SERMON 6/17/18 Pentecost 4B St. Monica’s Naples, FL

unexpected-street-sign-008Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4,11-14; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10,[11-13],14-17; Mark 4:26-34 

Weed or Seed

In Florida, we live in an environment where you can pretty much plant anything and it will grow.  Fruit trees, vegetables, and lawns can be lush and beautiful, but other pervasive plants can move in.  Weeds sprout up all the time in our lawns, our driveways, and walkways.  Weeds can be pervasive but certain varieties can be helpful.  I guess it is all a matter of perspective.  In today’s gospel reading, Jesus uses another agricultural metaphor to explain what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  The emergence of God’s Kingdom begins small like the mustard seed and grows into something of unimaginable transformation in people’s lives. Like the birds of the air, which find a place of rest and shade from the harsh sun in the mustard plant’s branches, we find the way of peace and joy when we are nesting in the shade of God’s reign, and we find new possibilities in our lives.  In God’s Kingdom, things start out small, and grow into unimaginable grace.  Mustard plants begin as the tiniest of seeds, but smallness is not the only metaphor for the mustard plant that Jesus uses in his parable.

Mustard plants, like the weeds in our Florida gardens are pervasive plants that grow wild, and are difficult to eliminate, because once the seed falls to the ground, it germinates at once.  For grain farmers back in Jesus’ time, mustard plants were considered a weed that could choke out precious grain.  Nonetheless, for some folks, the mustard plant was seen as a something much more than a mere weed.  Just like life, not all of us perceive events and circumstances the same. We all see things through the filters of our own history, experience, joys, and tragedies.

For instance, in Greco-Roman culture, according toancient writings, mustard was a plant that had great medicinal, herbal, and culinary value.  For many of us, a baseball game hotdog would just not be the same without that pungent, delicious yellow condiment we so enjoy.   So, which is it for the tiny insignificant, yet pervasive mustard seed?  Is it merely a weed, or is it a plant that can bring healing and serve as a culinary delight?   Jesus said the reign of God is like a mustard seed.

When God’s Kingdom bursts forth in our lives in new and unexpected ways, or even when something happens with which, we disagree or dislike, or when things happen that are perceived as tragic, maybe there is another possibility, if we are open and willing to God’s lead. The truth of the matter is when God is involved in our lives, when God’s Kingdom tries to take root and grow in our midst, our perceptions of what God is doing may often be hidden from us in the moment and yet, something bigger and better might very well be coming.

In God’s Kingdom Smaller is Better

God uses the small, tiny, and insignificant, to bring about his reign on earth, and sometimes, we may not realize what God is doing in our lives, because we sometimes think we know what is best, we want things a certain way.  I know you’ve seen the advertisements of the local Kia Car dealer who claims his deals are “gonna be HUGE!”   In church, we can get caught up in making HUGE plans, developing HUGE projects, and even engaging in HUGE disagreements, and we do so, never once waiting patiently, discerning openly, and trusting faithfully that God is doing something we cannot fathom, even in the small things.  In this life, we every day face circumstances outside our control, and these moments may be God opening up with unimaginable possibilities for new life that is, if we can trust God’s reign of grace. I believe, as theologian David Neff says and I quote, “God wants to begin in a hidden way, because he is full of surprises.” (1) Not all things are clear at first.  Author William Willimson writes, “To our inadequate perception what is real (the kingdom of God) will inevitably seem at first hidden and mysterious.” (2)

God works differently than we human beings. We want things to be HUGE, but God works in small ways.    When life is full of the weeds of tragedy and chaos, those moments may just be the tiny beginnings of new growth in our life.  That is exactly when we have to trust God’s work in the small things, the untidy things, and in the unsettling things.  “A wise bishop ordered his ministry in terms of the maxim, “What don’t start small, don’t start at all.” (1) I think that bishop got it right.

God does big things through the tiniest of circumstances, but we sometimes follow the pattern of the world, and we think we can only see God present in big, productive, and enormous ways. As Williamson writes, “The church is endangered when we are tempted to derive our status from those forms of power and significance valued by the world.” (2) We the church can do amazing things, even through, what the world perceives as small, trivial and insignificant. We must seek God, discern God’s call, God’s way, and God’s plan and not our own.  Do you believe that God is involved in your life in ways you cannot fathom?  If so, then you are walking by faith, and not by sight.   Not all things are as they appear.

The Unexpected Road we are afraid to travel

William Willimon asserts, “The Lord of the harvest gives growth, though not always the growth we expect, and there will be harvest, though not always at the times or in the mode for which we plan.” (2) A little over three years ago, God’s Spirit began nudging me in some really small ways, trying to plant a new seed of ministry in me.  Back then, I was so comfortable, effective, productive, and joyful in my diocesan ministry and I was doing well, but God had something better, new, different, and life altering in store that I could not see at the time.

Early on, during this time of discernment, wise colleagues encouraged me to be open to God’s nudging, to just listen and not be to quick to action, but honestly I rejected the idea of change; I thought I knew best, so I wanted things to remain the same.  Five years earlier, I answered another of God’s surprising calls, to engage in a non-parish form of ministry in a new place and a new space.  I thought that this ministry was all I was going to be good at, and that God had chosen my permanent path, and I was on it until the day I retired.

I had blinders on, and I closed my heart to God’s nudges, I completely forgot that “God wants to begin in a hidden way, because he is full of surprises.” Eventually, I listened to the Spirit and I engaged in a specific, lengthy, and soul-stirring path of discernment. I asked trusted friends, and others who would speak truth to me, even if it hurt, to help me listen for God’s call on my life, and to do it honestly, I had to let go of my own desires and needs. Soon, God did a new thing and I am so grateful that I saw seeds of possibility, because here we are today.

Sometimes in this life, we try and hold tight to things, thinking we have it all figured out, but if we are not careful, we can thwart God’s amazing grace nudging, leading, and calling us to something afresh.  Maybe you are like I have been, refusing to be open to new possibilities. Maybe you are like I have been, dependent your own desires for comfort which has become a prime motivator.  Maybe you are like I have been missing the often hidden and small surprises of God’s amazing new gift of ministry, grace, and call. We often forget that God is always making things new.

New Creation – God makes everything New

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  Trusting God’s reign, trusting the truth of the mustard seed means we must “live by faith and not by sight.” When life happens, and when circumstances are out of our control, the question is, “do you see weeds, or do you see seeds of possibility?”

Each day we travel down a twisting path and then, we come upon an unexpected road, on which God detours us, so that God can keep making things new again and again.  The key to “living by faith and not by sight” is this, as we travel down the road and surprises and deviations come along, and when new things emerge, we have to live in expectation of unexpected grace. Even if you have been a Christian all your life, and you believe you understand clearly how God works, you may miss God’s detours, slight nudges, and mustard seed possibilities. Sometimes without our awareness, change has happened as a result of the tiniest, insignificant, and hidden seeds of opportunity.

