May 19, 2013
Rev. Lyle McKenzie Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Acts 2:1-21 Ps.104:24-34,35b Romans 8:14-17 John 14:8-17, 25-27
To our young Confirmation students, you know there is a Confirmation tradition that some adults are more than willing to share of what they had to endure in preparation for Confirmation. Have you heard these stories? A favourite is about the legendary examination or questioning of Confirmation students in front of the congregation. Prior to being Confirmed, students would have to recite memorized parts of the Catechism, Bible verses, and respond to questions of doctrine and faith and life asked by members of the congregation. This was to assess if they were rightly prepared to be confirmed in their faith in Christ or not. What do you think? As intimidating as you might imagine this to be for the student, the person really being examined may have been the Pastor as their teacher!
So what do you think? Should we do this? More than once we had a quiz in class together. Usually I posed an either/or question, and you were to give the answer; which I admit was more often than not, “Yes.” Was Jesus a human being or God? Yes. Are we saints or sinners? Yes. Is it bread and wine or the gifts of Christ’s body and blood given for you in Holy Communion? Yes! It sounds easy, but it’s how we try to describe the mystery of God, especially as Trinity, in paradox. So, are you open to trying some more questions today? How about we try just one or two from the readings? And I promise I’ll ask others, even say, Council members, parents, retired pastors, the choir? Now who’s worried?
So we have this amazing scene that Luke describes in Acts of the Day of Pentecost, with wild winds that fill the house, fire that burns on each disciple and everyone is filled with God’s Holy Spirit and speaks in many different languages. A question, Is what we are witnessing a new birth and radical shift in what the followers of Jesus will do and be by the Spirit of God, or the fulfillment of what God had intended as the prophets had foretold it? Do you want to try and answer? Yes? No! It’s true that Peter says that what we are witnessing is what was spoken of by the Prophet Joel, that God says “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophecy and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.” But this is even more than Joel could have imagined. From this moment onward people are transformed. Scared disciples previously hiding in a locked room are suddenly completely changed by the power of God’s Spirit to say and do amazing things in the name of Jesus. And Peter is the first example, even as some sneered at him and accused all of them of being drunk so early in the morning.
Let’s try another question, Do you think that this Pentecost we are seeing a great transformation like this, in the Church of Christ and/or in the world; or is this about a time still to come when God will establish this great transformation, but right now we are more or less holding on or in decline as the Christian church on earth, but God can do great things even out of scarcity and loss. What’s your answer, Yes? No! The Church, as the world, is changing dramatically and many suggest we are in the midst of a great upheaval, or “emergence” as a Global Christian community and in the world.
I just spent last week at the annual Festival of Homiletics in Nashville, Tennessee. It was over four days of up to three sermons, and three lectures on preaching every day by some of the best preachers and teachers of preaching and contemporary minds of Christianity in North America. Don’t you wish you could have been there? The correct answer is yes! It was a great event, and there was a lot of great music and musicians as you might expect in the city of Nashville. One of the themes that kept arising over the week was best summarized by Phyllis Tickle, for years a religion book editor and author, she gave a presentation one on Emergence Christianity. She has a recent book by the same title and another that I just finished reading, The Great Emergence, both of which are worth reading or searching for on the internet for anyone wondering about what might be happening in the Christian Church in our time and what the future might hold. (Turning 80 years of age this year, she told us she has stopped accepting speaking engagements which will now end in 2015! She said she is hoping to spend more time listening.) What a delight to hear her; full of energy and hope for Christianity, and so very honest in her analysis and reflections on the great challenges and changes that are emerging in Christianity, similar to the Great Reformation and other great shifts in the world and religion that have happened in the past about every five hundred years. She identifies an emerging Christianity that must be/will be wholly different in a wholly different world. One way she describes this is from communities of “believe, behave, belong,” where a person ascents to certain beliefs, joins in the common behaviours of a community, and then belongs by becoming a member of that community; changing to communities of “belong, behave, believe,” where a sense of connectedness comes first, followed by a desire to join in common behaviours that are of value, especially for the common good, and to one degree or another finding and expressing common belief, but not all sharing in the same understandings. Authority therefore is less in the Protestant principle of “scripture alone,” and resulting doctrine and prescribed behaviour, and more in the network of God’s people gathered and sharing in common practises expressive of common values, concerns and needs identifiable in the life of Jesus as witnessed to in the scriptures and in the contemporary lives of Jesus’ followers.
Another preacher and speaker, very different, but a dear friend and colleague of Phyllis Tickle, was Nadia Boltz-Weber. Young, cool, tattooed and pierced, author of the blog, the “Sarcastic Lutheran,” she is founding pastor of House for all Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, which according to their website, is “a group of folks figuring out how to be a liturgical, Christo-centric, … irreverent, ancient / future church with a progressive but deeply rooted theological imagination.” Sound appealing? She too was a delight to hear, boldly honest about her own life struggles, deeply committed to an authentic Christian life that is a compelling and saving hope in this often insane world. She had a wonderful analogy for religion in our time. She said, “Have you noticed how few pay phones are left anywhere? You could conclude, gee, I guess people have stopped talking on phones.” So also as we see shifts in Church and church participation and conclude obviously people have stopped being spiritual. Her presence, while I couldn’t help feeling boring and out of touch in comparison, was full of hope.
