Diovan dosage

John 17:6-19

Standing on the edge of eternity, looking over the abyss into his own death, knowing what the disciples do not yet know – that he is about to die – Jesus launches into his longest and most complicated discourse, talking first to the disciples – “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you” – and then to God on high – “I am asking on their behalf … protect them ….”

This portion of the Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel is, as one of my favorite commentators, David Lose, says, “The Other Lord’s Prayer.”[1] Whereas in Matthew and Luke, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray for themselves, in this case, Jesus is praying for them, and by extension, for us.

Make no mistake here: Jesus is not just praying for his disciples way back 2,000 years ago.

He’s praying for all who follow him: “I ask not only on behalf of these,” he says, in the verse that follows today’s reading, “but also on behalf of those who will believe in my through their word …” (v. 20)

Jesus is asking that God on high, that his Father and our Father: “Protect them from the evil one.”

Why?

Why is Jesus praying for our protection?

I’ll tell you why:

Because love is dangerous! Because love is scandalous! Because love is radical.

Not just any love, but the kind of love of which Jesus is speaking, the kind of love where we lay our lives down for one another, the kind of love that Jesus lived and demonstrated and died for – that kind of love changes everything. That kind of love changes the world!

Don’t believe me?

Look at the first three centuries of Christianity, when it was worth your life to be a Christian – literally worth … your … life – because those Christians, those followers of Jesus upset the Roman apple cart. Those Christians refused to bow to Rome. They refused to acknowledge the Emperor as God. They gathered in groups that broke all the boundaries, bringing together all kinds of people who normally would not spend any time together. They cared for each other. They held everything they had in common. They made sure everyone had enough. They healed the sick. They preached a Gospel of hope and salvation in a time and place when hope and salvation were in very short supply. They proclaimed that their King was a poor, itinerant preacher from Nazareth who was crucified, was buried and who rose from the dead.

Those early disciples?

They didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walk.

Because they loved.

And love, my friends, is a very dangerous thing. It is incredibly subversive. And it is so radical that the world doesn’t know what to do with it.

Which is why Jesus, standing on that edge of eternity, felt the need to pray for our protection.

Because when we live into our faith … when we live our faith … we are some of the most dangerous people on earth.

The writer Annie Dillard knows how dangerous this faith of ours is. In her book Teaching a Stone to Talk, she wonders:

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged

tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? … The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness (she says) to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.[2]

Now, granted, Annie Dillard is talking about the act of worship, but I believe that we should not only wear crash helmets in church (because this worship thing we do? It’s pretty dangerous, for a whole lot of reasons), but out into the world.

"Lost In Space" Robot and Will Robinson

Heck, we should not only wear those crash helmets into the world, we should warn the world, just like the robot in that old TV show, Lost in Space, the one who warned the young space traveler: Danger, Will Robinson!

We should warn everyone:

Watch out, world! Here we come! We’re on a mission from God, and it’s dangerous as all get out! Because we’re going to love you, whether you like it or not!

Love, my friends, is very … very dangerous indeed.

• • •

Yesterday, I watched a webcast from Washington National Cathedral featuring Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace laureate and retired archbishop of South Africa.

The discussion centered on mission in the 21st century, and how we are going to live our lives on a mission from God (OK, that’s my term, not theirs, but it applies, trust me …).

At one point, Archbishop Tutu was asked how we, as Christians, as followers of Jesus, can care for those in need. Which is when he pointed out that we spend billions and billions, indeed trillions, of dollars on weapons of mass destruction that we never intend to use, and that for a fraction of that cost – a fraction – we could more than feed the whole world. We could, he said, give clean water to every single person in the world. We could provide medicine to everyone who needs it.

It’s a radical idea, isn’t it, to take care of everyone, instead of focusing on getting ahead, on winning all the time? It’s so radical, it’s actually dangerous!

Which is why we should warn the world: Danger, Will Robinson!

That is, if we are willing to live into this dangerous calling of ours.

Remember, we live in a society is constantly telling us to do: “Take what you want! Don’t worry about anyone else! Get ahead of the Joneses … and the Smiths … and that Garcias … and anyone else you can think of!” This is a society that right now especially is saying, “I’ve got mine and I don’t care if you ever get yours!”

And what is our response?

Well, if we’re willing to live dangerously, our response is, quite simply, “No.”

“We refuse to live according to your standards.”

We are going to live according to God’s standards.”

“Which means we are going to love you, whether you like it or not.

And when the world laughs at us – which it will … when the world tells us, “You better stop that right now, because you’re upsetting the apple cart, and we won’t stand for that” – which it will … when the world attacks us – which it will, we do not have to worry.

Because God will protect us.

Because Jesus did pray for us.

Standing on the edge of eternity … looking over the abyss into his own death – Jesus … prays … for … us.

“Protect them, Father …”

Because they are about to go do something so wild, so radical, so … anti-social … that the world will hate them for it.

They are about to go out into the world … and love.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the 7th Sunday after Easter, 20 May 2012, Year B, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va.



[1]David J. Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, “The Other Lord’s Prayer,” workingpreacher.com, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=587

 

[2] Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41.

 

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John 15:9-17

Welcome to Brass Tacks Sunday. This is the day when Jesus makes clear – crystal clear – what he has done and what he expects of us.

And what has he done for us?

He chose us.

We did not choose Jesus.

Jesus chose us.

Jesus chose you. And you. And you, and you, and you, and yes, you …

And me.

All of us.

Brass Tacks: We have been chosen.

And why did Jesus choose us?

Because Jesus has a job for us, a mission for our lives.

To love one another as Jesus loved us.

Brass Tacks: We are chosen in order to love our neighbors. Not just as ourselves … because if we are honest, there are far too many days when we don’t love ourselves very much. We all know those times. For many of us, when we stop on the scale. When someone makes a snide comment about the clothes we’re wearing. Or the work we do. Or the car we drive. Or what we eat. Or don’t eat. Or drink. Or don’t drink. Some days, it takes so very little for us to stop loving ourselves.

Which is why Jesus doesn’t ask us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus asks us – no, he commands us – to love one another as he loved us.

Nothing more.

Nothing less.

Just Brass Tacks.

We all know there are a lot of different interpretations of the Christian faith out there right now. The arguments over what it means to be a Christian are being fought in our own Church, and in this country, vociferously and all too often, viciously. We know this. We have heard it, we have witnessed it, and sometimes, we have participated in these arguments. Some people say, “Christianity means ‘A, B, C.’ Others say, “No, it means ‘whack, whack, whack.’” And still others say, “No, it means, ‘yadda, yadda, yadda.’”

All we do is argue, it seems, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.

Because Jesus is crystal clear:  I chose you so you can go love one another.

