A Billboard

 

“At that time, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.”

One of the first things you learn to do when preparing a sermon, is to find context in the passage you plan to preach about.  This means reading about what occurred in the chapter before, and after the passage.

I don’t know about you, but things around here have been pretty busy this week, so I realized that I had forgotten just what it was that Jesus said before he went out with his disciples…to refresh my memory, and perhaps yours, I looked it up… and found Jesus was finishing up praying to the Father, with his Disciples:

John 17:25-26

25 ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’

 Last week, I was in the Kearney Mesa area, running some errands, and as I walked out of the door of the office building, I glanced up at a huge billboard on the corner of Balboa and Convoy St.

It was a simple billboard, red, with white lettering with 4 short sentences:

“He Came.

He Died.

He Rose.

 Because He Loves.”

 Right in the heart of Kearney-Mesa…when on most days, what you will see are car dealerships, banks, Walmart, 24 Hour Fitness, Asian markets and restaurants and Gentlemen’s Clubs with signs boasting of Live Nude Dancers. Thousands of cars pass by this billboard each day…

And I wonder…what do those who read the bill board see? What do they think?

HE CAME.

Just a few days ago, we gathered with palms in our hands on the steps of this church, as a bagpiper led us in procession with bold, traditional bagpipe music, loud and clear, with our All Souls’ banner flying in the breeze, the cross was held high… the clergy followed with vestments of white and crimson, children were banging on drums, and various sound-producing instruments as we marched around the perimeter of the church building that ran next to Catalina Blvd, and Chatsworth.

Cars and bicyclists streamed by…and we waved our palms in remembrance and imitation of the crowds who celebrated Jesus entering Jerusalem for the last time.

I remember walking along, feeling like God had broken out of the “box” — out of the church walls where inside we celebrate God in great beauty, liturgy, music and tradition…but for our eyes only.

I thought, “ Now the world sees us commemorating the entry of a Jewish Street Preacher said to be the Son of God, the Messiah, riding on a young donkey into Jerusalem, some 2,000 years ago!”

But, then, I wonder, what do they really see?

I wonder, does the world know Him?

HE CAME.  HE DIED.

 Tonight, we are re-living the betrayal, trial, brutal crucifixion of Jesus.  “The most wretched of deaths”, according to Josephus, a 1st Century historian.

And as we move through the story of his betrayal, arrest and trial, I search for signs that the World Jesus was pulled into from the garden, man-handled, questioned, beaten, and dragged to Annas’ courtyards, to Caiaphas’ offices, to Pilate’s headquarters…I search for signs that they might recognize who Jesus is and know him, see God’s love.

But, the hearts of the world are coated with concrete so hard that no love can penetrate it. Their hearts are closed and they are fiercely protecting their power.

Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ 38 Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’- Here is the one who came into the world to bear witness to the Truth standing right before Pilate…and Pilate, another representative of the World refuses to see the truth, refuses to recognize the love of God.  [1]

When Pilate takes Jesus out in front of the mob, lusting for Jesus’ death and says, ‘Here is your King!’ ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’- The concrete hardens even more…there is no recognition, there is no love…The people choose to be ruled by human powers– turning their backs on the Kingship of God. [2]thinking they are protecting status quo in the Temple. Thinking only they know what God wants, a religious system that they alone know: the careful division of the clean and unclean, the sacrifices of animals replacing the surrendering of the human heart.  They had fought off the prophets long ago, and now they will see to it that this Jesus fares no better.

Jesus goes onto his death …carrying his cross, to Golgotha. From the cross, he gives John the responsibility of caring for his mother, Mary… he is thirsty, and drinks from bitter wine, and then announces his work is done, his suffering done, his assignment finished, to the glory of GOD.

BECAUSE HE LOVES.

 To the world he left behind on that day, some only saw a tortured man, with misguided beliefs of grandeur, dead, a corpse. Just another man, crucified among hundreds.

Some believed the propaganda spread by the Temple Authorities, and saw a blasphemer, who got what he deserved.

Others gazed upon his lifeless form, remembering their faces and bodies, where once disease and deformities controlled their places in society, now healed with love and forgiveness.

Others saw their teacher, dead; but filled with memories of his teaching that would linger in their hearts forever, teaching that they would pass on.

Through their tears on that day, they remembered sitting at his feet, (now bloodied and pierced,) seeing a glimpse of heaven and God Himself, and they were filled with sorrow.

