Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Monday, May 30, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Preached at St. Luke’s, Bethesda, 5/22/11. John 14:1-14
he poet Langston Hughes wrote a short poem called “My People.” It goes like this: The night is beautiful, So, the face of my people….The stars are beautiful…..So the eyes of my people… Beautiful also, is the sun. Beautiful, also are the souls of my people….. This triptych of face, eyes and souls came to mind today when I read our Gospel passage with Jesus providing his own triptych when he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” and then he says twice “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” These two utterances of Jesus basically sum up much of John’s Gospel: whose main theme centers on the unity of God and Jesus. Yet even Thomas and Philip do not understand or believe: Thomas is unsure of how to find Jesus when he goes away; and Philip wants to be shown God the Father. These two, Thomas and Philip, have been with Jesus for three years and they still don’t understand. And yet they yearn to understand, they yearn for a closeness to God.
Jesus does not get angry or lose his patience at Thomas and Philip’s doubts and requests. Jesus does not mock their doubt and their lack of understanding. Instead, Jesus responds, he explains as best he can. To Thomas’ question in regard to not knowing the way, Jesus replies that he is the way, he is the truth, that he is the life. To Phillip, Jesus reiterates that anyone who has seen him has seen God…. Jesus also gives Philip a different way to believe when he says “then believe me because of the works themselves.” Jesus continues by saying “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.” Something else these disciples yearn to do, just as many of us do, as well: these works.
When we think of “the works” of Jesus we many times think of miracles: healing the blind, making the lame walk or some other miracle of healing. We can also think of Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John where he turns water into wine. Jesus says “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.” This promise can give hope to those of us who are wine lovers. Maybe we will be able to do things like that. But no, when we are out of Malbec, we can wave our arms over a carafe of water all we want, eventually we will still have to go to the store and buy some more wine.
What are these works to which Jesus refers? What can those of us who believe, or struggle to believe, actually do? The works of God are many and varied. Jesus had his and we have ours. Once in a great while there is a healing that can only be described as a miracle, and everyone is taken aback by it. But, generally, the works of God in which we are involved are different and can go, so easily, unobserved.
Yet, these acts, these works do exhibit God’s hand in our world: and these are where we act in certain ways that effectuate the kingdom’s happening now, here among us. In Logan County, Oklahoma recently, a 74 year old individual experienced just such an action. Marland was driving his pickup truck home, and went to cross the creek bed he had been crossing for 50 years without incident and his truck got swept away by flood-waters.
The flooding around the Mississippi has been severe these past few weeks, but Marland over in OK just did not expect the waters of his creek to be so deep, nor the current to be so strong, but wash him down stream it did. Some tree limbs that stopped him from swirling further down the river finally snagged his truck. He climbed on top of his truck (not bad for a 74 year old!). He thought about trying to swim to the shoreline, but was talked out of it by two passing strangers, who insisted that he wait for help. Each of these two strangers tried to reach Marland but couldn’t get close enough to the truck without the current almost washing them downstream.
Both of these strangers waited on the shore, keeping Marland company, while he sat on his pickup truck’s roof. Help finally came by way of some boats that made a life-line, so to speak, to reach Marland and his pickup, bringing him to safety and a continuation of life that could have been snatched away that day. A seemingly small act of kindness by two strangers helped save a life. A miracle? Probably not. A work of God talked about in today’s Gospel? Possibly. By staying with Marland, keeping him calm until help could come, these two anonymous individuals were performing God’s work in the world today in a personal way
“I am in the Father and the Father is in me” is such a personal statement being made by Jesus. This is personal, meant to get under our skin, like someone we love can get under our skin, become a part of us. Thomas and Philip where trying to understand this, and by asking questions they were trying to let these ideas of Jesus become personal for them too. It is part of their yearning to be God’s people in the world that we can feel so keenly at times. That yearning that we hear about in 1 Peter today. That yearning that led Stephen to become the first martyr of the new Church we hear about in our Acts reading.
By engaging these questions, by the simple act of actually asking the questions, we are making them personal, letting them get under our skin….. God can be found in these questions…Not completely understanding the Gospel accounts we hear is okay and delving into their meaning is what we are called to do. Having doubts is a natural and important part of that exploration. Look at how Jesus replied to Thomas and Philip today. He lovingly told them it was okay:….. no one needs to be ashamed of having doubts. This questioning is part of letting it get under our skin, making it personal and is part of doing God’s work….. Those questions are part of doing God’s work.
The results of God’s work can sometimes be immediate, having instant results as shown by the story of Marland, his pickup truck and the creek. As we know, most of God’s works are slow and harder to clearly identify. Neither of these types of work are magic in any way, shape, manner or form…... All of these works are profoundly holy in the way all the works of God are holy: they take our yearnings and what happens here on earth and, in our response, they give us a glimpse of heaven. As Langston Hughes said, our beautiful faces, our beautiful eyes, our beautiful souls yearn for God; and our actions make that yearning transform into the palpable presence of Jesus’ face seen in each other’s faces, eyes and souls. Amen.
Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Cherry Blossoms, jfd+ 2010
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Monday, May 16, 2011
Preached @ Grace Church, Georgetown, 5/15/11, John 10:1-10
e all know when we are doing something wrong. For almost all of us, except for those who suffer from some psychological deficit, we have an inner voice, or perhaps we think of it as a feeling deep within us that twinges and let’s us know, “Hey, there is something odd about what we are about to do.” And there are times in life when we choose not to listen, not pay attention and go full steam ahead. Afterwards, when we have had time to think, to reflect on what we had done, we can rationalize our way through having done the incorrect thing, or we can admit that we goofed. That voice, that twinge of feeling deep within us, is one of the things Jesus is talking about today in John’s Gospel: our ability to hear Jesus, to know Jesus, to follow Jesus.