A brief summary like this doesn’t do justice to the depth of their presentations. But what I want us to hear is that there are some who see in a radically changing world a new Pentecost happening for the church of Christ. I think this is something we know and feel in our hearts and guts. And this change is all at once challenging and even frightening and at the same time hopeful and energizing, especially I hope and pray, for you as young people affirming God’s promise of faithfulness to you, and by God’s grace and Spirit your identifying yourselves today and every day after we pray, as followers of Jesus, and to use the language of some of our study materials, new ways of seeing, hearing, teaching and following for living as God’s daughters and sons in this world. I hope and pray this changing church holds hope and a growing place of belonging for you, and for all of you, and for more people together with people of many faiths and traditions and circumstances and none yet, at all, whether they enter this particular phone booth of the cross or not.
A few other questions I want to ask you quickly that come from the other readings, and especially from Jesus. Do you know Jesus? Not completely as though any of us can. But do you have a sense you know Jesus through the stories of his life in the Bible and hopefully too in the love, forgiveness, care you have seen in the never perfect and often broken but good actions of Jesus’ followers? Yes? Do you trust that to know Jesus and some of the work Jesus did to change people’s lives and the world, you know something true about God, and God’s love and hope for you and this world? Yes? Do you think that God’s love and commands to live with greater compassion, for justice and peace and equity and non-violence and care for others, yourself and this earth beyond differences and struggles can change you and others for good? Yes? Do you feel the Spirit of Jesus in you? God’s Holy Spirit promised you in Baptism, to teach and remind you and help you not to be troubled or afraid, but to live for God’s love and hope for you and others in this world, in you? Yes? Do you believe you are children of God, God’s daughters and sons, with God’s prophecies of hope and life to share for others to see and hear in you? Yes? We want you to know today, that we see this Yes in you. And it gives us all hope. Yes!
May 12, 2013
Rev. Lyle McKenzie Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Acts 16:16-34 Ps. 97 Rev. 22:12-14,16-17,20-21 John 17:20-26
May we pray together… God our Mother, one with Christ Jesus, I pray for this community of the Cross and each person who has been, and is, and will be, of its life; that your Spirit always be in them; that with your whole Church in heaven and on earth they may all be one as you are one God; that in your glory and love the world may believe in Jesus who has made you known; so that your love may be in the world and the world in you, now and forever. Amen.
Jesus prays. These two simple words say a lot. Jesus prays. The question, if not for some a problem, comes up in the prayer itself. Jesus prays to God, “that they may be one, as Jesus and God are one.” Jesus’ prayer affirms the oneness of Jesus and God, and, Jesus prays… to God? It is part of the mystery of the Trinity of God that we confess and trust, that Jesus is a historical person, fully human as we are, here in John’s Gospel earnestly praying on the night before his arrest and crucifixion for his own faithfulness, for his followers with him, and in the words we hear today, for those of us who come after; and! we confess that God is also the unity of this same Jesus, fully divine, the Holy Spirit, and the Mother God, as one.
Jesus prays… to the Mother. I know Jesus uses the term Father. But what we know is that this term, Father, was a radical expression in Jesus’ time of the intimacy, oneness, indwelling of God and Jesus. So today, to use the term Mother, maybe especially on Mother’s Day, but any other day too, expresses well, and in some ways better, the unity of God and Christ.
Jesus prays… to the Mother… for his followers, and for those who believe in him “through their word.” Jesus prays… for you… and for me… and for everyone who believes in Jesus because of the word and witness of all the followers of Jesus who came before us. How profound is it that we have these words in the Bible of Jesus praying… for us. I hope you all know the gift and strength of people praying for you: To have someone say, “You are in my prayers;” To hear your name in the prayers of the community; to pray with others for one another; to have someone place their hands on your head and pray for you. It is profound, sacred, intimate, Holy ground.
As part of the Re-forming for Mission process that we are engaged in with other congregations in our Synod, and I am involved in as a pastor, I began meeting with a group of five other pastors of our Synod to evaluate and develop our leadership for mission. At our first meeting we committed to a common spiritual practise of pausing each day at 11:45AM to pray, all of us using the same simple form of Responsive Prayer from EvLW, to read the same designated reading for each day, and to pray for one another. We began the practise at our first meeting and I think we were all aware and a number of us commented then and since of the significance of this intentional praying together and for one another as colleagues. Shortly after making this commitment Lori and I went off to Disneyland with our daughter and family. Keeping even a simple prayer practise at the 11:45AM time in the happiest and one of the busiest places on earth wasn’t easy. I set my phone to the time and when it buzzed, I could at least pause, pray the Lord’s Prayer and say the Creed quietly to myself and remember my colleagues at that moment in prayer. It is a good practise and discipline that I am growing into. It is profound to pray and be prayed for.
