Neighbor.

Luke 10:25-37

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[a] “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[b] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Who is our neighbor?  A few years ago, I was asked this question in an unusual place.  I was at a Presbytery meeting where we were electing a new General Presbyter.  She is a lovely person, but wasn’t the General Presbyter for very long as she has since moved to another call. Well, that afternoon, folks were asking her all sorts of questions, but they weren’t asking a question I was keenly interested in, as well as many of my colleagues.

So, I did something I’ve not done in the 18 years I’ve been a part of the presbytery.  I went forward with a question.  My question was something along the lines of our Presbytery’s focus on transformation by listening to God’s work in our neigbhorhood.  We were seeing the primary way of thinking and acting in our Presbytery start to move. We had spent lots of good money on consultants who had become good friends from the Missional Network along the way . Together, we had done some great work in getting us into this process.  

Her response, “who is our neighbor?”  I realize I was putting her on the spot, and that setting wasn’t the best, but, it’s a question that needed to be asked and produced a good discussion even after that evening.

In our parable this morning, Jesus is hanging out with his disciples and others.  In the crowd, there is a lawyer who asks Jesus about the greatest commandment.  Jesus’ answer can be summed by “loving God, loving others…nothing else matters.” as my friend Bart Campolo used to say.  Jesus specifically says, loving your neighbors as yourself.

 The lawyer, for some reason, feels like his ego is on the line and wants to justify himself, so asks, who is our neighbor?

Jesus replies with a parable, the one of the “Good Samaritan”.

A man is robbed, everything is taken from him while he’s on a journey…he’s beaten, left for dead.  Yet, he’s still hanging on.  But, he has one thing left even if everything else is stripped away, his humanity.

Along comes priest, then a Levite.  Both of these folks have high positions in society, important people.  They probably came from great families with good connections to have these kinds of positions.  They also had places to get to, in their defence, others were counting on them.  Plus, they understood that if they helped, they would be unclean, in those days, to touch a bloody person meant days of cleansing and purification.  It would be inconvenient.  Now, before we pass judgement, how many times have we passed up things, how many times have we not gotten involved with someone because of time or convenience…maybe we’ve passed by an accident, or saw someone arguing in public, or something small or great…I know I’m guilty at times.  

Yet, then comes a Samaritan.  Jesus has just welcomed the 70 or 72 messengers back in the previous story that we talked about last week.  They had gone into Samaria, some were welcomed, some were not…maybe some still had bad feelings towards Samaritans…who knows.  The Samaritan, someone not Jewish, not religious, a merchant also…not part of the ruling religious cast, stops, gets dirty, helps this man.  He didn’t ask if he was a Jew, or an illegal, or why he was on this particular road…he didn’t blame him for his circumstances or for “being in the wrong place at the wrong time”. No, he was moved with compassion…which is the same phrase that is used elsewhere in Scripture to describe how Jesus felt about folks who were in desperate places.  

In other words, this Samaritan felt the same way that Jesus, God’s son, felt.  That folks who don’t have a “religious” inkling may be closer to God’s heart than some that call themselves God followers.  

And, this Samaritan follows through, bandages the man, takes him to an Inn, has his needs paid for…and even checks in on him the next day.  

It seems like Jesus is saying that your religion, even your beliefs, mean nothing unless they line up with your practice or praxis.  

When Jesus asks who was the true neighbor back to the lawyer, the lawyer responds that it’s the one who showed mercy, the Samaritan.

I don’t believe that Jesus was interested in winning an argument, really, at this point, I think the lawyer wasn’t interested either, it was a genuine conversation…something that seems to be lacking in much of today’s culture.  In that conversation, the lawyer, and those listening had a sense of hearing the deeper nuances of this story…they were curious, and they experience a sort of conversion, change, transformation through listening.

That’s what parables do.  

They don’t give us measurements of success, they aren’t always feel good stories, they are not mean to be morality plays, they don’t even give us clues on how to grow the church bigger…They are organic and are meant be shared authentically and without a desire for winning.  They are like seeds that are then planted in our hearts and grow into deeper meanings for all of us.

As we think about this parable, may we let it grow within us.  As we’ve seen  in the past week, folks are more and more isolated, and filled with hate and prejudices…we as a church, have an obligation to our neighbors, and our neighbors are everyone, especially those on the margins or in need…and we have a greater joy in being good neighbors to all who we meet, inviting them into our lives, our church, and our community.  

An invitation this week!

As you are watching TV, looking up things on your smart phone, reading the paper, walking through the city or your neighborhood, in a conversation at work, ask yourself, “Who is my neighbor?”

Take some time to journal your thoughts/reactions.

