Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Journey (Love One Another)

(A sermon for Easter 6b - May 13, 2012 - Acts 10, John 15:9-17)

I've been thinking a lot lately about the journeys to understanding we all make in our lives. We all make more than one. For instance I think of the grade school students who play on the baseball fields throughout our country on the weekends. For some their journey will include the harsh introduction of the unhittable curve ball and a transition into the joys of score-keeping on the bench. For some it leads to a lifelong passion for the game, growing up to play as long as they can, maybe eventually coaching on some level, but always watching and paying attention to the game. Some will journey away from the game entirely.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the journeys to understanding we make in our lives. The child who figures out she is good at math and is given the opportunity and encouragement to grow in her understanding. All of us take math in school – some journeys end as soon as the school no longer requires it. Others keep going learning about the logic and the algorithms.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the journeys to understanding we make in our lives. We journey in our faith. Some of us start as babies with water on our head, running too fast in the church hallways, taught about the Good Shepherd in all stages of curriculum, youth group, college (where some make a pit stop), continuing the journey into an adult understanding of faith, no longer getting more from the children’s sermon than the sermon and liturgy combined, growing into leaders of the faith whether we put on a robe or not, whether we sit up here or in the pews.

And the journey to understanding continues…
I think of what Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the people in Corinth: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 

Interesting that where he writes these thoughts on the growing maturity of our faith he concludes with the familiar refrain of what ultimately our all grown up faith should be about:
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
The Apostle Paul echoes Jesus at the table with his disciples, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the journey to understanding we make in our lives.
I’ve been thinking about the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts. He is generally considered to be an educated man, maybe a physician, and he most likely lived right after Jesus did. He was not an eye witness to what he recounts in the Gospel of Luke, but he may very well have been there to witness the beginning of the church in Acts.

Here’s the other intriguing fact about Luke. He was most likely a Gentile. Jesus, his disciples, the religious authorities are all Jewish – which is to say circumcised (among other things). The author of Luke and Acts most likely a Gentile – and therefore not circumcised (among other things). He doesn’t belong.

And so as he recounts the journey of faith it makes sense that in the Gospel of Luke he mentions the women and other outcasts who literally touched Jesus and Jesus healed them. It makes sense that in Acts he would speak of an Ethiopian eunuch who upon hearing about Jesus from one of the disciples says, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him (8:26-40).

It makes sense that in Acts a Roman soldier and an apostle of Jesus Christ find common ground.

No barriers - “Love one another as I have loved you.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the journey to understanding we make in our lives.
I’ve been thinking about this Roman centurion named Cornelius that we find in Acts. He is a Roman guard of the kind that flogged Jesus, mocked Jesus, cast lots for his clothing and nailed him to the cross.

The text tells us that Cornelius was a devout man who feared God which makes one wonder if perhaps he was the one who witnessed Jesus turn to the man crucified next to him and assure him of his passage into eternal life. Is there any chance that Cornelius is the one who Luke quotes as praising God and saying at the foot of the cross, “Certainly this man was innocent” (23:47)?

Cornelius gave alms to the poor and prayed constantly to God, but due to occupation and cultural standing – Gentile – remained an outsider. In Acts we are told he experiences a vision and in response sends a few of his men to go and meet Simon Peter despite all of the differences and challenges that lay between them.

No barriers - Love one another, as I have loved you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the journey to understanding we make in our lives.
I’ve been thinking about Simon Peter. You know Simon Peter, sometimes simply called Peter. I wonder about his journey of faith. How many times did he think he had it fully understood only to be taken to the next step and then the next step and then the next?

I wonder about Peter’s understanding of his relationship with God as he witnesses healings and teachings and lessons on what rules of the faith really matter. They ate with tax collectors and sinners (5:29ff). They plucked heads of grain on the Sabbath (6:1ff), Jesus healed on the Sabbath (6:6ff). I wonder about Peter’s journey as he listened while the rules he had understood all of his life about God were turned upside down:
Love your enemies…
If anyone strikes you on the cheek offer the other also…
Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned (6:20ff).

Like any journey of faith there were days that Peter was stronger than others. He is the one who declares Jesus to be the Messiah (9:20), and he is one of the ones who witnesses the Transfiguration (9:28-36).

But he also panics during a storm on the lake even though Jesus is with him (8:22-25) and he denies Jesus three times (22:61).

I’ve been thinking about Simon Peter and his journey of faith. He comes on so strong in the beginning of the book of Acts. He preaches and teaches and heals – he even raises from the dead – but it’s all to the Jews. For Peter, Jesus is the Messiah for those of the Jewish faith. There is Good News and love – but only to those who are inside the boundary.

Then he has a vision and it’s recounted in Acts 10:9-16:
 …Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane. ’This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

I wonder about Simon Peter as he processes the bizarre vision – and wakes up still hungry – to find that men who had been sent by a Roman centurion were at his door. In general Roman centurions were not his friends. These were gentiles and yet the words from the vision were clear, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

I wonder about that journey back to the centurion’s house and the proclamation that echoes that of the Ethiopian eunuch: Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?

I wonder about the journey that had Peter go from fisher to fisher of men to fisher of all men. I wonder about the faith journey that has an apostle, a man who learned at the knee of the Son of God proclaim, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.”