Jesus prays… for you and for us; and for all his followers who come after even us, who believe because of our words and witness to Jesus. And that too is profound. Jesus’ prayer entrusts the good news of Jesus’ oneness with God in glory and love to his immediate disciples with him, those who come after them who believe in him because of their word, that’s us, and even those who come after us who believe in Jesus because of our word and witness, all of us united in Christ as Christ is in God the Mother, that the world may know that Jesus is sent from God and that God so loves the world as God loves Jesus. We are Jesus’ word and witness for those who come after us. This is our purpose and mission by God’s grace in Christ. This is a profoundly humbling gift and responsibility.
We have been hearing about the “Conversations” that have been happening within our community, again connected to this Re-forming for Mission process that we are engaged in. I think there have been more than 25 of them now, with one person asking a series of questions of another, and listening carefully and taking note of their responses. I have been hearing comments from people who have participated in the process, some wondering about some of the questions, but many also about the privilege of listening to others, learning more about them and their faith journey and the sense of God in their life. One person spoke of it as a kind of Holy ground. Another said we should all be part of a conversation, both the listening and the sharing. Some have asked, why are we doing this among ourselves when the focus is supposed to be on the wider community? The answer is, this is practise. It is a spiritual practise of listening to one another and our sense of God in the lives of one another to gain insight into what God may be up to among us, practising for doing the same in the communities and neighbourhoods around us. It is the spiritual practise of listening for God’s mission and where we are being invited to share in it. Jesus’ prayer is about God’s mission through Jesus for the glory and love of the world and for our being part of it in Jesus.
Jesus prays… for us, and his followers that we may all be one. What Jesus? Do you think there’s an issue with us not being one? It is interesting that unity of his followers is Jesus’ prayer from the very beginning. Jesus clearly was divine if knew already division among his followers was coming! Or was it already there? Like humanity was already there. Was division already there among the community of John’s Gospel that this prayer of Jesus is unique to John’s account? What we know to be true, even in the Biblical witness to life among Jesus’ first disciples, is that we are not all one. There were and are and will be differences and divisions between us as we seek to faithfully follow Jesus’ mission for God in the world.
We all know that differences in practise, in beliefs and understandings, even in style and culture and taste, divide us. And so Jesus prays that we might be one. As the Mother is in Jesus, and Jesus is the Mother, Jesus prays that we may be in them, so that the world may believe that Jesus is from God. The unity Jesus prays for us, is for a purpose. It is for God’s mission in the world. Again, Jesus prayer is, “The glory that you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Do we see clearly this mission entrusted to us? And how our unity in this mission, not in every practise, understanding or even belief, but unity in this mission of sharing God’s glory and love in Christ is essential to our being faithful to it, and that division between us, in this mission, diminishes it? Isn’t this why Jesus fervent prayer is that we might all be one, as he and the Mother are one? God, give us the vision and perspective of Jesus’ prayer for us that by your grace unity with one another makes us faithful to your mission in Christ Jesus.
A Buddhist, a Jew and two Christians were having tea. I know it sounds like the start of a joke but then they should be in a bar. And in this case we were having tea. And we started with a prayer. After some discussion at a meeting before, we said it was time for all of us to stop trying to pray in some way that took everyone’s faith perspective into account and pray instead unapologetically from our own faith tradition. In this instance, I prayed, and did just that, for each one of my colleagues, for God to bless them and keep them, giving thanks for the gift we are to one another, and for the grace – note the unapologetically Lutheran emphasis, to be united in our purpose together for the care of the students and others in the campus community. And I concluded in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. When I finished my Orthodox Jewish and Buddhist colleagues thanked me for my prayer. Not theirs, from their tradition, a Buddhist typically doesn’t pray to God. But for my prayer and the unity it brought to us in our diversity. And then we spent the next two hours catching up with one another, what is happening in our lives, in our ministries or service, our struggles and pains and hopes and dreams. It felt like we were one. We were. Even as diverse a group as we are.
Isn’t this Jesus prayer? Even beyond the Christian family, to be one with all others to the glory and love of God that we have come to know in Christ Jesus who is one with the Mother, that we might be one, they in us and we in them, that the world may know the glory of God’s love for the world in Christ Jesus. Jesus prays… and this is Jesus prayer for us and for the world. God, we pray, let it be ours in word and deed. Amen.
May 5, 2013
Rev. Lyle McKenzie Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5, John 5:1-9
I chose this alternate reading from the Gospel of John for the simplicity of it. The words of Jesus from John 14, the other option, are rich and beautiful in their promise and also metaphorical and mysterious in the way John’s Gospel often is. Praise God!
But the healing story is not. It is simple, even a little vague in details. There are alternate ancient texts that offer additions and more explanation that make it interesting. The name Beth-zatha, could be Bethesda or Bethsaida. And some copies have some or all of the following words: “waiting for the stirring of the water, for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had.” This addition may help in understanding what the man’s words to Jesus mean, but they are not present in the earliest and most reliable ancient texts, and they may also open up a belief in something that the Gospel, and maybe Jesus, want simply to dismiss. Of further interest is that the original site has likely been excavated in ancient Jerusalem, on the north side of the temple court near St. Anne’s Church, and there are in fact five porticoes or porches with roofs held by columns as the Gospel describes.