My sisters and brothers, change happens.  Just wait around long enough and change will come for all of us. I wonder though, when stuff happens, will we see weeds and try and cut them out, or will we see tiny seeds of amazing, incredible, surprising and unexpected God possibilities?  If we are open to it, God will continue to astonish us, even if we reluctantly, stay on the path of the Unexpected Road of God’s abundant, surprising, tiny, grace-filled path of new life.   Maybe, you can even cast a few seeds of new possibilities yourselves, for others, along the way.

 

REFERENCES

(1) Neff, David. “Small Is Huge: Why Jesus Favors Mustard Seed-Sized Ministry.”  Christianity Today, vol. 50, no. 2, Feb. 2006, pp. 72-75.

(2) Willimon, William H. “The Greatest of All Shrubs.” The Christian Century, vol. 108, no. 17, 15 May 1991, p. 547

(3) Schellenberg, Ryan S. “Kingdom as Contaminant?: The Role of Repertoire in the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, vol. 71, no. 3, July 2009, pp. 527-543

 

 

 

A Reflection for 6/10/18 Pentecost 3B

house not made

(An “unpreached” sermon for 6/10/18)

Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

Sacred Associations

Growing up, I watched many television shows about all kinds of families.  For instance do you remember the “Brady Bunch” a comedy about a widow and widower who bring six children together under the same house.  “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” was a comedy about a wealthy nuclear family that takes in a street-wise cousin, in hopes of offering him a better life.  “All in the Family” was a comedic drama about a family who was wrestling with the social and political issues of the Vietnam War, Watergate, and social changes of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  All of these dramas represented the ever-changing nature of family today. Families have changed quite a bit over the last twenty years.

Webster defines “Family” as “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children.”  However, families are very complex in the 21stcentury, and they can be described in many ways: Nuclear Family, single-parent family, Extended Family, Childless Family, Step Family, and Grandparent Family, and the one some of us may have a more intimate understanding with, the Dysfunctional Family.   In Jesus’ time, the Nuclear Family (consisting of two parents and children) was most likely the norm.

In Jesus’ world, families were sacred associations, and they represented the most precious relational connections a human could have with another. Family represented the most dedicated commitments, loyalties, and obligatory connections one might have in that era.  In today’s gospel reading, Jesus was speaking about these familial associations among people.  In a dialogue with a particular crowd one day,  Jesus redefined the idea of family, and in so doing, I believe he offers us some insights into our understanding of the Body of Christ, the church, the family of God.

Church Family

When I was a kid in Sunday school, our teacher taught us a cute, little poem, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.”  This exercise was a way to teach children about the idea of church in late 20thcentury America. I would argue, the idea of church, or the Body of Christ, as merely a building was not what Jesus ever literally envisioned. The church is not a building, but a band of people who are knit together in Christ.  In a unique way, the church is a family, and the head of that family is Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Webster also defines family as “a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation.” (1) The church is a group of people who have been washed by the waters of baptism, who have made promises to live a life based on the “Way of Jesus,” and who work together to bring about God’s Kingdom in the midst of the community into which, it has been planted. The church is more than denomination, dogma, ritual, mission statements, and even buildings.  The church is a group of people on a mission.

St. Monica’s is a sacred group of people who in this day and age, exist as a beautiful, diverse, quirky, “wild and wooly” association of deep, intimate connections of people, the world has ever known.  Nonetheless, being a Christian, a member of this family, requires us to live into a new way of being.  It can be frightening for some of us to make new commitments to groups, but to truly follow Jesus, and to be a part of this family, it may require us to let go of other ties, other associations, or other things, agendas, or ideas that might separate us from the family of God.

A New Kind of Family

Jesus makes it clear that birth, affinity, co-residence, or even secular law does not define his family.   We hear in today’s gospel that “A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

In a way, you might think that Jesus was rejecting his Mother Mary and his other family members through this dialogue with crowd.  His words can sound a bit terse and distasteful to us, because we might think our Lord was rejecting the woman who bore him, the woman whose heart would break, when he took his last breath on the cross. That is not what Jesus is doing here.  In actuality, I think Jesus is widening the circle of family, and opening the door for all of us.  In other words, Jesus was saying that participation in the most intimate human connection with him, we follow him.

“Whoever does the will of God is my family.” Jesus is re-defining a new kind of family.  We are no longer children of God by some genealogy (my parents were Christian) or membership card (I’m a cradle Episcopalian).  This new kind of family is defined by how we live the “Way of Jesus.” We are a part of God’s family when we, who are recipients of grace, love, mercy, and peace, actually live the way of grace, love, mercy, and peace.   The challenging part of this association is that we can become something else, when we stop living the Way of Jesus.  In other words, the church is susceptible to division, when we lose sight of our purpose, and when that happens our witness of God’s love is shattered.

Family Purpose

Jesus said, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” Sometimes even families can be divided, and when that happens, the ties that bind break, and the sacred unit of association in which, we find our deepest human connections, unravels.  We see divisions among organizations, associations, political parties, and yes, we even have divided churches today.

Petty issues, personal agendas, misunderstandings, and even inappropriate behavior among Christians can divide the family of God. I believe we are more susceptible to division, when we fail to communicate clearly with one another, when we fail to hear our sister and brother’s concerns and anxiety, when we reject the needs of the community for our own needs, when we participate in triangulation and gossip, and when we forget the whole purpose of our association in the first place.

In the Acts of the Apostles, the writer captures in simple words, the purpose and nature of gatherings of the church.  He wrote: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42 NRSV)  We gather as a community to be devoted to the teaching of God’s word.  We gather to learn, grow and be transformed through the study of scripture.  We gather for fellowship with other Christians, so that through our common life, we might grow, support, love, and encourage one another.  We gather to share communion, to participate in the sacred meal of the Eucharist, being filled with the Body and Blood of Christ, so we might be the Body of Christ in the world.  We gather to pray, to have Holy Conversation with God.

We are a family because we are and do these things together in Christ.  As a family we may have our quirky disagreements.  We may have our little spats.  We may even be a little dysfunctional sometimes, but we are the family of God, because we live as the family of God.  Yes, the church is building, program, liturgy, tradition, and fellowship, but we are so much more.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “We have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” My sisters and brothers, we are so much more than the edifice in which, we gather each week.  We are the family of God, knit together by cords of love that although susceptible to unravel, will remain bound strong and unyielding, if we remain focused on Christ and his mission of love through us.

