Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Easter 6C, Anticipating Memorial Day

The appointed readings can be found here (note, we used the John 14 option for the Gospel)


I was raised with a keen awareness that leaving meant gone.

That leaving meant the distinct possibility of gone, forever.

That once you set foot on the plane, you may return, you may not.

But, when you did, it would never be the same.

That what you had left would move on and that, once you had left, you would be changed.

I left home in the summer of 1996.

And, I know now, with a poignancy that can only exist in hindsight.

That every last embrace came from a place of grief—that as I began something new, I was leaving behind those who had come to love me.

Those who knew, through life and loss, that there would be no guarantee that they would live to see my return.   

And, I am every child who has left. And, I am every parent who fears the leaving. And, I am everyone who has stood beside the grave and wept. And, I am everyone who has walked through a door and never looked back.

The grief is real. The loss is real. The new life is real.

And our hearts are troubled.

Our hearts are troubled.

Because, in new life, something has inevitably died. In the journey begun, another has ended.

And, we stand at the doorway and wave, until the one last look has passed and, resolute, the one we love walks on.

These images of leave taking, the remembrance of loss…

By choice or by chance. By death or by doorway.

We will all stand on both sides of the leaving.

I am going away, Jesus says.

I am going away.

And, knowing loss, my breathing grows shallow. And, knowing the leaving, my heart breaks. And, knowing what it means to finally arrive…

to regret and to rejoice.

Looking behind and moving ahead.

Trying to make sense of all that has passed, so that we might live in the now that has come to be.

Death, resurrection and ascension. He was here and now he is gone. And, what now? What now?

We were not the first to wonder. To wonder the why of the leaving and the how of the healing...

16th century Carmelite, John of the Cross offers us this lamentation,

Why, since You wounded
This heart, don't You heal it?
And why, since You stole it from me,
Do You leave it so,
And fail to carry off what You have stolen? (vs. 9, The Spiritual Canticle)

Why, were we left? What hope have we now?

The Gospel of John was the last of canonical Gospels to be written. And, as such, it is a Gospel that is trying to make sense of all that has transpired from the vantage point of the after. After the crucifixion, after the resurrection, after the ascension…after. This Gospel is written for an early Christian community living in the after…in the already but not yet of the promised new life. The same already but not yet in which we, ourselves dwell. Which lends a certain poignancy to the opening verses of the Gospel of John.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

The life was the light of the people. The light which shines in, the light that shines on, the light—the pervasive and all-encompassing light that brings life.  

Jesus speaks, “Those who love me will keep my word”. Jesus’ word, the Word that brought life at creation. Jesus’ word, the word we are asked to keep.

This is the Word that shines the light. The Word that brings peace. The Word that re-creates the intention of God, the Creator.

Theologian James Alison, writes that “This is the sense of the peace which Jesus leaves with his disciples: not the peace which is the result of the suppression of conflict, or the resolution of conflict, such as is practiced by the mechanism of expulsion of the world, but the creative peace that brings into being: the primordial peace of the Creator from the beginning.” (The Joy of Being Wrong, p. 190)

The peace from the beginning is the word of new creation. The word that we are to live, is the word that brings to life.

And, so the author of the Gospel writes in hope and in fear, in trust and in sorrow, of how we shall live the Word that is life.

Today’s Gospel comes from a different beginning, the beginning of Jesus’ farewell discourse, Jesus’ long goodbye. Spoken prior to death, prior to the resurrection, prior to all that is to come. Recorded after all has come to be, for those who wonder how they are to live,

“Those who love me will keep my word.”

To keep the word, is to bring to life. To keep the word is to bring into being. To keep the word…

Is how we are called to live after loss.

It is how we are called to bring life to the world.  

“Those who love me will keep my word…”

As Christians, we cannot talk about our love of Christ, without talking about how we are to live.

It is not enough to simply say we love Jesus without keeping the word that he has given us.

So, what is this word, this word which we commit to keep?

If we look back just a few verses, we see that the Gospel we hear today, comes on the heels of Jesus’ proclamation of a new commandment, “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.’” John 13:34

These are the words. These are the words that bring life. These are the words that bring us to the dawn of a new creation.

Love one another.

Open the city gates and tear down the walls that separate us. Love one another.

Welcome the people of all nations, seek and serve Christ in all persons. Love one another.

Heed the call of those in need, strive for justice and peace. Love one another.

Judge with equity, honor the dignity of all people, and love one another.

Give praise to God. Love one another.

Because, by this the world will know that we are disciples.

By this we will find ourselves comforted.

By this, our wounded hearts will be healed.

By this, we will keep Christ’s word.


And now, go out into the world in peace, be of good courage, hold fast to that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; support the weak, help the afflicted, love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in God’s presence as God goes with you always. In the name of the Holy Trinity, one God. Amen.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Easter 3C, (RHE, in memoriam)

Easter 3C, 2019
RHE, in memoriam

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 

The end.

It’s the end of the book. It is the stated rationale behind everything that came before and everything the author hopes will come to pass.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 

The end.

But, not. This is not, actually, the end of the story.

Because, after these things.

After all of these things.

Comes the passage we heard proclaimed today.

A postscript perhaps?

An addendum?

Words that could not be left behind, stories that insisted on being spread. After these things, Jesus showed himself again.

