A young man had a vision: he had been walking along a country road, enjoying the beautiful weather. As he passed a certain pasture he was astounded to see a ladder in the center of… More
Boudreaux was drunk and lay sprawled across three entire seats in the movie theater. When the usher came by and noticed him, the fumes of liquor just reeling off him, the usher leaned in and whispered, “Sorry sir, but you’re only allowed one seat.”
Boudreaux groaned but didn’t budge.
The usher became more impatient. “Sir, if you don’t get up from there, I’m going to have to call the police.”
Once again, Boudreaux just groaned.
The usher marched briskly back up the aisle and called the police.
The officer arrived, surveyed the situation, and asked, “All right, buddy, what’s your name?”
“Boudreaux,” he moaned.
“I’m Cajun too. Where ya come from, Boudreaux?”
With terrible pain in his voice, and without moving a muscle, Boudreaux replied, “Da balcony.”
We know that when the Greeks and then the Romans came into Judea, they brought with them their gods. There was a god for everything. One for good crops, one for fortune, one for war. In addition, there was also a benevolent god of healing: Asclepius. You may be familiar with two of his daughters, Hygieia (hygiene) and Panacea (universal cure). His symbol, known simply as the Rod of Asclepius, is a staff with a snake wrapped around it. You may recognize that from your doctors office.
At the time of Jesus, Asclepius was quite popular and the temples that were dedicated to him, Asclepions, served as hospitals for the sick and places for those who could not be healed to come and receive assistance.
Our Gospel reading stated, “Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids– blind, lame, and paralyzed.” This pool of Beth-zatha / Bethesda was only a short distance from an Asclepion, a temple to the healing god, which has led many scholars to state that the pool of Bethesda was associated with this temple.
As Jesus is walking alone through this area of Jerusalem, he saw a man who had been lying by the pool for thirty-eight years. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” The man responded by saying there was no one to help into the water when it was “stirred up.” Whether it was an underground pool bubbling up or water coming in from some other source, the water was “stirred.” The superstitious believed that the first one in the pool when it was stirred would receive the healing that was being presented.
As an aside: some of you may remember this story from years ago, but with one other detail. If you have a more contemporary version of the Bible you will see in John, chapter 5, the verse numbers go from 3 directly to 5. Verse 4 has been omitted. It reads, “for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water.” Those who study these things say that this verse was added much later to provide some explanation as to what was happening, but that it was never in the original text. It is an interesting detail, but really has no bearing on the event. End of rabbit trail.
What is clear is that the man held to some superstitious belief associated with god Asclepius that if he got into the pool first, when it was stirred up, he would be healed. To him Jesus asked, “Do you want to be made well?” That is a loaded question.
Do you want to be made well? The smart aleck in me would want to pop up and say, “Well, duh! I’ve been trying for thirty-eight years! Of course I do.” But then again, maybe not.
In his book, Fuzzy Memories, Jack Handey writes, “There used to be this bully who would demand my lunch money every day. Since I was smaller, I would give it to him.
“Then I decided to fight back. I started taking karate lessons, but the instructor wanted $5 a lesson. That was a lot of money. I found that it was cheaper to pay the bully, so I gave up karate.”
The man had been sick for thirty-eight years. He was accustomed to, day after day, coming to the Asclepion where he would be fed and his needs taken care of. If he were made well, then he would have to begin taking responsibility for himself. Perhaps his life was difficult, but after thirty-eight years he may have been comfortable enough. Or, perhaps, after such a long time, he just didn’t care anymore. He was so beat up that he had given into despair. However, whatever the case, in order to be made well, the man had to respond to Jesus.
It is curious that the man does not answer directly. Instead, he says, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Obviously Jesus took this as a “Yes,” and brings the desired result. “’Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”
We know that the words and actions of Jesus often contain more than one meaning. This holds true here. Jesus is using the man’s physical illness to speak to the wider problem of spiritual illness.
So the story, “in the middle of a pagan temple,” becomes “in the middle of a pagan world,” Jesus encounters a man who has been sick, who has been trapped in sin, for thirty-eight years—all his life, and asked him, “Do you want to made well?”
Like the physically ill man, this spiritually ill one had lived in sin a long time. He was accustomed to, day after day, living this life. If he were made well, then he would have to begin taking responsibility for himself. He would have to begin to follow the commands of God. Perhaps his life didn’t turn out the way he had planned, but he was comfortable enough. Or, perhaps like old Boudreaux, he had fallen off the proverbial balcony, he had lived in sin for so long, he just didn’t care anymore. He was so convinced that there was no hope for a ruined soul such as his, that he was defeated, that he simply gave up trying. Whatever the case, Jesus asked him, “Do you want to made well?” For Jesus to bring healing, the man must respond. Jesus said, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” A response is required.
I can’t imagine anyone wanting to remain physically ill and I also have a hard time believing that there are many who want to remain spiritually ill. For most, there is a desire, a need, to be made well, to be holy as He is holy, but how and where to start. It is to these that Jesus asks, “Do you want to made well?” Funny, it is easy to think of Jesus asking this question to others, but always a bit disconcerting when we think He is asking us: “Do you want to be made well?”
In 1953, when Queen Elizabeth II was to be crowned, the invitations went out. For you and I, when we send out formal invitations we will mostly likely include a request: RSVP — “Respondez, s’il vous plait.” Please let us know if you are coming. However, when the Queen’s invitations to her coronation went out, they included the note: “All excuses ceasing.” There is no RSVP necessary. There are no excuses acceptable. The Queen has asked you and you will be there.
If you are one who cannot figure out how to be well, how to be holy, then if you will listen, you will hear the voice of Jesus asking, “Do you want to made well?” When you hear it, think of it as having that little addendum to it, “All excuses ceasing,” and set aside your concerns and those feelings of inadequacy, that you’ve fallen too far to be healed. Stop making excuses for the sins in your life, take responsibility for yourself, and then answer Him.
Jesus ask, “Do you want to made well? All excuses ceasing.”
You answer, “Yes.”
Jesus says, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
Some translations have “Stand up” translated as the word “rise.” “Rise” is used a number of times in the New Testament, but in several instances the word rise is used in some very exciting places. For example, when the women came to the empty tomb and the angel of the Lord spoke to them: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen.”
Jesus ask, “Do you want to made well? All excuses ceasing.”
“Then stand up, rise, be resurrected, take your mat and walk.”
You being “made well” starts and ends with Jesus, but in order for that work to begin, you must answer Him. You must say, “Yes.”
Let us pray: Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, He who in His great mercy gave us new birth, a birth unto hope which draws its life from the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; a birth to an imperishable inheritance, incapable of fading or defilement, which is kept in heaven for you who are guarded with God’s power through faith; a birth to a salvation which stands ready to be revealed in the last days. Amen.
Two brothers went to an elder monk who lived alone in Scete and the first one said, “Father, I have learned all of the Old and New Testaments by heart.” The elder said to him, “You have filled the air with words.” The other one said, “I have copied out the old and New Testaments and have them in my hut.” To this one the elder replied, “You have filled your window with parchment, but do you not know Him who said, ‘The kingdom of God is not in words, but in power?’ and again, ‘Not those who hear the law will be justified before God, but those who carry it out.’”
As holy as scripture is and as life giving as the sacred texts are, they are still limiting, for in finding Jesus only in the words, He remains confined to our intellectual ability to understand that which cannot truly be understood. But, as we know, Jesus is not just a figure in a book and he is not a distant memory of ancient events, Jesus is a living presence. Therefore, we are not only called to know about Jesus, but more importantly, we are called to know Jesus. We do this, not only in listening to the voices of others, but also in hearing the voice of Jesus for ourselves.
My favorite monk, Thomas a Kempis wrote, “O God, You Who are the truth, make me one with You in love everlasting. I am often wearied by the many things I hear and read, but in You is all that I long for. Let the learned be still, let all creatures be silent before You. You alone speak to me.”
We can memorize the entire canon of scripture, but like the two monks in Scete, unless it is the Lord that speaks to us, that writes the words of scripture on our hearts, then we are accomplishing nothing more than some academic exercise.
Holy Scripture does not say it specifically, but I feel as though St. Mark was one who had met Jesus, talked with him, and so on. Scripture also indicates that he went on missions with Paul and Barnabas, and that he sat at the feet of the great Apostle Peter and learned much from him. Yet, even with all this, there had to of come a day in his life when he set aside the writings and said, “Lord, You alone speak to me.” There had to of been a day when he encountered, witnessed the crucified and resurrected Lord for himself, because his Gospel is a testimony to that encounter and a desire for you to have a similar encounter.
He begins his Gospel with the words, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and proceeds in very succinct language to tell the story of Jesus.
At the end of his Gospel, those who study the ancient manuscripts tell us that Mark actually has two endings, the second being written sometime after the original, which they say occurs 16:8. That verse states, “And afterward Jesus himself sent out through [the apostles], from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” The later ending (16:20) states, “And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.”
In his Gospel, Mark tells the story of the Good News of Jesus Christ and then — whether in the original or later ending — after the apostles had encountered Jesus for themselves, they went out and proclaimed salvation, so that others might experience Jesus. So that you and I might experience Jesus, not just in the words of the text, but in our lives.
I encourage you all, in your times of prayer and study, to set aside the scriptures, the prayer book—to set aside all those other voices, including your own—and say, “Lord, You alone speak to me,” and allow the One who has been handed down to us in the texts, to speak to you personally.
A man came home from work to find his 5-year-old son waiting for him at the door. “Dad?”
“Yeah?” replied the man.
“Dad, how much money do you make an hour?
