Still making strides

It’s been a little while since I posted about my adventures in running, or much of anything personal, really. It’s funny how writing stays on the list of things I need to do, and yet… it seems like the closest I get is posting pictures on other social media.

So… what’s happened on the road since February? Let’s see…

There was the visit to the podiatrist to figure out why my left foot wasn’t happy in any of my shoes. Turns out that tendinitis and bursitis (which aren’t supposed to be visible on xrays, in case you wondered) are hard to get rid of when you stubbornly keep running through the pain.

And the opportunity to hire an excellent coach who could help me think through workouts while resting said foot… because I had a half-marathon, some 5Ks, a 10K and my first actual for-real Sprint Triathlon to be ready for.

All that means I’ve been swimming and running, and trying to get used to being on a bike for more than a couple miles at a time. And getting used to doing more than one of those things in a row. I’ve started doing spin classes, since I don’t have any real hills to train on near me. And I’ve been doing strength and balance training, so that I can be more efficient in all three disciplines.

If that sounds like a lot of work, you’re not wrong. It’s called “working out” for a reason. But it’s also a lot of fun. Most days. It’s oddly fun to challenge myself to get faster or stronger than yesterday. And it was incredible fun to climb onto my new bike, pump the legs that had endured spin classes and robo-bike programs, and actually crank up some wicked hills last Saturday.

There is nothing like completing that swim-bike-run combination to make you feel like a Bad. Ass. It is the hardest fun I’ve had in a long time. That explains why “I’ll try a triathlon” turned into “I can fit another one in this summer” and “Wait, they’re going to do one at the Daytona Speedway? I’m in.”

And frustrating days like Monday happen. Getting stronger and faster means doing pace-related workouts. To plan those, my coach and I need to know my “go hard but don’t puke” mile time.  The best way to get one of those is on a track. So I jogged over to the high school in our neighborhood to get it done.

I had no idea until I stepped out into that middle lane, just how much baggage I still carried with me. It was like my whole non-running life came back to haunt me… I was back in elementary school, struggling to finish the run portion of the President’s Physical Fitness challenge.  Then crossing the line well after all my middle school friends were headed to the dressing room. And then feeling like a total fraud as a college athlete who couldn’t break the 9-minute mile requirement.

And now, here I was, voluntarily on a track at 8am. Old enough to know better, and I had even paid someone to tell me to get out there. For just a moment, I hesitated.  Was I really ready to go around those ovals and risk feeling that inadequate again?  If I have learned nothing in the last couple years, it’s this: The only way out is through.

Funny thing is, the first lap seemed to be over really quickly, and I felt good. The track felt shorter than any I’d run on before, but it was a for-real quarter mile loop. The second and third laps were a little harder, so I shifted to sprinting straights and going easier on the curves… and there I was, sprinting the last straight to finish the mile strong.

Due to technical glitches with my watch, I don’t know what my time actually was- but I’m pretty it was closer to 9 minutes than I’ve ever been.  Bonus: No puke.

Going home?  That mile was craptacular, for a variety of reasons. But after I posted about how ugly it was, I realized that running home at all was a victory of sorts. After all, by then, I was only carrying a water bottle. That big doggie bag of emotional leftovers stayed at the track.

I’ll never have a classic runner’s physique, nor do I pedal with a sleek biker’s silhouette. I’ve got broad shoulders, but probably wouldn’t be mistaken for a swimmer . But I am a triathlete now, which is “something” as a friend commented on one of my pics from Saturday. When I joked about not knowing what, he spoke truth. “Whatever it is, it’s good and it’s strong.” I think I’ll take that and run with it.

Sprint Triathlon #2 in the books!
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Living in Love

We’ll start this morning with three verses from John’s gospel, chapter 15, starting at verse 9. Listen to the word of God

9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (NRSV)

That ought to sound a little familiar…
we heard echoes of those words in the first chapter of 1 John.
There is a deep connection between our joy and God’s joy
There is deep connection between our love for God, for Jesus and for one  another, so much so that love is the key to our abiding in God.

Living in Love, remaining in love…
This is how we keep the commandments
This is how we show the world who God is.

Our final passage from John’s first epistle takes this idea and runs with it. Listen again for the Word of God to you today… this time from 1 John 4:7-21

7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.

16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.

20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.   (NRSV)

If you asked me what the Bible – in particular the New Testament – has to say about what it means for us to love one another, I would probably point you to 3 passages…

Paul’s “most excellent way” of living as the Body of Christ, which he outlines in the 13th chapter of his first letter to the church in Corinth.