So we have a simple healing story, Praise God! likely in a historical setting, where ill people waited for the water in a pool to be stirred and to enter in hope of being healed. And Jesus sees all this, and says to one man who is there and who was ill for 38 years, “Do you want to be made well? And we heard the man’s response, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” This ill man clearly has his hopes set on the healing power of these waters, if he can just get there before others.
Every once in a while I turn on the television later at night and as I’m scrolling through the channels I come across one of the “religious” programs. The ones that catch my attention are when I am not sure if I am watching a parody of religious programming on a comedy show like Saturday Night Live or “the real thing,” if I can call it that. What is incredulous is when the shouting praises to God and dramatic actions of the “healer” and falling backwards or shaking of the healed, or, and I kid you not, the miraculous appearance of gold teeth in the mouths of believers, or the multiplication of money anointed with the water of Chernobyl – you can order your own small vile for anointing at home, for a small donation – all of it supposedly “real,” and in the name of and praise of Jesus. Well, Jesus name is mentioned a lot, but the healers are clearly centre stage!
We don’t know if Jesus is disturbed by the scene he sees of people waiting to be healed in miraculous waters. We just know he offers a simple and straightforward alternative. “Do you want to be made well?” We don’t even know if the man said, “Yes.” He is looking for help to get to the stirred-up water first. But Jesus offers him healing by simply telling him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk. And at once the man was made well…”
It’s a great and miraculous transformation. Praise God! The man now walks after 38 years! Praise Jesus! We wish it could be so simple and real for us and those we love. Or how about for everyone who is suffering? Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well?” and it happens. Yes, please God, yes!
But this doesn’t seem to even happen for others that we assume are waiting expectantly by the waters like this man. We don’t read that Jesus heals them all. And in fact we find out shortly in the continuation of the story that the man doesn’t even know who Jesus is, and was quick to blame and identify Jesus to the religious authorities when he is accused of walking with his mat on the Sabbath. But this doesn’t seem to matter to the story or to Jesus. Especially in John’s gospel, extreme need, persistent faith or even Jesus’ compassion, may be less the motivation than simply the way of God. Jesus sees the man and heals him, by God’s free favour, by God’s grace alone.
It’s a simple healing story maybe in contrast to the miraculous cures people can place their hope in. And 38 years of illness and desperate hope in some other cure are ended through Jesus’ words and by God’s grace and a life is radically changed forever. Jesus shows us, this is what God does.
My dear friend diagnosed with cancer now three years ago and given at that time less than a year to live, lives on! Praise God! He shared at the time how difficult it was to have people, especially those very close to him and his spouse, try to convince them to seek every possible treatment, no matter how alternative, bizarre or expensive. He said at the time, they just couldn’t go there. They needed to accept the reality of what they were facing, trust the medical treatment they were being offered, take care of themselves and one another, and beyond that to trust their lives to the God of grace they believe in. And that’s what they continue to do. They have no explanation for why against all odds his cancer is “resolved,” – the word that is used. But they give thanks for each day as a gift and live on and serve on as they have before. And of course, they are radically different too. As my friend can say with his wry sense of humour, because “I am a miracle, you know.” Yes, you are; God’s miracle, by grace alone. Praise God!
Is there some way we can all claim this simple healing story from John’s Gospel as our own without either feeling bitter that God has not cured us or our loved ones as we prayed, or feeling entitled, believing ourselves more faithful than others because we have known God’s healing?
At first glance, most of us may think, I haven’t had any kind of miraculous healing; no story of radical transformation in my life. It is probably very Lutheran to avoid any possibility of dramatic conversion, preferring quiet suffering as the way of faithfulness. And yet doesn’t the story invite us to always see the possibility of healing, even radical transformation by God’s doing, in our lives and in the lives of others, even in this often broken and desperate world?; To see, that every day! radical healing and transformation happens by God’s grace alone. Doesn’t that open our eyes wide to what God may be doing in this world and in our lives and how it may be possible for us to participate in what ultimately is living out of hope, not fear?
The story of Paul’s dream and Lydia and her household’s Baptism, is this kind of story of miraculous transformation. First, Paul’s and those with him, to follow a dream to travel to Europe with the Christian message, fulfilling the promise, “from Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth;” to Lydia’s and her community of women, from praying by the river to Baptized hosts of those who bring this Christian message, these women the first Christians in Europe and future leaders of the church of Philippi; it’s a real miracle story. Praise God!
And so also John’s vision from Revelation, a message to churches likely suffering persecution and exile following the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, offering visions of a new Jerusalem, with no need for a temple, because God and Jesus the lamb are its temple, its light and life, its safety and security, so its gates are never shut, open to all nations that bring the glory of God to it. Praise God! And the river of the water of life, and the tree of life, with fruit every month and leaves for the healing of the nations, God’s Eden is restored, with the throne of God and Jesus the Lamb, and the servants of God worshipping and praising God, day by day, because there is no more night, face to face, forever! Praise God! Praise Jesus! It’s a miraculous vision for a community to hold onto in desperate times. And to trust it is unfolding in great and small ways even now, even in and through us by God’s grace alone. Praise God!
