teacher would) a rhetorical question. Try to hear it softly and lovingly: What’s going on Peter?
Now, Peter wasn't doubting Jesus. Peter was confronted with self-doubt. Most of us struggle with it at some point or another.
Craig and I refer to the voice that tears at our sense of confidence and well-being as "The Minister of Doubt.”
…That menacing voice that quite literally rides on the waves of fear… that ministers to all of the creepy crawly thoughts that tear down our confidence:
Who are you anyway? What will others think?
I’m probably not good enough, and so on…
…Fear of rejection, injury, stepping out on a limb (or onto the water) … vulnerability, risk…
Chapter 14 of Matthew is packed with intensity.
At the beginning of our chapter the news of John the Baptist’s beheading has reached Jesus and the disciples.
Then just before this passage Jesus and his disciples feed the 5,000. The disciples were participants in this great miracle. It is one of the first big public demonstrations of their ministry.
Do you think that Peter could possibly be having doubts about his abilities?! Do you think he could be afraid?
John the Baptist (who had an even larger following than Jesus) has been executed.
There is a real storm brewing.
Rather than Peter being unsure of what is happening, I prefer to believe that Peter knows very well that he is embarking on a public ministry with Jesus that is at one time beautiful and miraculous - and also dangerous.
He falters because of this fear, not because he hasn’t gotten the message, not because he is faithless.
Fear is a signal for us. Is there a clear and present danger?- or am I not good enough? Peter probably felt both.
And Jesus’ tender rhetorical question “why do you doubt?” expresses that
Jesus believes in Peter.
Jesus will name Peter the “Rock” all the while knowing he will falter and he will abandon. Jesus still believes in Peter: his call and his ministry regardless of his doubts.
Doubt is not the opposite of Faith, but rather a part of it. What is the correlation between our own self-doubt, our faith, and our relationship with God?
Certainty can ignore the messiness of life, the complications and confusions.
Doubt is a sign that we are grappling with life's big problems, as well as our own personal issues.
Doubt pushes us to grow and expand our vision and our faith.
Certainty can be very limiting.
But self-doubt keeps us in a cycle of confusion, always looking outside of ourselves for the answer; always seeking affirmation from others, listening to that “minister of doubt” rather than listening to that still small voice that Paul speaks of in Romans:
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart.”
Growing and evolving our relationship with God over time begins to make it more real, more helpful, and more supportive.
Developing a close relationship with God "the Word" through a pattern of prayer and lament and thanksgiving is a path to self-assurance.
It is not a path that skirts the trials of life.
It is not a path that gives us complete certainty, but it is a path worn deep with conviction, seeking to "know thyself."
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” - Psalm 119:105.
Moving self-doubt into an energetic process (working with it - rather than identifying with it as a static condition) is an act of faith.
One practice you can use in this journey is to remember…
…that like Peter, God has faith in you.
God’s work is done by the hands and feet of his disciples. Like the feeding of the 5,000 and in all of the centuries that we have (with our fear and our faith) striven to do the work that God has given us to do…
Jesus had faith in his disciples.
Remember, all the while you are weathering real storms and the fear of the unknown…
God has faith in YOU.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. We read about both Moses and Jesus glowing from their encounters with God.
Moses comes down from the mountain and he is lit up! The people are afraid but they recognize this as a holy sign, but because of their fear Moses veils his face most of the time when he is with them.
Jesus and Moses become fully integrated in these mountain top moments. We talk about that in the spiritual life… about being “integrated.”
The transfiguration is more than a transformation, it is a moment of vibrant clarity in which Jesus understands his mission and identity as one with God.
Jesus is wrapped in light as we hear the words “this is my Son.” It is an occasion of God’s direct voice that only comes to us one other time in the Gospels: at Jesus’ baptism.
Jesus is fully integrated in this moment - and for the eyes and ears of a few disciples to witness. This time God’s voice doesn’t only speak to Jesus but says to everyone, “This is my Chosen Son.”
But the disciples do not speak of it. In Matthew Jesus instructs them not to speak of it. I believe Jesus wants us to have direct experience with God. He chooses to reflect God’s face back to all of us. In his common flesh...not glowing on the outside but glowing from the inside and we are a part of it. We are part of that divine spark.
The scene leaves us with a lot of questions: Why Moses and Elijah? Why does Peter want to build tents?
Theologian and commentator, Matthew Skinner, suggests
The presence of Moses and Elijah at the very least expose the great thread of tradition, that Jesus participates in. To paraphrase:
“Why are Moses and Elijah there? No matter how we look at the myriad of interpretations for their presence.. at least everything in the Gospel is saying pay attention to this guy Jesus.