The back half of the letter to the Ephesians, in particular where the household structure is described in terms of mutuality, rather than hierarchy.

And of course, I would point to this exhortation from 1 John, starting with beloved, let us love one another…

I know… those just scratch the surface of what we might say about love.  And if you asked me to choose another three from the gospels, I don’t know that I could narrow it down that far.

After all, Jesus tells us over and over again what the kingdom of God looks like.  And over and over again, it looks like grace, forgiveness, healing, hope… all stacked up on a foundation of love.
Love for God.
Love for neighbor.

The law of love, we call it.
The first and greatest commandment and the second, which is like it.
And which – according to our letter – flows directly from the first

…those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.  

But let’s back up just a bit.. I want to look again at a couple of segments closer to the start of this letter that will help us see more clearly what John means when he speaks of abiding in God’s love.

First, we need to recall how John summarized God’s commandments back in chapter 3, verse 23.
1- We are to believe in Christ
That Jesus lived, died and was resurrected
That this man Jesus was and is the Christ – the Messiah.

And 2- we are to love one another.
In ways that reflect and honor the light of the world,
rather than remaining in darkness of the world

We are to love one another
In ways that reveal the power of resurrection in us
In ways that show that we are alive in the love that Christ has given us…
Rather than living as though our hearts are dead, as if Christ remained in the tomb, and love died with him.

Those are pretty high expectations for what love looks like, if I’m honest. And yet, I don’t hear any doubt in this letter. I don’t see any reason to think this sort of love is unattainable.

Beloved, he writes…  Dear ones…
Let us love one another because love is from God;
everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

And in fact, my friends, my siblings in Christ…
God is love.
God is love.

God’s very identity.
God’s very being.
Is.
Love.

And here’s the what John has been building to in the letter:
Because we are from God.
Because Christ is in us.
Our love is from God.
Our identity is in God and from God

Therefore, because God is love, our identify ought to be expressed in ???
Yes.  LOVE.

When we abide in God, we are abiding in love,
Steeping in love, marinating in love.

And when we are living in love, sharing that love,
When we are embodying that love, we are abiding in God.

Yes, it is our duty.
You could say that love is the work to which we are called, and you’d be right.
You could say that love is the work for which we were claimed, and you would not be wrong.
The bigger truth, dear ones, beloved ones, is this:
Love is the work for which we were made.
It is who we are.  

if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

When we love one another, we are transformed
The one who loves, AND the one who is loved.
BOTH are changed.

It is how we reach our potential… how we are perfected…
Yes, perfected, though not in the sense of being flawless.

There’s not a great English term for the original word here… telos.
Telos is more like a goal… or like a fervent hope.

When the Apostle Paul speaks of Christ as the telos of life.. .that to which he aspires, but has yet to attain,  Paul is saying that to be and live more like Christ is his greatest desire.   

God’s greatest desire for us… that which would bring the greatest joy…
God’s telos for us, God’s beloved…
we humans who bear the image of our creator

God’s greatest hope… God’s goal is for you and I to know how deeply we are loved,
To know that same love from one another, and then to proclaim and extend love ever outward, so that all the world might wake up to who they are.

Beloved, we are to love God and love one another,
Not because God needs more people loving and worshiping for the sake of being loved and worshiped…
But because our love for one another, our love for our fellow travelers on this planet, that is how people come to know and believe.

I’ll tell you, I’ve spent enough time with evangelical folks and missionaries to have heard every version of every argument and logical case for the existence of God and the claims of Jesus as Christ.

I have all manner of apologetics from Augustine to CS Lewis to Timothy Keller.   

I have read way too many tracts and answered plenty of knocks at my door that led to plenty of long conversations on my front porch.

And you know how much of that helped me to believe in God?
None of it.
Not one bit convinced me they had proof of God’s existence.
Or Jesus’ divinity.
And I am, really, a pretty logical kind of gal.

You want to know how I came to know that God is real?
Love.
Being loved by another.

Being loved by a family of faith way before I could contribute anything of value… nothing but some noise in the sanctuary and a dirty diaper in the nursery.

And being loved by that same community of faith when I was old enough to understand how to  withhold what I could have given in return.

Being loved by those who knew and know me at my least loveable.

The proof of God’s love came in my being loved and being told that I am loveable when every voice in the world… including my own inner critic… was shouting otherwise.