What miraculous hope or radical transformation do the waters of Baptism, the meal of Jesus, the prayers and songs of the saints gathered hold for us and others and this world today by God’s grace? What miraculous healing and hope could the Shelbourne Community Kitchen, our Re-forming for Mission conversations, or the other projects, groups, studies, classes, offerings for the ELCIC and others, that we offer and work together for here and with others, hold for this world and our neighbourhood by God’s grace? Isn’t the story of a man who was ill for 38 years suddenly healed by Jesus, hope enough, that, by God anything is possible by God’s grace? Praise God! Thank you Jesus! Amen.
April 14, 2013
Rev. Lyle McKenzie Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Acts 9:1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
Everyone has a history. It may be true as a general statement, but it is especially true for the followers of Jesus in today’s readings. Everyone has history with Jesus.
There’s a way people use this phrase. “We have history.” Do you know what I mean? You are with someone, in a restaurant or somewhere, and there is a chance meeting between the person you’re with and someone else they seem to know. And the encounter and conversation may seem a little awkward or you sense more is happening than you know. When it is over, you ask, “What was that all about?” And the reply may be, “We have history.” Not to trivialize what’s happening, but the disciples in today’s story, and Paul too, and maybe each of us, we have history with Jesus.
Do you remember their stories as you hear their names? “Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.” Everyone, even the two unnamed disciples, have history with Jesus.
Peter’s, most of us know. In part because as we heard in Holy Week only short weeks ago, despite Peter’s claim that he would “lay down his life” for Jesus, it’s Jesus’ prediction that holds true and Peter denies Jesus three times. And we can’t forget Peter is also the one who confessed Jesus as “the Holy one of God.” Peter has history with Jesus.
We know Thomas the Twin’s history with Jesus as well. It was just in last week’s readings that we heard Thomas insist on seeing and touching the scars of Jesus’ crucifixion to believe that Jesus is alive. And a week later he sees Jesus and proclaims, “My Lord and my God.” Earlier in the Gospel of John, Thomas committed himself to go with Jesus, saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” And it is Thomas who said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” And Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Thomas has history with Jesus.
Nathanael’s story came at the beginning. Jesus invites Philip to follow him. Philip tells Nathanael, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” And Nathanael’s not so respectful reply is, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Using the words of Jesus, Philip invites him to “Come and see.” And in the ironic, even humorous encounter that follows, Jesus proclaims, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (…except of course when he trashes anything from Nazareth.) Nathanael’s quick reply is “Where did you come to know me?” Jesus answers, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” And Nathanael, maybe because he is caught, maybe because he does see, proclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the King of Israel.” Jesus answers, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” Nathanael has history with Jesus
And what do we know about the sons of Zebedee? This is the only direct reference to them in John’s Gospel. But from the other Gospels, we know them by name, James and John, and something of their history with Jesus. Jesus called them from their fishing boats and they left their father and nets to follow Jesus. And it was either their mother, or they themselves who came to Jesus asking to be his right hand man and lieutenant in his kingdom. Jesus asks them if they are able to drink the cup that he will drink. And their naive reply is, “We are able.” And speaking to them of a completely different realm, Jesus tells them, they will drink it, but sitting at his right and left is not his to choose. And then as elsewhere, he warns all the disciples about ambitions to be the greatest and that instead Jesus’ way and theirs is not to be served, but to serve. The sons of Zebedee have history with Jesus.
The two other disciples in this story are unnamed. We don’t know what their history is with Jesus. We just know that, like the others, even like us, they have history with Jesus. They have witnessed all that Jesus said and did to share God’s so loving the world. And they watched Jesus suffer and die even as they kept their distance. And they have seen Jesus alive and among them, breathing peace and the Holy Spirit on them as they hid in a locked room for fear. All of Jesus’ disciples have history with Jesus.
And to move for a moment from the Gospel to Saul or Paul’s story of dramatic conversion or is it calling from persecutor of Jesus’ followers to Apostle and missionary of Jesus to the Gentile world, Saul/Paul certainly had history with Jesus’ followers. But the story itself claims it is a history of persecuting Jesus. Saul has history with Jesus.
Why is it important to recall all this? Maybe because all of this history seems to be part of the encounter with Jesus on the sea shore as he invites them and all of us to breakfast. And in this encounter and conversation, something happens to that history, and to all of us through Jesus alive and among us. Is it possible that all of this history for each one of Jesus’ disciples and for us, is somehow, graciously, wonderfully, redeemed?
First, Peter says, “I am going fishing.” And the others go with him. There is something about trying to go back after something so unbelievable, so horrible, even so wonderful, has happened. But it can’t be the same, because you aren’t the same. They go out in the darkness and catch nothing. Then Jesus appears. He instructs them how to fish. And the catch, like before, is more than they could have imagined, and they recognize Jesus. Peter jumps into the water. The other disciples bring the boat to shore. Do you remember what happened the last time in their history with Jesus? When they got to the beach with nets full of fish, they left their nets and followed Jesus. Is this returning them to the beginning and to that calling again? Is Jesus saying to them, my calling you to “Follow me,” is still my call to you. Follow me.
