June 4, 2017 – Pentecost

Pentecost    June 4, 2017   (Psalm 104, 1 Corinthians 12:4-13, John 7:37-39) Acts 2:1-21, 37-42 *************************************** All-at-once – almost-as-if-by-magic – a wild-wind is blowing inside the house, loud-as-a-hurricane – flaming-tongues-as-of-fire are blazing and dancing upon those gathered – who, now, are all speaking-in-languages-they-didn’t-know-they-knew – great crowds of Pentecost festival pilgrims now also are gathering… to listen to the sounds of their native languages spoken – asking “What’s going on?” None of this is magic. None of this is accident or coincidence. And… disciples know what’s going on, because they have been preparing. Making ready for this gift of the Holy Spirit. Doing what Jesus said to do. Gathering together for worship, prayer and study. Practicing faith together in community, day-by-day. There’s no way they could have known what to expect. But when the Spirit of the Living God comes upon them… They’re ready… (and…) Now here’s the apostle Peter, who famously had many difficulties keeping his focus…while Jesus was with the disciples in person – now preaching the good news of Jesus boldly. Preaching from the prophet Joel, re-working key phrases. Joel, many hundreds of years earlier said “In those days, says the Lord, I will pour out my Spirit…” Now Peter says “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit…” Signaling the last days of the old order have begun… And these last days we’ve been in ever since… Are also the first days of the kingdom of God on earth… (And if it doesn’t feel as if we’re living in the kingdom, remember – Jesus told us the kingdom comes along with many birth pangs…) Peter also doubles down now on the phrase “And they shall prophesy” – adding a repetition of this phrase that’s not there in the original text of Joel. Highlighting the all-inclusive giving of the Spirit, for men and women, old and young, slave and free – saying again,  “and they shall prophesy” to add yet-more emphasis… And in making these and several other modification to the text of Joel, Peter is faithful to the word of God… Since he’s doing all this under the supervision and guidance of the same Holy Spirit who inspired Joel’s prophecy in the first place. The same Spirit who now inspires creative adaptation of the prophet’s words for a new situation in time and place … and… Guided by the Holy Spirit, Peter now is able to interpret both the word of God and also the needs of the gathered crowd. Able to help the questioning crowd progress  from their first question: “What’s going on?” – on to the even better question – “What should we do now?” (And…) It’s not that Peter’s suddenly smarter than he used to be. It’s just that he’s learned to be responsive to the leading of the Spirit working in him, helping him come up with the right words at the right time… Perhaps we may remember times when we’ve been thinking and praying hard about something…And someone comes along and names exactly what we’re concerned about, without us even saying a word. (Now we’re not talking about driving by an ice cream stand on a hot day and everyone spontaneously saying “ice cream!” in unison. Nothing against ice cream – but – not every craving for ice...