In being told often enough, loudly enough, from deep enough in the heart…
that I am beloved…

And eventually, the proof of God’s existence came from my loving others loudly enough, often enough, exhaustingly persistent enough from the very depths of my own heart…  

Beloved, let us love one another…
Because love is from God.
Because opportunities to love are from God.

You know… this time last week we were praying for the soccer team that was trapped in the cave in Thailand. The boys and their coach were all rescued, thanks to the efforts and expertise of thousands of people, including many divers who risked their lives, and one who died, as the team prepared and then worked the plan that eventually brought them home.   

I was fascinated by a story in last Sunday’s Washington Post.  Shibani Mahtani wrote the piece about the assistant coach who had taken the boys into the cave.  It was the title that first caught my eye: He Loved them More than Himself.  

Ekapol Chantawong  joined the Wild Boars soccer team as an assistant coach about three years ago. But before that, he was a Buddhist monk. See, Ekapol was orphaned at the age of 10.  He went to a monastery, where he trained as a monk for about 10 years. But then had to leave when his grandmother fell ill. He moved to northern Thailand to help care for her, spending part of his time working at a local temple.

He also started working with the soccer team part time. Many of the young men he mentored were poor or from minority groups that left them cultural orphans. A friend of Ekapol’s told the article’s author that “he loved the boys more than himself.”

His love for them led him to help the head coach find ways to use the boys’ passion for soccer as motivation for academic work. Good grades might mean new soccer gear. Opportunities to experience a different life. His love for them led him to spend time beyond soccer, getting to know their families, their hopes, their sorrows.

As the world became aware of the boys and their coach, trapped in a cave, friends grew worried for Ekapol.  His love for them had earned the boys’ complete trust.  That trust is what allowed them to follow him into what turned out to be a life-threatening adventure. His friends knew that he would blame himself for the mess they were in. That his love for them would break his heart, if any of the boys were injured or worse.

But the complete trust that he had earned… this is also what allowed the boys to follow his lead when they needed help staying calm.
When they needed to conserve energy.
When they needed to stave off hunger and fear.

Ekapol was able to teach them how to meditate and slow their breathing to conserve oxygen.  He sacrificed his share of the little food they had among them, so that the boys would have more.

It isn’t hard to see why this young coach was and is seen by many in his country, and especially in his community as an almost divine force, sent to protect the boys in their ordeal.

Someone created a cartoon drawing of Ekapol. It shows the coach sitting cross-legged, as a monk would do in meditation, with 12 little wild boars in his arms.

It’s a just lovely, isn’t it?

You know, when I read his story and saw this image, I couldn’t help but think of the drawings on the covers of some of our children’s Bibles – and even in the stained glass right over there – depicting another divine force. The image of Jesus, inviting the young children to come to him.

Whether Ekapol would use the same language for the divine or not, I do believe he was the love of God made flesh- not only in the cave, but as he cared for those boys, saw their potential and worked to give them hope through something as simple as soccer.  

He loved them enough that he would have laid down his life for them.
Just as he loved his grandmother enough to lay down his vocation.

He loved them enough to want to keep them whole,
Just as he will be loved back to wholeness by the boys he loves, by the parents of his players and by the community members who know that he is more than one bad decision during an afternoon out with the team.

Beloved, let us love one another,
For opportunities to love are from God

Including opportunities to love people who are not our people… at least not on paper. People like Jim. If you were to draw diagrams of our interests – from sports to pop culture to politics or theology, you would see a really interesting trend. There are probably twice as many areas in which we are polar opposites as there are areas that overlap.

And when there are differences between us, they are in those HARD areas.  You know the ones. The ones that can tear families and churches and feels like maybe even can tear a whole nation apart…

But the thing is, Jim and I love each other.

We took the time to get to know each other. To hear each others’ stories. To be part of each others’ lives. So now, it’s not hard to love Jim. And it’s not hard to be loved by Jim, to share concerns and joys, to pray with and for one another and our families.

We love one another, not in spite of our differences.
And not because we ignore our differences.
But because we honor our differences and trust in the love of Christ that binds us together as children of God.

Now – I do think we can make it hard to love one another. We can make it hard to love and to be loved. I think that’s because there are times that we aren’t ready to enter into a relationship wholeheartedly… open heartedly.

Sometimes because of past or recent hurts.
Sometimes because of spiritual immaturity, which has little to do with age, by the way.
Sometimes we aren’t ready because we have found ourselves in a spiritually dry season

For whatever reason, these are the times that our hearts are not open to the kind of vulnerability and courage that living in love requires.