Brass Tacks.

• • •

I’m going to say something here, and then I’m going to have to correct myself right away.

For 17 years, I owned two cats.

Here’s the correction: For 17 years, the cats owned me. Anyone who has ever lived with cats know that to be the truth.

The older cat was named Boomerang. She was truly the Queen Witch of the household, and she never – ever – let you forget that.

The younger cat, who was 14 when I left to go overseas, was named Riki Tiki Tavi ( actually, Rrrrrrrikiii Tiki Tavi, because that’s how it is said in the book).

These two cats clearly ran the household, doing exactly what they wanted. And why not? They were cats, and they knew that they were born without original sin, whereas we, the mere humans, were born with original sin, and they never let me forget that.

The house where we lived had a foundation crawl space, which was inhabited, as near as I can figure out, by approximately 1 million crickets. Every night, the two cats would go down to the kitchen and crouch in a corner, staring intently at what they knew was a hole between the kitchen and the foundation. (I honestly never found the hole in all the years I live there.)

The cats would hunker down, with their tails twitching, and their ears pointed forward, staring intently … waiting … waiting …

Meanwhile, I am convinced, down below, the crickets would gather, and one would cry out, “Who will go up into the light, and then come back to tell us what is up there?” And each night, the crickets would send up one – one – representative, and Boomer and Riki would catch it and play with it – because that’s what cats do – and eventually kill it, and the next morning, I would find body parts strewn around the house, usually placed exactly where I would step on them barefoot.

For years, I was under the impression that the cats were bringing me tribute. That’s what the animal experts told me, and I believed them – although why I did I don’t know, because remember, the cats thought they were superior to me, so why should they bring me tribute?

And then I read some new information. It turns out that the cats were not bringing me tribute. They were actually trying to teach me to hunt! That’s right, they were trying to teach me!

It’s called the Mama Lion Method of Ministry.

You’ve seen the Animal Planet shows, right? Well, if you watch that show, you’ll see, in great detail, how Mama Lions train their cubs to hunt.

When the cubs are small and still nursing, she’ll bring them pieces of the animals she kills, not so that they can eat, but so that they can play with the carcasses and, frankly, get the taste for blood.

When the cubs are a bit older, and on the verge of being weaned, she’ll take them to the hunt, place them in a hidden and safe spot, and make them stay still, so they can watch and learn. And let me tell you, if they so much as move, she whaps them upside the head to keep them in line.

After they’ve watched and learned, the Mama Lion helps them hunt. She’ll pick out the target animal – something small and weak, usually – and help the cubs take down the animal.

Once they’ve gotten used to hunting, and had some measure of success, the Mama Lion will go to the hunt with them, but now, she’s the one who settles in on the sidelines. She may direct her cubs in picking out an animal to kill, but she won’t do a thing beyond that to help them.

Because it’s time for the cubs to grow up and feed themselves. She’s got other things to do – have more cubs – so she lets them feed themselves.

In essence, throughout their training, the Mama Lion says to her cubs, “See? It’s not that hard. You can do this too!”

And isn’t that what Jesus did for his disciples? And for us?

Didn’t Jesus teach his disciples how to preach? And teach?

Didn’t he show them how to heal the sick?

Didn’t he teach them to pray? And not just any prayer, but the prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, giving the disciples, for the first time, an intimate way to talk to God on high?

Didn’t he send them out to do all these things, not alone, but two by two (because we are never alone in our ministry)?

Face it, folks: Jesus used the Mama Lion Method of Ministry to teach his disciples – to teach us ­– how to love our neighbors not as ourselves but as Jesus loved us.

Jesus chose us and taught us so that we could love just as deeply, just as broadly, as he loved us.

Brass Tacks.

Now I know this sounds rather simplistic, and I know people say (because they have said it to me repeatedly), “That’s nice. But what does it mean? It’s too vague.” As though love were something hard to understand, hard to give, hard to receive.

Or they’ll say, “Well, of course we are to love one another.” And then turn around and say, “Well, not that person. Because I don’t like that person. Because his dog poops on my lawn every night, and he never picks up after it. So I’m certainly not going to love that person.”

As though Jesus differentiates between those he loves, and those he doesn’t love.

On this day, on Brass Tacks Sunday, understand this:

Jesus is not suggesting we live in love.

Jesus is commanding that we do so.

He has chosen us – us – to carry on his mission in the world.

This is now our mission in life.

To love.

Not just the people we like, not just the people we know, but everyone. Regardless of race or religion or ethnicity or nationality or gender or orientation.

Everyone.

The good news for us this morning is that as Episcopalians, we not only know what we are supposed to do, we know how we are supposed to do this.

Because we have the Baptismal Covenant, which lays out for us the steps we need to take so that we indeed can love one another as Jesus loved us. Take our your prayerbooks and look it up. Turn to page 304.

What does it tell us to do?

To continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, and the prayers. Tell me: How many of you say prayers before you eat? And how many of you pray in public before you eat?  That’s what we have vowed to do, remember.

We break bread together at this table, welcoming all, sharing all that we have with each other.

We know how to repent of our sins – we’ve done the Hokey Pokey in this very church, have we not?

We serve others … instead of demanding to be served.

We work for justice and for peace … and not for our justice and peace, but for God’s justice and peace … even if it means that some will deride us and question our motives.

And we respect each other … always.

Again, some of us may say, “This is too hard. It’s too vague. I don’t understand.”

Well, let me tell you, on Brass Tacks Sunday:

Yes, this is hard. It’s very hard to love someone, especially when you don’t like them. But there is nothing vague about loving. We either love or we don’t.

We didn’t choose.

We have been chosen.

Brass Tacks.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 13 May 2012, Year B, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va.


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Come and see

John 1:29-42

            The man was walking alongside the river late one night, trying to get from one place to the next, neither of them being home, but needing to keep going. It was a cold night, clear and crisp, with the stars shining brightly above him and the waters flowing smoothly beside him and the path laid out easily below him. Other people were walking that path beside the river with him, people also intent on getting from one place to the next, hoping that they could end their journeys for the day sooner rather than later, for no one likes to be out at night, especially when they were not at home.

And then the man heard the young men in the group ahead of him singing, singing songs loudly and joyfully (what, he thought, was there to be joyful about on this night, when it seemed so dark and life was getting more difficult with each rising of the sun?), praising God (which God? he wondered) and telling some sort of story with their songs (what story? he wanted to know).

The man continued to walk along, following these singers, feeling better for hearing them but not understanding why.

Finally, he asked the young men: Who are you singing about? What God are you praising? What is the meaning of this joyful music? What do you have to be happy about? (For the man was hearing these songs and asking these questions at the very end of a long and brutal war, a war in which his people suffered mightily at the hands of a greater and very oppressive enemy.)