(1) https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/family

Aichele, George. “Jesus’ Uncanny ‘Family Scene’.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, vol. 74, June 1999, pp. 29-49.

SERMON 6/3/18 – Pentecost 2B Proper 4 – St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Psalm 81:1-10; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6

Vacations, Rest, and Social Media: Oh My!

            Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. A year ago, while training at Maxwell AFB, AL, I completed a time-management exercise, in which I tracked everything I did for a week.  The exercise itself was cumbersome, but I learned something about my life I have not forgotten.  I work way too many hours, I study less than I want to study, I spend too much time on social media (Facebook especially), and I never take enough time to just be with God in prayer, to just rest and observe creation, to enjoy my family, and to exercise.  I am sure many of us are like that.  Our culture encourages that kind of unbalanced life where we can live out our  “Never Stop,” “Win at everything” attitude.  Even movies depict the restless, constantly moving, “get her done” way of life.

One of my favorite movies is “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”  It is about the classic summer vacation for a typical Mid-Western family.  The movie’s theme song, “Holiday Road” by Lindsay Buckingham is one known to many of us, and when you hear those first few bars of the music and the words, “I found out long ago, it’s a long way down, to holiday road,” you are in for a mindless comedic treat.  In the movie, the Dad, is a bit obsessive and compulsive, which leads him to pre-plan every last detail of a cross-country trip to the fairy tale theme park “Wally World.”

Despite the Dad’s well laid out plans, and never a moment to stop kind of schedule (even at the Grand Canyon), nothing goes their way.  Like many of us, this family needed some rest and down time, they needed to relax and “fill up their cup,” they needed some family time to talk and reconnect, but they just could not pull it off.  There were too many activities planned, too many giant balls of string to see, too many Old West towns to explore, and too many unplanned tragedies to experience. The movie “Vacation” is an ironic, but realistic version of “never stop” American life, displayed in its fullness of slapstick comedy.

The “never stop” attitude infiltrates our daily lives, and if we let it, it will steal the time we set aside for rest and relaxation.  We need to have some down time, I mean real down time.  We need to rest, be, and re-fill our cup of grace.  We need a Sabbath.  Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.”  We do not have to take a vacation, in order to re-focus on God and to refresh and relax. We can find balance every single week, by taking a day of rest where there is no agenda, no demands, and there is space created in life, for just listening, praying, and being with God.

Sabbath: A personal and communal event

            AuthorJudith Shulevitz participated in an interview with the Atlanticabout her book, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time.  The author talks about what a radical notion Sabbath was in ancient times, and how far flung an idea it is today.  She said this about communal Sabbath,  “Everyone, not just the upper classes, not just the priests and doctors and elites and the king have the right to rest in a regular way one day a week. (Sabbath) was so radically progressive that it even mandated that you had to give your animals the day off.” (1)  In Jewish tradition, taking a day for rest, relaxation, restoration, and re-creation was mandated by God’s law.  It was a day when the entire community did something or rather they did nothing, together.

I grew up in a time when one day a week, all stores, gas stations, businesses, and almost everyone closed up shop for one day. God forbid if you mowed your lawn, or did housework, or did anything on Sunday other than go to church, play outside, prepare lunch, watch football, or take a nap.  Those days may be gone, or are at least they are few and far between for we 21stcentury Americans.  What would happen if the entire nation stopped for a day and just did nothing?  Our society would probably collapse, or would it.  We all need to find some balance in our lives.  We all need to take some time to rest and have some fun together.  I bet the divisions in our country would crumble if we stopped long enough to get to know one another again.  I bet if families took picnics together and neighbors spent time talking and getting to know one another, things would be different. We all would be healthier and happier if we restored balance to our lives and took some time to rest and listen and be.

St. Benedict, through his ‘Rule of Life’ “envisioned a balanced life of prayer and work as the ideal.”(2)  The Rule of Benedict is a balanced way of life for lay people as well as monks and nuns.  Benedictines spend time in prayer, so they might discover why they are working, and they spend time in work, so that good order and harmony might prevail in everyday life. “Benedictines are not consumed by work, nor do they spend so much time in prayer that responsibilities are neglected.” (2)

In her book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily,  Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister writes, “All must be given its due, but only its due. There should be something of everything and not too much of anything.” (2)  We Americans need to follow Chittister’s wise counsel and find some balance in our lives. We need to balance work, rest, prayer, and re-creation.  Re-creation is doing something that brings joy, peace, and restoration to both the individual, as well as for all of creation. We need to stop for a while, but stopping is uncomfortable.  The quiet restlessness is so outside our norms and to do it, takes commitment to stop and rest.

Again, Shulevitz says that Sabbath “gives you permission to stop.” She said, “I myself am very obsessive-compulsive. I have a very hard time stopping, and I need social pressure and moral reinforcement to feel okay stopping. There’s something to be said for having the world stop around you.” (1) Sabbath gives us time to stop and focus on God and not the pursuit of stuff, but even Sabbath observance can become a compulsion.  It certainly was for the religious leaders of Jesus’ time.

Observing or Violating a Sabbath

“One Sabbath Jesus and his disciples were going through the grain fields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.”  Why were they picking grain?  Well, part of the tradition of Israel was that landowners were allowed to harvest all of their crops, except for the edges and corners. Those were left to the poor to glean. Also, any crops that fell to the ground were left for the poor to eat. So, Jesus and his disciples were hungry on the Sabbath, and they were poor, and they were following the law, which allowed them to pick the grain to eat, but their actions came into conflict with another law about Sabbath.   By the way, Jesus also got in trouble with the Pharisees because he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. In both cases Jesus’ priorities (eating and caring for another person) came in conflict with another law.

You see, the arguments Jesus had with the religious system of the time about the Sabbath was not about him saying a holy observance of the Sabbath did not matter.  It does matter!  Jesus was arguing for the Sabbath, but his case was that Sabbath is a call for us to re-align our priorities.  In other words, there are times when some things take priority in life, and I would argue that Jesus teaches us a deeper meaning of Sabbath.  Eating takes priority.  Caring for our neighbors takes priority.  Resting and refreshing takes priority.  Jesus tells us that our priorities must be aligned, and we must have balance in order to be whole. We must have rest to be whole.  Jesus’ whole argument about observing Sabbath is really a case for what Sabbath is all about, which is “There is a time to work, a time to pray, a time to eat, a time to re-create, and a time to heal.”  Anytime we are out of balance or rather, whenever one facet of our life wars against another, we are not living fully into the people God has called us to be.