read more

May 28, 2017 – Ascension Sunday

Ascension Sunday   May 28, 2017   Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-14 ******************************************************** Angels ask the apostles “why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky?” (But… ) Don’t you think we’d be looking up? If we’d just seen Jesus floating up, up and away…  and vanishing in a cloud? Seeing someone rising into the heavens and vanishing… Would, I expect… tend to get my attention… And yet… Even in this strange age of comic-book-super-heroes who fly faster than a speeding bullet… Even in a time where we almost yawn at yet-another narrative of space-and-time travel… Still, many of us tend to default to skepticism… when considering biblical accounts of the miraculous. And at the risk of sounding ridiculous – sometimes we miss the message because of the miracle. Sometimes we may be so distracted by the miraculous… that we don’t pause to consider… what the message really is… The technical mechanics of how Jesus gets from metro-Jerusalem to the heavenly kingdom is way beyond my knowledge… (And I’d be very suspicious of anyone who claims to know the inside details.) I believe miracles happen. And not being able to explain it by human logic…is part of what makes it miraculous… I like what Gary Melville of the Methodist Foundation, writes: “…I find it curious that medical doctors are comfortable, even embrace, witnessing medical miracles; the stage 4 cancer that disappears, or the restoration from paralysis. How is it that we wrestle with Jesus rising from the dead? In the West we love our logic and too often poo-poo the mystical.” The ascension is like the resurrection, part two. Certifiably miraculous; not explainable by means of scientific logic. We believe Jesus rose from the dead because of eyewitness accounts from those who saw him alive again. And the details of how resurrection and ascension happen really don’t matter…for those who have faith… It is important to know Jesus has risen from the dead – and has continued rising into heaven. But how it happens is beyond our understanding. Except to know it’s by God’s power… And it’s not necessary to envision heaven as spatially above the earth – that’s probably mostly metaphor – since elsewhere (Luke 17) Jesus tells us “the kingdom of God is among you” – or, depending on translation– “within you.” How Jesus gets to the heavenly realm – and where heaven is actually located –  really isn’t the point. ‘Going up’ is a natural way to think of heaven, since we call the sky “the heavens.” But if we think of “up” only in a geographically-literal way, our faith might not stand up to the superficial analysis of that Russian cosmonaut who famously claimed God can’t be real, because he personally went up into outer space and looked, but didn’t see God anywhere up there… (And of course, the bible tells us no one has ever seen God… Except that those who have seen Jesus know what God the Son looks like in human form.) But the Ascension isn’t really about what God looks like… (and…) St Luke’s main intent here, along with letting us know Jesus has gone into the heavenly realm to rule there, is to capture some of the intense feelings his disciples must have been experiencing… As...

read more

May 21, 2017 – If you love me

Easter 6 May 21, 2017   Psalm 119 (Portions in hymnal), 1 John 3:18-24, John 14:15-27   If you love me ************************ One of our daughter’s favorite movies is Fiddler on the Roof… (Maybe some of you’ve seen it?) There’s one particular scene in Fiddler our daughter Rohi likes to frequently reenact – in which Tevya, the husband, asks Golde, his wife, “Do you love me?” And he has to keep asking – because she acts as if this is a ridiculous question. He says: “Golde, I’m asking you a question…Do you love me?” She says “You’re a fool” He says “I know… But do you love me?” And this is a musical – the two of them are singing all the dialogue back-and-forth to each other – which sounds better than me retelling it. But I remember this scene vividly mostly because our daughter likes to keep asking, often with dramatic flair, many times a day, “Daddy, do you love me?” “Mommy, do you love me?” And after I’ve said “yes, I love you” a time or two, but still Rohi keeps asking “Do you love me?” … I tend to go into Golde-mode – and try first, ignoring the question, then deflecting it, saying: “Honey, I’ve got work to do.” Or “Rohi, it’s time to get back to your studies.” Or, “We were trying to have a nice conversation at the dinner table… Please don’t keep changing the subject…” But Rohi, like Tevye, won’t give up… And sometimes she reminds me a little of Jesus… Who we hear asking three times today, “Do you love me?” Actually he doesn’t quite ask like this… Til the end of John’s gospel, when he does ask the apostle Peter, three times, “Do you love me? Do you me? Do you love me?” Here today Jesus speaks in declarative sentences, not questions. Though I think the “do you love me?” question is very strongly implied – As Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Then, a moment later, says, “The person who knows my commandments and keeps them – that’s who loves me.” Then when a disciple asks a question, Jesus says a third time, “Those who love me will keep my word – (and) – my Father will love him– (and) we’ll make our home with them.” Adding “Not loving me means not keeping my words.” Jesus says “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (If you don’t, you won’t.) And maybe it’s a lawyer-ly side of me… But… I have been wondering this week – what does Jesus mean by “keep my commandments?” Because I’ve been remembering how in Matthew’s gospel Jesus says he came to fulfill all the law and prophets, not abolish them. And Rabbis of old added up all the ‘thou shalt’s’ and the ‘thou shalt-not’s’ in the First Testament and came up with 613 commandments. That’s more commandments than I can track. And I know the Ten Commandments are considered a summary of all the other commandments. And we know – when Jesus is asked ‘what’s the most important commandment?’ He says “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind… And a second is like it...