And then the young men began to speak, to tell the story of another young man, from a place very far away in a land barely known to them. They told of how angels had appeared in the sky, singing, “Glory to God on high.” They told of how this one young man was God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, who would save their people, who healed the sick and gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, who made the lame not just walk but leap like deer, who raised people from the dead, who fed the hungry and who filled their hearts with joy … with love … and most of all, with hope. And they told him, “Whatever you are looking for, you will find it in this man from this faraway land.”

As the young men spoke, the man’s heart was filled with that love, and he began to feel the joy and for the first time in a very long time, he began to believe that he, too, would find hope in a world that for so very long had seemed so very hopeless.

Then he asked them, “Where are you staying?”

And they replied, “Come and see.”

So he went and he saw and he heard and he believed. All night long, they talked and sang and prayed, and before the sun came up on the new morning, the man who had been walking alongside the river on a very dark night believed. He had not seen the man who gave such promise to the world, he did not know the whole story, and yet … he knew enough, enough to believe. He continued to learn the story from the youths, and he went to church, and three years later, he was baptized, and seven years after that, he was confirmed, and then he, too, became an evangelist, he, too, became the one walking along the river, singing the songs, and one day, years later, he became a priest.

And now he is the one who tells the story and gives people hope, and he is the one who teaches and preaches and pastors and baptizes and marries and buries the people.

All because one night, one cold, crisp Christmas Eve night, in the deepest part of South Sudan, walking alongside the River Nile, he heard Christmas songs being sung and the Christmas story being told, and when the young men said to him, “Come and see,” he went and saw and he believed.

• • •

The group gathered on the dock by the Bay of Gonave in Haiti, looking across the 2-mile stretch of open water to the Isle of Gonave. They were going, some for the first time, to see the tiny church of St. Simon and St. Jude in a village precariously perched atop one of the island’s mountain ridges, a church that only a year before had been but a dream but now was ready to be consecrated.

Normally, the trip across the bay came via a two-hour ferry ride, but on this day, a non-governmental organization was loaning the use of a speedboat to take the group across. Forty minutes later, they landed on the island, a fairly desolate place smack dab in the craw of the western end of the island of Hispaniola, where in 1492, Christopher Columbus had sailed the ocean blue and landed, bringing Christianity with him.

Somewhere on the heights of Gonave was a tiny village, if it even could be called that, known as Platon Balai, a wind-swept place of rocks and scrub brush, with little fresh water, little arable land and a population of hardy souls who for years had wanted a church of their own but had no way to build one. Until a group of Christians arrived – some from Arkansas, some from Georgia. Over the years, a medical clinic had been built nearby. Then a school room. And now, finally, after intense story-telling followed by even more intense fund-raising followed by incredibly hard work, a church had been built, a real church, made of concrete blocks with a tin roof well secured to withstand the storms and hurricanes that routinely attacked Haiti.

All the people needed now was the Bishop of Haiti to come to consecrate St. Simon and St. Jude, the bishop to come and bless the place and the people, to celebrate a Eucharist and baptize and confirm.

So he came, this Bishop, who once had served as the priest on the island, caring for the few thousand hardy souls who lived there, planting parishes without church buildings, organizing the people, praying with them and for them. The bishop led the group of Americans over the water by speedboat, then across the island on sorry excuses for roads and paths in borrowed SUVs for two hours, and then on foot on a meandering path that cut back and forth through the brush and up the mountain for another hour until the donkeys that had been rented finally caught up, and then by donkey ride up the rest of the mountain for yet another hour.

“We go,” the bishop said, “where the people are. If we need to drive for two hours, then walk for an hour, then ride a donkey for another hour, that is what we do. We go,” he said, “to the people, and the church grows.”

At the summit, the group was greeted by 100 or so of the members of St. Simon and St. Jude, proudly showing off their new church, which they had built with their own hands, funded by churches – Episcopal, Presbyterian and Anglican – in Arkansas and Georgia. Those Americans had come to Haiti to meet the people, to listen to them. They had come and they had seen, and they had believed, and now, five years later, after multiple trips, after working hand in hand with the people of Gonave, they were here again, to see the fruits of their labors.

• • •

Come and see.

This is what Jesus said to the two disciples, Andrew and another, who were disciples of John the Baptizer, who had proclaimed Jesus as God’s Chosen One, as the Lamb of God, and who wanted to know where Jesus was staying.

Come and see.

If we want to live the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the same Gospel that called Andrew and then Simon and then the other disciples, and then the 3,000 and then Paul, and then the untold numbers who came after Paul, the same Gospel that eventually called those young men who sang as they walked along the river that Christmas Eve night in 1973, the same Gospel that called Father Paulo, the same Gospel that called the people of island of Gonave in Haiti, the same Gospel that called the people of Arkansas and Georgia  … if you want to live that Gospel, all of these people say to you: Come and see.

Come and see the Gospel as it lives in places where the people have nothing else, where war and oppression and famine and disease and nature itself claim their lives in untold numbers, where despite the hardship of their lives, the people believe. They believe in the man who came from a small village in a despised place, the man who walked the land as they walked the land, who came to them and lived with them and blessed them, even though the powers and principalities told them, day after day, that they were not blessed.

Come and see your brothers and sisters in Christ in Sudan and Haiti, who are related to you not by the blood of their birth but by the waters of their baptism, because it is only when you have seen, with your eyes and with your hearts and with your souls, the tragedies that are their lives that you can see, with your eyes, and with your hearts and with your souls, how alive they are in the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

For the Gospel is alive – in places like Sudan, now split into two countries, where the wars that raged for five decades continue to this day; in places like Haiti, where four hurricanes in five weeks in 2008 was just the way life was, where a devastating earthquake in 2010 took the lives of 300,000 people and displaced another 1 million people – one-tenth of the population, in 38 seconds.

Your siblings in Christ are beckoning you: Come and see the Gospel come alive in their parishes, their schools, their villages. Come and see the Gospel come alive in their church-run schools, where all the children are given the education that the state denies them, because they are poor or from the wrong tribe or speak another language.

Come and see the Gospel come alive in their church-run clinics, where every single person who comes in for treatment is treated with dignity, even if they cannot pay.

Come and see the Gospel come alive in their evangelism revivals, where they preach the love of God in Christ Jesus to all of the people and proclaim God’s peace, which passes all understanding, and God’s justice, which rolls down like waters, and God’s reconciliation, which brings about God’s kingdom on this earth.

Come and see the Gospel come alive when your brothers and sisters in Christ proclaim God’s hope, in lands where the powers that be long ago proclaimed that for the poor and the destitute, for the people from the wrong tribe or ethnicity, that there was no hope from generation to generation.