'The hopes and fears of all the years’ are found in him. And in no way is he a departure from the old testament promise.”
We don’t all expect to glow with the encounter with God, although we would like to have such moments. What does it feel like to be in the midst of the Holy?
Would you tremble like the psalmist?
What is your response?
Very explicitly both of our stories suggest that we may not “glimpse the glory of God and not be changed.”
Moses face is transfigured…
Jesus himself and his clothing are transfigured.
How else might we individually be changed?
What other ways does this happen?
One thing we can do is remember and try to participate and enact those things that make us feel most integrated, and importantly connect us to this long tradition of humanity and wisdom and spirituality.
One of my nephews has started a “re-wilding” school around teaching ancient paths of nurturance. It is based on learning from nature and understanding plant medicine. It is going back to our ancient roots (literally). He has started a program bringing on other teachers; training kids in ancient skills for tool making, foraging, and medicinal plants, music, drumming.
While the younger generations might not always “get” what we are doing, I am confident that we are following in a deep trodden path of the ancients looking for spiritual wisdom, guidance; participating in rituals, ancient prayers to guide us - and to make us present - and a part of those who came before us.
To participate in this path… we must engage in those things that make us alive, make us feel integrated. That’s what my nephew is doing. Re-wilding. It means stopping the onslaught of busyness and media. Personal encounters with God are not likely going to arise when we are watching television or filling our mind up with constant distractions.
What makes you feel integrated, in the flow?
Besides prayer, I love sculpting. I love hiking. My mother in law loves to clean, truly. One of the retired deans from the Cathedral loves ironing. I know sometimes we cannot do some of the things that once gave us true fulfillment, like going to a concert -
or even participate in personal hobbies the way we used to.
But to remember we are part of a stream of human activity, knowledge, wisdom and action that make us one is helpful.
We can just look into the face of a flower and know that forever humans have enjoyed this simple gaze.
Simple activity can get us there. We can breath in and out and rest in our breath when we cannot sleep.
We can reach our hands out at the rail and receive communion.
It is very simple to be engaged with God really. And our interior light awakens in these moments when we feel connected.
Epiphany comes when we least expect it.
I believe Jesus was this least expectant presence: In flesh he was incarnate as a carpenter’s son, a guy that hung out with the outcasts of society. But a guy that healed people just by shining his light into the hearts of others. He gave us peace - which is now ours to give.
He came down from the mountain to be with us in this common flesh we share to teach us how to follow in his footsteps;
for us to know that he is in God, and God is in him, and we are in him. Integrated.
It is a one-ness that he continually tries to convey. It is a divine calling seeded in us - and is available to grow, by touching one another and shining that light out in as many ways as we can transmit.
I have to admit I don’t watch much cable news. Craig and I don’t have television, but (don’t get me wrong) we watch things on-line, we listen to the radio, we read papers.
Whenever I go to my parents I watch the news with them on T.V. It is actually a bit shocking. It is culturally really different not to be acclimated to the intensity of news broadcasts, of propaganda, advertising etc.
I always have to make an adjustment. I have to ask myself what is being portrayed, how is it being portrayed etc.
Well, this week I saw a spot on Sesame Street.
Maybe some of you also caught it…
I was a Sesame Street baby (born in the same year as its inception: 1969). Sesame Street has been a household name for more than fifty years. Some years ago, my niece was shocked to learn that her favorite muppet Elmo wasn’t on Sesame Street when I was growing up. She believed the whole show was built around him. He actually showed up in 1980 as a bit part who quickly grew to fame!
But I digress…
Sesame Street’s spotlight on the news was about their work with children in Ukraine; to help them cope emotionally with war. They made quick mention that Sesame Street also visited Iraq. I found this all so moving that I began researching Sesame Street.
Did you know that Sesame Street is working in 150 countries across the globe helping children to learn, and to cope with their environments?
I was surprised the newscaster said, the children in Ukraine are actually “blessed” with the advantage of media, technology and equipment for streaming and broadcasting.
She actually used the word “blessing.” (Good for her!)
It is a blessing. The Sesame Street website has images of children with puppets in refugee camps...places where they don’t all have internet. Sesame Street has programs in classrooms and clinics bringing lessons to over a million displaced children in Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon.
These programs build relationship; are life affirming, bringing consolation and joy to children. These are the avenues, the activities where God dwells.
In our Gospel today, Jesus is essentially saying, Whatever relationship you welcome, you will receive the fruit of that relationship.
TO repeat this short gospel:
Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. …and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Essentially he is saying Love God, Love the Way, Love Doing Right, Even the smallest thing counts.