Trusting in, Resting in, Surrendering to God

In our 21stCentury culture we are encouraged, even prodded to work, work, work!  We are never encouraged to stop.  A popular television commercial tells us, “Never stop looking, learning, searching, discovering, advancing, innovating, and creating. Be restless, strive, so the things we all treasure can thrive.”   Sabbath is not about striving.  Actually, we humans thrive when our priorities are aligned and we serve someone other than achievement and wealth, because those things will pass away.  If all we do until we join the blessed company of saints is work, and never set aside time in our day, week, month and year to find the answer to our infinite longing in God, then we will turn to consumption.  In the end, stuff will be all we have, which by the way, we cannot take that with us.

My favorite verse of scripture, which we heard today is, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Cor. 4:7)  My friends, we are fragile vessels created to be filled with God’s grace, so that we might pour out that grace to others.  If we work too much and don’t take time to be re-filled with grace, our ministries are ineffective.  In other words, as clay jars of God’s grace, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.”

My sisters and brothers, this next week, start being committed to rest in God at least for a 24 hour period. Start small if you must and try it for a couple of hours. Take a short vacation from life at least one day a week with no agenda, no demands, and no busy-ness.  Enjoy some real recreation or re-creation and come back renewed, refreshed, and re-born.  Sit on your lanai and watch the local wildlife, go to the beach and listen to the surf, find a nice chair in your home and practice silent prayer, turn off the television, social media, and all the noise and enjoy the silence.  It is in the silence where we hear the voice of God. Take a weekly holy mini vacation and you will notice God’s grace abundantly flows.  Take a Sabbath this week, or better yet, take a holy trip down God’s “holiday road.”

REFERENCES

(1) https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/05/judith-shulevitz-on-the-radical-idea-of-the-sabbath/56689/

(2) http://www.e-benedictine.com/abouttherule/

SERMON – TRINITY SUNDAY 5/27/18 St. Monica’s

Isaiah 6:1-8; Canticle 13; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

 The Mystery of the Trinity

Today is Trinity Sunday and I know for many of my colleagues, it is one of the more difficult Sundays to preach.  Trying to explain the Trinity is more difficult than trying to explain the vast and expansive nature of the universe. There is still so much mystery about our universe and even today, science is exploring concepts like “Dark Matter,” “multiverses,” and theories of expanding vs. contracting universe. So, how then can even fathom the mystery of the Trinitarian God that brought into existence all we survey?  To try and understand the mystery of the Trinity, it requires our intellect and our heart.  Let me give you an example.

I had a flight student that was an amazing intellectual person.  He was an engineer by trade.  He dreamed of flying from place to place for his business in order to save time and avoid the long lines at the airport.  He understood all of the aircraft systems, the FAA regulations (there are so many), and he grasped the theoretical physics of how an aircraft can fly.  However, he did not have a deep connection to aviation, and as a matter of fact, he really did not enjoy getting up in the air at all. The emotional draw of aviation never happened for him.  Intellectually he understood it all and could quote all the regulations, but his desire to fly was a practical endeavor, and the joy of flying was never a part of his pursuit.  Unfortunately, his intellectual exercise in concepts prevented him from actually learning, or even gaining the motivation to learn how to manipulate the controls. My star pupil never soloed, never earned his pilot’s license, and never became an aviation-loving pilot.

Exploring theology intellectually, especially the doctrine of the Trinity requires us to explore concepts, theories, and yes, even the heresies.   So please, don’t get me wrong, I believe critical thinking is essential to our faith, but if our exploration ends there, we miss what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  We overlook the relational nature of our faith.  We miss the point. Faith it is all about the head, and the heart.

Facts, Figures, and Heresies, oh my!

In seminary, I wrote a paper on the Doctrine of the Trinity, which was supposed to be written in such a way, that I could teach the concept in a classroom setting.  I researched many theologians, quoted the many Trinitarian Heresies, and offered a feeble, yet educated concept of the Trinitarian doctrine.  I have no idea how, but I got an A on that paper. There are two important things I learned from that assignment over ten years.

First, we have been wrestling with the mystery of the Trinity from the earliest days of our faith. The language we use to speak of the inner life of God has its origins with Tertullian, a 2nd/3rdcentury Christian apologist.  “Tertullian invented the word “Trinity” (Latin: Trinitas)” which he used to attempt an explanation of the God who is one, and yet mysteriously and relationally is also three (1).  He like us used imperfect human language to explain Trinitarian theology, a concept born out of experiencing God’s revelation within time and space.

While researching for this paper, I found this statement by 20thcentury theologian Karl Rahner, “God communicates Himself to humanity as He really is in the divine life.” Imagine that the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the inner life of God, is a holy and divine relationship of love, communicated through creation, through Jesus’ acts of self-giving love, and through the ongoing movement of God in the world.  God’s action in time and space stems from a love that is inherent in God’s relational nature.  Theologians have wrestled with this concept of “Three persons, one God,” and the idea continues to baffle all of us, but I want to offer you something that might give you a little glimpse into what I am talking about when I speak of God’s inner life.

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Inside your bulletin is a color print of an icon written in the 15thcentury by Andrei Rublev. Iconography has a rich history in our Christian tradition, and icons remain more than ordinary paintings.  Icons are works of art that draw us into a story through the imagery, metaphor, and symbolism depicted by the artist.  Rublev’s icon is full of symbolism and has been interpreted as an icon of the Holy Trinity.(3)

Take a closer look at the icon for a moment.  Some scholars say the person on the left represents God the Father, the middle – God the Son, and the right – God the Holy Spirit.  You may notice that the characters’ body positions create a circle, and the circle is a Christian symbol portraying eternal nature of God.  Notice that the features of the three faces are all the same, implying the oneness or same substance of three persons.  Notice how two characters are leaning toward the one on the left, who in turn is leaning toward them in loving gesture.

Finally notice how the prominent colors of the garments show up in all three characters, but your eyes may be drawn to the color of middle character’s garments, the one blessing the cup and who some theologians say represents God the Son.  In his garment, the blue symbolizes divinity, the brown color represents earth, his humanity, and the gold speaks of kingship of God.  So, we have the circle, the three characters in loving gesture, the same face on each, the same colors in each garment, and the symbolism of the Eucharistic cup.  Now, Rublev’s icon is in no way a full and complete depiction of the doctrine of the Trinity.  Using it today, I may have even edged close to a heresy or two in my explanation, but the icon provides our hearts and minds an image of the Trinity that we might grasp hold of.

As icons are supposed to do, we get a glimpse into God’s inner life of love through Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is God’s inner life presented to creation through the actions, work, and creative nature of God.  God’s inner life of love pours out into the world in love.   Did you happen to notice one very important feature of the icon?  Look closely.  Do you notice that there is an open spot at the table? That is where we come in.