Advertisements

Remain.

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The Mission of the Seventy

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy[a] others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’[b]10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’[c]

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

The Return of the Seventy

17 The seventy[a] returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Last week we discussed being on a journey and the importance of our journey partners.  Our passage in Luke was about Jesus setting his eyes towards Jerusalem and being set on the mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, of living out the peace and presence of God on all of humanity.

This week, we find Jesus sending out 70, or in some manuscripts, 72, messengers to towns and places to proclaim the message that God’s Kingdom, God’s presence is now…that the time for release of prisoners, of welcoming of immigrants, of freedom for those being oppressed or persecuted has come…that community, true community…community marked by honest conversation, checking our egos at the door, being confident in who we are in Christ and what God has created within us, radical inclusion of everyone, of opening up the doors of our lives and our communities to all of those around us in some way while trusting that God’s love will flow in and through us is here!  

Jesus goes on to say that this is a message that is ripe and ready for harvest.  I get that.  When I’m out in my neighborhood I hear folks all of the time saying bits and pieces in their conversations for a yearning to belong to a larger purpose, to a community that will not judge them or hem them in, but will allow them to ask questions, to live in accountability and in friendship.  

Just this past week, in conversations at Panera, in my office, on my patio, in Northside, dinner guests in our house, and in so many other places, I’ve heard from folks their desire to be a part of a community that is marked by Presence…which is the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is not saying that he came to make a kingdom marked by boundaries and power, but a kingdom marked by authentic friendship…friendship that leads to freedom and growth.  Friendship, Kingdom friendship, happens when folks believe in each other, love one another, don’t hold grudges, are willing to ask questions out of love for one another and not out of winning arguments or out of some sort of personal agenda.  In that Kingdom, transformation is a mark of friendship, a mark of relationship, not transactions or “if I do this, you’ll do this”.  

Jesus, the representation of God, who’s very character is defined by relationship in the trinity…Father, son, HS…is sending out 72 folks to give this message.  The number is symbolic also, since we don’t know the exact number or even the exact mission of the 72,  it’s important to note that the author is simply trying to say that this is a message that needs to be spread…and that even 72 folks isn’t enough…the harvest is huge, all of humanity really.  But, have hope, you have all you need…you have yourself and a friend.  

My friends John McKnight and Peter Block have given us the concept of asset based community development.  

My friends John McKnight and Peter Block have given us the concept of asset based community development.  

This is a concept that has spread in community development and even corporate development around the world.  The idea is that you don’t go into a situation asking what the need is, you go in looking for your assets…you gather your assets, then apply them in a community and development and growth will hopefully follow.

I saw that firsthand in the ECI Oasis summer camp that my wife, Debbie, co-created four years ago. 

She’s busy with work and co-leading our family full time, but she has amazing assets in friendships.  She was able to gather neighborhood friends, get other relational assets such as local churches in our neighborhood, our local school district, and another local non-profit to put together this summer camp and feeding program for our community.  It was amazing…we did not have a huge budget, when we started, just about $5000 from various churches, now we have a budget of about $23,000 thanks to this church, other churches, individuals, and a foundation in the UMC.  But, we had the asset and the power of relationship and vision and imagination…and it took off.  We now have other members of our neighborhood coming out of the woodwork offering to take the camp to the next level, eventually all summer.  

Now, this is a message that some folks aren’t up for…they’d rather stay in their comfort zone, or they have something that they are enslaved to that is keeping them down.  

Jesus tells his messengers to model presence, even in the midst of resistors.  He tells them to go to homes and if they are welcomed there, to remain there, to bless the house, to give them peace.  For those who do not welcome God’s message, Jesus says to go into the streets, to shake the dust off their feet in protest…but, notice, he doesn’t tell them to leave.  They remain and still proclaim and live out their message.  What I understand in this passage is that the early jewish listener to this story would understand that the dust represents rejection or criticism.  Shake it off Jesus is saying, don’t let it stick to you.  And remain being the person that I’ve called you to be.  

Remain is a good thing to remember…always.  I have found that being in one place for a while helps to build up love and trust and beauty in that place…when someone makes a commitment to the growth of an area and remaining…and if that place is welcoming and open to the message, good things usually follow.  

It’s also a good reminder to remain in Christ, our true home in Christ is welcoming and allows us to grow to a place of self awareness, others awareness, and God awareness.   That awareness while remaining moves us towards growth.  

When we remain somewhere and we experience the dirt of criticism for our message and desire for loving Kingdom of God type community, to remember that we are not defined by that criticism, that we can shake it off and continue on with the message that we’ve been given to share.

