Saturday, September 29, 2018

Apart From Me

I’m home alone.  La Donna is in Albuquerque with her aunt and uncle, catching up and getting ready for whatever might be next as she is executor of their estate.  Rhys is off helping move a playground at church, and then hopefully going to lunch with friends, as there is nothing he enjoys more than eating out, instead of leftovers with dad.  Which is fine, it’s great.  I like being alone.  It lets me write without interruption.  I’m enjoying being alone.  Well, alone with a neurotic dog who barks at shadows, and a cat with ADHD who simply can’t settle for more than a few seconds before she has to launch herself off to new horizons, and another cat who is convinced she’s unjustly imprisoned inside when the back yard beckons.  This is us, alone together.  This is how we go, today at least.

Matthew 28:16-20 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

“As you go,” He said, a way of living, a way of being, of sharing the essence of yourself.  That’s what it is to disciple another, sharing the essence.  The methodology is simple, He said, baptize and teach.  Baptize, offer a new identity, a new understanding of self and one’s place in the world.  Teach, share life as you learned it, are learning it.  But then something else.  One more thing, He says, one more action word, one more verb by which we live our lives as we go.  Remember.  That’s it?  Just remember?  Remember what?  “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Remember that you are heading somewhere - to the end of the age, which is the beginning of a new age, a new kingdom, a new way of living, that same way that you are learning to live now.  You’re learning to live in a new world, the one you are heading toward.  The end and the beginning.  Remember that you are heading someplace. But also, remember you don’t go alone.  “I am with you.”  Remember, you’re heading somewhere, and you don’t go alone.

John 15:1-5   "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.  2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.  3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.  4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.  5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 

Jesus is on his way out.  On his way to suffering and death and life and ascension.  Out.  Away.  Apart from them.  And he knew it and told them.  Over and over he told them.  I wonder did they not get it?  Did they just glaze over whenever he talked about that departure?  Did they live each day of their new and exciting lives thinking that it was always going to be like this?  Probably.  Do any of us imagine life without us in it?  Only on our sad days.  And if we try to talk to those we love about this departure, they won’t want to hear.  I can see a field full of disciples with fingers in their ears loudly singing “la la la la, I can’t hear you!!” when Jesus started his the Son of Man will be lifted up to die routine.  

But he knew it.  He knew it as sure as he knew he was breathing now.  And he faced it with the same confidence with which he faced drawing that first ragged breath in a barn in Bethlehem.  With the same sense of presence that he faced when he rose from the muddy waters of the Jordan with a beaming John the Baptism trembling beside him.  With the same sense of possibility and responsibility that brought a sigh out of him when he healed in the face of doubt, or the groan that came when he tossed out a demon that thought it was secure with claws deep in the human psyche.  He knew what was next, and he wanted to prepare them.  Abide in me, he told them, as an antidote to his absence.  Abide in me.

Wait.  What?  He was leaving so he wanted them to abide in him?  What?  Did he mean that the time is short, get your abiding in while abiding is possible?  Or worse, was it a “look what you missed!  You should have gotten closer!  You should have taken up residence, you should have gotten on board, you should have been on the team!”  But now the game is over.  The clock is ticking.  The last second shot will probably fall short, as they do more often than not.  And you will have missed it.  Too bad for you.  I’m on my way out.  You could have had more.  You could have been a contender.  But no.

No.  That can’t be it.  Jesus didn’t taunt in that way.  Jesus wept for missed opportunities, yes.  But he didn’t wag his finger at those who just didn’t get it.  No, this had to be a real opportunity, a real commandment.  Like the other commandment that is about to come in a few more verses, the love one another one.  That wasn’t a taunt.  Neither is this.  Abide in me.  Not you should have, you could have, but you didn’t abide in me.  No, there is still time, the clock hasn’t yet run out.  Abide.  Get in there and abide, there is still hope, we are still alive.

But how?  Jesus is annoyingly short on detail, even as he is rich in imagery.  Vines and branches, fruit and gardeners: there is a secret here.  Not a hidden code, but a obvious puzzle that if we could but glimpse it, then it would explode in our consciousness like a lightning bolt.  It doesn’t need a degree in ancient languages, but an ah  ha moment that unfolds the truth that was always there.  