Those are the very moments we need to recall that
we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

We need to recall that
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, [and with shame and embarrassment that feels like punishment] and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

We need to recall that
19 We love because he first loved us.

And we need to recall that
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, [or short of hatred, choose to withhold love and acceptance of their brothers and sisters] are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

Beloved, we need most of all to remember that we are capable of love
We are called to love
We were made to love.
Just as we have always been loved.

If God is for us
If Christ is with us
If the Holy Spirit is in us
Then we can trust that the God of love is coursing through our veins and energizing every molecule of every cell in our bodies.

Beloved, let us love one another… just as God first loved us.

Living in the Light

Today’s text from the gospel of John describes John the Baptist’s response to seeing Jesus the first time. Remember this took place along the Jordan, near Bethany, where John was calling folks to repent and baptizing them. Just the day before, he had told his own disciples that he was awaiting the one who would baptize with the spirit, rather than the water John used. Listen:
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1: 29 NRSV)

And now we turn to our selection from 1 John.  We continue on from the first four verses that you read last week.  Listen again for the word of God:

1:5 This is the message we have heard from him [Jesus] and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (NRSV)

Sunday morning worship in the Disciples of Christ congregation that formed my faith as a child and young person was pretty similar to our presbyterian way of worshiping.  I mean- I still miss celebrating communion every time we open the church…

But there’s one I part of our order of worship that I don’t recall hearing back in the day.  Not until I started attending a Presbyterian church. And now it is – apart from communion – the portion of our worship that carries the most weight for me as a worshiper.

I remember the first time I heard a worship leader invite the congregation to pray and confess our sins together… It piqued my curiosity, for sure. Partly because they incorporated these words from 1 John:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  

Now- I’m not sure how many times I heard that invitation before I realized it was a direct quote from the Bible.  Honestly, it just sounded like deep truth about my reality… our human nature… and our need for the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Oh, how we need that grace.
Not just the saving grace that justifies us once and for all.
But the sanctifying grace that reconnects us day by day, moment by moment, thought by thought…  to the truth of God’s love for our fickle and wayward human hearts.

Given the apostle Paul’s statement that all sin and fall short of the glory of God…
And given the fact that just about every theologian since Augustine agrees that humankind is capable of great depravity…
I feel fairly confident in saying I am not the only one in this room who stands in need of that grace.  

But here’s the thing that I had to learn about these prayers of confession.
They aren’t about me. I mean, they aren’t entirely about me.
They are about us.
Even when they aren’t literally about the “us” that is currently gathered in this space.

These prayers of confession are about our connection to all of God’s children.
Those we know and love,
those we sleep with in the same house,
those we greet in this place,
those we wave to in the neighborhood.

Prayers of confession are about all God’s children… the ones who live and work and play in cities and towns and villages all over this country and around the world.

Whether they call themselves Baptists, Presbyterians, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, agnostic, humanist, unitarian, or spiritual but not religious.  

All God’s children.

You see, John isn’t talking primarily about individuals confessing individual sins.
Oh, we can and must confess the sins that we commit on our own.
That is a given.

But let’s think again about what prompted this letter from John. This letter was written to a community of faith, a collective of souls.  And unlike the gospel attributed to John, which was focused on the divinity of Christ, this letter is written to a community that needed to recall the humanity of Christ.

Why?  Because Jesus – the person, the man who walked and talked and ate and slept right here on earth, wrapped up in human skin – Jesus is the way God encountered humankind. God encountered us in a particular human being at a particular time. **

Which means that the love of God, the living out of the love of God is more than a mere concept, more than a nice idea.
The love of God has been and can be fully embodied.
The Word was and can be made flesh.
Right here.
In this messy and chaotic and – yes, dark and sinful – world.

John is saying to his readers, and to us –
that the Word made flesh is what it looks like to love God and love our neighbors.
The Word made flesh is what it looks like to keep God’s commands.. All 10 of them.
And that we – the followers of that Word, the followers of that Jesus who was the Christ, are the embodiment of God’s love in this current age.

John wrote this letter to a community of faith, a household of siblings in Christ, whose fellowship was broken.  

They had broken fellowship with one another, and thus with God.
There was disunity in the house, and thus their joy, John’s joy, God’s joy…
all that joy was incomplete.

And so, he reminds them, there is need for confession, for forgiveness.
There is need for truth-telling.

You’ll note that there was not a call for finger-pointing
Nor was there a call for blame-laying.