Your Sudani siblings in Christ and your Haitian siblings in Christ join together to beg you:

Come.

And see. And believe.

For the Gospel is alive and well in Sudan and in Haiti, and they want you to know this. They want you to know this because they believe that if you know this, if you see it, with your eyes and with your hearts and with your souls, then you will be, as they are, empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the greatest thing of all:

You, like they, will spread the love of God to all of God’s beloved children.

You, like they, will spread that love – that undefined yet powerful love – that captured Andrew and caused him to bring along Simon, who was to be called Cephas, which means Peter; the love that captured Paul and made him an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God; the love that on Christmas Eve 1973 captured your brother in Christ Paulo Ajang Thiel Lual; the love that captured the people on the island of Gonave in Haiti; the love that captured the people from Arkansas and Georgia, causing them to travel thousands of miles, by air, by water, by car, by foot, by donkey.

If this is what we do – if this is what we all do, spreading God’s love to those who are far off and those who are near, here in Newtown and there in Sudan and there in Haiti and everywhere in between – then we indeed will change the world, we indeed will bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.

Spreading God’s love, proclaiming God’s love, living God’s love … this is what we are called to do. It’s what they are striving and sometimes even dying to do in Sudan. It is what they are striving and sometimes even dying to do in Haiti.

Which is why they want you … to come … and see.

Amen.

Sermon preached at Newtown United Methodist Church, Newtown, Pa., 12 February 2012, Year B.


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We are the link …

John 14:6-15

          When Bonnie asked me to come here to preach on the Feast of St. Augustine, I started looking for stories about your patron saint. Most of stories I found are ones you already know, but there is one story that dates back to his youth, when his mother, Monica, wanted him to embrace the Christian faith in which he was raised and become a priest.

            Augustine, we all know, had other ideas.

            The official biographies, which I think you well know, tell the story of how he left home to teach rhetoric.

The unofficial biography apparently says – or so the story goes – that he told his mother he was leaving to get a loaf of bread … and went to Egypt instead.

But as Augustine learned – and as we know – no matter where you go, God is there.

No matter how far you run, God is there.

Because there is no place you can go, no place you can run where God is not.

Augustine learned that … he ran. But, as the saying goes, he couldn’t hide.

The same is true for us.

We may try to run, but we can never hide.

Because God is always there. And God is always there because God loves us.

There is no more powerful lesson on earth than that, is there? The lesson that God loves us?

There may be days when we doubt this is true, when we think that we are too much like Augustine was in his youth (which as you know was not a pretty picture).

But in spite of what we may think of ourselves, the good news is, God loves us – God still loves us – whether we are good or bad, whether we are high and mighty and lowly and poor … because none of that matters.

All that matters is that God … loves … us … that we are God’s beloved children.

And we know this because the Bible tells us so.

The Bible tells us that in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth … meaning, God was before we were, and God will be after we are.

Which means, quite simply, that we are not necessary to God.

God is necessary to us, yes. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here today.

But we are not necessary to God.

Which in turn means, quite simply, that God wanted us, that God desired us, that God loved us into being.

This is what God meant when God said, way back in the beginning, “Let us create humankind in our image, according to our likeness …” God’s image, God’s likeness, has nothing to do with the color of God’s skin (does God even have skin?) or God’s gender, or God’s height or weight (does God have any of those attributes?). God’s image, God’s likeness, is center in one thing only:

Love.

But God’s love, my friends, does not exist in a vacuum.

Yes, God loves me.

And yes, God loves you.

But because God loves me and because God loves you, God intends for us to love each other.

Since we each are beloved of God and since we each are created in love, God intends us to live in love.

With each other.

That’s called community.

And our mission in life, the very reason for which God created us, is to love the community.

Augustine, despite fighting God and fleeing God, learned this in his own life.

“What,” he asked, “does love look like? It has the hand to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That,” he said, “is what love looks like.”[1]

So in the words of one of the greatest theologians of our faith, in the words of your own patron saint, our very reason for existing is to take care of each other, to love one another.

That is our mission in life – loving those whom God loves … every moment of our lives.

It’s not an easy task, this mission that God gives us.

But we know we can do it.

We know we can do it because Jesus – the ultimate manifestation of God’s love for us – because Jesus said so.

Throughout his entire ministry … through his preaching and teaching, his feeding of the hungry and giving of water to the thirsty, his healing of the lame and returning of sight to the blind and hearing to deaf and speech to the mute, through every meal he ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, his every touch of the lepers, his every willingness to include the excluded, to love the unloved, to give hope to the hopeless … Jesus taught us what to do. He taught us how to live our lives on a mission from God.

And then, facing his own end, he bequeathed to us his great command:

Love one another as I have loved you.

With that love, he told us, we will do great things.

In fact, he said, our mere faith, in him will make us do the work that he did, and indeed, he said, we will do greater works than these!

Can you imagine that?

Can you imagine what it would be like to do greater work than Jesus himself did?

New Testament professor Jaime Clark-Soles heard those words and wrote, in great astonishment,

Those who are “left behind” when Jesus goes to the Father have [an] advantage beyond all telling of it. Because Jesus goes, they will get power they wouldn’t get otherwise. Instead of wannabes, they’ll be the real deal – they’ll be the Jesus in the world.[2]

 

You want to know what it means to be on a mission from God in the world?

Being on a mission from God means we get to be Jesus!

Well, OK. We don’t get to actually be Jesus. But we get to do that which Jesus did, only in a bigger way. Perhaps even in a better way.

So long as we understand: Everything we do is to come from God’s love for us, and God’s love for everyone else.

In 1969, Neil Diamond debuted a song called Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show. It’s a great song – it has a great beat (even though you can’t really dance to it) – not just because of the story of the traveling salvation show, but because of its theology.

Do you know this song? You don’t?

            (Sing) Brother Love,

            I said, Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show.

            Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies

            And everyone goes

            Cuz everyone knows

            ‘Bout Brother Love’s show …

            Hallelujah …

What’s amazing about this song, though, isn’t that chorus. It is that in the middle of the song, there’s a sermon. Now, if you look up the words online, you won’t find the words to the sermon. You’ll just see the word “sermon” printed in the middle of the lyrics.

But it’s the sermon that provides the power … the message … that we all need to hear, every single day:

This is what Brother Love preaches:

            Brothers! I said, Brothers!

Now you got yourself two good hands.

And when your brother is troubled

            You’ve got to reach out your one hand for him …

            Cuz that’s what it’s there for.

            And when your heart is troubled

            You got to reach out your other hand …

            Reach it out to the man up there …

            Cuz that’s what he’s there for.