They looked at the cross as they Joseph and Nicodemus carefully brought down his body; and remembered his words, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” [3]

 

To be Continued.

AMEN

[1] Johnson, Luke Timothy.  The Writings of the New Testament.  The Gospel of John. Pg 488

[2] Johnson, Luke Timothy.  The Writings of the New Testament.  The Gospel of John. Pg 488

[3] John 15.13

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Expectations

Two of the disciples full of sadness and feeling kind of lost on the “third day” since Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified-(for us Easter day- Resurrection Sunday) are walking to Emmaus.

This day they most likely woke up with saddened hearts, sorrowful over what they had seen …their hearts probably skipped a beat or two when the women came rushing into their house saying they saw angels at his tomb, saying the angels told them Jesus was not there, that he was alive

but then when Peter and John inspected the tomb, came back and told them they didn’t see Jesus, but the tomb was empty…their hearts probably ached and fell a little more in disappointment.

Now, here they are, walking along a dusty 7-mile-long road and a stranger joins them in their walk…a curious, kind of  nosey stranger, who butts into their conversation and asks them what they are talking about.

I love Cleopas’ answer, “Are you the only person in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what just happened???”

Jesus, (The Stranger), is apparently clueless, because he asks, “What things?”…and they tell him- oh, how they tell him.

They sigh, and tell him of Jesus The Prophet, who did miraculous things – and how much they had “HOPED” he would be the Messiah and save Israel.

They couldn’t keep the disappointment out of their voices, and even when they were told that Jesus lived – was resurrected that very morning, they didn’t quite believe it.

Because it didn’t fit into what their expectations were for a Messiah the overthrow of the Roman occupation, and the restoration of Israel to power and glory…

The problem was their expectations were too small for what God had in mind for the world.  So they were blinded by their own small expectations, so blind they didn’t recognize the Truth even though he was walking right alongside of them.

The Stranger then launches into an explanation of God’s expectations in all the Scriptures, beginning with Moses and the Prophets…and for probably the next 6 miles they listened…

and then, sitting at dinner with them, The Stranger does a familiar thing…something the disciples had seen many times before at the table with Jesus…” he took the bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to them”- and suddenly, their eyes were opened and they knew who The Stranger was.

Don’t we all have expectations for God? Our own wants, desires and needs go up in our prayers, and sometimes, (maybe most times) we are disappointed because God just didn’t do what we expected God to do.

Tonight, when in just a few minutes the bread will be lifted up, blessed, broken and given to us… let’s open our eyes and our hearts to Jesus’ plans and expectations for us…let us open our hearts to the presence and love of Jesus, right here, right now, in front of us, all around us- and trust in Him…

he will always walk along side of us for 7 miles or 7 million miles… on dirt roads, on busy street corners, in the shelter from the wind and rain… he never leaves us.  He is there with us.

Expect it.

AMEN

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Right Here Right Now Church

We were milling about in the sacristy, gathering up what would be needed for the first communion service in the community of people who are homeless at the ECC…on a Wednesday night, 530PM, shortly before the Wednesday night supper that usually draws about 100 folks in for dinner at 6PM.

The three of us had a small hum of excitement, anticipation and caution-don’t get-your hopes-up going on inside of us…we walked out into the courtyard…the decision had been made to have the service in the outdoors– in the courtyard-(after months of  having a service inside the chapel- we didn’t bring any one to the table from this community)…We set up the table, and began inviting people who had wandered in early for the dinner, and invited them to join us while waiting for dinner to be ready.
God was smiling on us this evening…we had 17 folks who joined us for this service!

When it came time to read the Gospel, I unfolded the printout I’d brought with me and read the Gospel, and planned to give the Homily I’d written… It should be noted that over the previous two weeks, I’d been given advice about doing a homily in this situation- “keep it short!”, “5 minutes tops! ” I was warned, “You know, their attention span is not long…addictions, sickness, mental illness…not to mention the aroma of a home cooked meal coming up shortly that they won’t want to miss”…I admit, I began to wonder if whatever I preached would matter…

As unfolded my short 4 minute homily, I looked at the faces of the people gathered around our little altar- and yes, some were unfocused, in their own thoughts and worlds and conversations with the voices in their heads;  but there were a few who were serious about this. They were looking straight at me- I’m not sure what I saw in their eyes…was it hope? was it suspicion? Was it yearning for a life-line? Was it sorrow? Was it pain?

I don’t know.