Look again, abide in me as I abide in you.  As I abide in you.  He’s leaving, but He’s not leaving.  He is with us, even to the end of the age.  Which means we are with Him come hell or high water, when the chips are down or our ship has come in.  We are with Him and He is with us.  We remember, He told us to remember, remember Him and the life He lived, and the part He played. We remember the divine drama which is acted out as a historical remembrance.  Except that it isn’t an historical remembrance.  It is the rhythm of our faith.  Christ comes to us and we shout for joy, and ask Him to save us, because Christ comes to us.  To us.  And with tears streaming down our faces we embrace Him and hope for a new start and new opportunity and new outlook on life.  And when the glow dies down and the new outlook looks a lot like the old look and takes just as much effort to hold onto, if not more;  then our disillusionment grows and we look for someone to blame, a scapegoat who must be at fault for the rotten life we’ve been given, and we lash out and cast aside that which only recently seemed so full of possibility and hope, and now tastes like ashes instead of bread and wine.  And we turn our backs on the One we wept over, and we flee in fear and shame and doubt.  And in the darkness we feel so alone.  Again, so alone.  Like no one understands.  Like no one is on our side.  Like no one ... there’s just no one.  For us.  No one.

We are apart from Him, and can do nothing.  Or nothing that we can do seems worth doing.  Or nothing that we have done seems to amount to anything anymore.  Apart from Him.  Life is emptier.  The colors are muted, the air is heavy and gravity seems stronger.  Apart from Him.  Nonsense?  Maybe.  Maybe it is my imagination, my overactive spiritual sensibilities.  A little bit more time in the real world might do me some good, give me some perspective on how things really work.  Sure, a little bit of Jesus is a good idea, but you can go too far.  Am I right?

Unless.  Unless we are heading somewhere.  And we don’t want to go alone.  Being alone is great for a time.  And for sitting still.  But traveling is better with companions.  It makes it easier to stay on the path, to believe in the destination if there are those who travel alongside.  When Christ told us to abide in Him, He meant in part that we stay close to the community that bears His name.  That’s how we know Him, how we hear Him, through the voices of those who are also heading someplace, who also don’t travel alone.  

As you go, disciple!  Disciple by baptizing into a new identity and teaching about the life that you’ve been given.  Oh, and remember.  As you go remember that you’re heading somewhere and you don’t travel alone.  Thanks be to God


Saturday, September 22, 2018


My daughter is in Europe right now.  Eating dinner in Vienna, actually.  At a restaurant that was old when this country was carpeted in bison and elk.  She sent me a picture of her dinner.  Amazing.  And, yes, in case you’re wondering, this is the daughter that broke her leg a few weeks ago.  Broke it so well that she had to have a titanium rod (called a tibial nail) driven into her leg to hold the bone in place, from her knee to her ankle, and then some screws to hold it.  Yeah, that one.  She told me earlier in the week, before they left, that she’d been practicing walking.  Because they were planning to walk in the Alps.  Walk across the Vltava River in Prague.  Walk the narrow streets of some of Europe’s oldest cities.  So, she was practicing walking.  And now she’s there.  Walking.  Sitting and resting.  But walking.

As you go.  Remember?  That’s how we hear the direction from our Lord, the Great Commission we call it.  As you go, He says, while going perhaps.  As you go, disciple.  Wherever you go. As you go.  To the ends of the earth perhaps.  Really?  Yes, remember?

Matthew 28:16-20 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

That must have hit them like a truck, had they known what a truck was.  “Of all nations.”  We take it for granted.  This international travel thing.  It’s commonplace.  Old hat.  Jump on a plane, end up a world away.  Amazing, but not really amazing any more.  We do it all the time.  A flight to Europe?  Yawn.  A cruise to the Carribean?  Been there.  Africa, Asia, a long flight on a cramped seat, but no big deal.  Happens all the time.

I remember my first transatlantic flight.  I was scared to death, but didn’t want anyone to know.  Especially since I was going to spend a year over there, across the ocean.  I didn’t know if I could survive in a culture different from my own.  Maybe it would be familiar enough to function, maybe it would catch me out more often than I was comfortable with.  Maybe the accents would be too thick to understand.  Maybe mine would make me stand out.  Maybe it would be possible to have conversations, and to make relationships, to plant seeds and to disciple.  Maybe it would be a dismal failure.