These signs happened and these stories were told, so that we may come to believe.

And, if that were enough, if our belief were sufficient in and of itself—then, this ending would have stood.

As enough.

But, it was not enough. Not enough, for the community of early Johannine Christians who were struggling to figure out what to do and how to live in the meantime of waiting.

Of waiting.

Of waiting. For the inbreaking of God’s love. For the return of the Christ. For the world to be utterly, and completely, transformed by a forgiveness that will leave none forsaken.

And so, new words took shape upon the page. The words we hear proclaimed today.

After these things, Jesus showed himself again…

He showed himself again, but for what purpose?

To catch some fish, to break some bread?

To be with those he loved?

To sit, once more, in the flesh, alongside those who’d walked with him and prayed with him. Those who’d laughed and wept and hoped with him. Those who’d abandoned him and those who had denied him.

To be, once more, with them.

And, in this, I hear a longing. A longing to see once more, touch once more, taste once more, the goodness of God in the here and the now. I hear a longing, to be with the ones we love, the ones we thought lost to us, and the ones we hope to see again.  This is a chapter written for those who mourn.

And, so I read it with awe realizing that the last supper, the one we have memorialized, is not the final meal.

This is. On a sandy and reedy shoreline, with the scent of fish and sweat, smoke and earth, bread is broken and it is shared. Shared, again, in remembrance. Shared again, in truth. Shared again…

In love.

In love.

Note, the refrain.

Do you love me?

They may have come to believe. But, now, they must come to love.

Do you love me?

It is Peter he asks. Peter who is put to the test. Peter, the one who denied him—not once, but three times. He is the one who is pressed, “do you love me?

Yes, Lord; you know that I love you!

Three times he is asked, just as three times he denied.

He denied, but now he confesses. He confesses his love, again, again, again. Yes, Lord; you know that I love you!

And, regardless of his sin, his love is met with love.

But, all love is not equal.

The Greek word for love that Jesus uses is agape. The word agape means an unconditional and sacrificial love. It is love freely given without any hope for gain. It is love that exists for the good of another and not the good of self.

The Greek word for love that Peter uses is striking in its difference--Peter’s love is a brotherly love, philia. The meaning of which can be summed up by the word “because”. I love you because you love me. I love you because...

And, this word, this “because” implies that there may be some conditions to this love. Conditions to love, when God loves unconditionally.

Poor Peter.

You have to feel bad for the guy, even in declaring his love, he manages to mess up once more.

And, yet, it is Peter who becomes the founder of the church. Peter, the rock upon whom the church will be built.

Peter whose love is transformed. Because, because, by the third asking it is Jesus whose language changes. In Jesus’ final repetition of his question of love, he uses the word of his friend, philia. 

Jesus meets Peter where he is.

In this place of love “because”.

Because, that love is enough for the God who loves us more.

Now, there are some who might think that this emphasis upon love is somehow lacking—devoid of conviction and reason. Love as platitude rather than purpose.

But, love is more. Love is the ground and the meaning. It is the motivator and the mover. It is the way of Jesus and it can never die.

Do you remember Paul’s words? The words of a man who’d been utterly transformed? From his letter to the Romans,

“I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As I consider Paul’s words, I find myself mindful of Rachel Held Evans. Rachel wrote the book, Inspired, that we read for this year’s Lenten formation series. Known for her dedication to the Gospel and her capacity to reimagine and re-engage with the teaching of the Christian faith, Rachel died early Saturday morning. And so, as I consider Paul’s adamancy that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God, I find myself reflecting on Rachel’s own reflection on the nature of the love to which we, as Christians are called,

“To love as Jesus loved requires more strength and conviction than a human being without the Spirit can muster.  It requires giving without expecting anything in return, forgiving enemies, witholding judgment, assuming the position of a servant, looking after the forgotten, and caring for neighbors. It requires living counter-culturally by resisting the temptations of indulgent wealth and self-serving power. The kind of love that Jesus taught and exemplified crystallizes on the cross, where looking down on those who had put him there Jesus said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." https://rachelheldevans.com/blog/love-is-not-weak

So, when Peter falls short, he is loved. When we fall short, we are loved.

Loved, as we are. Enough, as we are. Called, as we are.

As we are, not as we might be.

We are on a journey of becoming. And, I see in Jesus’ relationship with Peter, Jesus constantly calling Peter, to love more, live more, and to serve more.

Love more. Live more. Serve, more.

Because, rather than continuing to ask Peter to speak his love, Jesus asks Peter to show his love.

Do you love me?

Feed my sheep.

Do you love me?

Follow me.  

Follow me.

Because I know the way, and I will lead you there.

And a community that mourned was comforted. A community that hungered was fed.

This is not the last supper. This is not the last time. This is not the end of the story.

And, words will be spoken, and words will be writ.

And, bread will be broken, and meals will be shared.

And, the story will continue.

In Paul.

In Lydia.

In the Ethiopian Eunuch.

In Dorothy Day.

In Thomas Merton

In Jonathan Merrick Daniels.

In Martin Luther King Jr.

In Verna Dozier.

In Rachel Held Evans.

In the living and in the dead.

In you.

And, in me.

The story will continue.

The story will continue, not because of what we believe, but because of how we love.

Because, the question at the end of the Gospel of John isn’t about belief. It’s about love.

Do you love me?