Sunday, May 29, 2011

Commanded To Love

A Sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Year A

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If you love me, you will keep my commandments. What commandments are Jesus talking about?

Jesus gives us the summary of the law in two commandments – love God and love neighbor; but I’m interested in exploring the single commandment Jesus gives in the gospel of John, in the chapter just before today’s lesson. John 13:34-35 – “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus talks a lot about love during his three years of ministry, which is appropriate because his life was lived as a perfect example of what love truly is.  He showed his love for others through his life, teachings, and ultimately in his death and resurrection.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Five: Words

Today's Friday Five by Jan over at RevGalBlogPals is to write about 5 words you really like. Please explain why you have chosen each word, in such ways as: It is a description or attribute of yourself, activity you enjoy, word that is spelled or pronounced in an interesting way, passion of yours, word that brings you hope, peace, or comfort, word you like to repeat or sing.
  1. creative (along with the related create and creativity) - These words make me think of the power of God to bring things out of nothingness, but also our human power to make new and different things from what we find around us.
  2. hark - This word sounds neat, it is in several hymns (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding), and I like how it gets an exclamation point after it. Hark means to listen/pay close attention to - which is something the world needs to do better.
  3. frolic - Frolic is a happy word that can be a noun, verb, or adjective. It can mean a playful or mischievous action (noun), to amuse oneself, play, run around happily (verb), and full of fun (adjective). I like the way it sounds and what it means, but have trouble remembering how to spell it. 
  4. explore - I love to travel and learn new things. It's something I want to do more of.
  5. grace - This is a must pick for me (just look at my URL). My name means "one of grace", but I've never been particularly graceful in movement or speech. However, I am never lacking in grace from God!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

TheoLOLogy - Fear

LoL by: staycee79

There are some passages in scripture that seem to be telling us to fear. This is due to the fact that the word fear can actually be defined as a "profound reverence and awe especially toward God" (thank you Merriam Webster).

There are many examples in scripture of the reverence/awe type of fear, one such being:
Psalm 34: 8-11 O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want. The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
In Martin Luther's explanation of the Ten Commandments, after every commandment he asks "What does this mean?" and answers it "We should fear and love God that we..." For example:
The Eighth Commandment. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. What does this mean?--Answer. We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.
Reverence and awe are proper attitudes to take towards God. God's power is supreme, and God is responsible for all that is. When we act in reverence and love to God then we strive to live our lives in the manner that God deems best for us (including not bearing false witness against our neighbors).

However, when we hear the word fear we are usually thinking of "an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger" (from Merriam Webster). Fear is a natural response to danger, and it is helpful in aiding us to avoid and prepare for danger. The dog in the picture could have a legitimate fear about being attacked by a cat that is about its own size (although I love cats, I would be terrified of a cat that is as big as me). Perhaps the dog had been attacked by the cat before, or the cat is an unknown threat.

Fear can become harmful, however, when it is not helpful in avoiding/preparing for danger. Fear can become overwhelming, paralyzing us from proper action. Many people also have irrational fears, fears about things that can't happen or are extremely unlikely to happen. Whether our fears are rational or irrational, we can be reassured of God's presence.
Psalm 27: 1-3 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh — my adversaries and foes — they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
The Psalmist is empowered by God to not be afraid of adversaries and to be confident in God's protection. In the Psalmist's view, fear is not rational in his situation because God is his light and salvation.

Jesus also talks about fear in some of his teachings.
Matthew 10:26-31‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Earlier in this chapter in Mathew's gospel, Jesus commissions the Twelve to go out and proclaim the good news but Jesus acknowledges that in many ways he is sending his disciples out like sheep to be among wolves. Jesus says that there will be hatred, persecution, betrayals, and even death. But Jesus also says to not fear. Even though people would normally and legitimately be afraid in these situations, Jesus reassures his disciples with the facts that the truth will be known, people can destroy their bodies but not their souls, and that his disciples are valued by God.

Although there are plenty of things and people in this world that are dangerous and can inspire fear in our hearts and minds, God's loving presence should overwhelm our hearts and minds with hope and courage. There's nothing to be scared of when God is with us.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Listening For Our Shepherd's Voice

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Easter, Year A
Jesus chose the shepherd as a metaphor for himself, and it is one of the most beloved images of Jesus. I've seen countless paintings, stain-glass windows, tapestries, and statues of Jesus as the good shepherd. The image of Jesus guiding, protecting, and caring for sheep touches the heart of many people today – even those of us who live in modern cities with not a sheep in sight. Of course, by making himself the shepherd Jesus makes us the sheep. And sheep don’t have a reputation for being very bright.