 

            (Sing) Take my hand in yours

Walk with me this day

In my heart I know

I will never stray.[3]

Halle. Halle. Halle! Halle …!

 

We each have two good hands. And with those hands, we are called, as people on a mission from God, to always … always … reach those hands out to those who are troubled, who are in need, who need to be reminded of God’s love for them.

This is what it means to be a missionary, my friends. To reach out to others, while at the same time, holding on to God.

We are the link … everywhere we go, with everyone we meet.

Because wherever we go, God is there. And everyone we meet is a beloved child of God.

You want to be a missionary?

Reach your hands out …

That’s all there is to it.

Now, I’m a missionary. I spent four years as a missionary in Sudan, and one year serving in Haiti. And I know … I know … that many people are surprised to discover that The Episcopal Church even has missionaries. Even though we are The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America – that’s our official name, you know … quite impressive, isn’t it? – even though that is our formal name, people are surprised when they find out that I am, indeed, a missionary, and that I’ve been one for years.

Well, let me tell you something:

You are missionaries as well. And not just because you are Episcopalians.

No, you’re a missionary because God said so.

And your mission – if you choose to accept it – is to live in love and in community … to reach your hands out to those who are troubled … every moment of your lives.

Just last week, NPR interviewed Stephane Hessel, a former World War II French resistance fighter who narrowly escaped execution by the Nazis in two concentration camps. Hessel’s book, Time for Outrage, was published in the United States this week; in it, he argues that indifference is the worst possible attitude we can adopt.

 

If you want to be a real human being – a real woman, a real man [he says] – you cannot tolerate things which put you to indignation, to outrage. You must stand up. I always say to people, “Look around; look at what makes you unhappy, what makes you furious, and then engage yourself in some action.[4]

 

This is what Jesus was talking about – look at what makes you unhappy (the suffering of others, the needs of others, the desires of others to be loved) – and do something about it.

Our mission – which we accept every time we reaffirm our Baptismal Covenant – is to do something – something greater than the work Jesus himself did!

Just because it seems hard, just because the world tells us it can’t be done (we can’t possibly feed all the hungry in the world, despite the fact that we throw away more than enough food every day to feed every single starving person out there; we can’t possibly provide health care for all – even though that’s what Jesus did; we can’t possibly … we can’t possibly … we can’t … we can’t … we can’t …), doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference.

We start by reaching out our hands … one to the person in need … the other to God … and being the link between the two.

And when we doubt (which we will)?

We go back again to your own patron saint, to Augustine of Hippo, who once told his mother (or so the story goes) that he was going out for bread and never came back. He once wrote:

Hope has two beautiful daughters.

Their names are anger and courage;

anger at the way things are, and

courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.[5]

We never give up hope, and we pray to have the courage to live our lives on a mission from God, to be missionaries, living every moment of our lives in love and in community.

It’s why we were created.

(Sing) Take my hand in yours

Walk with me this day

In my heart I know

I will never stray.

Amen.

A sermon preached on the Feast of St. Augustine (translated), at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Kinston, N.C., 25 September 2011.




[1] As quoted in Quote, Unquote, by Lloyd Cory, p. 197.

[2] Jaime Clark-Soles, Associate Professor of New Testament, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Teas, commentary for 20 April 2008, emphasis added, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=4/20/2008&tab=4

 

[3] Neil Diamond, Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show, on the eponymous album, UNI Records, 1969.

[4] Stephane Hessel, author of Time for Outrage, in NPR interview, http://www.npr.org/2011/09/22/140252484/wwii-survivor-stirs-literary-world-with-outrage

[5] As quoted in by Robert McAfee Brown in Spirituality and Liberation: Overcoming the Great Fallacy (Westminster John Knox Press, 1988), 136.

 

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Cipro dosage for uti

John 20:19-31

Last Wednesday night, I was at an Episcopal church for the installation of the new rector. I sat in a pew with the rest of the clergy, and at one point during the service, the priest next to me reached over and pulled out a card that had been filled out by someone and returned to the pew holder. It was a newcomer’s card – you know, the kind where the parish welcomes you and asks you to share some information about yourself. These cards are supposed to go into the offering plate, but this person put it back in the holder. Because the writer didn’t actually offer the usual information.

This note was actually a plea:

The Doubt of St. Thomas, by He Qi.

“Can anyone tell me if Jesus is real? (it read).

“Can anyone prove to me that Jesus is real?

“I’m sitting here surrounded by people who believe, people who have faith … and I don’t know if I can believe.

“I want to believe, but I can’t.”

This plea was written on Sunday morning, on the first day of the week – on Easter morning. There this person sat, in the third pew on the Gospel side, surrounded by hundreds of other people shouting, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”, not knowing how to believe!

I do not know who wrote this note – it was signed, “Anonymous.” Below that, the author had written, “I’m learning to believe.”

I do not know if this person was male or female, black or white or Latino or Asian, young or old, gay or straight.

All I know is that on Sunday last, on Easter, Thomas showed up at an Episcopal church and in the midst of celebration, surrounded by believers, said, “Wait just a darned second …”

We call today “Doubting Thomas” Sunday. Poor Thomas. Just because he wasn’t in the upper room when the Risen Lord first appeared to the disciples, we mock Thomas for wondering what was going on, and we hang an epithet on him – “Doubting” – as though nothing else he had ever done – none of the faithful following of Jesus, none of the declarations of “let’s go also, that we may die with him” – ever happened or even matter.

But a little warning here:

Nowhere in John’s presentation of the Risen Lord’s appearances in the upper room does the word “doubt” appear.[1]

The Risen Lord does not say to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe.”

What Jesus says, instead, is that Thomas is apistos – without trust or faith. He was just like those other disciples, who had been apistos as well. They were untrusting just like Thomas (remember, when Mary Magdalene came to them that very morning with the news of the Resurrection, they for darned certain didn’t trust or believe her, because if they had, they wouldn’t have still been huddled behind locked doors in that upper room, praying no one would find them!). They had not been pistos – faith-filled – until the moment the Risen Lord had bid them his peace and showed them his wounds.

So when Jesus showed up the second time, a week later, what Jesus literally says to Thomas is, “Do not become untrusting (or faithless) but trusting (or faithful).”[2]

So you see, it’s not that Thomas doubted. It’s that he wasn’t quite ready to trust again – not this soon.

Remember, Thomas had been with Jesus for a large part of Jesus’ ministry. He had walked with Jesus, heard him preach, seen the miracles, felt the hope, saw the love, reveled in the joy …

And then …

Well, then, Jesus was arrested, tortured, killed.