God’s flow can’t be stopped, it will continue to flow over those who welcome it, and those who reject it.  Those who welcome it will grow, and those who can’t seem to welcome it, who can’t let go of the demons in their lives that are oppressing them, will continue to live in the hell that they’ve created…

But, to those whom God has called to be his messengers, we must continue to go and to share and to remain in ourselves and in friendships with others the authentic selves we are called to be…when we do this, we experience power over the demons of others, and even the demons, or the voices that torment us.

Friends, Jesus says that there is a thief that comes to steal and destroy, but in Jesus, we experience abundant life…life filled with wonderful assets of relationship, possibility, imagination, and purpose.  We are called to be the body of Christ together…and to experience the abundant life of Christ poured into us.

Set.

Luke 9:51-62

A Samaritan Village Refuses to Receive Jesus

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”[a]55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then[b] they went on to another village.

Would-Be Followers of Jesus

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus[c] said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

What does it mean to “set” your eyes on something?  Setting a course?  Is it important to have others with you in that endeavor?

Our Gospel lesson in Luke this week finds Jesus at a turning point, he is setting his eyes towards the journey to Jerusalem.   As we’ve discussed in the past,  Jerusalem is the center of Jewish religious life, it has the rebuilt temple, it is the focal point of Jewish life, it is where God dwells on earth symbolically and literally for Jews at that time.  Jesus has been teaching, preaching, and loving folks from all different walks of life.  He has been healing and restoring to community those on the margins of society.  He has also challenged the religious-political structures of that time to be model better the type of community that God intended:  inclusive, loving, restorative, and built upon the notion of God’s dwelling being made with all of humanity.  Jesus modeled this by being a rabbi, someone on the “in” of Jewish culture, going out to those on the outside, building genuine, authentic friendships with no strings attached, but loving them towards restoration and bringing folks back “in” to community with others.

I recently came across this quote from Richard Rohr that describes how Jesus, and how the church reforms.  

“You can only reform things long term by unlocking them from inside – by their own chosen authoritative sources. Outsiders have little authority or ability to reform anything.”

– Richard Rohr

In the Luke narrative, the theologian Gordon Fee says that Jesus is “the coming of salvation in all of its fullness to all people.”  No one is left out, humanity, as the Jesuit theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says is the body of Christ that Jesus came to restore in the 2nd “big bang” of history.  

So, Jesus is now “set” to move towards the center of Jewish thought in Jerusalem, putting into another phase of God’s purposes of planting the seed that changes everything.  This is the Christ Project, the working all of humanity towards wholistic restoration of relationships with ourselves, others, and God.  

And, Jesus is determined to get there.  He sets out in a direct route that takes him towards Jerusalem.  In takes him through Samaria.  This is an area that is populated by folks who have have a mix of Jewish and Gentile (non-Jewish) lineage both religiously and culturally. A very diverse population.  Because they were considered impure to devout Jews as they intermarried with various cultures, and because Samaritans had a different view of where God dwelt and even had some different religious leanings, they were looked down upon by Jews and Samaritans didn’t want to have anything to do with Jerusalem, because of their being rejected over time by Jews.

So, when Jesus sends messengers to prepare the way for his journey through Samaria, his messengers are rejected and the Samaritans, folks who Jesus actually was trying to befriend, reject Jesus because his “face was set for Jerusalem”…in other words, they weren’t rejecting Jesus personally, but his intent to go to Jerusalem.  Yet, the disciples were upset and asked if they could ask for “fire to come down from Heaven” and destroy Samaria.  

It seems as if the disciples had not quite received the message that Jesus was sharing yet, actually, they didn’t until after Jesus’ death and resurrection, it’s certainly safe to say that they were working in an old paradigm of viewing Samaritans, looking down upon them rather then opening up to them, and they also didn’t like rejection.  There were drawn to the aspect of power and glory that Jesus presented, they liked the notoriety of the flash of Jesus’ message, the hearings, the miracles, but they were missing the power of rejection and of humility.

We all face rejection, but how we deal it is important.  If we are set on something bigger than ourselves, then rejection can simply be a moment of growth for us. Even if we are the ones doing the rejecting, there are lessons to learn if we are willing to have some self-reflection. If we take rejection in stride and move forward, we grow.  If we do the rejecting out of pride or contempt, it can lead us towards bitterness, discontent, and we miss out on relationships and God’s blessings.  God’s flow, God’s Spirit will always find a way to move towards growing something within us and in the communities that we find our being.  When we are faced with obstacles, instead of reacting to them with power plays or with pride, if we let love flow in and through us, we can see that rejection or barriers will simply add some narrative or contour to a greater story and will not stop us on our journey.