Faith: From Belief to Heart to Hands

Bishop Michael Curry, recently preached these words and I quote, “Ultimately, the source of love is God himself: the source of all of our lives. There’s an old medieval poem that says: ‘where true love is found, God himself is there.” (2)  Additionally, ancient theologian Augustine of Hippo wrote, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek Him the greatest adventure; to find Him, the greatest human achievement.”

At the table of God’s inner life of love, the source of love, Rublev painted something captivating.  To complete the circle, someone must be seated at the table with God.  In other words, “there is a seat at the table reserved just for you.”  God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit invites each one of us, through this life of discipleship to take our place in the inner love and life of God.  Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  We are called to be re-born by the Spirit and to enter into perfect love with God and each other.  We are invited to be at the table of love, to be transformed, and to love as God loves.

Re-birth or spiritual transformation is not merely a mental exercise. Spiritual transformation is not merely learning all the doctrines and creeds and never taking your place at the table of God’s life.  Love is not merely our claim, “Yes, I believe all that,” and that is it.   Spiritual transformation takes us from belief, which is absolutely the beginning point, but then we must be moved to experience being loved and loving others. Bishop Curry preached this about love, “There is something right about it. And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love, and our lives were meant – and are meant to be lived in that love. That’s why we are here.”(2)  My sisters and brothers, we are here to be loved, and to love.

God invites us to believe in him yes, but God invites us to be loved by Him and to love Him, and to bring the assembly of the beloved to others.  The Trinitarian life of love requires us to believe, to receive grace, but to not sit back merely enlightened and educated, and watch from the sidelines and cheer Jesus on as he feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, heals the sick, or walks up the hill of Golgotha.  Following Jesus means taking our place at the table of God’s inner life of love, and taking our place in mission, by coming along side him and doing what he does. Re-birth means being loved and loving others, and that my friends will require the changing of our minds and yes, our hearts.  Being transformed by God’s grace, being loved and loving others, requires us to allow God, to change us, and to invite us into the divine, transformative life of God. It means allowing love to change how we live, and love, each and every day of our lives.

REFERENCES

(1) Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology, An Introduction, Fourth ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 249

(2) https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/05/20/612798691/bishop-michael-currys-royal-wedding-sermon-full-text-of-the-power-of-love

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_(Andrei_Rublev

“Keep Your Dream Alive”

485515_10153054943128741_8149624170005865054_nWhen I started professional flight training back in the summer of 2000, I had dreams of leaving corporate America behind and moving from the cubicle world to controls of a jet aircraft.  I wanted to walk away from the flourescent lights, boring meetings, high anxiety “dog-eat-dog” mentality, and pursue another way of being. I had dreamed of being a professional pilot from a very young age, but life seemed to divert me from that dream.  Now the time was right, and after months of study, training, and multiple check rides, I finally achieved my dream, and  I was a Certified Flight Instructor and a Commercial Pilot.  I was now licensed to share the joy of aviation with others and better yet, to earn a living as I did so.

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What I soon learned was that flight instructors are just like every other professional educator-we love what we do and we teach with passion and commitment, but we rarely earn enough to eke out a living.  Flight instructors work long hours and the stress of flight instructing can be intense.  The salary levels associated with this career trek are modest at best, and without at least a couple hundred hours of multi-engine time (at least back then) it was tough to get into the “better paying” career paths.  Those 1930296_21635213740_7093_nflying job opportunities, where one might fly checks for a freight company, get lucky enough to snag a right seat position as a Part 91 first officer in a King Air, or possibly get recruited into the airline pool existed back then, but God had another plan for me.

Fortunately I guess, several things got in the way of my career path as a professional aviator, but I am truly glad it did.  The events of September 11th had an impact on aviation as a whole and the industry struggled for a while.  Financially, I could not survive on the flight instructor’s salary.   Lastly, I could not afford to finish up my multi-engine instructor rating, which would have allowed me to build enough multi-engine time to find the “right job.”

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Then, there was God’s call on my life to serve in leadership in God’s church.  I believe that all along, God was leading and directing me to where I am today.  All of life is about the path we are on, the journey of enlightenment, education, and sanctification.  My experience of teaching others to fly through the science and mystery of aeronautics, inspires me and informs  how I  teach others “to fly” by the sheer mystery of God’s Spirit moving in their lives.

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I teach aviation and fly now, not as a means to a financial end, or even as a chosen career path.   I fly today to relax, to experience the pure joy of sharing aviation with others, and to enjoy the amazing beauty of God’s creation from those lofty heights.  My dream of being a pilot has never died, but it has
taken a different path, a rather joyful unexpected path.

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I was speaking with one of our youth from church, during the coffee hour the other day, and he shared with me that he had a dream of playing professional baseball.  I looked at him and smiled and said, “Never let your dream die, always pursue it, and you will find joy.  It may not look like you had planned, it may not take the well-worn path to an end, but in the end, if you stay true to your dreams and God’s will for your life, your dreams will lead you to joy.”

Peace,

Eric+

SERMON – Pentecost 5/19/18 St. Monica’s Naples FL

mentor-coach-768x511Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Mentor, Teachers, Advocates, and Guides

Have you ever had that teacher, coach, mentor, or friend in your life, the one who saw gifts in you that you did not see in yourself? Have you ever had that someone who looked past the rough and rugged exterior and saw the beauty and potential within?  I have had the gift of mentors like that.  My first flight instructor, my youth minister, my friend Curt, a priest friend named Becky, my Region Chaplain, and yes, my wife Terri, and so many more have been mentors to me.  What would we do without the wisdom, encouragement, empowerment, and drive of those mentors, coaches, and friends?

Many of us would be like the first disciples after their Lord had ascended, and before the first Day of Pentecost.  We may have been like them, spending our lives locked in a room, fearful, uncertain and discouraged.  Could you imagine what went through those early disciples’ minds in that room for those days?  Maybe they pondered, “Well, he’s gone, let’s go back to fishing, or return to our neat, protected, and normal lives.”  Maybe they thought, “We are just poor fishermen, and there is only a few of us, and we can barely keep food on the table, oh, woe is me.”  Scripture does not say this was what happened, but it would not surprise me.

When folks find themselves in difficult or new situations, it is not unusual to begin speaking the language of despondency, but it is in those times, and in all of life, we must realize that we all have an incredible mentor, teacher, advocate and friend.  We Christians have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  God’s Spirit reaches into the depths of our struggles and despair and lifts us up, God’s Spirit enlivens our joy and gives hope, and God’s Spirit sets the church on the path of mission in the world then, today, and tomorrow.  The Holy Spirit, God’s active presence in the church then, and today, moved that small band of misfits from fear to action, from complacency to engagement, and from despondency to a tongues of fire, violent wind rushing new life and mission that literally changed and changes the world.  That same Spirit is moving in us today.