See, it’s one thing to go, it’s quite another to disciple as you go.  I’m sure the eleven heard their hearts pounding in their ears as He said these words.  As you go, disciple, all nations.  They flinched, and looked at each other.  Did He say ...?  Surely not.  Their minds went back to the beginning, just after He had called them all.  One of the first things He did was send them out.  A field trip right out of the gate!  But, as He sent them, He said “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, enter no town of the Samaritans...”  Whew, they thought.  Glad we don’t have to do that crossing boundaries thing, those people are just weird.  So, they went and did what they were told to do.  But now, after all that happened, after death and life again, after despair and the rising again of hope, now they stand on this mountain and hear “of all nations.”  Cross those boundaries.  Tear down the walls.  You’re now limitless.

Um.  Really?  You sure about that?  That had to run through their minds in that moment. Limitless?  Because they were, like we all are, way too aware of their limitations.  They had slammed up against them just days before. They had tasted failure, they had run for their lives, they had huddled behind closed and locked doors.  Limitless sounded risky, sounded vulnerable.

All nations.  They were right to remember that the trial run was close to home.  That for that first foray into the mission field, Jesus told them to stay close to home, stay in familiar territory, deal with the folks they knew, the folks like them.  Yet, if they had been paying attention, Jesus had been dropping hints all along the way that the boundaries of their home town, their home country were not going to be the limits for long.  

Way back in the beginning of His earthly ministry He dropped a hint.  Before the twelve had been named, before the squad was in place, He sat down on the side of a mountain and cast a vision that still is bigger than we can really comprehend.  We call it the sermon on the mount and look at it as good advice.  We hear it as little proverbs that Jesus dropped like pearls before us swinish folk.  But it was more than that.  It was nothing less than a glimpse into eternity.  He stood on the steppes of that monumental mountain and spoke to the thousands gathered on the mall around the reflecting pool and said “I have a dream.”  

And that dream is our dream, our hope, the model of life itself, life fulfilled, life content and complete, life poured out in love and in joy.  In the midst of that dream is the hint that this life is limitless.  In terms of time, yes, but more than just that.  More than an eternity of unmeasurable time, it is an eternity of depth, an eternity of meaning and purpose.  Unlimited by the walls we build, the lines we draw and the boundaries we construct to keep ourselves “safe” or so we think.  A hint that the limits we suffer from are of our own making.   

Matthew 5:13-16  "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.  14 "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 

Did you hear the hint?  In those very familiar words it sometimes hides in plain sight.  You are salt.  Yes, we get that.  We struggle, we wrestle, but we get it.  You are light.  Same.  We know, we’ve heard, it seems to be asking a lot, maybe too much, but we know.  We are salt, we are light.  We add flavor and preservative.  We provide direction in the midst of darkness.  We’ve heard.  But what else?  

You are the salt of the earth.  The earth.  There’s a planet in need of our flavoring, our preservation.  Are we just caring for a small patch, for the bit with which we are familiar?  Or are we concerned about the earth?  The third rock from the sun.  That one.  You are the light of the world.  Really?  The world?  For heaven’s sake.  Yes, exactly.  We are the light of the world for heaven’s sake.  “World” in Greek is kosmos.  How’s that?  You are the light of the cosmos.  Daunted yet?  Overwhelmed?  You should be.  

Disciples have a global/local vision.  That’s how Brian McLaren puts it.  We are in the business of tearing down barriers.  Crossing over boundaries.  There is no where we won’t go.  No person beyond our reach, no relationship out of bounds.  So we go.  On broken bones if necessary, but we go.  With hesitant hearts, with doubts aplenty, but we go.  And as we go...

Wait a moment.  Retranslate that again.  We go.  You go.  Not just you, but you.  All y’all.  Remember?  This isn’t an individual task, you don’t carry the weight of the world by yourself.  You can’t salt the whole planet.  You can’t light the whole cosmos.  But all y’all can.  All y’all with the One who is the light.  You don’t need to dine in Vienna.  You don’t need to cross the ocean.  Oceans will be crossed.  But start with crossing the street.  Start with crossing the room.  Knowing that you are part of something bigger than just yourself.  It’s only in that understanding that we can truly be limitless.


Saturday, September 15, 2018

Abiding in Love

“In Baptism Henry put on Christ, so now in Christ may Henry be clothed in glory.”  

For those who may not have heard, my dad died this week.  Two years ago last June my mom died from a long and difficult battle with dementia, and we almost immediately moved dad back to Indiana and into a care facility.  He never really settled, never really felt at home in this new place.  He struggled with the idea that mom was gone, sometimes he seemed aware of her death, other times he wondered why she hadn’t come to see him lately. He believed right up to the end that he was only here temporarily and soon we would pack him up and let him go home again.  Well, I guess he wasn’t wrong.  And now he’s gone home.  