“Well son, I don’t really think that you need to be worried about that,” the man said.
“Please daddy, please tell me, how much do you make an hour?” pleaded the boy.
“If I tell you, you must promise you won’t tell anybody else.”
“Alright then,” said his father, “I make $25.00 an hour.”
“Oh,” the boy replied. He looked a little sad, then said, “Dad, may I borrow $10.00 please?”
His father got a bit angry at this. “If the only reason you wanted to know how much money I make is so you can borrow some, you can go straight off to bed. I work long and hard to provide the things you need, not so you can borrow money to spend on candy or toys or whatever junk it is you want $10 for!”
The boy was devastated, burst into tears, and made his way to his room. After an hour or so the father had calmed down and went to his son’s room.
“I’m sorry for being so hard on you earlier. If you tell me what you wanted the $10 for and it’s a worthwhile thing, I’ll think about giving it to you.” The little boy ran across the room to his piggy bank and counted out all its contents, exactly $15.00. “$15.00, that’s a lot of money son. Surely it’s enough for what you wanted to buy.”
“Well with the $10 you’ll give me it will be,” the boy replied.
On the verge of being angry again the Father asked, “What is it that you need $25.00 for son.”
“For you,” the boy said. “I’d like to buy an hour of your time.”
I remember watching some movie and one of the ladies said, “If I want to spend an hour with my husband, I have to call his secretary and make an appointment.” Maybe it was some book, but some character requested an hours time of someone. The response, “No one gets an hour.”
We’re so busy these days, that no one gets an hour and if they do, they’re going to have to make an appointment and pay for it?
Perhaps its not all that bad, but there are days that seem like it. Days when, even though you live in the same house with someone, the best it seems you can do is wave at each other as you come and go.
There are days and sometimes even seasons like this, but if it goes on for too long, it begins to impact the relationship. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it can also make it grow cold.
We must be willing to invest ourselves with more than simply sending the occasional text message or quick chat on the phone. There are, of course, exceptions, but most strong and lasting relationships take time or they are going to breakdown.
Now, you may be thinking, “I know where he’s going with this one. Going to lecture us on spending time with Jesus. Giving Jesus an hour each day. Yeah. I see what you did there.” Well I could, but no. A closer read of our Gospel indicates that, in this case, Jesus is not saying, that we need to spend time with him. This Gospel lesson is talking about how we are to be with one another: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Three times: love one another. Love one another. Love for one another. And I would suggest to you today that if we are going to love one another, that if we are to build a community of believers, then we must be willing to commit to one another. Why? N.T. Wright, currently one of our greatest New Testament scholars, wrote, “The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world … The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship.” To be committed to one another, to be that community of believers requires that we do more than wave at each other on Sunday mornings. Loving one another requires much more—much more than $25.
In chapter 15 of John’s Gospel (which is a part of this same section we had today), Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” “Love one another”—there it is again. However, Jesus adds, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
You can keep the $25, Jesus just asked for your life instead.
This week I read a story about a pastor traveling with a Brazilian seminary student. Along the way the pastor asked the student if he would like to stop for a cup of coffee. The student said, “I would be honored.” So the pastor swung into a Starbucks and went through the drive-thru.
Once on their way again the student was very quiet and when pressed about his silence he said, “I thought you were asking me to be your friend. I thought we were going to sit together and share life.” (From a sermon by Monty Newton, The Making of a Compelling Christian Community, 8/24/2012)
We must be willing to share our lives, not only as it fits with our schedule, but at those unexpected times as well. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated in Life Together, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.”
Loving one another, giving one’s life for one’s friends means sharing your life with others, so that the community becomes an extension of our own lives.
The Abbot of the monastery wanted the community that he led to be much more committed to one another. Needing advice on the subject, the Abbot went to visit his good friend Jeremiah, a wise old Jewish rabbi. Having heard the Abbot, Jeremiah asked if he could share an experience. “Please do,” responded the Abbot. “Anything you can offer.”
Jeremiah proceeded to tell the Abbot that he had received a vision, an important vision, and the vision was this: the Messiah was among the ranks of the monks. The Abbot was flabbergasted. One among his own, living in the monastery was the Messiah! the Christ! Who could it be? He knew it wasn’t himself, but who? He raced back to the monastery and shared this exciting news with his fellow monks.
The monks grew silent as they looked into each other’s faces. Was this one the Messiah? Or maybe that one? From that day forward the atmosphere in the monastery changed. No one wanted to miss the opportunity of being with the Messiah. If there was harm done, they immediately went and sought forgiveness. The monks began serving one another in ways they had never thought of, looking out for opportunities to assist, seeking healing and companionship.
As travelers found their way to the monastery word soon spread about the remarkable spirit of the place. People took the journey to the monastery and found themselves renewed and transformed. All because those monks knew the Messiah was among them. All because the visitors knew that those monks were true disciples of Jesus. All because those monks were loving one another as Christ had loved them.
