Friday, May 27, 2011

The Causality That Indicates the Reality

John 14.15-21


“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

How do you hear these words this day? What does it mean to you to hear “If…then you will?” There are a couple different ways we take these words from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, these words spoken to his disciples on that last night when Jesus was betrayed, handed over to those who sought to control and kill him. You could first hear these words as a conditional statement that probably sound a little more like “If you really do love me, then you will do what I ask of you.” There’s nothing wrong with complying with the command and request of our Lord, Savior, and Friend, yet it can come across as something akin to what a parent would say to a child who has a pile of broccoli sitting on his or her plate: “If you want dessert, then you have to eat your vegetables.” I think we can start to see why this would be problematic. Taken as a conditional statement, it turns loving Jesus into a chore that must be completed or, like that child who is sitting at that dinner table 20 minutes after everyone else has left, keeping his commandments can become something like closing your eyes tightly and holding your nose as you are forced to do something that you really would rather not do. And is that how we are supposed to approach Jesus’ command “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another?”

In case you don’t know the full context in which our reading from the Gospel according to John comes, “…love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love another.” has just been spoken mere minutes before we begin our reading for today. So is our love for another really to be something like eating our vegetables, where we see other people in our lives and begrudgingly hold our nose, close our eyes tightly and do just enough so that we can receive the reward of our dessert? Certainly not! So there must be another way to hear these words that come from our redeemer on this day.

Maybe we can possibly hear “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” as simply a statement of causality, where our love for Christ necessarily causes us to keep his commandments, where keeping his commandments is necessarily is an affect of our love for him. And this reading of our gospel for today simply states the reality that if we truly do put our faith in Christ, if we center our lives upon the love that he has for us, we can almost do nothing other than love all those who abide with us on this planet we have called Earth. When it does get difficult for us to truly and deeply trust who this Jesus is, we also see that we will never be left alone and abandoned to try and do this all on our own. In fact, we will fail on our own without the help of that Advocate, that Spirit of truth guiding us to know, love and trust the Son of the Father who was sent into the world not to condemn the world, but “in order that the world might be saved through him.” No, in fact this statement is a statement of causality that brings to light the reality of who we are in Christ Jesus our Lord, that who we are is simply a people who gather around the cross that saves us all from sin and death, not to only die, but to be raised up into eternal life with Christ in the resurrection.

No, our Lord will not leave us orphaned, abandoned to our own inability to fulfill the requirements of the law. Jesus knows that we will fail, just much as he knew that even his most steadfast disciple, that rock on which the church shall stand, Peter, will deny that he knows this man who he has called teacher, and who the teacher now calls him his friend. Every day of our lives we need the support and care of the Holy Spirit inspiring us to know and love God, so that we may see just how much God loves us this day and every day from here on out. This Spirit shapes us into being what God has created us to be – a good creation that God is pleased to invite into the life and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Spirit sets our eyes toward that hill where we see exactly what God has given up and done for us in our lives, right here, right now!

So if this is who we truly are, then let us truly be the people of God in the world for everybody to see, where they will know that we are Christians not because of how correct our doctrine is, not because of how morally righteous we are, but because we simply show the love Christ has for us by the love we have for all of those around us. This is not a chore to be completed to get to the really good stuff, the dessert, the paradise of heaven. This is something that, when our eyes are firmly affixed on the cross, we rejoice in the freedom that has been given to us to finally love and serve our neighbor, not because we have to, but because we simply do! This promise of the Holy Spirit for our lives is for today and everyday. This is the promise which gives us life, love, and direction.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Jesus meets us on the road, reveals himself in the meal

Luke 24.13-35


Imagine, if you will, a walk – a beautiful walk on the first day that feels like spring. You pass by trees which are just beginning to bud and flower. You pass by lawns that are lush with soft, cool, green grass. There is a slight breeze in the air which gently blows the fragrance of new flowers upon the air. It is a beautiful day, and it seems as if the sun itself is declaring this to be a beautiful day. After the long, cold, and wet winter that we’ve had, it may just perhaps be hard to imagine a day, a walk such as this. But, I’m told that they do exist. Those are the kinds of days that seem to gently, yet persistently whispering that life is good, that life is beautiful, that God has ordained that day to be a day of joy and peace.