At his request he’s been cremated and now resides on our mantel while we wait to gather the family in Tennessee for a remembrance and burial.  We plan to go on his birthday, in the beginning of November for that final journey of his earthly remains.  Which means we are postponing a service.  But having led more funeral services than I can count, the words swirl though my being as we handle the details of the end of this life.  In baptism Henry put on Christ.  He claimed a new identity, a new relationship.  He began the journey to become a disciple of Jesus.  

Matthew 28:16-20 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

What we offer is not a ticket to heaven, but a new identity.  And in that new identity is a new community, new relationships with Him, of course, but with His followers.  We become a body, a family. But a family with open arms and a welcome mat as big as all the world.  A family that has room, has love enough for even the most broken, the most suspicious, the most wounded by the harshness of a world of sin.  We are who we are because we were claimed in baptism, the waters of life that made us one with Him, one of His.  

In baptism Henry, and you and I, put on Christ, claimed an identity, became something new, something more.  Disciples are identified as disciples.  We are who we are, and we claim who we are in Christ.  And we live that truth in the wider world.  We live it outwardly, it’s not a secret to be kept to ourselves, but a way of being, a way of loving that puts us at risk in a world that lives by other values.  But it is our joy, our duty and our hope to glorify God.

John 15:8-14 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 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. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.

This is, of course, part of the larger piece called the “farewell discourse.”  This is Jesus trying to give them everything they would need to go on without him as he had been with them.  These verses follow the description of the vine.  Jesus says “I am the vine and you are branches, abide in me.” That’s the only way to bear fruit.  And if we really want to glorify God, which is what we say when we worship, then we do it by bearing fruit.  But doing something. Branching out.  

Jesus tells us to stay connected.  To abide in Him, abide in His love.  That makes a wonderful picture.  Just hanging out with Jesus.  Just being filled up, like a buffet table with all our favorite foods.  Just being restored like a long lazy morning when you don’t have to get out of bed until you want to.  Abide in My love.  Like being wrapped up in loving arms and letting those arms be the buffer between our wounded hearts and the less than gentle world.  Abide.  Sounds nice.  Let’s get some of that.  So, Jesus, how do we go about this abiding thing?

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  Sounds a little more involved than just hanging out with Jesus.  Sounds like another one of those doing kind of things.  Keep my commandments ... and this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  We abide in love when we love.  We receive more of Christ’s sustaining love, strengthening power, transforming presence, when we sustain others with our love, when we strengthen those around us with our love, when we work for transformation in those whom we encounter.  It’s kinda like saying when we set out to love like Christ loves, we can’t ever run out.  

When the breathing slowed and then stopped and the room in which I sat with my dad grew silent, broken only by the burbling of the oxygen machine I knew that I was alone.  I went and told the nurses at the station outside his room that he had stopped breathing.  They grabbed their stethoscopes and ran to the room.  They listened, shut off the machine and listened again.  One looked to the other and said with tears in her eyes, you listen.  So, they listened.  And declared, we will miss him.  He was kindness personified.  He treated us like daughters, like friends, with a smile and a joke and a twinkle in his eye.  And for the next few hours and then days, there was a parade of staff members, aides and nurses, cleaning staff and chaplains, all coming to say how they will miss his gentle presence and friendly attitude.  He will leave a big hole, I was told, he cared about us, about the others.  He cared.

That’s how it happens, this abiding thing.  It is when you venture out.  When you wrap the love of Christ around you and take a step into the unknown, to give of yourself, you are abiding.  I know, it doesn't make sense.  Abiding sounds stationary.  Abiding sounds settled.  But Jesus redefines abiding.  

Or maybe He is just giving directions so we can find him to abide.  Remember the Easter declaration?  “He is not here, he is risen!  And he is going before you...”  You want to abide in Jesus? You have to keep moving.  Because He keeps moving.  He goes where the hurt is, He goes where the hunger is, He goes where the love is least so he can pour out more.  And He invites us to go with Him.

And here’s the bonus.  This is where joy is.  This abiding on the road thing.  This stepping out in love journey.  This is where the joy is.  “I have said these things to you,” Jesus says, “so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”  Complete joy.  Wow, what would that be like?  We get glimpses, we get moments, we get a taste of joy from time to time, if we’re lucky.  But Jesus is offering something else, something more.  Complete joy.  