And all those words, all those miracles, all that hope, that love, that joy … all of that had died on the cross and been laid in the tomb, and now … now … just three days later, the other disciples want Thomas, who has given up all hope, to hope again? They want Thomas, who saw his trust violated, to trust again? Just three days later?

You know what Thomas was thinking, right?

Give me a break!

Thomas needed more than just the word of the other disciples – because he had believed once and been burned, and he wasn’t going to get burned again, at least not that easily. It took another appearance by the Risen Lord to convince him.

Sounds just like that person who showed up at that church on Easter Sunday, doesn’t it?

Can anyone prove to me that Jesus is real?

Thomas two thousand years ago … an anonymous person on Easter Sunday 2011 … they’re asking the same questions, they’re caught in the same bind.

They want to believe.

They just can’t.

Which leads to the question:

How many witnesses do you need to believe the truth?

How many witnesses do you need?

Let’s do a little experiment in faith, shall we?

Let’s see what happens when together, we do something rather unbelievable, and you have to convince others – let’s say, the people at the 8 a.m. service, because I wasn’t here for that – that what is about to take place actually took place here this morning.

Do you see these flowers here?

They are pansies – I know this because I went to a nursery yesterday and specifically asked for them.

They’re pretty, are they not?

They’re lovely harbingers of spring.

They come in an assortment of colors, which I have carefully chosen, because believe me, colors make a difference.

Why?

Let me show you …. (eat pansies)

Mmm … quite tasty, actually.

And yes, just to let you know, it is perfectly safe to eat pansies. Not so much other flowers, but pansies are fine.

Now … if one of you were to call someone who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and tell that person, “You’re not gonna believe it! The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!” that person probably would not believe you.

Because unless I’m sorely mistaken, preachers do not normally eat pansies in the pulpit. It simply isn’t done.

But that’s what I’m doing, isn’t it? (eat more pansies)

Now … if, say, ten of you were to call that same person who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and tell that person, ““You’re not gonna believe it! The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!” there’s a good chance that person still won’t believe you. Because, after all, ten of you could be pulling off an elaborate joke, right?

But what do you think would happen if all of you were to call that person who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and proclaim, “The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!”?

Do you think they would believe? Because all of you were witnesses, and all of you proclaimed the truth?

My friends, I assure you: If enough of you testify to the truth, others will believe.

And the truth is, this morning, I am eating pansies in the pulpit.

So again, the question: How many witnesses do you need to believe the truth?

Going back to the Scriptures and the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, how many witnesses do you need to believe the truth of the Lord’s Resurrection? Because we have witnesses. We have lots of witnesses.

We have the women who went to the tomb on the first day of the week and met the Risen Lord.

We have the disciples, hiding in fear in the upper room.

We have Thomas, who eventually did trust enough to believe.

We have the various other followers of Jesus, who met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus … in their villages … out in the open …

We have the 500 to whom the Risen Lord appeared at once …

And then we have Paul, who then was still Saul, who was on a murderous mission to persecute those who claimed to have seen the Risen Lord, and who met the Risen Lord while sitting on his butt in the middle of the road to Damascus …

Exactly how many witnesses does it take to convince you that the unbelievable is believable?

What does it take to make us move from Thomas’ “I do not trust your story and therefore will not believe” to Thomas’ proclamation, “My Lord and My God!”?

Do I need to eat more pansies to make the unbelievable believable?

Because I will, if that’s what you need.

Just as the Risen Lord made many more appearances to his disciples, which John did not write in his book, because that’s what those disciples needed.

To have their trust restored, to be able to believe again, to become pistos again, Jesus came back, again and again, so that his disciples could know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that he was raised from the dead.

My friends, we are not the witnesses to the actual Resurrection.

But there were witnesses – lots of witnesses, hundreds of witnesses – who saw the Risen Lord, and because of that they became pistos – they trusted again, they believed again.

And because they trusted and believed, we trust, we believe.

That’s why we’re here this morning – because we trust and believe their eyewitness accounts, the ones they have been passed on to us.

So what are we going to do with this trust, this faith that we have received?

How are we going to tell the story in such a way that those who do not yet believe – like that anonymous person who wrote that poignant note last Sunday – can indeed learn to believe?

How are we going to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus?

We don’t get to hear the story of the Resurrection just so that we can put that story in our back pockets. We hear the story, we become pistos, so that the whole world can hear the story, so that all can become pistos.

It’s kind of like me eating these pansies in the pulpit.

It’s a good story, but it doesn’t mean much if you don’t do something with it.

So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to go home and pick up the phone and call someone from the 8 o’clock service (let’s call him “John”) and I want you tell him that the preacher ate pansies in the pulpit. I want you to convince him that this really happened.

And then, I want you to talk a little Gospel. Talk about where you have seen the Risen Lord in your life, today, and everyday. Convince him that the Lord is risen indeed. And talk about where he sees the Risen Lord in his own life.

I guarantee you, there are more Thomases out there. Thomas might even sitting right here this morning. Any one of us could be Thomas.

Whoever Thomas is, wherever Thomas is, he needs to hear from us. He needs to hear that the Lord is risen indeed.

Our mission is to tell the story in such a way that those who are apistos can become pistos, those who aren’t sure, who don’t trust, who want to believe but can’t quite get there, become certain, dare to trust and do believe.

I’ll even give you some pansies, if that will help. (eat pansies)

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Easter, 1 May 2011, Year A, at Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Dunn Loring, Va.



[1] This discussion is based on Brian P. Stoffregen’s Exegetical Notes on Crossroads Christian Resources, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john20x19e2.htm, accessed 26 April 2011.

[2] Stoffregen’s translation, along with The new Greek-English InterLinear New Testament, United Bible Societies’ Fourth, Corrected Edition, 404.

 

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Buspar

John 11:1-45

In 1988, a controversial movie, The Last Temptation of Christ, was released. It was based on a novel written in 1960 by Nikos Kazantzakis, and is, in reality, the author’s and director’s great “What if …?” exploration of the life of Jesus. “What if,” they ask, “Jesus had given in to temptations offered him? What if he hadn’t died on the cross?”

I can tell you that many, many people were quite upset about this movie, because it is very challenging to them. The question of “What if …?” forces you to examine your faith, and to examine everything you know about Jesus.

But regardless of how you feel about the movie as a whole, there is one scene in it that is absolutely stunning in its power, the scene of the resurrection of Lazarus.

In this scene, Jesus goes to the grave of his friend Lazarus, the one whom he loved, led by Mary and Martha, followed by his disciples, surrounded by mourners. Once there, he orders the people there to remove the stone at Lazarus’ tomb.