Jesus invites them to a breakfast of bread and fish. Peter hauls the net ashore – 153 fish we hear, (Was someone there from DFO to count them?) but the nets don’t tear. Jesus takes the bread and gives it to them, and the same with the fish. Do you remember how Jesus fed the disciples and the thousands? Here it happens again. These are the Holy Communion stories in John’s Gospel. Jesus again feeds his disciples and the hungry multitudes for life. This is now the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead and it changes history, even ours with Jesus.
We’ll get to Peter’s history in a moment. But Thomas, needing to see Jesus alive in the flesh, is given another opportunity. Nathanael, who doubts that any good can come out of Nazareth, is given the chance to see even greater things in Jesus alive and with them having breakfast. The sons of Zebedee, with their hopes of greater glory with Jesus who they then witness drinking the cup of suffering and death, now eat and drink with Jesus alive and serving them just as he instructed. And the other disciples, and even us, with history with Jesus of maybe doubting too, or of keeping Jesus at a distance, or being afraid, Jesus invites us to a meal with him, alive and in the flesh, to feed us to feed the world. History is changed. The disciples’ history, our history with Jesus, is changed by Jesus’ gracious appearing, alive and in the flesh.
And what about Peter? Jesus speaks specifically to him, three times asking him, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter replies, “Yes.” And each time Jesus calls him again to feed and tend his sheep. Peter’s history of denying Jesus three times is overturned as Jesus renews his call to feed and tend his flock three times. And Jesus says again to Peter, the other disciples, and to all of us, “Follow me.” Despite his history, Peter will faithfully do so, even to his own death. And the mysterious “disciple whom Jesus loved,” will do so even to exile. And Thomas and Nathanael, James and John, the other disciples and each one of you, by God’s gracious redeeming in Jesus risen and with us, will and do follow, in many and various circumstances, in struggle and joy, in suffering and peace, in death and life, serving in the name and Holy Spirit of Jesus who is “the Holy one of God, My Lord and my God, Son of God and King, the way the truth and the life” as Peter and Thomas and Nathanael and James and John and all of us confess.
And what about Saul/Paul? Could his history with Jesus be more in contrast to what Jesus calls him to be, from persecutor of Jesus to an Apostle bringing Jesus’ “name before Gentiles and Kings and the people of Israel?” This is how Saul/Paul’s history is redeemed in Jesus risen and with us. And if Paul, what about you, what about us? Early in my serving as a Pastor I was invited for coffee by and elder pastor in the city. We met in a downtown grocery store cafeteria, a favourite hangout of his when things like that still existed. He asked me, “Tell me about yourself.” He was straightforward like that. I began with basic information but then felt compelled as I typically did then, to tell him about a particularly difficult time in my history when I struggled with my life and questioned my serving a vocation in the church. He replied simply, “Oh, that’s why you’re a good pastor. You know failure and forgiveness and to keep following.” Just like that he changed that history for me. I never felt the compulsion to necessarily share that part of my history with everyone or anyone again.
No matter our history, the invitation and assurance of these histories of ours, of Jesus and his followers, remind and renew us in God’s grace and our calling, in the name and Spirit of Jesus to feed and tend Jesus’ sheep and this whole hungry world as Jesus and his followers before us. This is our history with Jesus. Redeemed by the cross and resurrection of Christ Jesus this is our calling for the sake of the world. And what might the future hold? Alleluia and Amen!
April 7, 2013
Rev. Lyle McKenzie Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29; Revelation 1:4-8 John 20:19-31
Peace be with you.
One person tells the story that during his seminary training this Gospel reading from John was the text for an introductory class in preaching. Everyone in the class was to research and write and deliver a sermon on this reading. He said, over the term they heard and evaluated more than 20 sermons on this same text. And then he said that this professor did this every year for as long as he knew, both before and after his time at seminary. Potentially, hundreds, maybe nearing a thousand sermons on the same text by seminarians learning the craft and task and spirit of preaching, were all heard by the same professor. I think that she deserves or required a special dispensation of grace. He said the exercise taught them at least three important lessons. One was the depth of these words, and that their insight about God and the crucified and risen Christ Jesus and faith and life in his name for his followers in the world could never be exhausted. The other was how diverse the approaches to a single reading from the Bible can be and that there is always more than one careful, thoughtful, faithful way of hearing a text. And the third was that the same reading and preaching on it can evoke such very different responses in a group of diverse hearers, as though they each heard a slightly or sometimes very different reading and sermon. These are very good lessons for new preachers to learn right from the start and for an old one to be reminded of.