Sheep were one of the earliest animals domesticated for agriculture. They are useful animals raised for their fleece, meat, and milk. In the ancient near east, some flocks of sheep were led by their owners, but for large flocks oftentimes people would be hired to help shepherd. Naturally, shepherds who owned their own flock tended to take better care of the sheep than shepherds who were hired hands.

Shepherds cared for the basic needs of sheep – providing food and water, protection, guidance, and occasional rescue. Shepherding was dangerous due to animal predators and human thieves. Hired shepherds would sometimes choose to save themselves rather than protect the sheep. And some hired shepherds would steal sheep from the flock to sell for their own gain. Shepherds developed a bad reputation in the ancient near east for these reasons.

Not having any experience with sheep, I had to read up on them. I found the experience of a friend of a Rev. Mr. Brown: (Dwight L. Moody: his life, his work, his words by Edward Leigh Pell, p390-391)
I have a friend who used to live in Syria, and he became very well acquainted with the shepherds of that country. One day as he was riding among the mountains he came to a spring of water, and stopped to rest awhile. Presently, down one of the steep mountain paths a shepherd came, leading his flock of sheep. Not long after another shepherd with another flock came down to the water by another path, and after awhile a third. The three flocks mingled together, so that he began to wonder how each shepherd was ever going to find his own sheep again.
 At last one of them rose up and called out, 'Men-ah !' which in Arabic means ' follow; ' and his sheep came out from the great flock, and followed him back into the mountains. He did not even stop to count them. Then shepherd No. 2 got up and called out to his sheep. ‘Men-ah!' and those of his flock left the others and followed him away.
 My friend could speak Arabic very well ; so one day he said to a shepherd, ' I think I could make your sheep follow me.'
 ' I think not,' said the shepherd.
 'Give me your turban, and your cloak, and your crook,' said my friend, ' and we'll see.'
 So he put on the shepherd's turban and his cloak, and took the crook in his hand, and stood up where the sheep could see him, and called out, ' Men-ah ! men-ah ! ' but not a sheep would take any notice of him.
 ' They know not the voice of strangers.'
 My friend asked the shepherd if the sheep never followed any body but him.
 ' O yes ; sometimes a sheep gets sick, and then it will follow a stranger.'

Sheep are actually brighter than I thought. They will not follow a stranger, unless they are sick. Sheep know the voice of their shepherd.

The question for us today is – do we know the voice of our shepherd? Whose voice do we listen to?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Praying for Enemies

"O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." -Prayer For our Enemies, from the Book of Common Prayer, p. 816
I had forgotten that this prayer was in our prayerbook until after the news this week about Osama Bin Laden's death. Facebook was absolutely flooded with the news. Many of my friends began to post this prayer and/or selections from scripture that deal with how we should treat those whom we call "enemy."
"Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble." - Proverbs 24:17
"Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?" - Ezekiel 18:23

I was particularly touched by the quote from Ezekiel. God would rather the wicked turn from their ways than to see them die. Human beings, quite frankly, would often rather see the wicked die. We might want the wicked to die because we have been hurt and/or are afraid and want to protect ourselves and others. We might believe that it is justice for certain people to die, or we might think that it is the only choice we have or the lesser of evil choices that we have. We might rather the wicked die because we are incapable of seeing the possibility of redemption and reconciliation.

We talk about a God that is a God of love, mercy, and justice. What we often don't admit is the unfortunate tendency of people to want the love and mercy for ourselves when we screw up, and justice (in the form of punishment) for others. God's love and mercy is available for everyone; whether or not God's love and mercy is accepted by a person is another matter.

A friend of mine has an excellent reflection on the news of Osama Bin Laden's death entitled Mourning After. I join him in saying that Bin Laden's death is a good thing that we don't need to celebrate. Life is sacred, and should be mourned when lost. I have had mixed emotions about Bin Laden's death. There is relief that someone responsible for so much death and destruction is no longer capable of doing any more harm. Yet there is sadness that our world is a place in which it is necessary for certain people to die so that others might live. And there is sadness in realizing that this death doesn't solve all our problems, it will not be the last death. I want a better world, a world where there is redemption and reconciliation in abundance, and justice and mercy for all. I will pray for this world and pray for my enemies.