But there was a call for telling the truth about ourselves.
To ourselves.

To bring into the light those things we do “in the dark.”
Those things that we’d just as soon leave hidden.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me more than a little squirmy. You know… that squirmy feeling down in your gut…  you know the one? Yeah… I’m not a fan of that feeling.

So I would just as soon not go back and look at things I’m ashamed of.  Much less take them out of their little boxes that are tucked back into those dark hidey holes of my heart and name them.

Even when we do so in silence… when it’s just between me and God. I mean, that’s why I need longer silence in our prayers of confession… so I’ve got time to work up the courage to go into those hidey holes and open those boxes.

And that’s when it’s just between me and God.
Except… it really rarely ever is just between me and God.
And that’s the whole point.

That thing about broken fellowship?
That’s not about taking God’s name in vain…
That’s about the ways we fail to love one another

That thing about broken fellowship?
Sure, it’s partly about the community that gathers here.
But it is also about many ways the church has failed to be God’s love to and for our neighbors out there in the world.

Broken fellowship is all about about not quite living in the light… in truth…
The difference between fellowship and broken fellowship?
That’s all about integrity. And the lack thereof.

That’s about living the words of scripture that we say we hold dear…
In ways that allow the world to see and believe we are followers of Jesus.

It’s about taking seriously the work God requires of us…
“to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”

Jesus prayed that the world would know his followers by our love.
Our love for God, yes,
but Jesus made clear that the would ought to know us by our love
for one another and for our neighbors.

So… how’s that going?
No really… how do we think that’s going?

Based on your faces, I know you and I could could swap some anecdotes about ways we’ve gotten it wrong.

And if we take a look at what public interest researchers like the Pew Forum and evangelical pollsters like the Barna group have to say…  You’re right… Not so great.

Year after year, a growing number of people identify as de-churched (meaning they have left church for the forseeable future). The same is true for those who have never been members of a church, or would claim a connection to God but have no desire to be part of organized religion.

Many of these folks point to what they see of the church – whether in their own communities or as represented in the media – as the problem.

There are “too many Christians doing un-Christian things”, and “organized religious groups are more divisive than uniting”. According to Pew, large numbers of these folks believe that while churches do good works, faith communities can also be too concerned with money and power, too involved in politics and too focused on rules.  

Chances are good that you know at least one or two folks, maybe even in your own family, who have opted out of church. They probably have a story to tell about why. And it likely has to do with something other than Sunday morning worship being scheduled at an inconvenient time.  

The stories I have heard from unchurched and dechurched folks are not mine to tell, but I will say this: Now, more than ever, people are watching the church.  This church and all churches.

They are watching to see how we respond to the cries of the marginalized and oppressed.  To see whether we will advocate for and serve the least of these. Because they know that this is what Jesus commanded.

They are watching.

They are watching the church, and I can assure you that they have come to trust these words from Maya Angelou:
When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

This is one reason I put on my clergy shirt, grabbed my rain jacket and headed downtown for the Families Belong Together rally yesterday.

I spotted a couple of other presbyterians there, but no other clergy in a collar or stole. Perhaps the raincoats hid them, but I made sure mine was visible, even in a downpour.  

Because people are watching.
And the church needs to be seen living in the light,
being a physical manifestation of the love of God for our neighbors.

The coalition of neighbors that organized yesterday’s rally includes groups representing the minority and immigrant communities directly affected by recent policy changes and rulings.  

Being love to our neighbors sometimes means standing in a downpour, giving away your umbrella and praying for speakers who are sharing their stories of fear and grief through tears in front of a huge crowd of strangers.  

Offering light and love to our neighbors also means thanking police officers who are out in that same rain to assure that everyone is safe.  

Loving our neighbors means showing up.
I believe this with all my heart.
Because I have seen that loving our neighbors has ripple effects we might never expect…

Which leads me to a story that Jan Edmiston shared last week.  Jan was elected co-moderator of our denomination at the 2016 General Assembly, sharing the duties with another minister, Denise Anderson.  They both participated in the protest march that took place in St. Louis.

I was also among the several hundred of our commissioners joined with local activists and pastors in their efforts to end an unjust cash bail and work house system in the city. While GA offerings typically will go to support a local cause, this was the first time we added voice, hands and feet to the effort. And we were quite noisy walking from the Convention Center to the courthouse.