read more

May 14, 2017 – Home on the Road

Easter 5   May 14, 2017   Psalm 84, 1 John 4:13-16, John 14:1-14 (NRSV and The Message)          Home on the Road **************************************************************** How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! The psalmist says. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, Jesus says. “If it wasn’t so – why would I have told you– I go to prepare a place for you?”…and… All our readings today are about living with Jesus, living with God… (Even the big hairy-gorilla-questions Jesus raises – when he tells us ‘we’ll be doing even greater things than he does’ – and tells us again – ‘whatever we ask in his name for the Father’s glory will be done for us.’ Even these mysterious sayings, at the end of the day, are all about living with Jesus…) But – if it’s all about living with Jesus – all about ‘how lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord’ – why then does Jesus need to tell us “Don’t let your hearts be troubled?” Well… (to be sure…) we’re not exactly traveling in a straight line in recent weeks – as we’ve gone from Easter resurrection… back into the middle of John’s gospel…Looking again at what Jesus has said and done before Easter… but looking now in the light of his resurrection… And now as we hear Jesus say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” we may remember he’s giving his last farewell teaching for his followers. His soul has been deeply troubled, we’ve heard, just a few verses before where we begin today, as Judas Iscariot leaves the last supper to go and betray him. But here’s Jesus, telling the rest of his disciples not to be troubled. “Believe in God, believe also in me.” Jesus knows, though his disciples haven’t yet realized… He’s going to die the next day…The disciples don’t understand. But they must sense something terrible in the air… As Jesus says ‘In my Father’s house there’s many dwelling places… I’m going to prepare a place for you.’ The disciples may be feeling their world shaking, like in an earthquake, as Jesus lets them know he’s leaving… Even though he’s trying to be comforting, telling us he’s going before us, to prepare a dwelling place for us. “In my Father’s house,” Jesus says, “there are many dwelling places.” “There’s plenty of room for you in my Father’s home,” we hear it said in The Message translation. “In my Father’s house there are many mansions,” we have heard from of old, in the King James Version. (Noting that in the early 1600s when the King James Bible was first published, the word mansion just meant “dwelling place.”) It was only in later years that the word mansion began to mean a very large palatial residence…prompting poets to visualize heaven accordingly… I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop – In that bright land where we’ll never grow old… And someday yonder, we’ll never more wander… But walk on streets that are purest gold… Probably it’s best not to be expecting gold faucets on every sink and bathtub in our Father’s house. We really don’t know – but – it’s always good to have humble expectations. Still, I can’t help liking the sound of “many mansions in my Father’s house… and… I’m...

read more

May 7, 2017 – Shepherd us, O Lord

Easter 4   May 7, 2017   Psalm 23, Psalm 100, Ezekiel 34:1-6,11-16, John 10:1-16 Shepherd us, O Lord *********************************************************** Vermont, where I used to live, was more-or-less Sheep Capital of America, before the civil war… Till the sheep market soured…and most Vermont farmers switched over to milking cows… More recently, over the past half-century, sheep have made a modest come-back…I’ve got three or four sets of Vermont friends who raise sheep….Which I mention because… The bible was written mostly by people who lived close to the land. The bible’s full of stories that rely on agricultural images and examples… But times  keep changing, and.. I’ve been remembering visiting a monastery in rural Wisconsin once – and hearing a monk there from New York City, talking about being sent to the garden to pick carrots for supper… And not being able to find any. He went back, told the cook, “I can’t find any carrots. Are you sure we have some?” “They told me,” he confessed, “Carrots grow in the ground…(Not on trees.)” And I’m guessing most people know sheep don’t grow on trees… But I’m also guessing the concepts of God as shepherd and God’s people as the sheep of his pasture are metaphors that have become more difficult for many Americans… And I’ve been remembering once when our daughter Rohi was six years old and we were getting ready for bed. Reah was sitting close by Rohi’s bed, looking thoughtful. I asked Rohi, “What’s mommy thinking about?” She glanced over and said, “Mommy is thinking about life.” Reah and I laughed, and I asked Rohi, “So – what are you thinking about?”  Without missing a beat she replied, “I am thinking about the Old Testament.” We laughed some more… But our six-year-old got me thinking about how… Of course we should start thinking about any New Testament passage with thinking back to the First Testament… Where we find the first part of The Good Book chock-full of shepherds – Abel –  Abraham – Isaac, Jacob and sons – Moses – King David of Psalm 23 fame – all of them shepherds… And… Many of us know and love Psalm 23. We said it every morning when I was  in grade school (back in the dark ages). We always print the words of the psalm in funeral bulletins, but anytime I look around I see many saying it without looking at the words… From The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want… All the way to Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever… Psalm 23 is beloved spiritual-comfort-food… And of course we have Jesus, Good Shepherd of all the sheep. A wonderful Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul-spiritual-comfort-food-image. (We’ve got a beautiful stained-glass window portrait of Jesus holding a little sheep (in the Bourne church/right over here). Dottie featured that window in a sermon here a year ago.) And in John’s gospel – Jesus says he knows his sheep, his sheep know him, and he lays down his life for his sheep… building on the shepherd imagery of Psalms 23 and Psalm 100… But I can’t help noticing – we’ve also got some bad shepherd imagery today. As Jesus, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life...