Remember, Lazarus has been dead for four days by now; Lazarus’ sister, Martha, objects, warning Jesus of the stench. (I do so love the King James Version of this Gospel: “Lord, by this time he stinketh!”) And indeed, when some of the men open the grave, the stench of Lazarus’ rotting body causes everyone present to gasp and cover their noses and mouths, and watching, you find yourself waiting for that next scene, showing people becoming ill.

But that doesn’t happen.

Instead, Jesus takes a deep breath, goes to the entrance, to this black hole cut into the side of a hill, says a prayer to his Father in heaven, and calls to Lazarus: “Lazarus, come out!”

Unlike in today’s Gospel, where Jesus cries out in a loud voice but one time, Martin Scorsese, the film’s director, has Jesus call twice, in a much gentler voice: “Lazarus. Lazarus! Come out. Come out!”

But nothing … happens … So Jesus crouches by that black opening of the tomb, staring into the darkness while the silence – and the tension – builds. The only noise is that of the flies, buzzing around the body in that lightless tomb.

For 15 … seconds … nothing happens.

Jesus stares into the darkness and twice more, very gently, calls out: “Lazarus … Lazarus …”

Still, nothing happens … for another … 10 … seconds …

And then … suddenly …

… a hand shoots out of the grave!

Everyone jumps back in shock, including Jesus …

… who then reaches into the grave with a trembling hand, takes Lazarus by his decaying hand, and begins to pull him out. But Lazarus resists and actually pulls Jesus part-way into the tomb. So Jesus uses both of his hands and braces himself and tugs Lazarus out of the darkness of death and back into the light of life …

… Thus proving, in no uncertain terms, that it is never too late …

… It is never too late for Jesus to reach into the darkness of our lives, into the graves in which we find ourselves buried, to resurrect our lives and to give us new life.

It is never too late for Jesus to unbind us from all that holds us in our graves and in the darkness and set us free

Even when we have been in the graves of our lives so long that decay has set in, even then, it is never too late for Jesus, because we are never beyond his reach.

• • •

Russian Icon. The Raising of Lazarus. 15th century. Novgorod school. The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

This recounting of Lazarus’ death and resurrection, which appears only in John’s Gospel, is a story of resurrection, of new life, of being set free – by God – from everything that buries us, from everything that binds us, everything that separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, everything that keeps us from living the life that God dreams of for us.

Face it, we all spend time in the grave, we all live in darkness at times, we all find ourselves bound up … by fears, by anxiety, by grief and mourning, by despair and loneliness.

This is the Washington Metro area, and we know what it means to live with anxiety. We’ve been stuck at Orange Terror Alert since September 2001. We know that, right? For us, it’s just the norm. But anyone who comes here to visit from someplace that is not under Code Orange wonders if there’s something going on that they should know about.

How many of you pay any attention any more?

And how many of you drive on (Interstate) 95, or 395 or 495, and see those signs, “Report suspicious activity”? Really? How do you define “suspicious”? I’d love to report people speeding and weaving in and out of traffic, but I don’t think that’s what Homeland Security has in mind.

How many of you here ride the Metro? I know we take the Code Orange level for granted, but how would you feel if you saw someone get off one of the trains and leave behind a knapsack under a seat? Would you feel anxious? More anxious than normal?

And how many of you receive a paycheck from the federal government? Or have someone in your family, or know someone, who gets one? Talk about anxiety and fear! I don’t get a paycheck a federal paycheck, and I was checking every 10 minutes on Friday night, waiting to find out if the government was going to be shut down, or if an agreement could be reached. How much anxiety and fear did you experience on Friday, wondering if you would have enough money to pay your mortgage come Tuesday, or whether you would be able to make the down-payment on the tuition so your high school senior could go to the college of her choice? Or feared you would not be able to pay your credit card bill? All because our leaders seem to have forgotten that they are supposed to be servants of the Lord, and are not Masters of the Universe?

And then at the last possible second, just in time for the 11 o’clock news, our leaders announced that they would not shut down the government and we could all breathe a sigh of relief.

Oh, yes, we know anxiety here and we know how it can plunge us into the depths of darkness and feel like a grave to us. We know what it means to be bound up.

But I am telling you, Jesus is standing right here … right here … this very minute, with us, calling each of us by name, reaching into the graves of our lives and pull us out of that darkness, using both hands if necessary, so that we can be restored to the light.

Jesus is right here, because he loves us just as he loved Lazarus.

And he is crystal clear: “I am the resurrection and the life.” And all who believe in him have life … because he loves us.

Now, I don’t want you to leave this place today and say that the preacher told you could wander through life, throwing your arms in the air and proclaiming to everyone, “Jesus loves me! Isn’t life great?”

Because Jesus does not pull us out of the grave just so we can wander around and practice happy-clappy Christianity. Because Christianity is not supposed to be happy-clappy. And for darned sure that isn’t what it means to be an Episcopalian. Resurrection is serious business.

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, and he is in our lives, giving us the same gift he gave to Lazarus: new life so that we can go forth into the world to love and serve the Lord!

This new life that Jesus gives us is a life of service. It’s a call to us to delight in God’s will, to walk in God’s ways to the glory of God’s name!

Being set free is not about us – it’s about God and God’s dream for us.

We are set free so that we can exactly what God is calling us to do …

… to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty …

… to make the blind see and the deaf hear and the mute sing and the lame leap with joy …

… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor not once every 50 years, but every year!

Jesus is standing at our graves, my friends. He has said the prayers over us. And he is calling us – each of us – by name.

He is reaching into the darkness of our lives, grasping our already decaying hands and pulling us … tugging us … dragging us out of our graves …

He is taking us out of that darkness that binds us, and setting each one of us free.

He is calling us …

Lazarus!

Lazarus!

Do you hear him?

Amen.

• • •

A sermon preached on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A, 10 April 2011, at St. George’s Episcopal Church, Arlington, Va.

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Are you willing to die for Jesus?

John 3:16

For the last 10 days, we all have watched with great horror and trepidation the terrifying events in Japan.

A 9.0 earthquake, 100 times worse than the earthquake in Haiti.

A tsunami that breached every wall built to defend against it.

Entire small towns literally erased from the face of the earth.

Up to 17,000 people believed dead, some washed out to sea, never to be found.

Hundreds of thousands of people displaced, without sufficient food, water, medicine, or shelter.

And, of course, the nuclear power plants that are melting down, or in the process of melting down.

Fukushim Daiichi nuclear power plants

The rods that cannot be cooled.

The breaches in the containment walls for spent fuel.

The rising radiation readings.

Not only the Japanese but the entire world lives in fear of the latter. Scientists around the world are warning that the radiation will spread, not just across the Pacific to the United States, but from the United States over the Atlantic to Europe.