Complete because it is shared.  That is the nature of joy. Mark Twain said that “grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.”  Joy is a shared experience, rather than a solitary one.  Joy is of the community, even if the community is just you and Jesus.  You and one other, with whom you can share and know joy.  What a blessing.  

One other who takes up residence in your heart and helps make you who you are.  I have more than one, I suspect you do too.  But one of those I remember today is my dad, who he was and who he tried to be.  I mourn his passing, even as I give God thanks for his witness and his service.  I give God thanks that he knew how to abide in Christ’s love.  And pray that to honor him and so many others, I will learn to abide as well.  Thanks be to God. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Nothing for the Journey

We are consumed by conversation about resources.  Do we have enough?  Will there be enough?  Do we know enough?  Resources come in lots of different forms.  The money one occupies our thinking an awful lot.  But there are other questions facing us.  Do we have the smarts?  Do we have the courage, the brains, the heart?  “We’re off to see the wizard.” ...  Ahem.  Excuse me.

We’re lost in the wilderness and the trees are throwing fruit at us.  The yellow brick road is too hard to discern through the weeds of our doubts and hesitations.  The companions on the journey don’t seem up to the task, or they’ve let us down, or they’ve hurt us and we just can’t forgive them.  Or maybe we’ve lost sight of the destination, the purpose of the journey.  Maybe we aren’t sure we believe in the Emerald City any more.  Maybe it is more about surviving day to day than it is arriving somewhere.  Maybe it is more about being safe and warm and cared for than it is about accomplishing something.  After all we’ve got our own issues to worry about.  We’ve got wounds that need healing, we’ve got stuff we’ve got to learn, we’ve got families to tend to.  We are way too busy to be taking on more stuff.  Maybe later, maybe when we get the time, when we have the inclination, maybe when ... maybe.

Week two of our discipleship series is titled “Disciples are people who have a mission.”  Our guiding text is the Great Commission from Matthew’s Gospel, 28:16-20 – Go into all the world...  We’ll come back to that in a bit.  But I chose another passage for us to look at this week.  Similar, but different.  Take a look:

Luke 9:1-6  Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases,  2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.  3 He said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money-- not even an extra tunic.  4 Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there.  5 Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them."  6 They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere. 

The first thing to note is that it wasn’t just at the end where Jesus launched the followers out into mission and ministry.  This is chapter nine of Luke’s Gospel.  He just called them in chapter five.  There’s a lot they don’t know yet, a lot they haven’t experienced.  They hadn’t heard the Good Samaritan story yet, they hadn’t been taught how to pray, for heaven’s sake!  Yet, he sends them out.  

And get this, take nothing for your journey.  What?  Take nothing.  You know Peter had to have grumbled about that one.  We would too, I suspect.  We aren’t prepared, we don’t have the resources, we don’t know enough.  You can’t be serious about sending us out there.  Are you?

Seemed to be.  He gave them power and authority.  Ah, well, that’s a different kettle of fish then isn’t it.  If only he would give us power and authority.  Then we just might take him up on his offer to go.  Cast out a few demons before lunch, heal some diseases in the afternoon, then call it a day.  

Take nothing for your journey.  Nothing.  Nothing to rely on but the power and authority that we just barely comprehend.  Nothing to fall back on but the name of the One who sends us.  Nothing to hide behind but the image of the one we are trying to bring to life in our lives.  Take nothing for your journey, because the journey is everything.  It is not a mission that we take up and do for a period of time and then set down again.  This is not a mission trip, a mission emphasis.  This is life as mission.  Mission as a way of living.  Take nothing for the journey because you are the journey.  You are the presence of the Christ who sends you.  Take nothing external, nothing to prove your knowledge or experience.  Take nothing in your hands so that your hands are free to hold and to welcome, to love and to soothe, to heal what has been broken with nothing but the witness of your life.
Brian McLaren says that we slightly mistranslate the instruction in the Great Commission.  That “Go” thing.  “Go into all the world!”  It sounds like marching orders.  It sounds like a crusade mentality.  Go!  Get on out there!  Ten hut!!   Get on out there.  Like we are crusaders, like we’ve got a fire on our tails, like we are going to make those disciples if it kills us or them, usually them.