But that isn’t the story I want to share… just the background. Listen to what Jan wrote on her blog about her ride to the airport:

I took a Lyft to the airport last Friday, leaving General Assembly early for a wedding in Philadelphia. It had been a great week for a long list of reasons and I was staring into space and relishing the memories when this conversation happened:

Lyft Driver Kevin:  Were you here for a conference?

Jan:  Yes, the Presbyterian Church USA.  You might have seen us on the news Tuesday night.  We were on the local Fox channel.

LDK: Why were you on the news?

Jan:  We marched from the Convention Center to the Courthouse with $47,000 to bail out some people who couldn’t pay their cash bail.  It was our worship offering from Saturday.

LDK:  Your church did that?

Jan:  Well, it’s not just my church.  But yes, we did that. We paid the bail to release about 3 dozen non-violent offenders.  It was pretty great.

We got to the airport, pulled over, and when we went to his trunk to retrieve my luggage, Kevin said, “I feel like I’ve met a friend today. That’s the best thing the Church has ever done.”  

And he hugged me good-bye.

This is what the world is looking for, my friends:  less talking, more concrete ministry that helps those in need here and now.  It wasn’t the very best thing the Church has ever done, but – like I said to Kevin – it was pretty great.

It was pretty great because the church was being the church.  And I can assure you that among that crowd of commissioners and delegates marching, there was a lot of diversity of opinion.  When we got back to our meetings, there was plenty of debate and plenty of contested votes. But trusting that Jesus would have us fight this injustice, were were out there- together- being love for God’s children in the city.

Living in the light, building koinonia.

It was a really just a drop in the bucket, when you look at all the work that our siblings in Christ are doing up there.

Much like Orlando, St. Louis proper is fairly small, with lots of cities and municipalities squished up against each other.  There is a lot of history there, much like there is here, some of which has remained unconfessed, unrepented and unresolved.

The events surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson – no farther from the Saint Louis convention center than this church is from downtown Orlando-  those events laid bare some of that history, some of the sin that needs confessing by our churches and the civic structures that Jesus followers have been part of.

And so much has happened since… in Baltimore, Dallas, Baton Rouge, New York, Detroit… even here in Orlando.

A lot of folks would like to pretend that racial injustice doesn’t exist.
That strongly held religious beliefs are fine reasons for refusing to treat all people with the same dignity.
That talking about loving everyone
is all that Jesus requires of us.  

But when I read this first letter from John, I see a call to the church that says exactly the opposite.

I see a call to integrity.
A call to a life in which our words and actions are a coherent whole.
A call to make sure that people really can know us by our love…
Because they see us doing exactly that – loving.  

I hear in this letter a call to community,
A community of relationships in which we confess and trust that we are forgiven… and not only by the one who embodied the amazing grace of God by taking on flesh.
We are also called to be a community in which WE are the embodiment of that grace and love for one another. Right here in the flesh.

Becoming that community – that church… living in the light together?
That is walking into hard stuff… making yourself vulnerable stuff.

Because what we’re talking about is the kind of work that requires spiritual courage and maturity.

Confessing the sins that have held us captive:
Sins of our own and those who came before us
Sins of commission and omission

Approaching those who have been sources of pain,
Opening up about wounds kept hidden and fighting the urge to lash out.   

Listening to those who were wronged.
Listening with hearts that are open to confession and repentance,
even as we fight the urge to reframe or tuck our sins back into those dark hidey holes.

We’re talking about a pathway to letting go of the past and
trusting God for a future in which we are truly being the Body of Christ

It can be hard work, learning to live in light.
No… not can be.
It is hard work, learning to live in the light and persisting against all the ways that the world would have us go back to old patterns.  

But it is only when we commit to that hard work that we can experience the truth of this invitation:

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  (Matthew 11:28-29, NRSV)

What a paradox:
Committing to the hard work of living in the light of Christ… That is where we will find rest

Laying down the burden of sin, our shared sin, our common separation from God’s love and from the depth of love we can offer one another.
Laying down the burden of conflict.
Laying down the burden of shame.

That is where we will find rest

Living in fellowship – community – family – that is built on a foundation
Of mutual care,
Of Confession and forgiveness

That is where we find rest, dear friends.
Rest for our souls, weary with trying to find our way in this present darkness…

Let us pray…  

** I am deeply grateful for the written commentaries and podcast for the 1 John series posted at Working Preacher for articulating some of these big themes with great clarity.

PresbyNerds Assemble!!!

Usually, I type up my posts at the keyboard of my trusty MacBook, sitting at my desk or kitchen table. Maybe at a local coffee purveyor with decent beans and good WiFi.