But at that moment, I gave that short homily all I had– because I believe the Holy Spirit gave me those words to say for a reason- and those words will matter to those who matter to God. Which is everyone, no matter where no matter when, right here, right now.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kingdom-Home for the Homeless

When the meetings had concluded, planning and  writing had been done, permissions granted, dates and times set, supplies bought and delivered…I realized that this ministry of “street church” , a weekly communion service for people who are homeless,  was about to begin. Wow! It’s about to be a reality…

That’s when it hit me. Reality, that is. Especially when the Rector said, “As the Deacon, you will be the one constant in the service each week; so it would be great if you will do the Homily.”

At first I was elated to be able to preach…but as a few days passed, after I pulled up the Lectionary and pondered the readings…I realized that this would not be the kind of sermon I studied  about in my preaching classes.  When I preach to a congregation about the love, mercy and grace of God, (the Good News) as it relates to their lives, it (hopefully) is a message that is met with open hearts and minds…but I slowly began to feel like a deer in the headlights about preaching to folks who were probably living in the deepest, darkest margins of their lives…a place where the main goal for each day is just to survive until the next one.  A place where the light and love of Christ is looked upon with a great degree of skepticism. A place of broken hearts and broken spirits. A place where hope  long ago left, looking for a warmer, sunnier spot to hang out.

But,then I remember what I believe in my bones;  that Jesus and the Kingdom-Home he offers us all is the true reality…I just have to figure out a way to help those I pray for and speak to next week to open the door of their hearts and step over the threshold into their warm, safe, love-filled Kingdom Home.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What’s Love Got to do With It?

Ah, February, the month of “LOVE”!

…or at least Madison Avenue would like us to think a lot about love, and with those thoughts of love, think about buying gifts, jewelry, cards, sweets, dinner out, etc. (I even think I saw an ad for a Valentine’s Day gift of pajamas)….to show our love for that “someone special”, on St. Valentine’s Day.

This year, February 10th also marks the beginning of Lent… and we, as Episcopalians, observe Holy Lent by committing ourselves to 40 days of preparation as we look toward Easter…these are typically spiritual disciplines that help us grow closer to God.[1]

Lent…Love…Valentine’s Day??  In the immortal words of Tina Turner, “What’s love got to do with it?”

Personally, I happen to think Lent is ALL about Love.

( ‘Not so sure about Valentine’s Day, as my oldest says, ” It’s just another Hallmark Holiday dreamed up a to sell more cards and gifts!”)

A few months ago, I noticed a co-worker of mine at the shop had started to behave differently at work than he had for the last year.  He seemed to be calmer, happier, (not so angry or argumentative), he was (on his own initiative) helping others, and didn’t seem to have a complaint about anything…totally the opposite of what I’d observed over the last year.  Curious at this change in his demeanor, I asked him one day, what had happened in his life that would bring about this radical change in his outlook each day.  (Not that I was complaining!)

He replied, “I’m in love, and she’s in love with me too…and her love makes me want to be the best person I can be, every day.”

In Lent, we are preparing our hearts for the greatest gift of love from God:  Jesus Christ…we are clearing out any obstacles that might stand in the way of the mutual  relationship of love between us and God- anything that might stop that love from flourishing within us- and shining out through us to others. Somewhat like my co-worker, we “…want to be the best person we can be, every day.”

When we love someone, we want to be as close as we can be to that person…we want to know everything about them, we want to please them…So, in Holy Lent-during the 40 days of preparation – we prepare our hearts to receive the unfathomable love of the Risen Christ-and we practice the spiritual disciplines that help us to be the best we can be for the One who loved us first…

And, THAT’S what LOVE has to do with it, Tina!

Fr. Pedro Arrupe says it so beautifully in his poem:

Fall in Love
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.

It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

[1] from 1.31.16 All Souls’ Announcements  regarding Lent

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Discovering God’s breaking heart

Recently, my rector asked me to conduct a 10-week Bible study at our parish. I’d never done anything like this before; in fact, I’d only attended one, actual Bible study– years ago in my former parish in Florida. So, this was both intriguing and daunting for me. I started thinking about how to structure it…the only “study” I’d done on the Bible (other than the one in Florida) was in seminary. This idea of structure was quickly dissolved when my rector then said, “You are not going to teach it; you are to facilitate their and your journey through the study.”

In the true, traditional, mentor-style, he then told me to pick what book(s) to study, set up a schedule, and let him know so he could get it in the bulletin. When I asked if he wanted to see an outline of each week, topics covered, etc. he shook his head and said, “No, I’m sure you will do a good job.”