He is saying give to the “least of these”…
In Jesus day the idea of Giving something freely to a child you do not know made no sense. It isn’t an equal exchange. Giving to the “least of these” is somehow not going to be beneficial to me. What am I going to get out of it.…? Jesus has a lot to say about giving freely throughout the Gospels. It is his form of radical welcome.
We still struggle with this. What is fair, who deserves what.
We say our days are numbered. So in that time, in that ordinary time, let’s give what we’ve got.
It is not too little.
Love is not about getting what you want, but about giving all that you can.
We can help other people with the smallest deeds of kindness. In a deed of kindness are the seeds of both welcome and hope.
The Gospel passage reminded me of the earlier passage in Matthew in which Jesus speaks about loving your enemies. (Here he is reiterating to his disciples what he said on the sermon on the mount.)
What good is it if you only love those who love you? Even the tax collectors do that. If you greet only your brothers, what is extraordinary about you? Even the Gentiles do that….
No, Jesus’ way is one of extraordinary welcome and hospitality.
As Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Sin is that state when we are separated from God by our own actions.
We do things that hurt ourselves and one another and break that special life affirming and loving connection to our maker.
Here, Paul is speaking about sin, but also speaking about hope. Paul says in Christ you are no longer separated from God. Sin has no dominion over you. Now you have grace.
The sin of war we are experiencing today is a huge separation from God. We not only lose our minds at these times of war (lose our moral compass); our hearts are so broken that the space for God that dwells in our hearts is torn all apart.
We have created separation where there was once an effort for unity and communion…Jesus came for all of the nations, for all of the marginalized.
This week, in the midst of so much war and in the midst of so many controversial social issues, Sesame Street gave me hope.
It reminded me the blessing of welcome is ours to give even in the midst of the sin of war.
Hope can be found on a street that reaches out globally and in diversity.
A street where young children come to know people of all races and colors as mentors; and artists and musicians as teachers and guides.
Programs like Sesame Street bring light, they teach love, they teach tolerance, they teach welcome.
The puppets and their human companions teach us that
what color our skin is; What texture our hair is doesn’t matter.
As Jesus said last week, with consistent love and welcome, in giving away freely, we may find our life someday.
That day will come when not only the prophet preaches peace, but all of us strive to offer a little welcome, offer a bit of ourselves without anything in return…
The real reward will be great.
“For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever.”
Has someone ever called you a name that doesn’t fit?! Have you ever been labeled something falsely?
..Or have your words been misconstrued?
Recently, I had an exchange with a dear friend, and we had disagreement …and I felt the ire rising up in me. This week Craig had a friend (literally) yelling on the other end of the line about a difference of opinion; opinions of what we consider reality... What we consider important.
Once upon a time… in our Gospel from today, some people called Jesus “Beelzebul” which means “The Prince of Demons.”
He was called this by other well-meaning, pious, God-loving people.
But they were a people afraid of what Jesus was doing and saying. They were afraid to lose what they had come to rely on, even though the world was changing anyway. The world was changing “with our without” their blessing…and Jesus was bringing his message right into the midst of this change.
The world was chaotic at the time of Matthew’s gospel. He was writing at a time when the destruction of the temple in AD 70 disrupted Jewish community life and tradition.
People’s beliefs were being questioned. The small early Jewish - Christian community was also growing and changing.
But Jesus had already told us "don’t be afraid.” Don’t be afraid of the chaos, and the name calling.
But do understand things are changing.
And the message that Jesus is bringing - is being brought to a changing world that may not appreciate or understand his message of:
We too, scratch our heads: Why is Jesus saying he is bringing a sword, when the last few weeks he has persistently spoken about peace, the Spirit’s gift of peace, the assurance that Peace is ours to keep - and to give to others?
Now he says he has not come to bring Peace?
Is this hyperbole?
A simple exaggeration?
One minute he sounds like a confident and caring brother and father. Then next, he sounds rather like the fiery prophet Jeremiah, with great exclamation: This isn’t going to be easy!
“For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, "I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,"
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.”
This isn’t going to be easy! Carrying Love into the world in a time of such chaos is not going to be “a walk in the park.”
There is already animosity and division.
Jesus said, I am bringing a sword (not to kill, but to discern).
…To cut through to the essence of what matters most!
Jesus brings us the sword of discernment.
Being awake to the Love of God helps us to cut through the fog of chaos to the reality of a greater life in God.
Cutting through and revealing…
“To shed light on what is dark.”
“To make known what is secret”
To uncover that which is covered”
Light and Revelation comes through wading into the differences, the discord, like Jesus did equipped with the knowledge that Love as the highest power above all else will save us.