Please don’t think that I’m saying you are not committed to one another. I believe you are committed in a rather remarkable way, but we must always seek ways to strengthen the bonds between us and to bring others into our community. Not so that we can have a bigger church, but so that we can have a stronger, faithful, more committed church. So that everyone will know that we are Jesus’ disciples.
So I will share with you what Jeremiah shared with the Abbot: the Messiah is among the members of your church.
Let us pray: We pray You, Loving Father and eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Your glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Your mercy, that Your Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of your name. Amen.
“Then on the Saturday was the army much stirred against the bishop; because he would not promise them any fee, and forbade that any man should give anything for him. They were also much drunken; for there was wine brought them from the south. Then took they the bishop, and led him to their hustings, on the eve of the Sunday after Easter, which was the thirteenth before the calends of May; and there they then shamefully killed him. They overwhelmed him with bones and horns of oxen; and one of them smote him with an axe-iron on the head; so that he sunk downwards with the blow; and his holy blood fell on the earth, whilst his sacred soul was sent to the realm of God.”
The death of Alphege. In 1005, through goodness and mercy, he rose to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. Because of greed and treachery and injustice, he was put to death. Like all of us, I’m certain Alphege had his faults, but most of his life was spent simply trying to do good, even to his captors, the ones who would put him to death. However, injustice was not something new. From the putting to death of the innocent to the starving of the poor to an innocent child getting sick and dying, the world has always been filled with injustice. In the midst of them, it is easy to look to heaven and asked God, “Where are you? What are you doing about this?”
John Stott, an Anglican cleric and theologian who died in 2011, tells the story of a man who lived in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. After witnessing all the suffering that took place there and enduring it himself, he finally decided to take the question to God, so he climbed the 2,300 foot mountain, Corcovado. You may not recognize the name, but standing at the top of that mountain is the 98 foot statue of Christ the Redeemer that overlooks the city below.
After arriving the man looks up at the face of Christ and says, “I have climbed up to meet you, Christ, from the filthy, confined quarters down there … to put before you, most respectfully, these considerations: there are 900,000 of us down there in the slums of that splendid city … And you … do you remain here at Corcovado surrounded by divine glory? Go down there to the favelas [the slums]… Don’t stay away from us; live among us and give us new faith in you and in the Father. Amen.”
Stott asks, “What would Christ say in response to such an entreaty?” He goes on to say, “Pain is endurable, but the seeming indifference of God is not. Sometimes we picture him lounging, perhaps dozing, in some celestial deck-chair, while the hungry millions starve to death. We think of him as an armchair spectator, almost gloating over the world’s suffering, and enjoying His own insulation from it.” But he then adds, “It is this terrible caricature of God which the cross smashes to smithereens. We are not to envisage Him on a deck-chair, but on a cross. The God Who allows us to suffer, once suffered Himself in Christ, and continues to suffer with us and for us today.”
Alphege could have questioned God for the injustices committed against him, as can we. We can look at the world around us and be witnesses to all the injustices. The horrors of war, earthquakes, bombings, hunger. How a mosquito can bite a pregnant mother and her unborn child becomes seriously deformed. We can question God and ask Him, “Where are you? What are you doing about this?” Standing in response to all our questions is the nail pierced, blood stained cross. In our own suffering, it can be easy to forget, but it stands eternally as a testament to God’s continued love and care for His people.
It is still the Easter season, but even now, during this great celebration of the resurrection, we must still remember the cross of Christ.
Winston S. Churchill said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it;” which is perhaps why author Dan Brown wrote in The Da Vinci Code, “History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?’”
Today, in order to fully understand our Gospel, we need a history lesson, so sit back and I’ll do my best not to bore you.
In the year 336 BC, Philip II, King of Macedon (northern Greece) was assassinated and his 20 year old son, Alexander, ascended the throne. Over the next 12 years, Alexander would go on to create one of the greatest empires in history. It spanned the territory from Greece to Egypt to India, and the Greek culture and language spread across the region. However, the young king, who we know as Alexander the Great, died at the age of 32 and the power plays began soon afterwards. Four of Alexander’s generals began fighting for control, which lead to civil wars that fractured the once great empire.
The Ptolemies took control of the south (Egypt) and Seleucid (Syrians) took control of the north, which left a small Mediterranean country in the middle: Judea. Eventually the Syrians would prevail in the area and begin a plan of assimilation, for it was believed that all the political tensions and rebellions would cease if the Greek way of life was instituted across the empire.
In the year 175 BC, Antiochus IV became king of the Syrians and continued this plan of assimilation and began enforcing it in every area of life, including religious. Many of the Jews in upper society had already conformed to the Greek way of life, but there were some who would not tolerate the eradication of their faith. In response, Antiochus gave an ultimatum: conform or die. (You can read a more detailed version of these events in 1 & 2 Maccabees, which is contained in the Apocrypha.) To prove his point, Antiochus marched his troops into Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple. He had everything torn down and profaned, including the altar. There, on top of the altar, he sacrificed a pig and then had a statue of the Greek god Zeus erected.