That’s what happens in this story about Jesus.  Jesus rebukes the disciples, in some ancient manuscripts, there is even an extra line in verse 56 that says this:  “You do not know what spirit you are of, 56 for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.”  Jesus is for us, Jesus is for humanity, and Jesus is set on his journey to Jerusalem to change the course of history towards a trajectory of love that always wins out.  And, Jesus wants us to live in his spirit and do the same.  

It’s also important to note that even though the Samaritans didn’t get it, had pride and couldn’t see beyond their contempt for the Jews, that there are stories in the bible that show Jesus’ love and commitment towards the Samaritans, even befriended them.  The same thing with the disciples, they didn’t get it, even put up roadblocks and made Jesus’ life and message a bit difficult.  Yet, Jesus chose them and they chose Jesus to be on the journey together in ministry and literally in their journey towards Jerusalem.  

I have been reminded these past weeks at how important it is to be on a journey together with folks…folks that are imperfect, yet committed to be together and to be set towards a goal. 

A few years ago, I climbed Mt. Whitney with some friends from seminary…many of these friends we still keep in touch.  One friend is Andy Sexton.  He lives in Norwich, UK with his family. His wife, Rosie, started an organization called English+ that works with refugees and asylum seekers.  As many of you know, Brennan, our son, has been raising funds and is going to work with Rosie for a couple of weeks this summer in Norwich.  

A few years ago, I climbed Mt. Whitney with some friends from seminary…many of these friends we still keep in touch.  One friend is Andy Sexton.  He lives in Norwich, UK with his family. His wife, Rosie, started an organization called English+ that works with refugees and asylum seekers.  As many of you know, Brennan, our son, has been raising funds and is going to work with Rosie for a couple of weeks this summer in Norwich.  

When we climbed Mt. Whitney, Andy was there for me in many ways…all of us would encourage each other as we climbed, even as made some mistakes on our route to the top of the mountain!  

That bond continues on in many ways.  I’ve had other journey companions who’ve trained for marathons, friends who have conspired to get some good things going in our neighborhoods, like Oasis, where the summer camp started out of.  And, others who have co-created with me so many good things.

I can point to others who have been there for me…not perfect folks, actually, all of us a mess at times….there have been difficult moments in those friendships… But, still, there has been a flow, a bond, some would even say a covenant or a promise of friendship.    

These journey companions have caused me to be set on certain goals that are all about seeing the Kingdom of God, the ushering in of a reorganization in my life around following Jesus, of building authentic community, and of loving others in practical and humbling ways.

Jesus calls all of us into these types of relationships, as we journey together, we realize that we are dependent on each other in this new community that Jesus is calling us towards.  It takes priority over all sorts of other tasks.  We can’t be bogged down by how we’ve always done things or even understood things, there are too many people in this world that need the system changed in a way that Jesus lived out.  Jesus says to follow him and his way, to let the dead bury their own dead, to not make excuses of why we can’t follow, to not delay, to not try to build up some idea of power or some sort of kingdom of our own making, but to not look back and to look forward towards building the new reality of God’s Presence that builds us up, builds bridges between us, and tears down walls that have been built up both literally and figuratively.  May we live lives set towards the journey God’s called us on. 

Your homework this week:  Take inventory this week of who in your life has been a “life journey companion”.  Maybe it’s someone you have not seen in a while.  Reach out to them with a note or an email or a text and say “thank you”.  Then, reflect on how they have been a witness to God’s love for you in friendship.  

Heal.

Luke 8:26-39
Jesus restores a demon-possessed ma
n

26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes,[a] which is across the lake from Galilee.27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!’ 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

30 Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’

‘Legion,’ he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission.33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened.

When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over the town how much Jesus had done for him.

When I was a cross country coach, I often tell runners that they have voices that they can listen to when they run.

Finneytown Girls XC team!

When the race or practice gets hard, or it’s snowing and cold, or hot and humid, they may hear voices in their head that say you can’t do this, you aren’t tough enough, you could quit, or go home, sit on the coach in air conditioning, or play video games. Or, they can learn to listen to the voices that tell them that they can do this, that it is worth the work and even the pain at times, that it is producing character, that they can overcome. We call this the “moment of truth”, when you listen to the good voices that will push you through and don’t give in to the voices that leave you in a state that keeps you in a place and not growing.

Jesus encounters a man who’s been inflicted with thousands of voices that have actually taken control of his life.

He had so many voices, or personal demons, that when Jesus asked him his name, he said that his name was “legion” meaning “many”, even thousands. I’m not sure how one gets into this state, but it’s safe to say that this man was affected to the point of madness, so much so that his community shunned him and even chained him up.