People are often less afraid (even when they are in crisis) if things can remain the same, even when they are unhappy and persecuted. We act this way, even when the world is always changing.
But do not be afraid because God has counted every hair on your head. Do not be afraid, because you are worth so much more than a sacrificial offering of sparrows (when that offering has become simply a symbol of righteousness.
You are not a symbol. You are a conduit for love.
You have been sealed with Christ.
Walking the path of Christ involves the sword of discernment.
We have discernment to do in our own time, like Matthew’s time when the world seemed upside down.
Love is like a sword that pierces our side deeply.
When we are uncertain and angry and people are calling us by names that do not seem to fit… we can remember the words of Christ: “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.”
We don’t know what God is doing. It is uncertain. But a spiritual materialism, that would suggest we “know,” is as false as sacrificial sparrows.
We don’t know.
What we do know, is that our call is to love.
We not only say but act on these words:
“forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
To carry the cross of Christ that Jesus mentions is to look to that higher love. All of our relationships, even our familial relationships suffer without that higher love. We need to be engaged in the World, thinking, digesting, discerning, all the while with great humility we recognize our limitations.
Oh God your thoughts are higher than my thoughts.
“Forgive them father for they know not what they do,” is a solid prayer; a prayer that brings peace.
It is a prayer that Jesus says from the cross.
It is not a prayer that relieves us of the strife we are in, as it didn’t relieve Jesus his physical strife, but it is a prayer that reminds us to forgive in the midst of what we can’t control. It is a prayer that reminds us of our higher power of God and love above all else.
"Those who find their life [meaning their assuredness, their entitlement, their stubbornness] will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake [for LOVE] will find it.”
One of the things that Paul mentions is “boasting in our suffering.” Today, I want to speak about hope…and Hope in the context of suffering.
In Buddhism, some of you may know, that the concept of suffering and a path to non-suffering is a main aspect of their teaching. They believe that recognizing suffering and working to alleviate it in ourselves will ultimately alleviate it for others.
In Christianity we really have the same belief. However, over the centuries, our message has become distorted. Somehow a notion grew - and teachings somehow instilled that if you are “good” you will not suffer. This is a very self-denying and life denying idea of fundamental reality… and the reality of our faith.
When Paul mentions “boasting in our suffering.”
I think it’s pretty important to point out that we are not advocating suffering. This passage has been misinterpreted that way. Paul is speaking in solidarity with others who are suffering along with him. It is a pep talk to get them through their ordeal.
As we spoke about this last week: tremendous suffering can change us, transform us, make us more compassionate.
However, we are not saying, go suffer now - it will make you a better person. We very much hope we can protect ourselves and our children from suffering.
One of the reasons we come to church, to seek out God and community, is because we are trying to learn and teach our children how to become more compassionate without the need for suffering.
Jesus did enough of that for us. And that’s the very point!
Ridding ourselves, and our community, our nation and our world of suffering is the actual goal.
Jesus came to teach that the nature of God is love and that God enfleshed will walk in the World healing and “curing every disease and every sickness.” The God that we believe in is a God of mercy.
We say, God in his mercy sent his only son Jesus Christ to live as one of us. Mercy is that condition of God that undergirds everything. While we may struggle and suffer, it is our recognition that the biggest love called mercy came to be with us in solidarity, and will save us by giving us strength; giving us hope. We hope into that big space of love.
According to Cynthia Bourgeault:
“Mystical hope [is] what happens when we touch this innermost ground [within our own selves through prayer, meditation or awareness] and it floods forth into our being as strength and joy. Hope would be the Mercy—divine love itself—coursing through our being like lightning finding a clear path to the ground. . . .”
Similarly, St. Paul reminds us: God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the gift of the Spirit.
One definition of Hope from John of the Cross “is the dynamic of being able to yield unconditionally to God’s future. It is…a hope independent of us and our accomplishments…a hope that can even embrace and work for a future without us.” - Constance FitzGerald
This definition is sometimes hard to touch when we are struggling. But it is an important aspect of hope that reminds us that it springs eternal in a larger field than we are singularly playing in. Love is bigger than us.
There is a certain self-less-ness to be had in this hoping. This is what Jesus brought us; demonstrated for us.
But this also doesn’t mean that we don’t set goals for out labor in the world. Even Jesus sets goals:
He commissions the apostles to go out and heal with very specific instructions. The twelve disciples are to go out two by two. I don’t know about you but that sounds terrifying.
They were instructed to go out into the World with nothing. No things, other than the commission to heal.
This is where we find ourselves too. We are commissioned to heal the world as we move along our life’s journey.