All of our Easter Season Gospel selections this year have revolved around our ability to have faith in Jesus, recognize Jesus, hear and follow Jesus. The Sunday after the Feast of the Resurrection we had the accounts of Jesus appearing to the disciples and then a week later to Thomas. Neither the apostles nor Thomas believed until they saw the wounds. That account is about doubt, but more so about how we, as faithful Christians, come to believe, grow into our faith. And last week we were given the account of Jesus meeting two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognize Jesus until he performed the four-fold Eucharistic actions we do every Sunday: take, bless, break, give. And this week, we have Jesus describing himself as not only the shepherd, but the gate to the pasture, the gate to the Kingdom. He refers to himself as the gate five times in today’s Gospel passage.
These metaphors in John’s Gospel today, of the shepherd and the gate, go hand in hand with one another. The shepherd provides the image of God and the patient and constant care God has for us, even when we wander away from the fold. The image of the gate being an entry point into this pasture, this kingdom, gives us a sense of security and peacefulness into which God intends for us all to live. That phrase Jesus uses toward the end of our passage today “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” is a common and ancient Hebrew phrase: will come in and go out and find pasture. Jesus is talking about safety and peace and security and serenity provided by the gate that he embodies. And the final words to us by Jesus, that we “may have life and have it abundantly,” is Jesus’ usage of a Greek term that translates as a life that is vital and purpose-driven and spirit-filled…..These are very powerful images, powerful metaphors we are given to explore today.
These metaphors, these images that Jesus provides, which we are told were not understood, are referred to as a “figure of speech.” What that Greek word translated as “figure of speech” literally means is “proverb” and sometimes “parable”. So, Jesus’ voice, calling each of us by name to lead us to the kingdom….that voice that is known to each of us, can be thought of as a proverb, a parable. This intimacy to which Jesus refers, our knowing his voice, his knowing our individual names, is bringing us down the path of faith, of belief, of how we recognize Jesus’ involvement in our individual lives.
And Jesus uses the “I AM” phrase twice today. Remember that Jesus’ use of the I AM phrase is deeply offensive to the Pharisees and Sadducees, because of God’s saying to Moses “I AM who I AM.” Jesus is adopting God’s name for himself when he says “I am the gate for the sheep” and once again “I am the gate”…..very powerful images. This joining of the shepherd, the voice, and the gate, the entryway into the kingdom, are critical to the message we are called to consider in today’s Gospel selection.
One of those issues we are drawn to reflect upon is the question of whose voice do we listen to? If you believe the end-of–the-world folks who have descended upon this city and so many others, Jesus is coming to see us in six days: on 5/21/11. Now, I do not know much about these folks and their beliefs, and perhaps in six days I will rue my gentle mocking of their beliefs (but I think not), and yet are we to listen to them? Have they, somehow, figured out God’s intended purpose? I often wonder how those kind of extreme beliefs can take such strong root. It says a lot about a person to be able to stand in the middle of a large metropolitan area with a sign saying “Jesus is coming on May 21st” and withstand the taunting, or just as bad, the non-seeing ignoring to which these folks are regularly subjected. To whom have they listened? To whom do we listen?
How would we recognize Jesus, if perchance he arrives this coming Saturday, the 21st? How do we recognize Jesus today? If we accept the metaphor that we are all sheep, with this deep seated, this buried understanding that we will hear Jesus call us by name and then follow him into and out of this safe haven of a pasture….what does that mean for us, as a community of believers? How do we exist in a world, in a community, where we are all sheep waiting for Jesus to call us and lead us?
There is a developing theme this Easter Season of our ability “to come to believe” (as we heard two weeks ago), to recognize Jesus in sharing the four-fold Eucharistic action of taking, blessing, breaking and giving bread with each other. And we, as Jesus’ sheep, entering the kingdom through this belief and recognition of Jesus, become a community that dwells in love for one another rooted in that belief and recognition of Jesus and seeing Jesus in each other. We see Jesus in each other’s kindness. We hear Jesus in that voice inside our head directing us to right action, and chiding us for those times when we make a misstep. We feel the real presence of Jesus when we are joyfully living in our intentional Christian communities, reaching out to those who need, and who do not yet know that they need to be a part of this new life to which we all are a part.
This abundant life to which we are invited, this life that is in no way dull or disappointing, this life that instead is filled with vitality and purposefulness and the palpable presence of the Spirit, is available to all of us. We just need to tilt our head, listen to that sane, small voice….respond to the urge, that nudge, that tweak, to do that which is the right thing, and share it with our fellow community members. What if that voice, that nudge is Jesus’ calling us by name? Some deep-rooted, deeply implanted trigger given each of us by God, to help us step forward into this Kingdom, not away from it…..Our Gospel today is telling us to listen for the voice that calls us, be open to that nudge that prods us….to the Kingdom. Where those 5/21 “end-of-the-worlders” have missed the mark, is that we, as the body of Christ in the world today already see Jesus, know of the real presence of Jesus in our world, that Jesus is present in each of our lives….we see Jesus in each other’s actions and our own….in our listening to that sane small voice….in our responding to that Spirit-filled nudge….that voice, that nudge that is steeped in love and is a deep-rooted part of who we all are as people created in God’s image….And for that we can be eternally grateful.