Yet, Jesus goes up to him, has compassion on him. It’s also interesting to note that this man was not part of Jesus’ faith or lifestyle. The region where Jesus found this man was a Gentile region and Gentiles were non-believers. It was a foreign land, yet Jesus and his disciples felt compelled to travel there, outside of their comfort zone.

When Jesus confronts the man, the man has lost his mind, his sense of identity so much, that he doesn’t personally answer, but the demons give voice to Jesus…they know that Jesus is the Son of God…when darkness is confronted, it knows it can’t hide from the light, and it knows that it cannot overcome light. I believe that Jesus was so perfectly human, so aware of himself as God’s son, as the representation of God to humanity and humanity to God, that the darkness was revealed in this possessed man so openly that it could not help but to retreat.

It’s also important to realize that this man wanted to be healed. He was coming into his “moment of truth”. As conflicted as he was, as possessed as he was, he knew that he needed to change. It seems like Jesus’ power is best on display when others found within themselves a sense of agency, a desire to change, or willing to come to a “moment of truth”.

The demons plead with Jesus to be sent into a herd of pigs. Which, is another indicator that Jesus is in a foreign country as pigs were considered unclean by Jewish custom. So, Jesus sends them into the pigs and the pigs go mad and drive themselves off of a cliff.

This man regains his sense of self, his dignity and senses, and he is restored into community. But, the townsfolk are afraid of Jesus, they don’t know how to respond to this amazing act of love and power over the darkness of the possessed man’s life. Or, maybe they are afraid that this Jesus’ presence would cost them more economically, as the herd of pigs was an economic loss. Faced with fear, economic instability, and the presence of a change agent like Jesus, they plead for Jesus to leave.

They were not ready for their moment of truth.

As Jesus is leaving, the formerly possessed man asks to go with Jesus, yet Jesus tells him to stay, to find his voice more clearly now that all of the other voices are gone, and to love his neighbors and proclaim to them what God has done.

We don’t know this man’s name, it’s not in this passage, and we don’t know what happens. But, my bet is that this region saw and experienced this Jesus in this healed man as they continued to see evidence of his growth and release from what enslaved him.

The power of a changed life, especially after answering in a positive way to the moment of truth, can change the world!

I know that’s true in my life, your life, and our lives together. What voices are we listening to? What fears do we have that prevent us from following Jesus or keeps us away from walking with Jesus? Do we ask Jesus to leave us alone when faced with change in our lives, even if we know we need it or we see others’ lives changed through their awareness of God, self, and others through Jesus?

What are our moments of truth? And of trust?

And what would it take for us to let go of the voices that keep us enslaved to the way we’ve always done things or lived. These are voices that are keeping us from living the way that we’ve always wanted to live. Voices that keep us from growing in new ways as humans made in God’s image, infused with God’s dynamic spirit that moves us towards the kind of lives that bring adventure, meaning, purpose, and growth.

This past week, I met over coffee with my good friend Peter Block.

Peter is a voice that I love to listen to…he often speaks into my life (sometimes without even realizing it) and allows me to speak into his. We are in community together, we practice “church” if you will in many ways. As we were talking, he began to encourage me, as he does so often. One of the things that he spoke into my life over the year is reminding me that I have a powerful voice and finding that voice consistently is good work…it’s good work for all of us. Not only finding our particular voice, but how it fits into community and being in a community that can find it’s collective voice. That voice can shape mountains, experience and share love. Voice is powerful when there is no agenda other than seeing relationships and community restored or created.

God’s voice, God’s word, brought forth creation.


God’s voice or God’s word, became flesh and gave us Jesus.

God’s voice, God’s word, is carried to us through the flow of God’s spirit all around us, in us, through us, to us….and bringing us almost every moment in our lives to a moment of truth. How do we respond?

Your homework this week, take inventory daily. Listen to yourself, others, and the messages being sent to you through social media, news media, or whatever. What voices are you hearing or listening to. Write them down. Then ask yourself, where are you hearing God’s voice and where do you find your “moment of truth”?

Are we willing to listen to God’s voice as it pushes through all of the other voices in our lives, leading us to freedom, to many moments of truth, and reminding us that we have a powerful voice, that we are loved, that we are made for each other and to be a part of a community together proclaiming to each other God’s love? Not petty issues or pride or insecurities that keep us away from each other, but living together listening to God’s voice emerge within us and through us together? May it be so!

Three

John 16:12-15

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to
come. 
14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access[b] to this grace in which we stand; and we[c] boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we[d] also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

A couple of Sundays ago was Pentecost, the day we recognize God’s Spirit in and around us. This past Sunday was Trinity Sunday, the day we recognize the mystery of a 3 in 1 God.