The divisions that seem to erode hope in our culture, in our governance, in our way of life, are immense right now. We are being faced with issues that are conflicting and make us feel uncertain and angry.
But let us not say “hopeless.”
The commission “to heal” is a way to lean into the discontent and the division.
The phrase is: “every disease and every sickness.” That is all encompassing. There is a lot of dis - ease right now.
In his very apt and poignant statement, Bishop Tutu described us Christians as being “prisoners of Hope.”
Because in the face of all of this contention and confusion, the commission is: to heal.
The commission to heal when the apostles were charged to go out into the world, is the same as it is today.
No matter what side of an issue we may find ourselves on, navigating it with friends and acquaintances through a healing approach is Jesus’ way. Try to integrate that: Growing into the stature of Christ is not about being right. It is about being loving.
It is a bit frightening, yes, uncertain…and when we feel out of control we are frightened and defensive.
Can we imagine a future that is larger than ourselves and requires loving responses regardless, to unfold in ways that our not of our making? Hope is knowing that we are carrying love into whatever future God is making.
I don’t mean agreeing with everyone, but carrying that loving response that opens up the field of mercy for all.
Jesus sends the apostles telling them to bring their peace to others. If their peace is not accepted -to let it return to them. He doesn’t say be angry and resentful with those who don’t listen. He says your peace is a gift -and let it return to you. It is yours. Your Peace.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless,
like sheep without a shepherd. Sounds like today.
Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
therefore ask the Lord of the harvest
to send out laborers into his harvest.”
God, we ask that your make us compassionate laborers in your harvest of hope, mercy, and love.
This week in the readings there is an emphasis on faith.
In Romans, Paul assures us that it is our faith and not rules and regulations that provide connection with God.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells the hemorrhaging woman that it is her faith that has made her well. Also the leader has faith that Jesus will heal his daughter.
What is faith?
These are miracles we can’t pretend to truly understand, but the faith aspect is something we can live into.
What is faith - and how do we define it?
It isn't really the same thing as belief.
Our secular culture wants to merge belief and faith and deaden their meanings by attaching fact or fiction to their definitions. Instead of internalizing faith, we have started intellectualizing faith … then people begin to say, well I don’t believe in God because I only recognize the “facts.”
But having faith in God is to have faith in a way of life. "Jesus is the way and the life." It is a loving pattern we are trying to live into. In this real sense, faith is a verb not a noun.
We also use creeds that try to put a structure around what we believe, but ultimately as Jesus says, "I desire mercy not sacrifice." Jesus cared about his Jewish tradition deeply. He knew it well; in fact his quote comes right out of Hosea. Jesus cared about tradition, but more than that - he cared about each individual more than about religious rules and regulations. Faith is a way of being that honors one another and God. It is about choosing that relationship for support and guidance. We are born into a World embodying faith as vulnerable creatures who can’t put a word to it. It is how we move and how we have our being…how we survive - and as we age - it becomes more or a renewal in participating in that primary relationship of being: of life!
This year has been very difficult for many of us on many fronts. We are witnessing crises around the world, but for many of us there is also personal crisis. For Rita and for others. My husband Craig, as most of you know, who is struggling with stage 4 cancer. We talked about faith and what that means at a time of deep struggle.
When Craig was first diagnosed and going through radiation treatments he seemed to turn inside. I had a difficult time feeling like I could reach him - or understand what was going on. This gregarious guy had really turned inward. Became very quiet. What I later learned is that Craig was communing with God. He was trying to desperately get down to the basic relationship that he had with trust and with his maker, that primary relationship, to find himself.
In our recent conversation he said, “My rough edges of resentment seemed to burn away. What emerged was a more compassionate and loving version of myself.” He said, I always thought of myself as loving and compassionate but in reality - I didn’t always demonstrate it. It emerged when I went into that space to find a relationship with God and found my true self.
He describes this as a “faith healing.”
We may not be able to heal a hemorrhaging woman or bring a child back to life, but when we say these miraculous healing stories of God matter and we want to be part of it, we are saying “yes” like Matthew, to a relationship with God and walking a healing path.
This Gospel’s version of Matthew’s conversion is very simple. Jesus sees Matthew at the tax booth and says follow me, and Matthew does. Wow. So simple..
The next thing that happens is a big gathering at Matthew’s house: a group, it says, with many tax collectors and many sinners.
We need a little more time to absorb this scene. I’m sure a lot transpired in Matthew’s heart and mind. Like Craig, Matthew’s encounter with Jesus helped him find a way back into that primary relationship with God.