Today is the Feast Day of Pentecost!  Pentecost “literally means “fiftieth” and signifies the celebration of the number of days which divides it from the last festival of Passover. We commemorate that day with the church decorated in red, and the vestments we clergy wear are red, and many of you today have donned your red to help us remember the vision of “tongues of fire” that fell upon the apostles nearly 2000 years ago on the Day of Pentecost.  In a single moment with the sound of rushing wind and the imagery of flaming, divided tongues, the miraculous, life-changing, demonstration of God’s great work of salvation had come to a pivotal point, and while Jesus had left and the disciples were all alone, God’s Spirit rushed in on the scene. 

The Spirit of God is always Moving  

The Spirit moved and breathed as she always does, like a forcible, violent wind or breath, the Spirit filled the house in which the disciples abided.  The same Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation, the same Spirit that breathed into the dry bones and brought new life, the same Spirit that was active in the Incarnation, that same Spirit was now present and active in this new little community.  The Spirit was as she always is, pushing forward the new life brought forth in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Then as a sign of the new age, a vision emerged.  A world separated by languages, culture, and division was now being restored in the power of the Spirit coming down on this little community. The imagery of “tongues of fire” represents the divine origin of the Spirit, the divine intervention in the speaking and declaring God’s Deeds of Power.  “The divine glory (was) received passively and yet (was) experienced directly, in a manner that is apparent to others. Wind, breath, and language; these are the works of the Spirit in that historical event, that event which, is still manifested in and through the Church today.

Pentecost – 20thCentury

Let me give you an example of how the Spirit works today, or at least, how she moved in one particular instance about twenty-seven years ago.  First, a local priest felt nudges to start having conversations with others about establishing a mission church, to serve a nearby emerging village.  Three years later, that little band of church planters held their first worship service in their new parish hall.   The Spirit breathed and moved calling us to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.”

Eight years later, new classrooms were added to the existing structure, and four years after that a new chapel was constructed.  The Spirit breathed and moved calling us to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.”     Four years after that a new space was added and the property expanded for mission. That little community has over its lifetime received and responded to the Spirit’s call, and throughout her history, she has grown and took on new projects.  She has lived into the story of God’s abundance, God’s amazing, outlandish, out of the box call to go and proclaim the Good News.  The Spirit breathed and moved calling us to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.”

By the way, that history I just shared, if you are not already aware, is the story of St. Monica’s Episcopal Church.  The Spirit that inspired that young church has not left her abandoned, but inspires us in fresh ways through expanding local mission projects, and revived ministries supporting the life of the church.

Just think about it, the same Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation, the same Spirit the prophet Joel mentioned that breathed into the dry bones and brought new life, that same Spirit that was active in the Incarnation, that same Spirit present and active in Jerusalem 2000 years ago on the Day of Pentecost, is the very same Spirit active in the early 1990’s here in Naples with this church, and she is still active today however, the people must respond.   We must regain our rushing fierce wind, tongues of fire bold spirit, so we might move from fear to action, from complacency to engagement, and from despondency to a tongues of fire, ferocious wind rushing new life and mission that literally will change us, and our neighborhood.

Despite the events of Pentecost, there were some naysayers who would not believe God was acting in this group.  They negatively retorted, “They are full of wine,” and like the cynics of old, if we are not careful, we too can get bogged down in disbelief and fear.   Trusting God and relying on God is deeply embedded in the history of St. Monica’s. Bold proclamation is in our DNA. We have a history here in which, God’s Spirit has guided us boldly, and so we might proclaim possibility, vision, and dreams.  Our DNA rejects scarcity, discouragement, and fear.

Pentecost Now and into the Future

We move boldly in mission because have a guide, mentor, coach, and advocate that sees more in us than we see in ourselves.  God is not the God of the tomb, a symbol of death, which would hinder us, stop us, or keeps us from moving forward.  God turns despondency and complacency upside down, because death is not the end.  God is the God of possibilities, and we are people of amazing possibilities.   The same Spirit who on that first Pentecost breathed new life into that first Christian community, is the same Spirit that breathed new life into a group of people with a dream for a mission in this village, and that same Spirit is breathing new life into us today.  The Spirit is calling us to a new vision, a new life, and a new focus.

For you see, the Spirit sees gifts in us that we cannot see in ourselves.  The Spirit looks beyond our rough exterior, our former miscalculations and mistakes, and she sees in us, great possibilities.  Nonetheless, we cannot become too self-assured, and too self-confident that we try to do this work through our own human effort.  We cannot carry this load of mission with only a few select individuals or one or two exclusive groups.

We have to rely on the fact that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness . . .  and that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” If we trust God’s Spirit to lead us, we can we achieve that which, God has in store for us.  The Spirit may push, nudge and guide us out of the familiar and into the unknown, but never forget that we are never alone.  God is with us, guiding us, empowering us, and giving us all we need to do the work we have been called to do.

How do I know? God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” We must pray for a new vision and we must dream a new dream.   All along the way, we have the ultimate coach, the gentle mentor, the strong advocate, and an amazing friend.  We have God’s Spirit, guiding us all along the way.  The Spirit moves and breathes, calling us to continue Jesus mission, and the people respond, “We will with God’s help.”

 

1 http://www.festalpulpit.com/6.html

 

SERMON 5/13/18 7B St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

What's your callingActs 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1;  1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

ROBO CALLS and TELEMARKETERS

Driving down the road the other day, I received a call on my Bluetooth car device for my phone.  When I answered it, you probably guessed, it was one of those Robo-telemarketers.  You know the ones.  A recorded voice said, “Hello? Can you hear me?”  “Oh, sorry, I was just adjusting my headset.” Then, the voice broke into a hard sell script to offer me the latest free vacation “to a fabulous Disney resort.”  I am sure you have received these calls like, the one about car repair insurance, Medicare supplements, and I even received one about the IRS coming to arrest me.  Do you do what I do when those calls come? Well, I just hit the red “end call” button on my phone.  I do not even give them a chance to give me the spiel.

I am sure glad God does not place the call on our lives using robo-callers. Could you imagine, “Hi Eric, this is God, sorry, I was adjusting the weather in India, but I want to offer you an incredible opportunity to serve in a particular type of ministry, designed just for your spiritual gifts.” Seriously though, we all have a call on our lives, but do we hang up when the Spirit begins to nudge us to respond to a call to serve? Being in community means we come to be fed, but we are fed for service, both in the community and in the Kingdom beyond the four walls.  We are a community of varied gifts, unified for a purpose.

