God's work. Our hands.

The kingdom of God is like ….

Mark 4:26-34

26Jesus said, “The dominion of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, the sower does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once the sower goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30Jesus also said, “With what can we compare the dominion of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33With many such parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
 

…I often think that we look for the signs of God’s kingdom in big flashy ways that we overlook the power of the mustard seed and we miss the fact that God, in God’s reign and time, calls forth the growth…

 

We advance the reign of God each time we participate in these little mustard seed like events, like helping a kid learn to read, or providing clean drinking water, eradicating a disease, creating jobs, alleviating suffering and pain, delivering health care to people. Raising children to become responsible life-enhancing adults – all these little efforts, God uses to grow the kingdom of God. In the same ways, our efforts at peace making, tackling prejudice and discrimination, protecting the environment and working to reduce poverty – are all part of the growth of the kingdom. Because the reign of God is about enhancing people’s lives. Jesus showed us that by healing, forgiving, and giving us resurrection – so that the powers of sin and disease, not even death would be able to stand against us.

God’s crazy forgiveness

Mark 3:20-35

[Jesus went home;] 20and the crowd came together again, so that [Jesus and the disciples] could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
28Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.  
We become a united family when we do the work of Jesus – devoting our lives to forgiveness, healing, justice, and peace. We lose the bonds of sin for people and show them the power of God’s grace at work in our lives to free us from sin, redeem us and sends us to live in peace – united in love, grounded in grace, and free to serve others in need.

God of Sabbath Rest

Mark 2:23-3:6 Pronouncement about the Sabbath

 One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’

The Man with a Withered Hand

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
 

 

Let’s be honest, the work of building the kingdom of God in our world today is hard, difficult, and often rejected. When the world talks about war, we talk about peace. When they shout for justice, we say forgiveness. When they talk about exclusion, we talk about inclusion. That kind of upside down, kingdom work is difficult and can be at times quite draining. Which is why we need to learn how to rest, to recharge, and reconnect to the profound source of grace that sustains us in this work.

 

The trick for us as a Christian community is going to be that we don’t have to rest at the same time. Like woodwind instruments in an orchestra, we as the Christian community need to learn to stagger our breathing. If we want to keep the good fight going, and have a song of peace and grace, we need to stagger our breathing so that we don’t drop the melody of God’s grace, or run out of breath before the song of peace is over.

A God that is more than we can ever understand

John 3:1-17 | Nicodemus Visits Jesus
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Just when you think that you have God figured out, there is always more to experience. Nicodemus was experiencing a “more than” moment with Jesus. Just when Nicodemus thought he had the ways of salvation figured out – he discovered the God in the flesh who was more love than he could ever imagine.

Which is why the church for centuries has been confessing this doctrine of the Trinity. Over the years the creeds by which we confess who and what God is and does have become “more than” words. These Creeds form the basis of our baptism and our faith. They teach us that God is always more than we can ever understand.

As we journey through our lives of faith, we live in constant discovery of a God who is always more grace, more love, more peace, beyond that which we could ever understand. When our human failings show up, there is always a God who is more than enough for us, and for this whole world.
As we mark this first Sunday in Ordinary time, we start, just as we do with every worship service, naming the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit – so that everything that comes after might be a confession and reflection of God who is more than we could ever understand.

Pentecost changes things

Bible Text: John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.

The Work of the Spirit

‘I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
 

We have been equipped just like the disciples on the day of Pentecost. We have been equipped with a voice, to use our breath and abilities to speak of God’s redemption in a world that is longing for a bit of Good News these days. Our individual giftedness might not be to speak to Parthains and Medes, Cretes, and Arabs – but as a child of God we have all been given the breath that becomes the voice of God to those around us – speaking peace, justice, love, inclusion, and grace. The RUAH blowing over the disciples that day of Pentecost was up to something calling forth something new, something different, reforming the way the disciples understood their role and the role of God in the world. That same animating wind is still up to something in our world today – calling forth renewal and reform as the church continues to witness to and testify to the breath of God given to each of us. We as God’s children have been given the power to blow change into our world – so that peace, love, and grace might begin to take root in our world and the work that God began in creation – to order and subdue the chaos – might begin to be real.