Matthew then opened his home to Jesus and to many others to hear the healing message of God:
All of you - and together we are going to make things new…
Then, and today by recognizing that we are already participating in the life of God. We call it faith. It is not intellectual it is embodied.
In the passage from Hosea we hear the prophet crying out to Ephraim and Judah. Ephraim is another name for Israel and comes from the name of the tribe that secured that area when Israel was split into two Kingdoms.
Hosea’s life is full of struggle but his response is to show mercy and forgiveness to his wife and to those around him.
In the book of Hosea, the personal relationships of the prophet are a reflection of the relationship that God has with Israel. Essentially the book is about God wanting to be in relationship with us, which requires forgiveness, mercy and love.
What we know as Jesus’ famous words, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” are found in this passage from Hosea. At a time in the prophet’s great struggle we hear these words too:
God Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Jesus borrows from Hosea on more than one occasion.
Mercy and forgiveness: how do they relate to faith and to renewal - to this rising up!?
Many of us feel that things are failing in our lives and in our churches, but I was reminded in a meeting this week among clergy that we have to remember there is a bigger picture of God at work in the World.
We will be revived, and in fact our consistent participation in pursuing a relationship with God is that revival itself, no matter how slow or uncertain it may feel. No matter how personal. It is happening. We will be raised up. We don’t know what it looks like. We just know we need to be constant “like the morning dawn” and seek God’s face. That is where we are going to find faith healing and offer the kind of renewal that Jesus offers others.
Our healing may not be what we are expecting, but rather what God is doing in us in new and unexpected ways.
To have faith is to choose to participate in the renewal of ourselves and the world.
To have faith is to recognize that each of us is integral to that world.
To have faith is to offer that mercy to others.
To have faith is to continue to spring forward (or go deep) and make that connection when there is no going back, to embody our very being that is primary and forever wrapped up in God.
As the psalmist sings, “Let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is the dynamic name we use for God in three persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Three in One); We also use: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.
The attributes of Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer also describe our participation in divine activity.
As Jesus says, "I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you." -John 14:20 (Three in One).
This signing ourselves with the cross is an ancient embodied way to invoke the Trinity.
We start with God the Father, the head, the creator.
Then we move to the Son, drawing ourselves to our heart - to the very flesh of the matter. This is incarnation.
Then the Holy Spirit wraps us as a shield. It is a flow of energy, that sustains and guides us.
This signing recognizes that we are also holy temples.
Crossing ourselves with the sign of the Trinity allows us to bless ourselves.
That is pretty empowering.
It honors both our God and ourselves at the same time.
And it reveals that deeper truth that we participate in the life of God, that God is not some static and distant being, but is a way of life. Jesus is the way.
We are building a dwelling place within ourselves for the way of Jesus to be revealed.
In the letter from Peter that we heard a few weeks ago, he says that we “like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house.” We are building a dwelling place for Jesus in our hearts. This is the “new creation” that Pauls speaks of.
And God sees that it is Good.
…like from our reading of Creation this morning.
God creates… and it is Good.
And as humans we have also been given the incredible gift of creation. We are not like other mammals. We have mastery and skill as the psalmist sings:
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?…
You have made him but little lower than the angels; *…
You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
We have the potential to be that new creation and to build a new creation. We have the ability to forgive, to repair, to heal others through the choices we make and the grace of God, living into the spirit.
That’s where the incarnation (the heart of the matter) comes into play; in our own spiritual paths.
Humans are uniquely prepared to offer forgiveness.. Jesus models that in the incarnation and in his sacrifice to forgive the sins of the whole world.
Forgiveness is an ultimate gift. It is the “giving for” the space of the other. It is the great letting go that we can do to benefit others. It is redemptive in repairing the breach between one another and ultimately bringing us into the awareness that we are connected to God.
AND Then Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on the disciples to share the power of forgiveness: the gift of sustenance. We are sustained and sustain others when we allow ourselves to be in the flow of the Holy Spirit.
The sign of the cross reminds us that we live in that flow - and that we are shielded by a power greater than ourselves.
When Bishop Glasspool was here, she preached about the many languages that the Spirit spoke to us in on that day of Pentecost.
She reminded us that the Bible as a religious book is unique in that it has been translated into as many languages as possible. We are, as Jesus instructed, working to “make disciples of all of the nations.”
Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and prolific author, reminds us that the breath of God, the Spirit that moved over Creation in the beginning is also something that is shared in many traditions. The Jewish name for God YHWH mimics breath. He uses this as instructional for engaging in meditation.
In his many years of teaching Christian meditation he has encountered others who shared with him the breath and the word for God are shared across languages.
Allah, the Muslim name for God means breath.