Now, I know that there are all sorts of theological terms and understandings of how this whole Trinity deal works. There is the Greek word Homoosios, which means the same substance, not to be confused with the word Homoiosion, which means like the same. Both are terms used by theologians throughout the centuries to describe their experience of God.

I think it’s best to understand the Trinity simply as this, three beings that are of the same substance and mutually indwell in each other…so much that they are one.

Now, I’m not the Trinity, none of us are, but there are glimpses of this kind of close community from time to time. A few years ago, we started the Conspire Gathering. Tim Soerens and I co-created this idea very simply. We were sitting in Peter Block’s living room and were having one of those conversations where we were simply starting and ending each others thoughts and each adding in different flavors as we were cooking up what this Gathering could be. We quickly involved other friends like Paul Sparks, Peter Block, and Dwight Friesen, the co-authors of New Parish along with some local friends like Josh Stoxen, Brooklin Taylor, Daniel Hughes, Troy Bronsink, Jane Gerdsen, and others.

This year’s Conspire Gathering! Don’t miss it!

After some great conversations and plans, this whole Gathering came together. It really wasn’t much work on our part, but simply inviting others to be a part. It quickly became something that that our local Presbytery at the time really owned, as well as the Episcopal Cathedral and others.

At the end of our first Conspire Gathering, our friend Peter Block asked for reflections on the Gathering. We heard so many folks say how it seemed like Tim, Paul, Dwight, and I must have known each other for years, how things seemed to flow between us, and how this Gathering came together so well. Many more things were said that were wonderful, it turned out better than we could have planned really.

The point being, the four of us initially, and then others, were so committed to this and to each other, that this project was blessed by a sense of deep unity around a common purpose…we came together in friendship and unity.

I’ve also seen that in this church, this past week alone. I’ve had so many conversations around what we’d like to see happen in church, even in this service. It’s been fun, actually, even with some dissonance here and there

In God’s nature, God’s deepest defining character, there is a deep unity, one that goes beyond human comprehension to the point where lines seem to be blurred and there is a deep sense of mutuality, of mutual indwelling. Out of this intense community, there is One God.

As we’ve mentioned before, in Quantum Physics, physicists use a word describe how atoms, protons, neutrons, quarks, etc. work together…how they form and create. It’s called “relationship”. Atoms are attracted to each other, there is chaos at first, sparks fly, and then there is some structure and things are made.

They produce energy.

In theological terms, this relational energy in the divine, in the communion of the Trinity creates all things, it is the energy moving things, evolving things. It also saves, redeems, and reforms things…and, it holds things together, us together. We attempt to describe this three in one God by saying that all things originate in the Father who creates, the Son who saves and redeems, and the Spirit that sustains and moves. But, all of these attributes work within the Trinity, in the mutual indwelling of the relationship found in the Trinity.

The energy of this Holy community caused what Tielhard De Chardin calls the Big Bang of creation, and the 2nd bigger bang of Jesus…divinity and humanity coming together in what ancient theologians called the Homeostatic Union. This union of divine and humanity gives us the witness of God in flesh, and the “with-ness” of God with us, if you will, of Immanuel. This “God with us” is carried to us through the Trinity by the power of God’s Spirit, this Spirit in relationship with the Trinity, being poured out on to us, gives us energy to grow, mature, change, be aware of ourselves, others, and with a God who’s closer than the air we breathe.

Our lectionary passage this past Sunday gives words to Jesus’ promise that even though he would not be around in the flesh for much longer, that his Spirit, God’s Spirit, would be poured out on to us, that we would find the strength and energy to form as communities, to be together as God always intended.

In other words, we are not alone.

We also talk a lot about being the truth. What is truth? In Christ, we are pointed towards Truth. Jesus says elsewhere in John, that he is the Truth! Truth is not some abstract or even black and white rules, Truth is relationship. Truth, as God sees it, is expressed through God’s entering humanity, God’s demonstration of what it means to be truly human in Jesus. We are called to live into that truth, to follow the example of Jesus.

Now, we can’t do it on our own. We need the Spirit, God’s Spirit, carried to us through God’s conspiring with us, or sharing space breath with us as the word conspire means.

I have friends that are Greek Orthodox…The Greek Orthodox have a great term, it’s called “theosis”. It means that we are not the Trinity, we are not God, but we are drawn into communion or relationship with the Trinity through our shared humanity with Jesus and through the dynamic energy of God’s Spirit that is everywhere showing us how to live in community with others, God, and with ourselves.