Today, I am using my thumbs and my iPhone, sitting at gate 126 with 100 or so folks waiting at an almost-ungodly hour for our flight.

Not that I mind (much), given the ultimate destination of today’s adventures in air travel: Saint Louis, the site of this year’s PC(USA) General Assembly.

Presbyterians and others who will serve as commissioners, advisory delegates, staff and support – and more than a few folks who are just there to observe- are doing the same travel dance all across the country.

Why? Because this is how we church. This is how we find, in our imperfect but faithful way, the next steps for our denomination. We gather to make decisions on the issues facing the church in today’s world. So we meet in committees, we pray, we talk, we worship, we argue a bit (or a lot), we pray some more, we gather as a whole, rinse, repeat… and eventually we vote.

All of that trusting that the Holy Spirit is in our midst, our words, our thoughts and our votes. That we can, when gathered as a body, hear God’s voice in the voices of one another.

I love that. In the same way I love watching leaders do this same hard beautiful work for a congregation or the presbytery. It is holy magic.

I also love these too rare chances to just hang out with the PresbyNerds I know from seminary, conferences and online communities. We are scattered all over most of the time… but for these handful of days, we assemble and reconnect. This, too, is holy magic.

At least a couple of times this week, I will post more, here or as a guest writer elsewhere (I’ll link back!). Meanwhile, prayers for safe travel, clear thinking, a loving heart, and at least a little rest would be much appreciated!

Adventures in Gooberdom

Some days, I feel like I have it pretty much together.  Some days, I know that is not but a delusion.   Some days, I am pretty sure I need a minder.  Yesterday was one.

Even 3 months in, I am learning about being a contact lens wearer. Like last week, I had my first experience of thinking my right lens had fallen out, only to discover that “eyelash” that was bothering me was actually the missing lens.  It had just crawled up into the corner of my eyelid and tucked itself annoyingly away.

Yesterday, though… totally user error.  I knew it was time to switch to the next pair, so I thought I’d pop in the old ones for a quick jog then wear my specs the rest of the day.

Did my run.
Took my shower.
Came downstairs and thought…
It’s bright enough outside I’ll want my shades. I’ll just swap out the contacts.

So, I popped out the old right one, popped in the new one, and blinked as it settled into place. Then I marveled, as I always do, at the magic of being able to see clearly again.

I popped out the right one, popped in the new one, and blinked.
And couldn’t see for crap.

So I pulled it back out, rinsed it, checked to make sure it wasn’t inside out, and popped it back in.   Nope. Still blurry.

Then I thought… that feels awfully thick.  Did I??? 
So, I again pulled out the new contact, and sure enough there was the old one, still on my eyeball.

Yep.  Some days…

I Want to See

This winter, the Narrative Lectionary took us through the story of Jesus’ ministry as told by John.  There are many ways that this particular gospel can be problematic, but even still… the writing style and imagery resonates deeply with the poet in me.

This time through, I was struck by the use of vision – clear, obscured, regained, and lacking – as a metaphor for faith.  I suspect not in some small part because I was literally struggling to see for several weeks.

I turned 40 while working full time as a communications specialist and doing seminary online.  That meant I spent most of my life staring at a screen or books or paper.  And it was the year I started doing that yo-yo thing with items covered in small print to find the “sweet spot” to let me read.  It was not a huge surprise my annual eye exam that year resulted in bifocals.

I’m used to the dance now, after 12 years of adjusting prescriptions and getting new frames as insurance allows… but this year, the timing went sideways.  I ordered a new set of specs, planning to use the current pair as the backup.  And within 48 hours the old pair broke.  Irreparably. And the only option in the house was 2 prescriptions old.

I could “see” well enough to drive safely and read in small stretches.  But I had nothing for sunglasses, which made running/biking even less comfortable and safe.  With a couple weeks wait left on the glasses, I thought to myself… maybe contacts and a pair of shades? One appointment later, I was attempting to train my eyes to see with 1 near and 1 far lens.

While the new glasses were on backorder, (way more than 2 weeks- a whole other story),  I went through 2 versions of contacts and loaner glasses, always slightly blurry… never quite right.  I could see the world, but it was never quite as it should be.  As I knew it could be.

I’ve had my new glasses for a week now.  I still can’t quite get past the fact that I can see effortlessly at every distance…  And my finalized contact lenses even make it possible for me to see clearly when I am in the shower or swimming (with goggles).

I know… there are many people for whom my options are impossible. Either their vision is beyond correction or their circumstances keep options like glasses and contacts out of reach.