Life being likened to a beautiful walk on a sunny Spring day is something that we could probably wish was like all the time. But I think we all know that life is not only a beautiful walk on a beautiful spring day. Rather it is a walk, a journey that we find ourselves in the midst of every single day. It is a walk where we recall what is behind us, perhaps even get glimpses of as we share memories and photos, but nevertheless the walk continues forward. We recall the beautiful times of love and joy, perhaps at the birth of child or at the close of another school year. We recall the cloudy, gray times, perhaps when violence and war have the whole world in its grasp or when we see our brothers and sisters who live on this pale blue dot succumb to the devastating effects of natural disasters that destroy homes and lives.

Yet we carry all those memories and those experiences forward with us, maybe not even realizing the impact that people and events have had us until later. It keeps on moving to a place off in the distance. We can try to imagine what that place will be, where it will be, and what that place will hold for us, but often as we get to that place we find that it is not what we expected and that the road seems to continue going forward. We cannot know what the future has in store for us, and when our journey through life takes to places we didn’t expect we can often feel confused and bewildered by what has just happened.

The disciples find themselves in this place in this journey of life. They thought that they were coming near that destination where their friend and teacher was going to become the fulfillment of all their dreams. They said, “He was going to be the one who would redeem Israel and usher in a new age of peace and prosperity!” Instead, their friend and teacher was handed over and crucified. This was not the destination they though their journey was taking them towards. To make matters even worse, they now begin to see that their journey has not even ended as they hear strange stories from the women of their group about an empty tomb. They find themselves in the midst of a walk, a journey where they don’t quite know what to make of any of these past events, and that is perhaps not too alien a feeling for us even in our present day lives. We too know of confusion we can feel as events swirl around us and cause us to wonder “what is going on!?”

This is where these two disciples find themselves on that day, a day that many of us could or will indentify with in our lives. But they also find themselves being joined by a stranger who unbeknownst to them is the very friend and teacher they mourn over on this walk, on this journey to Emmaus. They are joined by Christ on this journey. They are joined by their friend Jesus on this walk where they are in the midst of their own pain and confusion. That is truly on of the wonderful things about this story we are dwelling in this day – Jesus comes and meets them where they are in the midst of their journey. And then he brings to them the Word – the word that it was necessary for the Messiah to go through that pain and death and rise up to new life. A word that declared by Moses and the prophets that God’s work within the world goes far beyond the uplift of God’s people into a saving embrace for all creation. Where Jesus, this Word made Flesh, gives up everything for the creation that God has made, declaring “I will not let you go!”

At the risk of relating this all to myself, my godson did something just this past week that simply brought joy to my face. Last week, I got to go to chapel with my classmates that I graduated with three years ago. It was wonderful to be in that chapel to be surround by all those familiar faces and voices. When it was time for communion, the presiding minister got and started saying the Eucharistic prayer, giving thanks to God for all that god had done. When the presiding minister got to the words “In the night in which be was betrayed…” my godson turned to his father and said, “I love this part!” And so seeing that journey of these two disciples is not over, we come to the part of the story where I simply have to say, “I love this part!” This part where Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

For this meal that we gather around at least twice a month (and I wish we could do it more!) is a meal where Jesus himself is made known to us in a very real and very physical as we eat of the body that was broken FOR US and drink of the blood that was shed FOR US. You see this sacrament is in itself they very place where we come to meet our Lord in the breaking of the bread. The promise that this bread and this wine really truly is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ when we hear those words GIVEN FOR YOU and SHED FOR YOU is the place where we can say with all certainty of our faith that the Lord has come to meet us where we are, along the road that we travel this day as well the days past and the days ahead. And I love this part, because this part declares to me that no matter where I am what I may have possibly done, or how lost I feel in my life, Jesus is present with me this day in this bread and wine that becomes the body and blood through the word that God has declared. When you hear that, you hear all that our Lord has done and given up for us so that we might be forgiven, so that we might be raised from death into new life.