JESUS PRAYS FOR US

Over the last few weeks, we have been talking a lot about Christian community, and what it means to be in fellowship with one another.  We discussed the fact that we are a resurrection community, an Easter community, a community raised from the ashes of human despair and strife, into the hope of life everlasting.  We are a family in Christ.  We are a tribe of “Jesus and His Friends,” “vines intertwined in the branch Jesus,” “sheep of the Jesus fold,” and a community living in the hope of “What if.”

In today’s gospel, “Jesus prayed the words we heard in today’s gospel reading. He prayed in the Upper Room on the night of his betrayal, knowing that crucifixion would follow with the coming sunrise. The words are part of his final words, and final words have a history of being intense, focused and passionate.” (2) The “aim of the prayer: the ultimate aim of Jesus’s more immediate prayer, is an aim for the salvation of “the world.” (1) Our Master, Lord, Savior, and King Jesus Christ prayed then, and prays now for us, so that we might have unity of purpose for our mission of love both within the community, and out there in the Kingdom. Each one of us has a part in that mission.

Jesus prays for us to be unified in him, gathering together for mutual support and love, so we might be sent out for mission.  Now unity does not mean we lose the beauty of the diversity of gifts we have as individuals.  As a matter of fact, it is the diversity of God’s people that make our mission in the world effective.

DIVERSITY within UNITY       

            As a nation, we have for over two centuries been gathered together by common goals and objectives, but sometimes those goals and objectives have become hidden in our own divergent agendas.  We have always been a nation, a tribe of people with differing views over issues, cultural differences, policies, and approaches, but it is the diversity of ideas, gifts, talents, and objectives that have made us a great community of people, and somehow God has held us together.

Born at about the same time as our nation, the Episcopal Church (4) is a community of people bound together through decades of tradition, but we are so much more than our beautiful traditions. Our common mission, our identity in Christ, our variety of gifts, different ideas, and talents make our branch of the Jesus movement a place for all. All are welcome, but we, like our nation can become distracted from our unity, and we can become sidetracked and then, the whole Body suffers.

Jesus desires unity of purpose within the Body.  Jesus prayed, “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” To be sanctified means that we are set aside as holy, sacred, and devoted to God.  We are called to be a people, who give of ourselves, and abandon our self-interest, so that we might focus on God and God’s mission of love and yet, we still get distracted. Likewise, if we were to be merely separated from the world and focused only on ourselves, we would fail to respond to the our corporate and individual vocational calls.

CHRISTIAN VOCATION

            In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear about the calling of a new apostle, after the failure of the one, to remain in unity with the body. Judas followed his own way and his own agenda and we know what happened.  “The appointment of Matthias as a leader is instructive for every Christian. Every Christian is chosen, called, summoned to a vocation and moment that no other person can fill, though every calling is woven into the complex web of the Church’s being.” (3)  Matthias added to the others, a diversity and uniqueness to the unified mission of the emerging community.

Unified purpose takes all of us, in order for the mission of the church to be effective, and our answering of God’s call as individuals using the gifts given us by the Spirit, makes us one. You see, the church is not a respite only, a place where we come to circle the wagons, and live safely in our own little building like the disciples did in the upper room.Jesus prayed, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”  Jesus sends us to continue his ministry of love and reconciliation, both as advocates and as workers in the Kingdom.  We are a community on a mission, God’s mission.

Each one of us has our own Easter story about how Christ has called us unto himself, and how he has equipped each of us for a particular vocation in the church and in the world.  Every single one of us has a call.  You may say, “Now Eric, I am not a leader,” but to that I say, “God equips the ‘called,’ he does not call the ‘equipped.’  In other words, God will give you what you need to do the work and ministry he calls you to do, because having a Christian vocation is part of having a Christian life narrative. Our life story join the stories of the saints of all ages, the Communion of All the saints, and together those stories frame the resurrection story of this community, and our common mission of love in Naples and beyond.

The only one who can tell your story authentically, from the heart, and with passion is you.  “But I have no idea what I am called to do Eric,” you may say.  Well, in your bulletin is a two-page Spiritual Gifts assessment.(5)  I want to encourage you to take this assessment, but do so by prayerfully considering how God is calling you to serve. Then, find a trusted friend, maybe your spouse/partner and share with them what you discovered in the assessment. Ask them if they see those gifts in you. Then, let’s talk you and I talk about it, and together discern what God is calling you to do in your vocation as a Christian disciple.

You have a call on your life as a layperson, to bring your gifts to bear on God’s mission. So, as you leave church today, imagine that your cell phone is ringing or vibrating.  Maybe you look down and you see the caller ID, “God is calling.” What are you going to do.  Seriously now, God is calling, are you ready to answer the call?

REFERENCES

(1) Janzen, J Gerald. “The Scope of Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17.” Encounter, vol. 67, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1-26.

(2)       Lueking, F Dean. “That They May Be One.” The Christian Century, vol. 114, no. 14, 23 Apr. 1997, p. 407.

(3) https://livingchurch.org/2018/05/07/5-13-for-our-lives/

(4) BRIEF HISTORY of the EPISCOPAL CHURCH http://www.dsoconnections.org/2017/08/30/a-brief-history-of-the-episcopal-church/

n 1789, after the American Revolution, an assembly met in Philadelphia to unify all Anglicans in the United States into a single national church. A constitution was adopted along with a set of canonical laws, and the English Book of Common Prayer of 1662 was revised, principally by removing the prayer for the English monarch. Samuel Seabury was ordained in Scotland as the first American bishop.

(5) SPIRITUAL GIFTS ASSESSEMENT

http://www.stmonicasnaples.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Spiritual-Gifts-Assessment-2018PDF.pdf

 

 

Sunday 5-6-18, St. Monica’s Naples, “Feast of Our Patron Saint, Monica”

Jesus and his friendsJohn 16:20-42; Acts 10:44-48;Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

Friendship in 21stcentury

         Jesus said, “I have called you friends.” I Googled the top 50 songs about friends the other day, which I will not name all fifty, but I will share just a few.  See how many of these songs, your have heard before:  Queen, “You’re my Best Friend,” The Beatles, “With a Little Help from my friends,” Andrew Gold, “Thank you for Being my Friend” (Golden Girls Theme), Bill Withers, “Lean on Me,” and my favorite by James Taylor, “You’ve Got a Friend.”  If you were to look at the lyrics of each of these songs, you will get a pretty good idea about friendship in postmodern times, but do the words of these songs capture what Jesus meant?

Today, I think we may be losing the whole idea of friendship, especially the level of friendship Jesus desires for us with him, and with each other.   Here is an example.  According to Facebook, I have over 1,000 “friends.” I am not bragging, but most of the people I am “friends” with on Facebook are people I have merely only met before.  The idea that all 1004 are my real friends, or are people in my life that even meet the friend standard of some of those wonderful ballads I just named is just not possible.