And yet … there are stories of redemption and hope coming out of Japan as well. Stories of babies being rescued days after the quake, of families being reunited, of those thought lost at sea forever found. And today comes news of a 16-year-old boy and his 80-year-old grandmother being rescued after being trapped in the ruins for nine days.

But the most powerful story of all is that of the nuclear power plant workers, engineers and others, who have volunteered – volunteered – to go back to work, to step into the infernos of radiation hell, risking their lives so that others might live.

Just last Thursday, Agence France-Presse reported a Twitter message “by a woman who Tweeted with pride – and anguish – that her father, just six months from retirement, had decided to offer his help.”

““I fought back tears when I heard father, who is to retire in a half a year, volunteered to go,” the message read.

““He said, ‘The future of nuclear power generation depends on how we’ll cope with this. I’ll go with a sense of mission’ … I’ve never been more proud of him,” she added.”[1]

Her father, 59 years old, who worked for the nuclear industry for four decades, is willing to go back into the inferno, where the radiations readings are rising and a total meltdown is feared, so that others might live.

Risking your life to give life to others is the focus not only of this morning’s passage from John’s Gospel, it is the focus of our lives.

We hear of the brave nuclear power plant workers and we are in awe – Oh, my, we think. How brave they are. They are sacrificing for us!

But do we think the same when we hear this morning’s Gospel? Are we in awe when we hear of the sacrifice God made for us? The sacrifice where God sent himself as a sacrifice for us?

Go anywhere in the world where the Gospel is known, and this is the passage you will hear preached, over and over again.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

It is the best known, most-quoted verse in the entire Bible.

But are we in awe of that verse and what it means to us? Is the news of God’s willingness to sacrifice for us as awe-inspiring as the news of Japanese nuclear power plant workers’ willingness to sacrifice their lives for us? Does it make us fall to our knees in gratitude, or jump with joy for the good news that it bears?

There’s no doubt about it, my friends: We are hearing good news this morning!

And anywhere you go in the world, you will hear people proclaiming it to us.

Because it speaks truth.

Because it gives hope.

Because it has power.

Notice, if you please, that never once does God ask us if we want God to give us this incredible gift.[2]

Just as God never asked Abram if he wanted to go on a journey to a strange place (with no directions, no end point, just “the land that I will show you,” and no, you can’t have a GPS to guide you, because it hasn’t been invented yet!), God never asks whether we wish to be saved, whether we wish to have life eternal.

God simply acts.

God sends his Son, his only-begotten Son, to be born as one of us, to live as one of us with us, to suffer as we suffer, to rejoice as we rejoice, and to die as we die … and not as we die, because Jesus died for us.

It is an incredible sacrifice that God makes …

… because God loves us.

Each of us and all of us.

From before time began to the ages of ages.

God … loves … us.

Now, we could, if you wanted, spend some time discussing Nicodemus, the Pharisee and leader of the Jews who came in fear and trembling to meet with Jesus in the dark of the night, wondering whether this rabbi was the one for whom the Jews waited.

Or we could, if you wanted, spend more time debating how to translate gennethé anáothen, which could mean “born again,” “born anew” or “born from above.” (Trust me, this is a matter of great debate to some Christians. There are thousands of Christians out there who will tell you that if you are not “born again” according to their definition, you are not a Christian, and you are going to hell!)

Or we could, if you wanted, spend even more time talking about Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness and how the Son of Man has to be lifted up as well, and debate whether that is allegorical or metaphorical (I am well aware that I am on a university campus, and these kinds of discussions take place all the time).

There is a lot to talk about when it comes to this passage, this story of Nicodemus’ fearful visit to Jesus in the middle of the night.

But those, my friends, are nothing but side paths to take if we wish to avoid the main point of this passage, which is this:

God loves us so much God that God sacrificed his Son –God sacrificed himself! – for … us!

When we focus on this – on God’s willingness to sacrifice for us – when we go down this path – we end up in a very hard place.

Because then we have to ask ourselves several questions, questions that are hard, questions that make us uncomfortable, but ones that we need to address if we indeed want to be true disciples of Jesus.

The first question we have to ask ourselves is this:

Do we believe that God loves us?

Do we?

Really?

If we answer yes to that, we have to ask ourselves a second one:

Do we believe that Jesus died for us?

Do we?

Do we really believe that Jesus died for each of us, personally?

These are important questions, because if we answer “Yes” to those questions, then we have to confront the big question, the question of our lives:

Are we willing to die for Jesus?

Are … we … willing … to … die … for … Jesus?

Because, my friends, that is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. That is what it means when we say we want to follow Jesus.

God loves us so much that without asking us, without so much as a by-your-leave, God sent his Son, his only Son, to die for us.

And God wants to know:

Are we willing to die for Jesus?

Are we willing to set aside those things that get in our way of loving God with all our heart and soul and strength so that we can really love God?

Are we willing to set aside those things that get in our way of loving our neighbors, not just as ourselves – because trust me, there are days when I do not love myself, and those are the days when it’s easy for me not to love my neighbor either – but as Jesus loves us?

… If we are willing to do those things – to set aside our pride, our envy, our anger, our greed, our need to be right all the time, our feelings of superiority …

… If we are willing to put those down and walk in love as Christ loved us, to respect the dignity of every human being, to love our enemies, to care for the weak, cure the sick, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and voice to the mute, to make the lame leap for joy, to set the prisoners free, to proclaim the year of the Lord not every 50 years but every year …

… If we are willing to do all those things, to, in essence die to our old ways, die to the ways of a society that does not care about the weak, that offers them up as sacrifices so that it can have more, more, more!

… If we are willing to do all this and more, all for the love of God, then … then! … we can answer: Yes.

Yes, I am willing to die for Jesus.

Because Jesus died for me.

Make no mistake.

God is not asking us whether we want to be loved.

God is not asking us whether we deserve to be loved.

God simply … wildly … radically … inexplicably … inexhaustibly … love us.

So much that God sacrificed his beloved son for us.

Are we willing to do the same?

Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves – for each other and for God?

Those nuclear power plant workers who are walking into the hell of failing nuclear reactors right now? They are doing this, they are sacrificing themselves, so that we might live.

Would we be willing to do the same, to sacrifice ourselves for others?

God sacrificed God’s self for us so that we might have life eternal.

Are we willing to sacrifice … for God?

Amen.

A sermon preached on the Second Sunday in Lent, 20 March 2011 Year A, at R.E. Lee Memorial Parish, Lexington, Va.



[1] Entire story found at http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/japanquakenuclearvolunteers by Agence France-Presse, 17 March 2011.

 

[2] From Like It or Not!, Professor David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, on WorkingPreacher.org,

http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=463, posted 13 March 2011.

 

 

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