Theosis
“Being drawn into the Trinity”

A friend of mine that grew up Greek Orthodox, is the owner of Ludlow Wines in Clifton. I told Michael a while back that he gets what we are talking about in terms of the relational energy of the Trinity, he loves his neighborhood and is working towards a better community, better relationships. He’s not concerned about competition, about being right all of the time, but he demonstrates hospitality, humility, and how to work together. That’s from the very nature of God, that is practicing truth as demonstrated through Jesus, and…I’d say, Michael is a great example in a very humble way for the church to be inspired by, just as we can be inspired by the everyday moments in life where we can see God’s movement, God’s energy. God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary through the dynamic energy of relationship demonstrated in this 3 in 1 God…may we find ways to have our eyes, ears, and hands see, hear, and partner with God’s work out ahead of us and in us.

Friends, it is my prayer that you walk away from this posting inspired to live in “theosis”, to cultivate an awareness that you are never alone, that God resides within you and all around you…and, as that awareness continues to dawn on you, on all of us, that we remember and, maybe even record, where we’ve seen God’s moving in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Here’s an invitation: Take out 5-10 minutes at the beginning of your day, and at the end of your day. Reflect on the day ahead, or the day that you just had. Write down where you think you may see God at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day, where did you see God? What were your surprises?

Keep this in mind, God’s relational, 3 in 1 energy, is constantly at work around you. Take the time to cultivate the awareness of God’s presence in you, in others, and in all things and time.

“Donde esta el Bano”?

Nicaragua with friends in 2013.

After multiple trips to Nicaragua over the years, you’d think I could have learned more of the Spanish language than that one phrase!  Other than “Gracias”, “Si”, or “No”, “Donde esta el Bano” is the extent of my Spanish Vocabulary.  Plus, whenever I attempted to speak in Spanish, my “Kentucky, Southern, and slightly redneck” dialect from being raised in the (AMAZING) state of Kentucky would come out.  

It means, “Where’s the bathroom?”  This is a key phrase when you are there, especially after eating beans and rice at most meals!

Even though I had a hard time communicating with words, there were so many other ways of communication and I learned a lot.  I learned that God wants me to trust in God’s flow and fidelity with all things.  I learned that I try to depend too much on my own means and not on God.  When you are around some amazing folks who are used to getting one meal a day, yet are so happy and insist on being extremely hospitable to you, you begin to wonder who’s really wealthy.  We may have some financial means, but they have a spiritual wealth that can only come from God.  

Recently, many in our church went on a work trip to Oak Hill, West Virginia.  I was able to join them for a couple of days.  These opportunities are full of great experiences of having to trust each other, new folks that are met along the way, and to lean in on God as God communicates to us God’s love.  

Brennan, me, and Tom Hathaway on the work trip to Oak Hill, WV.

God wants to take us out of our comfort zones and stretch us on adventures in our everyday lives that have eternal impacts.  In essence, that is what the church is about.  We want to take risks in relationships with others and have some great adventures together.  We do this so that we can become something.  What do we become?  Persons who learn together what it means to trust God in a world where there isn’t much trust and grow towards maturity in our relationships with each and with God.

I’m equally excited for what God is going to be doing with Fleming Road UCC this next year.  We have a great church staff, council, congregation, and an amazing God who wants to co-create something beautiful with and within all of us! 

We are also partnering with the Economics of Compassion Initiatives “Oasis” summer camp in our neighborhood this summer. This is a great example of neighborhood churches coming together for the common good…and an opportunity for us to grow and experience life as we build our community while building friendships.

ECI summer staff, Fallou, and some amazing kids from Oasis camp!

I believe that these words from Paul in Romans as translated by Rev. Eugene Peterson are especially important for us during this season of life in our church.  God is communicating to us!  Life can get us down, but whether we are 18 or 88, God has given us LIFE and God’s Spirit is breathing new possibilities into all of us!  God has not given us a life to simply wait for the grave to live in the “sweet bye and bye”, no, eternal life, abundant life in God’s Presence, starts now!  Let’s live with joyful anticipation and take some good risks in loving others, ourselves, and God well!  

Romans 8:5, 14, 18-19

   [5] Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! 

  [14] God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

    This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” 

  [18] That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. 

  [19] The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. 

In.

John 14:18-27

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate,[a] the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Acts 2:1-13

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

This week, in the common lectionary, we are still working in the last discourse that Jesus gave after the Last Supper and before he went to the cross.  

Jesus is encouraging the disciples, letting them know that even when things get bad, seemingly out of control, that they won’t be alone.  They have an identity, they are not going to be orphaned.  Which, is an interesting word, in effect, Jesus is saying that they not only have an identity, but that they are still in relationship with a God who is all around them and even in them.  