This is similar to a process that is part of the Synod’s “Re-forming for Mission” initiative that our congregation has begun. Part of the process that we began at a meeting on Thursday is called “Dwelling in the Word;” Some of you are familiar with it. It is a process that encourages a particular way of listening to a Bible reading and our individual and collective hearing of it in our time and place. It begins with a brief time of quiet to prepare ourselves to hear the reading. The text is read once, with a brief time of quiet and then a second time, preferable by a different voice. Three simple questions are asked, and then people are invited to sit in pairs and hear each other’s responses to one or more of the questions. After about five minutes everyone is invited back together and each person is asked to say a little, not about what they heard in the reading, but what their partner in the discussion heard. Every Council, Board, Committee, group in the congregation is encouraged to begin with this “Dwelling in the Word” each time they meet. And what’s interesting is that we are strongly encouraged to use the same Bible reading each time, for more than a year. Now you may be thinking this will require a special dispensation of grace to continue doing this with the same reading and in many cases the same people each time. But the purpose is to discover or it could be to recover ways of listening both to words of the Bible and to one another in the hope of hearing God’s Spirit speaking anew in both the Bible and us every time. Discovering, in the process, what God is up to, what God is doing, what God might be calling us to be and do together with others in our time and place. Other parts of the process include conversations that you will be invited to join in, conversations with people in the neighbourhood, and gatherings as well. Most all of it focused, as you may have heard me say before, on our listening to the Bible, to one another, and to our neighbourhood for what God is up to and how God may be inviting us to join with others in God’s mission for the peace and wholeness of this world.
Now that’s a lot to say by way of an introduction and connection to this rich inexhaustible reading from the Gospel, not to mention the readings from Acts and Revelation, but the principles all apply.
First, in hearing this inexhaustible text, there is so much going on and many ways to hear it. One way to hear these words today is beginning with the last phrase in the conclusion, “that through believing you may have life in his (Jesus’) name.” What does a believing life in Jesus’ name look like?
We could just hear the crucified and risen Jesus saying “Peace be with you,” three times to his followers and reflect on what God is saying to us right now in our lives and this time in our world. The disciples’ response to all that has happened is to hide in a locked room out of fear. Jesus meets them where they are and speaks peace to them and their fears. He shows them the scars of his crucifixion even as he stands with them alive, and they rejoice, and Jesus speaks peace to them in their joy. And a week later, Jesus meets Thomas in his doubts and speaks peace to him too. Anyone in fear or doubt among us need to hear Jesus’ word of peace today? Or anyone anywhere in our world? Life in Jesus’ name, is a life lived in and for peace in this world.
And Jesus’ word of peace is a sign of the fulfillment of the promised Holy Spirit that Jesus now breathes on his followers. At Easter I mentioned that in John’s Gospel Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, his ascension and Pentecost are all part of a whole, not unfolding over 40 days as in Luke’s Gospel, but happening, fulfilled all at once in the crucified and risen, the scarred and mysterious bodily presence of Jesus that appears even behind locked doors. Jesus crucified and risen as Christ, Messiah, is forever present with us in the Holy Spirit. Life in Jesus’ name is a life lived in the promise and trust of Christ Jesus present with us always and forever in the Holy Spirit.
And God’s mission that Jesus has fulfilled he now gives by the Holy Spirit to his followers. “As the Father has sent me so I send you.” Life in Jesus’ name is a life that is sent out with and for the good, the peace, the hope and healing of this world.
And in following the mission of God in Jesus, we are sent, in one person’s words, “to announce, mediate and model” forgiveness in Jesus’ name. I don’t hear these words of Jesus about forgiving and retaining sins as his turning over keys so the church can see itself as the gatekeepers of God’s forgiveness. They are an invitation for us to see that by God’s Spirit through Jesus’ crucifed and risen, we are forgiven and have the capacity to forgive as Jesus does, and by forgiveness invite others to share in life in Jesus’ name. Life in Jesus’ name is a life of forgiveness.
And Thomas the twin, do we say, poor Thomas; so much has been said about calling him doubting Thomas, or Thomas the healthy skeptic? With twins in our family, I get how twins engage the world in a physical way; at least ours did and still do. We think it begins with continuous wrestling in the womb and never stops. And isn’t Thomas a hero for representing the doubts we all have at times? We want to see and touch and smell and taste and not just hear to believe it’s true. The truth seems to be that there is no simple formula for seeing and believing or believing and seeing, or not seeing and yet believing, or seeing and not believing… the concern of Jesus is coming to us so that we come to or continue to, the original words mean both and maybe need to for the sake of all of us… come to and continue to believe – but the better translation may be, to belove; be-love and confess, as Mary first did on Easter morning to the disciples, as the disciples did for Thomas – saying “we have seen the Lord,” and as Thomas does for all who come after, confessing Jesus crucified and risen, is “My Lord and My God.” Life lived in Jesus’ name is beloved in Jesus crucified and risen and with us, and confessing through all doubts and fears, and by grace at times beyond all doubt, that Jesus is my Lord and my God.
A commentary I read this week, began simply, because it can be hard to believe… yes, it can be. Because it can be hard to believe we need to hear these words again and again and again, listening anew for what the Holy Spirit is saying to us about what God may be up to in and through us and our neighbour in this world, hearing again and again and again God’s gracious invitation to believe Jesus crucified and risen and with us is the Messiah, the Christ, God’s beloved Son, and that through be-loving you may have life
- a peacemaking and peace-full life,
- a life filled with God’s Holy Spirit,
- a life sent for God’s mission in the name and Spirit of Jesus,
- a life forgiven and forgiving;
- a life confessing Jesus Christ crucified and risen and with us forever,
is my Lord and my God;
Again and again and again, that’s life in Jesus’ name! And that is life! Peace be with you. Amen.