read more

April 30, 2017

Easter 3  April 30, 2017   (Psalm 8) John 21 ************************************* Today’s story, the very last in John’s gospel, is one I’ve loved for a long time… Not always necessarily for the best reasons… As an obsessive-compulsive fisherman in partial-but-not-complete-recovery-from-fish-aholicism I’ve heard this story as a classic fishing story – an encouraging word when I’ve got the fish-aren’t-biting-blues. A ‘keep fishing, never give up’ message, that I’ve sometimes heard to excess…when it was time to get off the water and go home… Still, I think this story can be a good cross-training parable for learning to fish for people. Even when nothing’s in the nets all night, still we look for Jesus, listen to do what he says. “Cast your nets to the other side.” But this year the fishing parable hasn’t been quite working for me. (At least not yet…There’s still time…) I’ve only been out fishing once this year. I went over to Peter’s Pond in Sandwich, more than a week ago, to conduct some research for this week’s sermon. (What better place to fish than a pond named after fisherman Peter?) But like our gospel fishermen today, I caught nothing that day at Peter’s Pond… And instead of hearing Jesus tell me where to cast, I think I heard him letting me know this sermon’s not supposed to be so much about fishing this year. (“Sorry, dude,” I can almost hear him saying…) Except of course… Jesus with fishermen is always a big part of the back-story of the gospel. Over in Luke’s gospel Jesus tells Peter he’ll be fishing for people, after guiding him into another catch of big fish, filling the nets of Peter and his partners, James and John, sons of Zebedee, after another long night of fishing without success. Today’s story brings some essential biblical perspective with it. And sometimes the biblical back-story is meant to be seen in the foreground. (As we remember…) God makes humankind in the beginning and blesses us and gives us right off the bat first thing, dominion over the fish…(As Psalm 8 today reaffirms.) And John’s gospel starts with the same words “In the beginning” as Genesis… God takes seven days to make creation. And John, like Genesis, is very into seven, the biblical number of completion. In John’s gospel Jesus does seven signs (water into wine, multiplying loaves and fishes, etc). And Jesus speaks seven “I Am” sayings (I am the good shepherd, I am the light of the world, etc)… And John sure seems to want us to be thinking of a seven day working week of New Creation… as… John even reminds us of Adam and Eve in the garden, as we see Peter, who’s been fishing naked, not ashamed, as if back in the garden – now putting on clothes to jump in the sea, dragging nets full of big fish onto shore, re-entering the working week… And all these connections between John and Genesis are important… But… If we linger too long in the background stories, we might miss the big hairy gorilla in the middle of the conversation between Peter and Jesus this morning – meaning that other conversation between Peter and Jesus that we overheard back on Holy Thursday – where Peter promises Jesus he will follow him always, even...

read more