I can somewhat relate to this when my grandfather died.  We were really close, he believe in me.  It’s been 15-20 years since he died, but I still feel his presence. 

Now, this presence pales in comparison to what I’ve experienced with Jesus, similar, but with Jesus it’s even more present within my body, within my friendships, and within the space between us.  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit priest, author, and scientist, calls this the cosmic Christ, that Christ not only lived and walked the earth, but is with us, everywhere with everyone and everything, right now.  

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that there won’t be any problems in this passage…that life would be perfect and everything is going to be OK.  No, he simply promises that he won’t leave us, that he’ll be with us in the midst of life’s throes.  

I spend a lot of time checking in with folks who are going through some hard times.  Maybe they are sick, or have had a break in a relationship, or are struggling with various issues.  I can’t, with integrity, say that their situations will work out, I don’t know.  But, I can say that they are not alone, that there is a Presence, a sense of God’s love all around them and I pray for awareness of God’s Presence.  I believe that the greatest gift and struggle that we have as Jesus followers, as humans, is the work of becoming of self, others, and God aware.  Of moving past our small egos and moving into a global ego, a sense of deep connection with ourselves, others, and God’s movement and shaping.  

We are not alone in this work, God is with us, reminding us that we can see God…often in the small things.  

Jesus gives the pronouncement that he won’t be able to be seen by the world, but his followers will see him.  That’s an interesting thought.  We’ve prayed for eyes to see and ears to hear God’s movement in our world.  I strongly believe that all of humanity is being shaped and formed by God’s movement, that God is with all of us in the most intimate way.  God is closer than the air we breathe.  Yet, we don’t often recognize God, or sometimes we even deny that God could even exist.  The idea of a loving God can scare us.  Love transforms, it changes us.  Yet, we are comfortable with what we think we know.  

Jesus goes on to say that because he lives, because he loved and continues to love, we will all someday see that we find our being in community, in relationship with God.  

This concept of being “in” relationship with God and with others starts with an understanding that God’s very nature is communal relationship.  You can go through all sorts of head knowledge of God, but if we go deep within ourselves, whether we are extroverts or introverts, we are wired for relationship.   Science affirms this concept, at the very root of how we are formed, with atoms, protons, neutrons, quarks, etc., there is an understanding that energy is created for atoms to form through attraction, through relationship.  

Our understanding of God as three in one, as Trinity, gives witness to relationships.  God as father, son, holy spirit are so close that they are one.  The outcome of their energy together is creating, saving, and sustaining relationship based on love.  It is not static, it is dynamic.  

This love moves us, gives us energy.  We are drawn to it like an atom is drawn together to form something.  As a seminary professor at Fuller once told me, we can say no to God, but what if God says no to our no?  There is a flow that is creating and shaping us, and that flow is relational, and it is marked by love.  We can go on resisting it, or we can obey that desire to love and let it reveal itself to us.  

There are all sorts of comments on what it means in this passage when it says “on that day”.  Is that the end of time?  I believe that in God, there isn’t linear time, all is “now”, present.  We have days that we recognize this love.  

This love may move us towards a personal understanding of God’s love for us, but it also moves us eventually in an evolutionary way towards an understanding that God’s love is for everyone and is not so small minded or ego-centric on just us, but all of us.  

As we begin to allow God’s love to pour into us and through us to others, we begin to understand that we are connected to an expansive God.  We begin to see faith as not being right, not living in a black and white world, but understanding that living in mystery and curiosity, living in a willingness to let go of our control, our vision, and letting God expand our horizons and understanding of the global Christ project by being locally rooted in community, we begin to experience a deepening of ourselves, a joy in things unseen but lived out.

God’s Spirit is called Advocate, God advocates for us.  God has made God’s home with us, and is in our corner.  Not in our corner to meet our selfish needs, but to say to us that we are not alone, that God sees a better “us” and is calling us into growth through awareness.  This Advocate, this Presence, God’s Spirit, is a counselor for us, reminds us of God’s story with us, and goes with us.  

God’s Spirit is a gift, but just like any gift, we need to open it, see it, experience it.  A good place to start is to work towards authentic community with others, to honor them, to work towards awareness by slowing down and taking time each day to reflect, pray, journal.  By unplugging and going on a retreat to a quiet place.  

As we do that, we will begin to see that God is in us, and we find our being in God.  This being will move us in ways we don’t always expect.  Look at the early disciples that are describe in Acts.  They experience the Spirit, it’s like a flame that’s burning, uncontrollable, yet warms them and moves them to change the world