In Hawaiian, HA is also God.
God is the sustaining breath of life
We are inside of God and not apart…and are uniquely created (as created creatures) to offer forgiveness (redemption) and love (sustenance) to those around us. These offerings can transform our way of life and relationships.
The Trinity is our Godhead in which "we live and move and have our being." -Acts 17:28 It is not a static fixed form. It is our icon of activity. The Trinity calls us into life-giving behavior.
Let us teach our children about the blessing of The Trinity which calls us into relationships of mutuality and love. Let us strive to help others in our community move from the idea that the Trinity is an old fashioned esoteric and theologically “heady” concept that most of us can’t grasp.
Let’s help show that the Trinity is a way of being in the world. It is embodied.
God is present with us now in these dynamic modes of giving and receiving.
Remember: in the reading today, Jesus says “I am with you until the end of the age.”
In the name of the Father and Of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My parents have a farm that has been their retirement dream since I was a little girl. I love to help with the animals. One of my favorite things to do is help my dad open a gate for new grass. The herd kicks up their heels with excitement at this new horizon every time. (It’s not like they are starving… they actually are fed quite well..but as they say “the grass is always greener on the other side.”)
If we could just as easily accept such simple gifts with such delight.
If we could slow down and just be: trust.
I think a lot of what Jesus is saying to the pharisees in this story about the shepherd has to do with trust. The sheep hear his voice and they trust. Trust is the relationship that is natural to a loving and trustworthy God.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. It comes every year. We hear the famous parable that Jesus offers and we listen to Psalm 23: The Lord is my Shepherd.
It is important to remember that in the Gospel Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees just after he has healed the blind man. It isn’t clear why these two stories are separated from one another, because this passage is a continuation of the conversation Jesus is having with the pharisees on that day.
If you remember: The blind man hears Jesus voice and listens to him. Jesus and the disciples come across the blind man by the side of the road and everyone is debating what he had done to born blind - and whether his parents did something terrible for their son to have been born blind.
Jesus says neither one.
He intends to intervene, But the disciples are concerned because it is the Sabbath when no one can work. The Pharisees are appalled that Jesus would do so. He is breaking the rules…But Jesus says, while I am in the world I am the light of the world.
“6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”
The man who was blind listened to his voice.
Jesus is impressing upon the Pharisees that life and abundance and healing is for all time and for all of us.
As the famous saying goes: “for those with ears to listen!”
In this Gospel Jesus uses a lot of metaphors to get this idea across: Sheep, Shepherds, gate keepers, gates…
The pharisees are confused… Which one is he?
I sort of think of it as Jesus trying to relate the different trusting aspects of a loving and trusting God to a shepherding metaphor …and ratcheting it up as he goes.
Eventually, he is fed up and exclaims: “don’t you get it?!
I am the gate!”
…he represents the gate to abundant life that is God’s gift to us…
…Not human made rules that wall and divide us with cruelty and judgment.
Although we associate psalm 23 with funerals, the psalm which talks about the good shepherd is about the promise of life (which is always Jesus’ first priority).
The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not be in want.
He revives my soul
Surely his goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
Psalm 23 is pastoral and comforting and speaks to life everlasting, but it also speaks very specifically to life now.
Abundant life is a life that is safe from predation, life that is nourishing with food and water, places to rest, places for revival and restoration.
That life is God’s promise.
The gate then in this story is almost synonymous with psalm 23s vision of abundant life… The gate provides closure for protection, for rest and revival. It also provides an opening and opportunity for newness of life, nourishment and abundance. That is its own kind of revival.
Revival is the improvement and betterment of our lives.
Jesus wants us to live into this revival.
Jesus is the gate to that life; We know him also as the light, and the way.
While he is in this world, he is the light of the world. I”m going to show you that loving way.
Jesus is not offering to construct a wall, or put a barbed wire fence, rather he is saying that he will be with the sheep building trust, for and with one another, embracing everyone. He is a guiding light, offering safe passage to a better life.
When Jesus tells this story to the pharisees who were suspicious of his healing a blind man on the sabbath, Jesus throws at them this metaphor which is a direct connection to the prophecy of Ezekial: The Lord will be Israel’s Shepherd. The Pharisees know this metaphor. Ezekiel was writing about the destruction of Israel in the 500s BCE. And Jesus is reminding these leaders that they are not being good trustworthy loving shepherds. In fact his metaphor is quite biting… because anything less than love we can recognize as thieves and bandits (stealing the joy of abundance from us).
According to Ezekiel “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. … I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. …16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
This is what Jesus has just modeled with the blind man. True justice. The justice of love. It is his model for how we may live with abundance. Open your ears and then your eyes may be opened.