As the oppression of the Jews continued into the smaller villages, the Syrians came to Modi’in, where the Jewish priest Matthias and his five sons lived. The Syrians attempted to force Matthias to practice the pagan worship, but Matthias’ sons were having none of it. They rose in rebellion and killed the soldiers. Matthias’ son, Judah, became their leader and took the nickname “Maccabee,” which means, “The Hammer.”
Under Maccabee, the rebellion grew and in the Jewish month of Kislev (December) they were eventually able to retake the Temple in Jerusalem. They proceeded to restore the Temple and its furnishings, including the Menorah – the sacred lamp stand – that the Syrians had broken. The Menorah, with its candles, represented the light of God in the world, but after it was restored, it was discovered that there was only enough oil for one day and it would take eight days to make more of the prescribed oil. However, the Maccabees believed that it was important to light the lamp as quickly as possible. They did and a miracle occurred: one day’s worth of oil lasted the full eight days until new oil could be made. From that point on, the Jews have celebrated the eight day Festival of Light: Hanukkah, which means “dedication.” It is the Feast of Dedication when the Temple was restored and rededicated to the One True God.
Our Gospel reading today began with, “At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple…” We’ve said it before, the seemingly minor details that the Gospel writers include are always important, and help us to more fully understand the message being taught. It wasn’t a coincidence that Jesus showed up on this day. He is about to make a point that will push the religious leaders over the proverbial edge.
They begin by asking Jesus if he is the Messiah, the long awaited savior. Just a few verses after our reading today, Jesus will say, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father,” and that is what he is saying here. If you don’t believe me, then look at what I’m doing; but then he adds, but because you are not of my flock, then you still aren’t going to believe.
He prefaces these comments with, “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me…,” and he concludes with, “The Father and I are one.”
About two centuries before the events of our Gospel reading took place, Antiochus set up a statue of the Greek god Zeus in the temple and said, “You will worship this god or you will die.” Maccabees and the Jewish people defeated him and for the last two centuries have held an eight day celebration every year celebrating that defeat and the restoration of the Temple. While this celebration is taking place, Jesus comes to town and states, “The Father and I are one.” Yes. I am the Messiah, but not the one you expected, for not only am I the Messiah… I AM the Son of God. I AM God. This Jesus is doing exactly what Antiochus attempted two centuries ago. He is trying to supplant the One True God. That went over about as well as prime rib at a vegan party. The very next verse, which the lectionary omitted, states, “The Jews took up stones again to stone him.”
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
I have come to bring a sword. Jesus claim to be God has been messing up folks lives for centuries, and it will continue to do so until the end. We’ve been reading bits of the Book of Revelation these past few weeks. Here is a passage that never show up in the lectionary, “Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’”
Those words make me cheer. Makes me feel like a Marine or something knowing that this is my God. For others, it scares the knickers right off of them, others laugh, and still others get angry.
This Jesus claims to be God, and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we know that he is God. He comes with a sword to divide. Yet, this Jesus is the Good Shepherd and he is our shepherd. “He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” This Jesus comes with a sword to “tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” and he comes to lead us beside still waters. To guide us along right pathways. To comfort us. To prepare a table for us. To anoint our heads with oil. To provide an abundance. This Jesus is King of king and Lord of lords, and he will never leave or forsake us. As he tells the religious leaders, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Sometimes, I think we lose sight of who Jesus truly is. We see him as this cute controllable cuddly Teddy bear. Today, we are reminded that this Jesus came to turn the world on its head, to divide with a sword. He brings out the very best and the very worst in people, yet for those who believe, he gives the power to become children of God. This is your Shepherd. This is your God.
Let us pray: O God, by the humility of Your Son, You have raised up a fallen world; to Your faithful people give a lasting joy so that those whom You have rescued from the danger of eternal death may enjoy endless happiness because of You. Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A sales rep had been struggling to meet the sales projections in his appointed region, so the manager called him in for a meeting. After a lengthy discussion the manager and the rep stood looking at a map on which colored pins indicated the company representative in each area. The manager finally said, “I’m not going to fire you, Wilson, but I’m loosening your pin a bit just to emphasize the insecurity of your situation.”
In Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd.”
We also know that, on the night before he was crucified, Peter denied Jesus three times. In a way, he acted like the hired hand. The wolf came, there was trouble, and he spiritually fled from Jesus out of fear for his own life. We can’t criticize Peter for his actions, because that could have just as easily been anyone of us in a similar situation. But for Peter, by today’s standards, he would have had is pin pulled out of the map and ground to dust. Yet Jesus responded in a different way.
Today, we have Peter and Jesus walking alone. Peter denied him three times and we know that Jesus is now restoring him by asking him three times, “Do you love me?” Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” and finally, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus doesn’t say, “OK. Good answer.” Instead, Jesus says, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and finally, “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus is the Good Shepherd and by today’s standards, Peter should have been fired, but instead Jesus makes Peter a shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but he is asking Peter to now share in this ministry of caring for God’s people, and he concludes by saying to Peter, “Follow me.” Do what I have been doing and don’t be afraid any longer.
What is Peter’s reward for obedience? Again, from the world’s perspective, it is a real winner: “‘Very truly… when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.)” Jesus is saying, “Be a shepherd of God’s people, follow me, and your reward will be that you shall die a most violent death.” Tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome. And to that we all say, “Sign me up!” However, in saying to Peter, “Follow me,” Jesus is also saying, follow me in caring for the children of God, but also follow me through death, for death has been conquered once and for all. Follow me, for there is nothing to fear.” — “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.” (Luke 12:4)
The one that denied and should have been fired has been given a roll in the ministry and eternal life. That was then, this is now, but the task and reward are the same. Jesus says to each of us, “Feed my sheep. Follow me.” Without hesitation or fear, we are called to be like Peter. Care for the children of God and follow Jesus. We have been commissioned. Fear not.
This sermon was preached at St. Stephen’s AME Church.
A man enters the Confessional box. He notices on one side a fully equipped bar with Guinness on tap. On the other wall is a dazzling array of the finest Cuban cigars. Then the priest comes in. “Father, forgive me, for it’s been a very long time since I’ve been to Confession, but I must first admit that the Confessional box is much more inviting these days.” The priest replies, “Get out! You’re on my side.”
It is quite interesting being a priest. You see the world from a different angle, because so often folks want you to see their “good side.” It’s not often that when you are all dressed up in a clerical collar that you can meet someone for the first time and come away actually knowing much about them. There are those rare occasions when someone begins talking and it seems they’ve lost the “Off” switch, but for the most part it comes down to respectful pleasantries.
You also get various reactions from people as you walk along. There’s always some who give you a hearty, “Hello, Father,” but there are others that avert their eyes. They don’t want to be seen by a priest or they have a certain disdain for clergy to the point that they won’t even recognize you as a person.
Some priests don’t think that it is necessary to walk around looking like a priest, but I do, whether the world accepts it or not. It is a way of constantly reminding folks that there is another way.
Of all the looks you get along the way, the oddest ones come from folks who have never really seen a priest up close. I was at the grocery store just a few weeks ago and the you man bagging my groceries asked, “Are you a pastor or something?” It was all because of the dog collar. Some will give you more than the once over and particularly stare at the dog collar. I mention this because I got this certain look while around several youth in their early teens. A girl – maybe fourteen – looked at me and my collar, then noticed the crucifix that I wear. Her eyes lit up a bit as she leaned in for a closer look. “Nice necklace,” she said, “it has a man on it.” “It has a man on it.” Now, it is one thing to not really know much about priest, but this girl – this fourteen year old girl – did not know that this man on my necklace was Jesus. She didn’t know the story or anything about Him. Her friend sitting next to her looked up and said, “Oh, that’s God” and I was thankful for her input, because at the time I was a bit too flummoxed to say anything.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” His name will be Jesus. He will be great. Son of the Most High. David’s ancestor. He will reign forever. He will be… a man on a necklace.
As long as Jesus is seen only as a good moral teacher, then there is no access to eternal life. As long as he is viewed simply as the epitome of enlightened humankind, then there is no sustaining Truth. As long as Jesus is only a man on a necklace, there is no salvation. As long as we, His disciples, do nothing, then we are not fulfilling his final commands: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?
So, what are we to do?
One of my favorite stories of the Desert Fathers – those men who lived in the deserts of North Africa during the 300s and dedicated their lives to God – tells of the time Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’
The founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaría Escrivá, writes in his first saying in the book The Way, “Don’t let you life be sterile. Be useful. Blaze a trail. Shine forth with the light of your faith and of your love. With your apostolic life wipe out the slimy and filthy mark left by the impure sowers of hatred. And light up all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you carry in your heart.”
The Episcopal Church has been around since 1789. Since then we have had 27 Presiding Bishops – the ecclesiastical head of our denomination. In 2015 we elected the 27th, The Right Reverend Michael Curry. He is the first African American to hold that position. If you were to ask him what is the most important aspect of the church, Bishop Curry would answer it in one word without hesitation: Jesus. He is passionate about this and believes the church is called to be the Jesus Movement in this world.
He spoke to us recently via an online video and began by recalling the words of the angel at the empty tomb of Jesus, “This Jesus of Nazareth whom you seek, he is not here, he has been raised as he said he would be and he has now gone ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him. It is in Galilee that the Risen Lord will be found and seen for he has gone ahead of us.”