March 31, 2013
Rev. Lyle McKenzie Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1Corinthains 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12
Blessed Easter and blessed eighth day. In some early Christian traditions this day is known as the eighth day. I like the image because it connects to the week past and identifies the beginning of something wholly and Holy new. Although John’s story begins, “Early on the first day of the week,” we can imagine calling it the eighth day connecting it to all that has come before in the betrayal, suffering and death of Jesus and marking an entirely new day in Jesus Christ risen from the dead. Alleluia! This is so new and so amazing it is like an eighth day of the week. And so, welcome to this eighth day of the week. And a question, what happened?
I began with asking this question this Holy week: What happened? Now, you may wonder if a preacher is asking, “What happened?” on Easter Sunday, are you in the right place? Or maybe, is the preacher in the wrong one, place, or profession maybe? “What happened?” in Holy week and especially on Easter Sunday, really? If I don’t know, what am I doing talking?
I started asking it on Palm and Passion Sunday. What happened that Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem to the acclaim of his disciples shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” and just a few paragraphs later he is betrayed, arrested and crucified to death. You can see where the question, “What happened?” comes from.
And a first answer may be as simple as the events of the day’s story. On Palm Passion Sunday we read and hear of the betrayal, false arrest, mock trial and brutal crucifixion and death of Jesus at the hands of Roman and religious authorities. We can answer simply, that’s what happened. As we confess, Jesus was crucified, died and was buried.
On Maundy Thursday, what happened? The stories are of the Passover from Exodus, Jesus washing the disciples’ feet from John’s Gospel, and Paul passing on what he first received in the celebration of the Holy Meal of Jesus. We can say simply, in the shadow of the cross, that’s what happened.
On Good Friday, what happened? The story from Isaiah is of the servant of Israel who suffers and bears the sins of the people. And John’s gospel gives another account of Jesus’ passionate suffering, his trial before Pilate and death by crucifixion. Again, we can answer simply, as we confess, Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. That’s what happened.
But the question through this week and now on the morning of the eighth day invites us deeper. For Lutherans it is like Luther’s question in his Catechism, “What does this mean?” Asking what happened means more than a recounting of events as they unfolded. It is also asking what those events mean for followers of Jesus Christ. This is certainly in the minds and writings of the first evangelists, and it is in ours too, isn’t it? Lent came early for our family this year in the sudden death of our 18 year old niece that hit us with the question of “what does this mean” like a punch in the gut, taking all the breath/Spirit out of us. And I know the same is true for some of you, I am sure the same is true for many of you and how much more for this broken and dying world. This holy week never shies from suffering and death and honestly asking in the face of it, what happened?
In the resurrection account from John’s Gospel this morning we hear expressions of the deeper question of what happened. Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty and assumes the body of Jesus has been taken by someone and runs to tell the other disciples. They run to the tomb, Peter loses the foot race but enters the tomb first and sees what the other saw already, only linen wrappings and no body. We read that the other disciple whom Jesus loved sees and believes. John writes, “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” It is difficult to tell what they believed, because then they just go home.
The story goes on to tell of the encounter first between Mary and two angels and then between Mary and Jesus, and in neither instance can she see beyond her grief. But Jesus speaks her name, “Mary!” and then she sees. Then she believes. And if she wants to hold on to Jesus as he was before, Jesus says, she can’t any longer. In John’s Gospel Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and giving of the Holy Spirit are all of one happening. So Mary goes and tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” Do we hear and see what happens? To see and believe in the good news of this eighth day that Christ is no longer dead and buried, but alive and well and returning to God so that his Spirit remains with us forever, is to be a witness. Mary becomes a witness to this eighth day resurrection hope in Jesus alive. Mary is a witness.
What happened? The mystery that through the cross of Jesus, God spares the world from the death that it brought upon Jesus and instead raises Jesus to new life and to return to God that Jesus the Christ, the saviour of the world is with us and all humanity and all creation forever, for life, life over death, that no suffering, no death, in this broken world is beyond the reach of God’s loving embrace of life over death forever! I’ve seen that risen Christ Jesus, even in the face of death, and I believe it.
What just happened? I am a witness to the risen Christ. I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting as we confess. You too? Drawn to gather together on this Easter festival day, to proclaim Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!, amazingly you and all of us together, we are witnesses! witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and all the dead to life everlasting. And I would say, this has got to be a week with eight days and some kind of working of God’s Spirit of new life for a motley crew like us – no offense, you all look very good this morning, but I just wanted to say motley crew on Easter morning! nothing is beyond redemption…. for us to be God’s witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to give life to the whole world. And we can’t go home and tell no one, can we? On this eighth day of the week, with what just happened in all this new life risen before us – in word and more in deed, by the Spirit we are God’s witnesses in this so often dying world of new life for all forever in the risen Christ. Did that just happen? Amen.