According to a 2016 Huffington Post article, “Science says we can really only have five close friends at a time.” (3) The researcher says, “we are only capable of having a finite number of people in our social sphere — 150 to be exact — due to the size of our brains. The closest emotional layer — the one we consider to hold the most meaning and connection — contains approximately five individuals, according to Dunbar.”(3)

We may think social media makes it possible for us to have an unending group of so-called friends, but that holds no water.  Our capacity the kind of intimate, committed, close friendship Jesus desires for us may seem according to science, to be impossible for we mere humans, but Jesus to have that kind of relationship with us all IS possible.

Jesus said, “I have called you friends.” That means all of us are friends of Jesus; close, intimate, connected, and transforming friends.  So, who are your true friends, and how are you transforming your friends’ lives?  What does it mean to be a part of “Jesus and His Friends?”

True Friend or Flatterer (Frank talk) 

         Have you ever had the so-called friend who “butters you up,” “blows smoke,” or simply stated, gives you nothing but insincere flattery?  Jesus said, “The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father.”  A real friend does not need give insincere flattery of puffed up feedback.  A real friend shares with you what you need to hear, and no always what you want to hear. When I worked for Sears back in the early 90’s, we went through a difficult and lengthy corporate culture shift. One of the core values we shared during those times was a new commitment to giving “straight talk.”  Before the transition, the company had a long-held culture in which, people never spoke truth with love and care about problems, and Sears struggled to break out of its old stuck ways. Systems no longer worked, employee relationship problems were never addressed, and strategies never had solid planning and financial underpinnings.   Finally when people began speaking truth in love, or as we called it “straight talk,” many of the operational and personnel problems were addressed, and a new culture of cooperation emerged.

Theologian Gail O’Day wrote, in first century Greco-Roman culture, “To be someone’s friend was to speak frankly and honestly to them and to hold nothing back.” (1) Jesus was all about straight talk with his disciples and the religious system of his time.  He told Peter when he tried to deter him from the cross, “Get thee behind me Satan.”  He also told him to “feed his sheep” after he had to ask him three times if he loved him. Jesus challenged his disciples about their trust in him, “O You of Little Faith.

I believe we need that kind of “straight talk” and loving frankness in the church today. We need to lovingly remove our masks of so-called good Christian culture, and be real with one another, and have a closeness that allows us to share, what we often might not want to hear, but what we need to hear, all for our own good, and the good of the community.  Friends need a little straight talk but also, we need to walk the talk.

Friends: Following Jesus’ commandments

         Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Gail O’Day wrote, “Friendship is not simply an abstract social and moral virtue; it achieves its real worth when it is modeled and embodied in practice.” (1) Jesus taught us the simplest of commands, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And Love your neighbor as yourself.” That kind of love transcends oneself. Jesus explains that loving God and neighbor describes how we should be willing to lay down our lives for our friends.

I know I would risk my life for my wife and daughter, my mother and siblings, but would I risk my life for others?  I sure hope I would when the moment comes, but maybe Jesus means something even more simple than sacrificing our life for someone.  Maybe Jesus is telling us that laying down our life means, setting aside our own agenda, our own desires and wants, for what may very well be the best thing for our friend, for our community, and for God’s will.

O’Day also wrote, “Friendship moves a person from being a private individual to a member of a social group based on something beyond kinship.” (1)  “Jesus and His Friends” move outside ourselves and follow the life giving, sacrificial approach to following God’s will. According to the Urban Dictionary, “A friend is someone who would sacrifice their life and happiness for you. A friend is someone who will come with you when you have to do boring things like watch badrecitals, go to stuffy parties, or wait in boring lobbies.” (2) Simply said, “Jesus and His friends” make time for cultivating the connection of love between the other, even if it means setting aside our own desires, needs, and wants. 

Friendship:  Monica and A Toy Story

“Jesus and His Friends” must walk the talk.  We can find examples of that kind of friendship throughout the history of the church.   We could not ask for a better Patron Saint, Monica whom we commemorate today.  She was the Mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest theologians of the church. Her life was dedicated to her son’s secular success in life, but despite her own desires, she eventually committed herself to seeing him become a person of faith and a convert to Christianity.  I am so glad she did because Augustine’s writings and theological work have become the basis of our understanding of the faith today.

Thanks to his mother’s friendship, straight talk, and acts of love we have a deeper understanding of God today.  “Monica is the saint of married women, abuse victims, alcoholics, alcoholism, difficult marriages, disappointing children, homemakers, housewives, mothers, victims of adultery, victims of unfaithfulness, victims of verbal abuse, widows and wives.”

St. Monica’s Episcopal Church is a haven, a respite, a spiritual home for all of us who have endured such terrible trials and troubles in life.  Monica is an example of what it means to be a part of the tribe of “Jesus and His Friends.”

“Jesus and His Friends” speak frankly and say what a friend needs to hear, but may not want to hear.  We lay down our own agendas and well-being, so that God’s will, and the good of the other comes first.  We center our lives on God’s mission of love. In a world where friendship has become distorted, and racking up friends on a social media site has become a badge of false connectedness and community, we need to recapture a simpler understanding of friendship in Christ.  Jesus said, “I have called you friends.”

Have you ever heard the song “You’ve Gotta Friend in Me,” the theme song of the movie “Toy Story?”  I found an incredible version on YouTube the other day.  The song is sung by a three-year-old named Claire and her Dad.  I think the lyrics of this song, might give us with a simple picture of the kind of friendship Jesus is talking about.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mzhk2aheNfI

 

The song goes like this:

You’ve got a friend in me
When the road looks rough ahead
And you’re miles and miles
From your nice warm bed
You just remember what your old pal said
Boy, you’ve got a friend in me

 

You’ve got a friend in me
You got troubles, I’ve got ’em too
There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you
We stick together and see it through
Cause you’ve got a friend in me

 

Some other folks might be
A little bit smarter than I am
Bigger and stronger too
Maybe
But none of them will ever love you The way I do
It’s me and you, boy, you’ve got a friend in me.

 

And as the years go by
Our friendship will never die
You’re gonna see it’s our destiny
You’ve got a friend in me, You’ve Got a friend in me.

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES

(1) O’Day, Gail R. “Jesus as Friend in the Gospel of John.” Interpretation, vol. 58, no. 2, Apr. 2004, pp. 144-157.

(2) https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=friends

(3) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/dunbar-layers-friendship-study_us_5728d4c5e4b016f37893ac14

(4) “You’ve Gotta Friend in Me” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukD8zj6ngVY

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