Bishop Curry goes on to say,
Galilee. Which is a way of talking about the world.
In the streets of the city.
In our rural communities.
Galilee in our hospitals.
Galilee in our office places.
Galilee where God’s children live and dwell there.
In Galilee you will meet the living Christ for He has already gone ahead of you.
The church can no longer wait for its congregation to come to it, the church must go where the congregation is.
Now is our time to go. To go into the world to share the good news of God and Jesus Christ. To go into the world and help to be agents and instruments of God’s reconciliation. To go into the world, let the world know that there is a God who loves us, a God who will not let us go, and that that love can set us all free.
Bishop Curry concludes, “This is the Jesus Movement, and we are The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement in this world.” Today I say to you, “We are the Jesus Movement. We are the Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church branches of the Jesus Movement in Enid, Oklahoma. Go. Light up all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you carry in your heart. Go. Make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Go. Teach them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us. Go. And remember, He – the Great I Am – is with us always, to the very end of the age. Amen.
A preacher retired and moved to the country to enjoy a relaxed life practicing his favorite pastime: yard work. Needing a lawn mower, he rode his bicycle into town to shop for one. On the way he saw a sign advertising a mower for sale. He stopped at the house and a young boy came out to greet him.
The preacher asked about the lawn mower, and the kid said it was behind the house. In the backyard the mower was already running and the engine was sputtering along at idle speed. The preacher increased the speed and mowed a few strips. As he tinkered with the mower, the boy asked the preacher about the bicycle. He said he hadn’t ridden in a few years, but he really wanted a bike. Seeing each had something the other wanted, they decided to make a swap. The boy hopped on the bike and immediately tottered over. The boy looked nervous, but the preacher said, “Keep trying. It’ll all come back to you!”
Later in the day, the boy had gotten the hang of riding his new bike and was riding around town when he spied the preacher pulling on the engine starter rope. The kid stopped and watched for a couple of minutes. He asked, “What’s wrong?”
The reply came, “I can’t get this mower started. Do you know how?”
The kid said, “Yep.”
“Well, how do you do it? Tell me!”, the preacher yelled.
The kid replied, “You have to cuss it.”
The preacher rose up indignantly. “Now you listen here. I am a preacher and if I ever did cuss, not saying I have, I’ve forgotten how to do it after all these years.”
With a wise look on his face well beyond his years, the kid said, “Preacher, you keep on pulling that rope and it’ll all come back to ya.”
I think I was living in Dallas at the time, because I was in a very crowded place – a restaurant or a mall. I was walking along, minding my own business when I suddenly caught the scent of a woman’s perfume. I thought my knees were going to buckle. No, it wasn’t that the perfume was all that remarkable, probably just some dime store variety, but I had this girlfriend in high school and it was the only kind of perfume she wore. I looked around to see if I could spot her, knowing full well that more than one person had worn that brand of perfume. Yet, in that single smell, it all came back to me. All the fun of high school and thinking you were in love. All the memories of friends, hanging out, going to parties, and just being a stupid teenager. It all came back.
I’m weird when it comes to movies. Any movie will probably do, but when I find one I like, I don’t mind watching it again. There are however, some that I’ve watched many times and never seem to get tired of them: Harry Potter – especially 7.1, Lost in Translation, Station Agent, and the Swedish version of the Girl with Dragon Tattoo (I, as a priest would never really watch that, but I’ve heard it’s really good. It stars Noomi Rapace, not quite a Scarlett Johansson huba-huba, but close.) When it comes to these movies, the opening music begins and I’ll just settle in and smile. It all comes back. I know the entire story. I can quote the lines. Happiness.
On the night before He was crucified, we know that Jesus and his disciples shared the Last Supper. Following the meal, he taught them many things, and prayed for them, but just before he prayed he said to them, “You believe at last! But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone.” We know that shortly following these events, he was arrested. At his arrest, we also know that Jesus statement was fulfilled, the disciples fled. One of them, probably Mark, was so afraid that he ran off naked.
These past few weeks we have been reading about the events following his resurrection: the women discovered the empty tomb and how He appeared to the disciples on two separate occasions while they were holed up in the upper room.
Soon afterwards, the disciples must have decided that it was safe to leave, and fulfilling what Jesus had said, they went home, returning to the Lake of Tiberias, also known as the Sea of Galilee. Why? Probably because they did not know what else to do. They knew that Jesus had risen from the dead, but they didn’t yet know what that meant.
So today, we find Peter and the gang sitting by the Sea of Tiberias. Since he didn’t know what to do, Peter decided to go back to what he knew – fishing. The rest of them said they would go, but in doing so, you can feel their disappointment. The last three years had been so amazing. They had walked with the Lord. Witnessed so much – lives changed, miracles, new ways of understanding God, and now… now it was back to the nets and the boats. Back to the way things were. And just to pour a little lemon juice in a paper cut, they fished all night and didn’t catch a thing.