Jesus is actually all of the metaphors he offers us in the parable…. Borrowing from writer Raj Bharat Patta : “The gate stays with his sheep as a lamb, opens the gates as a gatekeeper, and leads the sheep as a shepherd in caring for the world. As followers of ‘Jesus the gate,’ Christians are called to be a source of sanctuary, open to all people, particularly those seeking refuge(e), by offering care, trust, freedom and love. It is through such action ‘Jesus the gate’ comes alive today.
For those with ears to hear listen!…
This passage from John is considered part of the Farewell Discourses. It is one of the conversations that Jesus has with the Disciples on Maundy Thursday actually. So why are we hearing it again in Easter?
This is the Season when we are reading about the early church in the Acts of the Apostles. Some say Acts should be called "the Acts of the Holy Spirit" because it is the Spirit that lives through the early church …and continues to today. This is Resurrection Life.
The martyring of Steven is a grisly story that mirrors the Crucifixion of Jesus.
The early Christian Community in the Book of Acts is described as having singleness of heart. They shared their possessions - and their works were aligned with their beliefs.
The community of followers was growing, but also the way of life for the larger community at the time was being threatened on many fronts; Roman occupation, unfair taxation, different ideas. The community was not just in disagreement, but afraid and so angry that they want after Stephen as a mob.
Stephen is executed illegally for his beliefs, stoned to death by an angry mob. He was not given a hearing. The intolerance was real and it had devastating consequences. It fits with us in Easter because it is a story of the early church, but it also mirrors Jesus’s crucifixion. Stephen even repeats Jesus’s words…”While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” [Sound familiar?] Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he said this he died [Sound Familiar?].
In the Gospel of Luke Jesus says “forgive them father for they know not what they do”… and… “into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
The book of Acts reveals the Holy Spirit moving through the early church. We see it in Stephen.
The Spirit that Jesus gave them.
The Spirit of Peace
The Spirit with the power to forgive.
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Jesus says that in his father’s house there are many dwellings. I believe forgiveness is a key to these dwellings spaces.
This passage is often read at funerals, but Jesus is not just speaking of death, but of life, and not just some far off idea of life eternal, but life eternal in the now. It is very intimate and real. It is life and life lived abundantly, it is active.
It is following in the footsteps (as the collect says)…and using "the Gate” (as Jesus says).
Do you remember last week: Jesus refers to himself as the “gate.”
Here he goes on to say no one comes to the Father except through me. Emphasis on the word through. I am the gate.
Jesus is not talking about understanding God intellectually or by “going through the (ritualistic) motions.” Jesus is talking about integrating this relationship with God experientially.
Jesus as “the way and the truth and the life” offers not simply a model of behavior, but a “gate,” an expansive opening that comes when the heart and the mind are aligned. We refer to it as “singleness of heart.”
Singleness of Heart includes a lot of forgiveness..
Singleness is both the act of giving and the act of receiving.
Jesus says that within my father’s house there are many dwelling places. Forgiveness is the key to the gate: The gate of life. It will help us recognize these spaces within the community, within one another that allow for thriving, for dwelling, for refuge (as the psalm speaks of today).
To experience life abundantly, eternal life, is to help us recognize God’s life as our life. Jesus says that I am in the father and the father is in me.
In other places he says that you are in me and I am in you and we are all in the father.
This is the “infinite presence of God - the eternal pouring itself out as the reality of ourselves.” (James Finley)
There are many dwelling places, in each one of us. Sometimes recognizing the infinite presence of God is easiest in the Spring.
I can’t help but be reminded of God in the face of every budding flower. Each one with its own song, singing “God dwells here.”
Contemplative, Meister Ekhart said “Every creature is like a book filled with God.” [There are many dwelling places.]
“God is infinitely generous in opening the gate and giving it away…
And Meikart says “We are the act of receiving… it is not simply performative. It is what we are…”
“Our very being is God in Action giving.” (James Finley)
It is this singleness of heart that we sometimes feel in a flash when we experience something beautiful, intense, or painful, but poignant. We recognize home. Recalling: “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
Jesus finally says to them, if you can’t get this just yet… if you can’t simply believe this, then “believe in me because of the works themselves.” (The goodness that we do).
It is the singleness of heart that we share when we forgive one another - and when we receive forgiveness. It is the singleness of heart that Stephen showed in his life as in his death.
It is the singleness that Jesus came to teach through his life and his death.
And Jesus says we will do even greater works than he has done.
That is the power of the Spirit…
To give and to receive…
To dwell in the presence of the Lord.
That is the power of Easter!