No barriers - “Love one another as I have loved you.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the journey to understanding we make in our lives.
Growing up we spent more time with my Mom’s side of the family – the Nordt side – than with my Dad’s side of the family. My last name was Zucker, but all of my cousins and favorite uncles were Nordts. I wanted to be a Nordt. The Nordts are German and therefore included on the table on festive occasions was a cabbage with deep maroon tones and raisins that had been cooked with brown sugar… and vinegar. It was not exactly made for a child’s palette, but I wanted to be a Nordt and when I looked around at what the Nordts were eating it included not just the delicious turkey and the yummy homemade stuffing but also big heaping helpings of this tumbled mass of purple ribbon and raisins.

I wanted to belong and the boundary keeping me out, in my childish mind, was red cabbage. I remember vividly the first time I allowed it to touch my plate. The tiniest little helping; and with the help of heavily gravied mashed potatoes mixed in – I ate it. As time went on I began to eat it without adulterating the potatoes - quickly – and only two spoonfuls – no more!  Eventually I mastered the red cabbage trial – I was a Nordt! And watched as my younger sibling and cousins looked at the pile on their plates in fear and I would not so helpfully tell them, “real Nordts eat red cabbage.”

Of course the truth is that it didn’t matter whether I ate red cabbage or not. Love was not dependent on my ability to stomach a festive German side dish. Love was not dependent on my last name.  Ultimately, love was not even dependent on how I acted at the table.

NO barriers – love one another as I have loved you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the journeys we make in our faith – the rules and the boundaries we think we know so well. The things we hold in our heads and our hearts that need no explanation, everybody knows what it means to be a follower of Christ. Everybody knows who is in and who is out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the journey, about the desire to get it right, about what it is that Jesus wants from us, from the writer of Luke-Acts, from Simon Peter and from Cornelius the Roman centurion.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

No barriers.
Just faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love.

Friday, May 11, 2012

RevGalBlogPals Friday Five: Random Edition

From Karla

1.  What is the first thing that comes to your mind (right now) that you want to share about yourself. 
I really do want to tell you... but we're letting it 'unfold' right now. Looking for a hint? See the previous post.

Also? Love is good.

2.  What is your favorite piece of jewelry or accessory? Why?
I have an array of baseball caps and find that a sacred few have sermon-writing powers for which I am grateful.

3.  If you could have a starring role in a T.V. show/movie/series, which one would it be, and what would your character be like? 
I like her answer.

4.  What is one thing you will eat this weekend?
Homemade chili tonight, probably a hot dog or some other atrocious thing at the baseball game tomorrow.

5.  How do you waste time? (If you do, that is...)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Birthday Manifesto

I make my birthday harder than it needs to be.

I didn't mean for that to happen. I thought I was doing everyone a favor. Just don't bother with mine and I won't bother with yours - deal?

It's not the age thing. Sometimes the age I'm turning bothers me and sometimes it doesn't. 41 was the most recent one. Whatever.

I've for a long time felt like once you hit 21 there is really no need to celebrate any more. Unless you really need to consistently rent a car, and then 25 is a big milestone too. Once an adult, birthdays are a hassle. The one day through the year where people feel obliged to spend extra attention on you.

I don't get it. And I don't want people to feel obliged.
In a previous birthday manifesto I wrote this about Facebook:

Now that Facebook has created a cult of remembering birthdays I despise them all the more. If you're going to remember my birthday on your own and want to send me a private message, great. Thank you. If you are only going to remember because social media told you, forget it. Don't bother.

The birthday 'love bomb' as I heard someone once describe it is a fraud. They don't love you, they were forced by Facebook to mark that they care for you on your wall so that they wouldn't be considered 'less than a friend' than the the guy you met who snuck into your 25th high school reunion (isn't it time to unfriend that guy anyway).

My sister's birthday is on Facebook, and that's her choice and that is fine, but I noted with great interest the mutual relatives/friends that marked her occasion but of course without a social media prompt did not mark it anywhere when mine came around.

I am a hypocrite in this as I do mark other people's birthdays thanks to Facebook's reminders, but I am the proof of the rule. I do it because with the birthday placed right in front of me I don't want to seem antagonistic toward my friendship/relationship with them. I am not anti-their birthday. I just don't like being told what to do.

Sheesh - cynical or grumpy much? Control-freak? Over-concerned about other people's motives?

Today I was in charge of the RevGalBlogPal Friday Five and in honor of Martha Spong I made it about birthdays. I'm glad I allowed folks to post their positive memories and spin on birthdays because it has helped me come to terms with my grumpy nature about such things... and why I need to quit it. One blogger wrote:  One day out of the year it's nice to have a fuss made over me and soak up the love. However and wherever that happens works for me.

For the sake of my son, my family and my girlfriend, it's time to quit the grumpy birthday vibe.

And so to them I says this: Thank you for finding my birthday important even when I have made it really hard. This year I will make an effort to be thankful that you care enough about me to mark a celebration of me even when I have made it so difficult to do so in the past. Any plans or suggestions you want to make in regards to this occasion will be graciously received and joyfully accepted. And if you choose to not do anything at all, that's ok too.

Please accept my sincere apologies for making this so hard. Hopefully, with a new attitude on my part it will get better through the years and eventually we will not remember a time when I was not enthusiastically supportive of birthday greetings and celebrations.

And no, today is not my birthday.
And yes, I have put it on Facebook.
Seriously, how can you not love birthdays with this little guy around (even though he's 7 now).