A few days later, I decided on a study of 4 minor prophets.  I think I was drawn to them because of the class I took at SFM on the prophets a few semesters ago.  It was in that class when I was immersed in the study of those Scriptures,the major and minor prophets (those quirky, crazy, on-fire- for- God- guys) that I discovered God’s breaking heart. These same weird, unconventional, thorn-in-the-side-to-all-in-authority people (Hosea, Amos, Jonah and Zephaniah) were charged with communicating some very hard truths to those in Israel and Judah. (We all think of God’s harsh, violent words when we think of prophets… “Repent, the end is near! Change your ways, I am a jealous God, I will destroy you and your people…!”) However, as the Lectionary goes, out of 21 Prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible, other than Isaiah and Jeremiah, we don’t hear very often over the course of 3 years from the prophets.

Most of us, if the truth be told, haven’t really looked into what those guys were up to (or why). I also think this is why a lot of people get their impression of God as a judgmental, punishing, violent, distant, tyrant and can’t understand how Christians today could possibly follow or believe in anything like that.  Hosea mentioned something about that, when he wrote that God said, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (4:6) He didn’t mean factual knowledge, he meant relational knowledge.  Above all, in the Bible, as in life, it’s about relationship.  What it boils down to in all the prophets, what they are ranting and raving about, is- we have forgotten who we are in relationship to God; (and with each other) we have forgotten who God is– and how much God loves us-every last one of us, no matter what.

So, now, in the time of the prophets, God is sending word through them to bring their memories back, their promises back, their hearts back into relationship with God. Over and over and over again.  21 prophets, over hundreds of years, actually. So, in the words of my professor, “God then tells the prophets (yes all of them) to warn the people, that God is preparing to open a gigantic can of whoop-ass upon them.”

Unfortunately, we all focus on the can God is preparing to open, not the calls to return to God, not the grace, compassion, love, abundance and healing offered or provided. Not the open arms of the father welcoming the Prodigal Son home…not the 1 lost sheep found and protected around the shoulders of the loving God…we seem to forget that part.

Maybe this Bible-study-thing will be a way to help us remember…

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Postulant’s Evaluation of a Theological Field Ed. Experience

As I proof-read my “Postulant’s Evaluation of a Theological Field Education Experience” form, prior to emailing it to the Director of Theological Field Education, I look at the form  first as “goals accomplished”:  (1) Improve pastoral care skills, (2)Gain knowledge of chaplaincy as a model of ministry (3) Experience non-denominational ministry and worship”…I scan down the sheet where all of our various tasks and ministries were duly logged and explained, to reinforce the idea of “goals achieved”, etc. Next follows the ranking of the assignments, supervision, resources, etc.  ranking 1-5, (5 being strongly agree).  Check and check.

All nice and neat, and functional.

But, then, I read what I’ve written to answer the first of four observation questions:  “In regards to your Ordination process, what for you was the most helpful learning experience?”  My response:

I think all of the contact and participation we had with the residents at St. Paul’s Senior Homes was a huge pastoral care formation opportunity for us.  Learning more about dementia and hospice care; finding the residents so open and loving, and happy to have someone who spends a little time with them, finding joy in providing them with an activity that brought them happiness, and, just “being” with people who are facing some sort of struggle, whether it be  health-wise, mentally,  spiritually, or in relationships- and seeing how bringing Christ’s love to them is so healing. For me, this was humbling, and a rich spirit-filled experience.

Having just come from an afternoon meeting of planning  my ordination ceremony with the Canon to the Ordinary and my rector; I read my answer written a few days ago, and look at it with new eyes.  “…being with people who are facing some sort of struggle, whether it be health-wise, mentally, spiritually or in relationships... and seeing how bringing Christ’s love to them is so healing.”

From BCP, the Ordination of a Deacon: // // // <![CDATA[
function checkYear()
{
var year = document.getElementById(‘year’).value;
if(year.length != 0)
{
var compare = “0123456789”;
for( var i=0; i

“As a deacon in the Church, you are to study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them. You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship”.WOW.

On November 7th, the Bishop will ask me:

// // // <![CDATA[
function checkYear()
{
var year = document.getElementById(‘year’).value;
if(year.length != 0)
{
var compare = “0123456789”;
for( var i=0; i

“My sister, do you believe that you are truly called by God and his Church to the life and work of a deacon?”

Now I can truly, with conviction answer, I believe I am so called”.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment