SCRIPTURE: 1 Peter 1:17-23
TEXT: 21Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
THEME: We bring a God of love into our world.
Being sheltered in, I have been watching a lot of Daniel Tiger, the animated version of Mr, Roger’s Neighborhood. Daniel sings little songs of what to do when angry, frustrated, or sharing. These are strategies to use when we find ourselves in these situations. It teaches us how to live in loving relationships with those around us.
This passage in 1 Peter, is instructional on how to live as Christians in the world, although, instead of a ditty, it begins with a bit of sarcasm. Its asking, “What kind of God are we bringing into the world?”, vs.17 “If we invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.” If we think of God as a judge, no matter how impartial, then we had better be on our best behavior at all times to avoid being held accountable for all of our sins. The stress would be constant as we live in a world of check and balances, sin and sacrifice, keeping a record of wrongs with good deeds. The author of 1 Peter is saying, “Don’t live like that! Don’t you know that we were ransomed, or freed, from thinking that our lineage or offerings could buy us favor with God. Nothing we do, can do that. Only God’s love for us can, as displayed in Jesus. Love brings us into fellowship with God.” Jesus’ love for us, marks the cross of his death with blood, as a sign for the spirit of death to pass over us, at our death as we are raised with resurrection promise.
Jesus’ destiny is love. From the beginning of creation, God lovingly forms us out of the good dust of the ground. As a potter works with clay, we are made in God’s image. Then God breathes life into us, with a soul and a spirit so that we can be participants with God, in the work of creation and as stewards of God’s gifts.
The truth that we are obedient to; is about God’s love for us that forgives. We trust that God has our best interest at heart. Nothing about God wants to hurt us, but continues to draw us in closer, into loving relationships with God’s self and with each other.
This perspective of God, this understanding we have of who God is, this profound love we experience in Jesus, separates us from the thinking and values held by the world. Our mission, is for all to know God in the way we do and for all to realize the love of God in their lives.
The good news of Jesus’ life and resurrection from death, is love’s power for us is transformational. How does this power change us to live transformed lives?
I use theological templates to frame what I think about God, faith, salvation and life. These are theological theories of what I believe. I use them in my pursuit for the truth of God. These are the lenses I use to understand the scriptures and to apply discovered truth in my life. When they don’t work, I go back to old ones or modify these theories with the ’new’ that I have learned. I am constantly testing and open to other ways to understand God with what I read, study in the Bible, test out and experience for myself. Taking the truth of God seriously, with each thing I learn, it allows me to change how I see life and how I live.
Glennon Doyle, online community organizer, said the first story she ever heard about God was the garden story. First there was one person, then He gave birth to Eve. That is not what she has ever seen in her life, but - okay. Then every time the woman wanted something and went for it, it resulted in something terrible. This story has made women fear what they desire. But that template is flawed, because what she has seen in the world, is that what women want, is good. And if women started to go for it, the power structures of the world would tumble. This is why power structures make women doubt what they desire. If women went for what they desired, our world would be rebuilt on equality, and justice and love and peace.
I can see how our faith tradition have used this story to suppress women. Any power structure that instills doubt to control, prejudice for superiority, or manipulates the truth, is flawed. Any world based on equity, justice, love and peace are worthy desires to rebuilt, a better world.
But we must be careful not to error on the side of gender bias. Last week Anderson Cooper interviewed the Mayor of Las Vegas who lacked the qualities of equality, justice, love and peace in her care of her citizens and visitors to Nevada. Greed, is a tempter who knows no boundaries.
This is why the God we are a witness of, is not a judge out to punish wrong doings, but a God of power, whose love gives humans the ability to be changed and transformed by being loved.
The garden story is not about us being a problem that needs to be fixed. It is about God who loves us no matter what. The Gospel story is not about humans who need to be fixed. It is about God who loves us no matter what. This is transformational as we move from our own self-sufficiencies, to a dependency that trusts in God, in a doing things God’s way, towards being in relationship with God as parent and Jesus as friend or sibling, who shows us the imaginative, unbounded love of God.
Don’t lose hope. I am depending on the Holy Spirit as I say this. The people we live with, the people we are, the people out there that affect our lives by the decisions they make, have the ability to change and be transformed by the love of God for them, as experienced through Jesus and enabled by the works of the Holy Spirit in them. This template can change, Glennon Doyle’s take of the story of the garden. It can change our behavior of social distancing, from an obedience to the law, to a way to care for others, the vulnerable, over a limitation of our freedoms.
Wearing a mask is a good symbol of love transforming our lives, as it will not protect us from COVID-19, but we wear it as a way to show love and concern for our neighbor. We could be sick and not know it, so just in case, we love others by being inconvenienced, by sheltering in our germs, because we have been loved, in an even more profound way by Jesus.
“When you feel so mad, that you wanna roar, take a deep breath and count to 4”, “When you are frustrated, take a step back and ask for help”, “You take a turn Then I’ll get it back”, “ these are simple instructions from Daniel Tiger’s jingles, that are helpful reminders for peaceful living. When we create a loving environment, it can create an opportunity for others to feel respected, valued, cared for and loved by us and loved by God. This is the God we bring into the world, A God whose love for us is imaginative and profound, and has power for us to be change by this transformational relationship with God, as demonstrated by the way we live, and how we live with God and how we live with others.
SCRIPTURE: 1 Peter 1:3-9
TEXT: 8b you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
THEME: Joy is the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.
I have a Jewish friend, who when I told him of a healing answer to a prayer, he responded by saying, “Blessed be God”. I hadn’t heard that phrase before. Used in this context, I had to think about it. I figured it was like saying “how great God is because of what God has done.” It is attributing the ability of healing to God, who answers prayer with wholeness. When we attribute amazing activities to God, Blessed be God.
The letter of 1 Peter picks this up, as verse three begins with “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” It then continues with a litany of attributes of who God is; merciful, giver of new birth, the resurrector of Jesus from the dead and the giver of hope for eternal life. The activity of God that we see through Jesus witnesses God as blessed. When Patricia Dutcher-Walls, Professor at Vancouver School of Theology was here, at an ETCL event, she shared a grid for Studying the Bible that asks four things; 1) what does this text, say about who God is, 2) who humans are, 3) about our relationship with God and 4) our relationship with each other.
We have already looked at what this passage has said about who God is. The next is to see what it says about ‘who we are’. All that God has done gives us reason to be people who have joy. We are loved, we are valued, we are gifted as heirs to the Kingdom of God. Blessed, adopted, and in relationship with the Creator of life as a Parent and child. Our relationship with God has eternal consequences to it.
Next we see what this passage says about our living with each other. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes there is suffering, we have to move, we live apart from friends and family and all that we take with us is our trust in God. Verse 1 and 2 describe a dispersion where Christians have had to leave their homes to live in the surrounding countries. They take their faith with them to live in a foreign land. Sometimes having a Christ perspective, can makes us feel like a foreigner in our own land. There is suffering because humans don’t always treat those who are different from themselves or immigrants humanly. There is suffering because of evil. I just got an AARP newspaper where it highlighted scam artists preying on the senior members of our population, with schemes to separate them from their fortunes. They cause trials and testing to this cherished segment of our society. When evil befalls us, God is there to help and the community of God’s people are there to be a blessing.
The last grid to look through, is to see what this passage says about our relationship with God. These second-generation Christians believe in God even though they have not seen Jesus. These second-generation Christians are like us, where we have faith in an invisible God. Faith opens our eyes to see what God is doing in our world. We love God, and we love Jesus. We live, trusting in God’s helps, to participate in God’s mission, being strengthened by the Holy Spirit to do good, we help the weak, feed the hungry and engage in God’s works of creation. We have an imaginative faith the calls us to a sense of purpose. Trust in God creates the foundation for us to live following God’s ways. In the midst of our suffering we can trust that God is with us to help, protect, guide and supply us with what we need. Knowing this, we rejoice as we live in relationship with God. Relationship with God is the salvation of our souls.
The good news of Jesus’ life and resurrection from death, invites us to trust God with our lives. Trusting God daily, what is joy’s relationship with suffering and happiness?
Joy and happiness are not the same thing. “We can be unhappy and yet, joyful. We don’t think of that, but there is a deep inner peace and joy in the midst of sadness.” This is what Brother David Steindl-Rast said about Joy, on an On Being, podcast interview with Krista Tippet. He calls joy “the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.”
We can’t possibly be happy all of the time. Being happy all of the time would be exhausting. But we can have joy even while we are suffering or grieving or under trial or being tested. We may not be happy about what is happening to us, but with God’s presence and assurances, we have a sense of security and confidence that gives us joy. Joy is being in relationship with God. Joy is happiness in God.
We cannot be thankful for everything that happens to us, but in every moment that happens we can be grateful. Joy is tied to an attitude of gratitude that we can have with God in our lives.
Joy is in the moment. Jesuit Priest James Martin describes finding God in all things; in our daily lives, in our relationships, in our work, in the emotions that come up, in those moments that we see a sunset and we say, “My gosh that’s so beautiful. Why am I feeling like this?” Or we see an infant for the first time, and we say, “My gosh, where are these feelings coming from?” This is God communicating joy to us through our daily lives in all things. Joy is finding God in all things.
The way that we live, displays the attributes of God. We are God’s canvas, as our lives are transformed, as we live with hope, as our acts of charity are a blessing in the world, and our attitude of joy helps us in all situations. We are the canvas of God’s healing, the canvas of God’s creativity, the canvas of God’s handiwork. Happiness sparks our joy; Gratitude is a product of joy in all circumstances. God is real to others by the way we live. We live loving God. Our stories of the greatness of God show how Blessed be God. When Easter rolled around, the disciples were not stern or long faced but joy lit their lives. Now we are living in the face of Covid-19 but joy does not escape us. It is displays when the attributes of God are expressed. When we see God’s activity, breaking into our sheltering in, healing the sick, calming the fearful, in the courage of the health care professionals, in comforting the dying, and giving life beyond this world. We can have gratitude for God who is present in our world and joy in knowing blessed be our God.
SCRIPTURE: Colossians 3:1-4
TEXT: 1So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above,
THEME: Living new
As the Corona Virus is reaching its peak here in the United States, China is beginning to return to normal. Freelance Reporters from China have indicated that roads were opening up as travelers are now going in and out of Wuhan. But as life returns to normal, too much has changed for us to pick up from where we have left off. People have died, the economy has shifted, jobs have been lost as business collapsed, people who resisted sheltering in are now afraid to go outside. Maybe social distancing and isolation is lifted but life as we have known it is gone. We live with a new reality of death and destruction. We carry a pending fear of a second wave or new pandemic in the next season. Life cannot return to normal, there is no normal to go back to.
The term, “New Normal” has been tossed around. What we have had to do, to survive the pandemic is not the new normal. Social distancing, zoom conferences, cyber church, hoarding, irrational fears, terrorizing tourist, cannot be how we live going forward. When the pandemic passes over, we will have a new reality for us to live into. Our world is changed, 18,000 people in our United States have died with about half of them coming from the New York area. Our perspectives have changed, we are grieving loss, beloved business are gone, trust has been broken, so we have to live in a new way, in which it is too early to determined what normal will look like.
Our innocents shattered as our lives adjust to living in a pandemic world. The resurrection does much of the same for us, it shatters our world with a new reality, but with hope instead of demise.
The light of the sunrise revealed the new reality, as it exposed the empty tomb and the body of Jesus missing. Women were the first witnesses of the Easter event. Filled with grief and love, the funeral preparations gave them one last time to embrace Jesus’ body. To express their love and say good bye, when shock and bewilderment strike this anticipated intimate moment. Its open, he’s gone!
These witnesses of the abnormal, are filled with fear and dread, These first witnesses of the Good News, flee, not telling anyone what they have seen as Mark’s original manuscript ends, but if they had really told no one, then there would be no need for Mark to write this gospel.
It doesn’t say it, but slowly the idea of the spirit of death passing over Jesus sets in. As Jesus and his disciples sit at their Passover meal, they remember the marking of the door to signal the spirit of death to Passover a household. This final plague releases the Hebrews from their slavery in Egypt. At this new Passover, it is Jesus’ love for us that marks a cross as a sign for death to Passover our dead bodies as our spirits are released to resurrected lives. The sign of this Passover is the blood stained cross and the release of Jesus from the tomb.
The resurrection disrupts our world’s normalcy, as death is no longer the only active player in our world. This changes the hierarchy, the order of things in our lives. Our world view is effected by eternity. There is more to life than just an amassing of a personal fortune, or commanding power over others, or the pursuit of praise and adoration. All of these are left behind when our bodies die, but our spirits carry on with qualities of joy, peace, love, kindness, relationships, praise, thanksgiving, worship.
This is where the author of Colossians writes, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…” The recipients of the letter are those who believe in Jesus, and the resurrection, realizing that although their bodies die, death passes over us and we will live resurrected. So if we can’t take our personal wealth or prestige with us, what can we? We can take with us, the qualities of relationships; Dignity, respect, justice, equality, worth, value, and honor.
Consider these things, these qualities of life, that we can live today. In the face of death, what is really important? Seeing from the perspective of the passing over of the spirit of death into resurrection, we can’t go back to living in fear, greed, evil, vice, consumption, and the like.
This is what the Colossians letter is mandating, Don’t go back to what was normal. We cannot. It is inconsistent with the new reality we hold. Some will try to return to the same old, same old after the COVID-19 virus has passed. But we will remember how we have been treated. We will remember who tried to cheat us. We will remember who helped us and who did not. We will remember what it was like and we don’t want to go back except for when we forget and snap back into the old habits, and resort to what is familiar. Don’t do it. That is why the Hebrews have a meal to remember that they were once slaves. That is why we have the Lord’s Supper to remember we were once bound to death. That is why we have each other to remember. Because 10 years from now, when the new generation is saying, ”we refuse to wear this stupid mask because we don’t believe in the pandemic of 2020.” The way we live will have to be the evidence that the plague was real, the resurrection is real, the way we live is not for our own comfort, but because of our love and care for others.
What is happening in China is a modern day parable of life as they can’t ever go back to the way that things were. Our world has been disrupted by the death’s passing over Jesus and resurrection leaving an empty tomb in its wake. How do we return to our lives when what we know about death has been changed?
We live into our reality of resurrection. We move apart from the consumers of the world’s resources to stewards of God’s gifts, we live in ways that foster relationships with love. Here are some triads of resurrected living;
forgiveness, listening, patience,
tolerance, acceptance, self-control,
grace, peace, joy,
empathy, compassion, health,
respect, dignity, appreciation,
thanksgiving, kindness, and blessing.
These qualities of living draws us into relational living that forms communities of caring.
We live valuing relationships over stuff, relationships are more important than the anger we harbor, relationships allows us to be humble and secure in ourselves.
Relationships are preserved over who is right or wrong. relationships overcomes our selfishness as relationships are cherished over our own validation.
Resurrected lives leaves our old normal behind for being secure in our relationship with God and fostering relationship with others.
Remember what has happened in these last few months, less we forget the impetus for our new habits. When Lent rolls around next year, and we begin by going out to eat malasadas and Fat Tuesday we will remember that it was just about this time that the pandemic began. Untested celebrants at Mardi Gras in New Orleans unknowing spread the virus. This was the start when we will remember a time when we had to shelter in, gather supplies, share with our neighbor, feed the hungry, volunteer to do a grocery run, wear a mask, keep apart but stay connected. We have been faced with our mortality this Lent. But when our fear gives way to love, We remembered Jesus’ love marking the cross, as a sign for death to pass over and to release our spirits to resurrected life with God and each other. We have been living as Easter people ever since, leaving normal behind.
It is a cold and dangerous time for many of us – in our own lives, in our communities, in our nation and in our world. And yet, while it is still dark, miracles are already beginning, already starting to stir, just about to burst from the tomb. So, do not be discouraged or afraid. Instead, get ready to join the shouts.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
SCRIPTURE: Philippians 2:5-11
TEXT: 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
THEME: Dignity available to us through the imaginative love of God.
God takes on the form of flesh and blood in Jesus. The incarnation is getting down to our level to love us. Its like when we play on the floor with a child. God is not a spectator to our lives but an involved participant. Jesus exemplify how to live our lives informed by God’s love and what it means to be so loved by God.
Paul’s description of Jesus, in his letter to the church in Philippi, takes the grandeur of the Creator of all things, and places ‘the form of God’ in the confines of a human body, not for power’s sake, but for love’s. God, through Jesus, shows us another way to live; where our priorities are focused on human lives over personal wealth, where we act to bring wholeness to broken lives over our own self preservation, where our stewardship of the things that we have creates a current of resources instead of amassing of goods, where our actions bring a revival to the soul instead of an oppression and denigration of others. Glory showcases God’s presence among us, instead of accolades for ourselves that distant us from others.
I’ll use my memory of what Tony Campolo said at one of the early HIM Conferences, “Jesus who is all powerful, gave up power to be all loving. People withhold love in order to have power. When we use the silent treatment, saying, ‘I am not going to speak to you until you do what I want.’ It is a way of withholding love, to have power over someone else. Jesus does the opposite, as he humbles himself to die on the cross, giving up all power to be all loving.”
Here we are with Palm waving, shouts of ‘Hosanna’ as we commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but don’t go to Easter to quickly. Wait and journey with Jesus from the prayer in the garden, to the arrest, the betrayal, being falsely accused, the torture, death and committal in the tomb. In all of those times when Jesus could have exhibited power, he chose love.
I listened to an ‘On Being’ pod cast where Krista Tippet was interviewing Padrag O Tuama on prayer. He said that he prayed the stations of the cross, everyday for ten years. 14 stations of abduction, torture, and murder through which he discovered; hope in protest, hope in truth-telling, hope in generosity, by seeing the character of Jesus revealed. He began to see the kind of dignity that might be available to him through the imaginative love of God.
I’ve never heard the end of Jesus described in such a way, but true. Abduction, torture and murder, then to have eyes opened to how Jesus was not victimized by these actions, but instead in the midst of evil we find in Jesus; hope in protest, hope in truth-telling, and hope in generosity.
Jesus’ love for us, takes him into the shadow of evil. Those who feared this itinerant preacher from Nazareth wanted him killed. The Roman Empire was being threatened by a man who preached love over violence and loving each other, over the Peace of Rome. The Jewish ruling class was threatened by a rabbi who liberated people’s thinking, so that they could bonds with God in a way that is describe in the Law and not by being regulated by it. The dark shadow of fear, insecurity, greed, motivate these structures of Empire and Religion to join forces to abduct an innocent from a garden, and exercise power over him, by treating him less than human, with violence and torture. Then they commit murder, because of their inability to create life, the only power they have is to take his life away.
Be present with Jesus in this shadow of evil, not to see how much he suffered, but to see how we are the passion of Christ. We are what Jesus is passionate about. Love expresses hope in protest of the present evil. Love give hope in telling the truth of God, of who we are, of God’s love for us, of forgiveness, of renewed relationships, of life and how we are to live. Love speaks hope of using the gifts of God in ways that enjoy these blessings and bless each other, beyond our possessions but of our dominion of them. Love that gives us hope in Jesus so wrongly treated by evil but never gives up in living love over power. It is in the example of Jesus, that we can find ourselves in our shadows and discover Jesus present with us.
Padrag O Tuama’s parting words of this interview were that these shadowy parts of Jesus’ end, have become a shelter for him.
The incarnation of God, enables us to see Christ in the shadows of our lives. God’s love through Jesus, enters every darkness we can image. We begin to see a kind of dignity that might be available to us, through this imaginative love of God. Where is God is taking us, as we go into this week, called holy, that could turn a shadowy place of our world, into a place sheltered by Jesus’ love?
Our American Culture does equip us for dying. We all know that we will someday come to this end, but we fight it. In fact, we approach death with violence, chest pounding, valiant efforts, extreme measures, being oblivious to the soul of a person that might be at peace, a spirit who is weary from the journey and has done what God has required of them. To be able to slip away, to be let go from those whose love holds on to them so tightly, for grace to let them be embraced into the arms of God. In the shadow of death, God comes along side us with comfort. Grieving our loss. Consoling us in our pain. Helping us heal with the suffering love of Jesus.
The shadow of greed blinds us to competition. We are against our neighbor to make sure that we won’t be denied of what we think we need. Love makes our fear reasonable. It enable us to see beyond our own fear and into the fear of others. Then we can respond with reassurance and comfort. We listen to the truth rather than the rumor, We shelter the shadow of fear with compassion and wisdom.
We have anxiety of an unknown future. We worry that this maybe the new norm. A shadow of uncertainty looms as no one can predict the future. The God of Creation, the Love of God that cannot be removed from us, the forgiveness of God of any sin, the certainty of God’s presence with us is our shelter in the shadow of not knowing. No matter what may befall us, God is present with strengthen, help, guidance and the Holy Spirit to enable.
God is on the floor with us participating in our lives. God takes on the veil of flesh and blood in Jesus, to show us how life can be lived and the power of love. Pull up a version of the stations of the cross and walk them this week until next Sunday. Human beings sometimes have to endure shadows of evil. We are not alone as Christ endures these shadows with us. God’s imaginative love is there for you. You are meaningful, sheltered and loved by the passion of Christ, which is the passion of God.