McLaren says the tense is actually a little bit different.  He says a better translation would be “as you go” or “as you are going” instead of the hardline “Go!”  As if Jesus is saying “while you’re up,” “as you are going out and about in the world.”  As you are living your life, as you are making your way in this world make disciples.  No, I don’t think he means be casual about it.  Don’t take it seriously, or do it as an afterthought.  No, in fact it might just be the opposite.  Let it be the reason for being.  Let this making disciples thing be what drives you, what motivates you.

Maybe the question is more about the influence we leave, the ripples that our lives make.  Are we conscious of how our presence makes others around us different?  Are we building up lives or tearing them down?  Are we encouraging others or pushing them out of the way?  Are we sincere about what it is that motivates us, what drives us to go and do and be, or do we keep it hidden, ashamed or embarrassed to admit that we are guided not by our own inner power but a power that comes from above?  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, that’s what Paul wrote.  Would we do the same?

In the sending here in Luke there is a very specific mission.  Jesus gives power to do two specific things.  He sent then out, Luke writes, to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.  Hmm, not sure about that, are we?  Proclaim the kingdom of God.  We’re supposed to talk about heaven all the time.  About what happens after we die, about the condition of our eternal souls.  Oh, great, we’re supposed to be that guy.  That goofy not really dealing with the real world guy.  “So heavenly minded as to be no earthly good.”  Jesus sends us out to be that guy.  Great.  Just great.

Or does he?  When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God is didn’t sound like a place for dead people.  It didn’t sound like sitting on clouds strumming harps and polishing halos.  It sounded like relationships.  It sounded like people living together in community.  It sounded like caring and helping and supporting and loving.  It sounded like something that I’ve been looking for all my life, to be honest.  All my life.  Not my afterlife.  Oh, sure it is exciting that this kingdom thing, this way of living and being thing just goes on and on, beyond the physical limitations of this bodily existence.  That is a part of the appeal, I admit.  But the real excitement is that it isn’t just a someday kind of thing.  It is a this day, or the next day, or why not now kind of thing.  

As you go about in the world, are you living and inviting others to live differently than many do in this world?  As you are going about your living, your being made into a disciple, are you including as many others in the process as you possibly can?  Are you proclaiming the Kingdom, with words, but not just words, with hope and confidence, with joy and laughter?  Are you a bright spot in a dark time?

And healing.  Uh oh.  Be healed!!  We are to wield magic like powers, right?  Faith-healing.  Well, maybe there are some who can do that, miracles do happen from time to time.  But what is more likely is that we are to be a healing presence in the lives of others. We are to put back together what has fallen apart.  Maybe we heal hearts and souls by loving and accepting as Christ did.  Maybe we heal relationships by reconciling instead of holding grudges, by forgiving instead wanting to get even.  And we keep trying.  Again and again and again.  

Take nothing for the journey.  Nothing but Christ.  Nothing but faith and hope in the One who loves us and works in us to love others.  As you go, feeling underequipped and underresourced, trust in that presence.  Don’t make me get the flying monkeys!  We’re off ... to make disciples.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

You Have the Words

Words are my life.  Yours too, I believe.  But mine somewhat obviously.  I’m a preacher and a pastor.  I’m set apart to share words, and when I do it well, I share the Word.  But sometimes –  no, often –  they are only words that hint at, point toward the Word.  Yet, they are what I have.  I am a word smith, hammering them into place when they won’t easily fit; a word shepherd when they run and play across God’s green creation like living things bringing hope to many hearts. I live in words.  

Sometimes the words are words of finality, words a family can’t bring themselves to say, but needing to hear.  Words speaking the truth of life and of death, with the bold but elusive hope of eternity.  Words that make the lowering of the box and the throwing of the dirt seem less definitive somehow.  Sometimes the words are words of blessing accompanied by water dripping from fingers upon unsuspecting brows and bowed heads.  Sometimes they are words of binding  The old words used for many years to bind two people together to make them one, and the newer words that talk about hopes and dreams and plans and issues.  Lots of words.  

Some words need to be explain or analyze, others we knew or think we do anyway.  Words.  That’s what I do.  People ask me. We would like you to say the words, they say.  Say the words and help us say the words.  The words that would make us one.  The words that bring meaning in a meaningless moment.  The words that might help us survive in an uncertain world.  Say the words that bind us, that soothe our souls, that send us onward.  Say the words.  The good words that we long to hear and the hard words we need to hear.  The words of binding and of sharing, the words of committing and of sacrificing, the words of ending and sending. Say the words. 