As the sun was coming up, someone called to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” Our translations puts a question mark after the sentence, but knowing who said it, I wonder if it should have been a period. Anyhow, he asked if they had any fish, and you hear the answer, “No… does it look like we’ve caught any fish. Oy!” But then they are told to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and they caught so many fish they couldn’t haul them in.
It happened for the disciple whom Jesus loved, John, first: it all came back to him. The voice. The miracles. Purpose. Mission. Life. ”It is the Lord!” When John said this, it also all came back for Peter: “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.” It all came back to them and they were restored to Jesus. They were renewed.
There are some, but I do not think there are many who intentionally walk away from God. For most who find themselves distant from the Lord, it has more to do with life, busyness, or simply out of the discipline of what a life with God entails. Whatever the case, there is an emptiness, a dryness that grows between us and our God, which is really unfortunate; but just as that perfume or movie or whatever the “trigger” may be has the potential to bring back memories and emotions, the same is true in our relationship with God, if only we will look up from all the distractions of the world, that busyness, and allow ourselves to once again catch a scent of the Jesus. If we will allow His voice spoken to us through prayer and His Holy Word to remind us of our true First Love. ”It is the Lord!” — Let it all come back to you.
St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “What a strange capacity man has to forget even the most wonderful things, to become used to mystery! Let’s remind ourselves… that the Christian cannot be superficial. While being fully involved in his everyday work, among other men, his equals; busy, under stress, the Christian has to be at the same time totally involved with God, for he is a child of God.” (http://www.escrivaworks.org/book/christ_is_passing_by-point-65.htm)
Let it all come back to you and rediscover how near your God truly is. Rediscover what it is to be a child of God and renew your purpose in Him.
Let us pray: Glory to you, O Lord our God, Your love calls us to be your people. By sharing our many and diverse gifts we share in your mission. We ask you, Lord, to shape us into a community of faith. Nourish us by your word and sacraments that we may grow into the image of Jesus. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, heal us that we, in turn, may heal the wounded. Form us to be instruments of love, justice, and peace in our land, and send us to proclaim your saving work. Renew us, Lord, that we may renew the face of the earth. Amen.
A man was painting the home of an 89 year-old lady in Spokane. She had a large family Bible prominently displayed on the coffee table and remarked that it was 116 years old and a priceless heirloom. the painter commented on how remarkable that was, and added, “It doesn’t matter how old the Bible might be, what’s on the inside is what matters.” She immediately replied, “Oh, I know. That sure is the truth. Why, we have family records and births and marriages and deaths that go so far back, all recorded in that Bible; we could never replace them.”
Episcopalians may be accused of being the “frozen chosen” or because of the the Book of Common Prayer, “Those Who Read to God,” but no one can ever accuse us of not reading our Bibles. I think we read more Holy Scripture on a Sunday than any other church out there.
In the study of Holy Scripture I know of some that set themselves out a plan for reading the entire Bible in a year, some three years, and others – well others are pretty much like that lady having her house painted, it’s a good book to have around to record family relations or press flowers, but other than that… I suppose we all have favorite books of the Bible, but I’ve also heard folks say that if it’s not printed in red (meaning the words of Christ) they can’t be bothered. It is also true for many that they, with perhaps the exception of the Psalms, don’t read any of the Old Testament. Their reasoning, “I don’t like the God of the Old Testament.” That is essentially an old heresy, Marcionism, in a new wrapper. Marcion believed that the God of the Old Testament was an evil creator God who the God of the New Testament, through Jesus, came to destroy.
Yet, what we learn through studying the Gospels is that Jesus was a big fan of the Old Testament, he quoted it about 80 times in the Gospels, the most memorable being when he had been in the desert 40 days and rebuked the devil. Seems that Jesus had been considering Deuteronomy when the devil came along, because all three of those rebukes came from that book.
For us, the Old Testament also helps us to have a greater understanding of God and how all that took place points to the need for a Savior. This is what Jesus was referring to in our Gospel today when he said, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” If we are to properly know God, to know Jesus, we must study both the old and the new. The God of the Law and the God of the Law revealed and fulfilled. The same God, but a more complete and accurate picture.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who we celebrate today, understood this. He wrote, “My thoughts and feelings seem to be getting more and more like those of the Old Testament. It is only when one knows the unutterability of the name of God that one can utter the name of Jesus Christ; it is only when one loves life and this earth so much that without them everything seems to be over that one may believe in the resurrection; it is only when one submits to God’s law that one may speak of grace. It is not Christian to want to take our thoughts and feelings too directly from the New Testament.”
The Holy Bible is more than a collection of Sunday school stories and nice sayings. It is the history of our God. In the Old and the New Testaments, it is the place to discover Him, know Him, and to be known by Him.