So what is God calling you to use your voice for? How is God equipping you with time, talent’s and treasures for the building up of God’s love for the world? May this Pentecost be a renewed hearing of the voice of God that calls us to be advocates for those in need for the sake of the entire world. May this Pentecost be a renewal of all our baptismal promises, to live for justice and peace, so that all may come to know the love of God that surpasses all understanding. May that same animating and reforming Spirit continue to push and blow the church of Jesus Christ into the corners of our world that need to hear of mercy, grace and love. Come Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus Prays for Us

Bible Text: John 17:6-19

John 17:6-19 Jesus Prays for the Disciples  

‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake’s I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Jesus not only prays for his disciples, he prays for you too. We, as disciples and followers of Jesus are also recipients of this prayer. That Jesus prays for us in our lives of faith, just as he prayed for Peter and Paul, Mary and Martha, Thomas and James and the rest of those rag tag disciple crew. Jesus prays for each of us – that we might be grounded in the truth, protected from the world, and filled with the joy of God’s love.

Because let’s be honest, the world is not an easy place. The powers of this world to tear us down and steal our joy are the evils that Jesus knew full well. So it’s a comfort for me to know that when the world has me down, when I feel like the world is out to get me, there is one who continues to champion me, to pray for me, to advocate on my behalf, because Jesus prays for us.

 

Being picked to be part of God’s team

**** I forgot to hit record at the beginning – so before the audio starts you miss this part of the manuscript:

“Growing up I was not the most athletic kid. I was short, not really fast, and certainly was not the most coordinated when it came to using a ball or my hands to do anything. I lacked the courage to courageously tackle…”

 
John 15:9-17 Abide in my love  

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
God often has a way of picking people the world would likely pass over – from young and poor Mary, to smelly and rough fisherman, to the centurion’s servant, the sick, the lame, the sinner, the lost, the forgotten, the marginalized, the lowly, the hopeless, the sinner and the saint, you and me – these are the people that God picks for the team – these are the ones that God chooses to be part of the unfolding kingdom made real on earth. I don’t know about you, but when the world reminds me of how infrequently I am chosen, the fact that God has chosen me, named me beloved, claimed me as part of the Holy Team of justice makers, and peace bearers, well that give me holy sense of comfort.
We are all part of God’s team – chosen in baptism – claimed and named beloved. And as members of God’s team – we are instructed with these words; abide in love. Love not at the world can give, but only God can give.

What is to prevent us?

 

Acts 8:26-40 | Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
26An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27So Philip got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31the eunuch replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
… what is to prevent us from allowing the church to push us in new directions?

Nothing, there is nothing that would prevent us. Because of Easter, because of grace, because of God’s love for us – nothing is to prevent us from being this kind of church.

This is the power of the story of the Eunuch and the power of Jesus’ love to abide with us post-resurrection…. Is that nothing is preventing us from growing the church guided by the Spirit and rooted in the love of Jesus. Our task as disciples is to continue to listen and respond to the Holy Spirit that emboldens us, like Phillip, to encounter people in their walk of faith and provide access to the love of Jesus that is the vine. So that, when people wonder if they could be part of the vine, if this could be a church that would embrace them as they are, we say, yes, this is the church of Jesus Christ, and you are most certainly welcome to abide in the presence of God’s love here. Amen.

Jesus the Good Shepherd

John 10:11-18 The Good Shepherd

‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
 

The voice of Christ calls, not just Lenny out into the world, but each one us out into the world today. To show love not just in words and speech, but deeds and actions as we tend to the scattered flock with God’s amazing love and the voice of the great shepherd who laid down his life for us. We are all called to continue the work of the great shepherd, caring for one another, loving each other, dying a little for each other, opening doors and tearing down barriers, bringing everyone into the sheepfold of God’s beloved flock.

Continue this work Lenny and we will continue that work here at St. Mark’s as we work together in the church to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd. For in that work, goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives.

Eating with Jesus

Luke 24:36b-48 | Jesus Appears to His Disciples

 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Perhaps it’s one of the ways that Jesus continues to show up and ask for something to eat from us. Jesus continues to show up in our world and ask us to remember the power of being a sacramental presence for others that leads to life. Jesus shows up in in frightened and broken times – reminding us of the power of this sacred meal; to forgive, to give new life, to sanctify and bless the work that we do as the body of Christ. And when we find ourselves like the disciples, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…” amid the complexities of our modern world – Jesus stands today to remind us of the power of eating together, of experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit to open our minds to the wonder of God’s ability to turn death into new life. For we see in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s love for the whole world. And we see that very same power of death and resurrection unfold each time in our own lives that we get pulled from the pit of despair and placed back on the road to life anew – God’s power to work resurrection in our very own lives.