We start a new series this week.  And our series is about words.  Some words we will like: Disciple, empowered and confident, vision and hope, for example.  And some we won’t like as much: Mission and evangelism, for example.  Scary words for some, fighting words.  But words woven into the conversation called faith from the very beginning.

We have two texts this week, two sets of words from the Bible to get us started.  The first is our governing text for the whole series.  A familiar one.  Even has a name, words about the words.  The Great Commission.  You know it.

Matthew 28:16-20  Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." 

Words of sending, words of blessing and promise to be sure, but the sending is clear.  “Go” he says.  This faith thing isn’t a stay, but a go.  It isn’t a dwell on this, think on this, consider this, but a go and do this.  Well, yeah, but to go and do you need to dwell and think and consider, don’t you?  Of course you do.  But sometimes we get caught up in the thinking we forget about the doing.  At least when it comes to our faith.  We are great doers with it comes to everything else.  Making a home, growing a family, shaping a career, working in a community - we are doers from way back.  And good at it.  Driven by it.  Sometimes overwhelmed by it but we keep going.  One foot in front of another on the long road to who knows where.  We are doers of our lives.  But are we doers of our faith?  

Well, yes, of course.  Our faith is such that as we live our life we declare our faith.  The values we espouse reflect the vows we made to follow our Savior, the commitments we keep let the words of our beliefs become actions, the generosity of our hands reveals our contemplations of the words of Christ, our lives put the words of our faith to work.  Who said “Preach always, use words when necessary”?  We like that.  Let our lives be our proclamation.

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Except sometimes words are necessary.  Say the words, they asked me.  Say the words of binding, the words of love and marriage.  Say the words that challenge and invite.  Say the words that bring folks a little closer, the words of welcome and acceptance.  Say the words of hope, or promise.  Say the words of a tomorrow that is brighter than the today we sometimes face.  Say the words that just might begin to heal the brokenness that was caused by other words.

Go into all the world, he says, make disciples, baptize, teach, remember.  Go with these words.  Challenging words, that’s for sure.  Words we would just as soon keep under wraps, as a hidden agenda rather than an up-front reason for being.  The words aren’t easy to follow.  Even those who first heard them struggled.  Our second passage is one of the saddest sections of all the Gospels.  Jesus had been teaching, teaching hard stuff, challenging stuff, confusing stuff. And he ends by saying God’s in charge, not you.  God brings you to me, you didn’t decide to follow Jesus, forgive me Sadhu Sundar Singh who tradition says first wrote that hymn (I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, that one!).  He was one of the first native Indian missionaries on that complex and confusing sub-continent.  And he heard a story of a man who believed even though no one else in his family or village or region did.  Though none go with me, I have decided to follow Jesus.  A powerful message, a powerful truth.  Except that Jesus says no one can come to me except by the Father.  God chose, you chose, God invited, you decided.  Which is it?  Both?  Neither?  Some odd combination?  It is confusing.  Some of the first disciples heard this and said this is too hard.  These words confuse us.  And they wandered off.

Jesus stood watching them go, with sadness, I believe, in his heart.  Then in that sadness he turns to the twelve, the ones he chose by name to follow closest.  Because they were special?  Or because they needed remedial work?  Maybe both.  But he turns to them.

John 6:67-69  So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?"  68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." 

What about you?  Are you leaving too?  Your heart breaks just reading those words.  But Peter responds.  With a shrug.  Nowhere else to go.  You have the words.  The words we need to live and breathe.  The words that make our lives into something with meaning and purpose.  The words that lift our hearts when our heads have fallen in shame and embarrassment.  The words that pick us up and dust us off and get us back on track when we stumble and fall.  The words that pull us out of ourselves into a wider, more wonderful world; a God-breathed world, vibrating with the presence of the Spirit, alight with possibility and hope.  You have the words that give us life.  Where else would we go?

 He has the words and he has given them to us.  And there is a world hungry to hear them.  Say the words.  Not just be a good person, but say the words.  Invite and encourage.  Heal and love.  Love, that greatest commandment, love.  The theologian Paul Tillich said the first duty of love is to listen.  You have the words, but first you have to listen so you know which words are needed, which words will connect, which words will feel like a balm and invite someone into a deeper relationship with the One who gave you the words.  That’s what we’re about this series.  Helping us all know that we have the words.  And then finding the courage to speak them.  Say the words.