June 3, 2012

The New Testament text for Sunday is John 3:1-8. This is the story of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night. Whatever Nicodemus wanted, I sense that he wasn’t prepared for what Jesus told him. Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be “born again,” or as the RSV states it, he must be “born from above.” This confused Nicodemus; how can one be born twice? Jesus repeats his instruction with an interesting preface: “Amen, amen, lego soi.” This translates, “Verily, verily, I say unto you,” or “In truth, in very truth, I say to you,” or “Very truly, I tell you.” For me, this introduction is critically important. Like many people today, Nicodemus wanted to hear Jesus literally. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he has to listen at a different level of truth to understand this message. It’s not exactly “figurative speaking,” although “born again” is obviously a metaphor. Jesus is saying that “being born of Spirit” or “becoming a new creation in Christ” is something “literal” that happens at a deep level in our consciousness, a change deep within our spiritual nature. An example of this “spiritual birth” is depicted in the lesson from the Old Testament, Isaiah 6:1-8. Isaiah has a vision in which he hears the call of God, is cleansed, and becomes a new creation with a mission.

May 27, 2012

Ezekiel speaks to a people in exile. Their land has been overtaken, their homes destroyed, their temple plundered. For them, the whole center of their spiritual lives—the Ark of the Covenant, the essence of their journey from Egypt to Jerusalem, from desert to temple, the embodiment of their security—gone. They are like a valley of sun-bleached bones. And Ezekiel (chapter 37) speaks to this “Valley of Dry Bones.” They rattle. The anklebone connects to the leg bone, the leg bone to the hipbone. Ezekiel breathes on “Dem Bones” and a great wind sweeps the valley. Flesh enwraps skeletons and people dance and shout and praise God. Israel is once again, alive and thriving. Acts 2 tells the story of Pentecost. Jesus has been crucified. He rose from the dead and 40 days later, ascended to heaven. Now, he’s gone. The disciples wait. What now? Ten days, they wait. Then, on the day of Pentecost … Sunday, we’ll talk about this.

May 20, 2012

The text for Sunday will be Philippians 4:4-9.  Remember, this is one of Paul’s “prison letters.”  He writes this from his prison cell as a “thank you” letter to the church at Philippi.  They apparently had sent him a “care package.”  This passage begins by saying, “Rejoice, again I say, Rejoice.”  The Message Bible says “Celebrate!” and “let us ‘revel’ in God.”  In the context of this celebrative mood, the flow seems to be (a) don’t worry, (b) release all concerns to God in prayer, (c) think positive thoughts, and in the subsequent paragraph, (d) feel the resultant contentment.

May 13, 2012

Last Sunday, our passage from 1st John said, “God is Love.”  This Sunday, again from 1st John, the text will affirm, “God is Light.”  These two images offer an alternative to the God-in-the-sky way of thinking about Divinity.  The take-home message last week was since God is “Love,” we can claim that love.  We love because we are first loved.  The take-home message this week will consider the idea that “God is Light,” and if “God is Light,” how do we live in the “Light” and not in darkness.
The text for Sunday (1 John 1:5-7, 2:7-11) puts an interesting twist on being in the Light.  People talk about Jesus and praise the Lord, and think they are in the Light.  But if people think they are in the light and do not get along with their sisters and brothers, they are kidding themselves.  They are in the darkness still.  If we dwell in the light, as God is Light, then we have love for one another.
The first letter of John, just five small chapters, is packed with principles to ponder—“we love because we are first loved,” “perfect love casts out fear,” “let us love not in us not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth,” etc.—many nuggets of truth.  In preparation for worship this Sunday, please read the book of 1st John, read it slowly, read it in the “Message Bible” if you have a copy, and ponder its rich treasure.

May 6, 2012

From the lectionary, the texts will be John 15:1-8, about being “pruned branches,” and 1 John 4:7-21. Notable, in the first letter of John, is that little phrase, “We love because we are first loved.” Before we can make love practical (like the sheep in last Sunday’s message), we must claim that “first love.” This, for me, is the core meaning of “Grace,” and as per Ephesians 2:8, which we looked at recently in our Lord’s Prayer study, “Grace” is what finally rescues us. Receiving “Grace” is feeling God’s unconditional, no-strings-attached, positive regard at the core of our being. Nothing we have done or ever can do will separate us from the love of God, nor can it earn our place in God’s holy realm. We have nothing to prove, nothing to defend, nothing to earn by merit. All we need do is accept it, trust it, and live it. It gives us inner peace. It builds for us outer harmony. And it relentlessly motivates us to “feed the hungry and cloth the naked.” We do it as an overflowing expression of our hearts, and not for recognition or “merit badges” from God. The problem is that sometimes, people wear their religion on their sleeve (as I imagine the goats from last weeks sermon). People can become defensive, competitive, intolerant, insensitive, all the while praising Jesus and dropping their dollars in the plate. Before we can reach out and genuinely love others, we need to feel that “first love.” Before we can be confident and self-assured and at peace in the world, we need to accept that “first love.” Before we can open our arms as a church, be “open and affirming”, and welcome others without judgment, we need to do the same within our church family—everyone, unconditionally, no-strings-attached. And that means embracing God’s Grace, freely gifted to each and all.