Like them – even if temporarily – I longed to be made whole again in this one particular way.  I just wanted to see.  I’d have been more than happy to let some wandering rabbi take a stab at healing my astigmatism.

So much, though, of what John wanted us to see in those accounts was about that deeper seeing.  The kind of seeing that happens as we open our hearts to an encounter with the God.

The kind of seeing which makes it impossible to look at the world the same way as before.

The kind of seeing that cuts right through the layers of bullshit and fakery the world encourages us to wear to the very core of the person, to the childlike heart of the person.

The kind of seeing that allows us to know and be known, by the one who knew us first and loves us best.  And the ones who love us here and now.

I can see now, and for that I give thanks.   But Lord, I still want to see.

An Invocation for a New Mayor & Commissioners

Today, I had the honor of opening with prayer the ceremony at which the newly-elected mayor and city council members were sworn in.  I can’t say that before this invitation I had given much thought to what one might pray for on such an occasion.  But as I thought about the work they have in front of them and the demands that would be placed on them… here’s what God laid on my heart.  And thus what folks heard me pray this afternoon:

Holy and gracious One, we give you thanks for a moment to pause and reflect on what is a really momentous day.

Looking back, we can see the many ways you have prepared these leaders to answer a call to this work in this city in this moment.  We give you our thanks. 

As we pause, we can begin to see how their work will intersect and weave into the work of all the men and women who have come before, and for all of their efforts and passion, we also give thanks.  

And on this day of official new beginnings, we look forward to the ways you will lead and guide commissioners Smith and Nolan, Bankson and Becker, as well mayor Nelson 

Answering a call to public service, putting your family’s name and reputation out for a vote, braving the fickleness and divisiveness of public discussion of your work…  these things are not easy.  For our leaders or their families.   

We ask then, for you to fill them with the humility, courage, faithfulness, persistence and sense of humor they will desperately need in the days, months and years to come. 

Be with the family members of our commissioners and mayor, as this work means missed mealtimes or ballgames, interrupted and delayed vacations, and errands that take forever between conversations.  

May these leaders never take themselves too seriously; may they never take the work home too consistently, and may they never take the word on the street too personally.  

Instead, give them ears to hear the stories that get to the truth of the needs of our city, and the excitement of the opportunities that the people of Apopka are exploring. 

Give them eyes to see the little things that make the biggest differences in peoples lives, and to look past the distractions that make real progress impossible. 

Give each of them minds that are sharp and eager to learn from one another, as well as the wise counsel you provide in their colleagues, staff and support teams, city employees and outside experts.  

Lord, give them hearts that are full of compassion for those whose voices have too long been silenced and whose access to power has been limited.   

We pray this day for all who work to make Apopka the kind of place you want to raise your kids, open a business, visit for a festival or maybe even retire to.  And we lift up all who live and work in the bounds of the city.

It goes without saying that aligning all the wants, needs, expectations, hopes, and dreams of those who voted to bring this group together…. is nigh unto impossible.   Mixing in the reality of time and budgets and process… it would be more than one miracle to make everyone happy.  

Rather than ask for that particular miracle, God, I offer up a simpler request…

May grace abound from above and below
May grace abound from within and without
May grace abound from this moment onward
In ways that offer healing, reconciliation, inclusion, empowerment and unity.

May our mayor and commissioners remember always that
it is in your children coming together and working to make the world and its people whole that the desires of your heart and the truth of your glory are revealed.  

May that be true of this council, of this city and all who call on your name, this day and always, Amen. 

God, Improv, and the Art of Living – Book Review

When I was offered a chance to check out a preview edition* of MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s new book, of course I said “Yes!”   And not just because I knew enough about improv to know that Yes is an important part of the process.

MaryAnn’s first book about pursuing Sabbath in the Suburbs was such a great mix of solid theology, accessible writing and truly do-able suggestions, that I knew a book exploring the intersections of improvisation and lived-theology would be worth a read.

God, Improv and the Art of Living definitely did not disappoint.

Like all of MaryAnn’s writing, this book is accessible, yet invites a deeper dive.  Chapter by chapter, she introduces the key concepts of improv.  Using stories and examples from her own study of the craft and others who inspired and challenged her, these concepts come to life.  End notes and citations offer a trove of resources for further digging and exploration.

If you’ve followed her blog, you would expect the God content to be straightforward invitations to ponder the ways that our sacred text challenges and comforts, confronts and encourages.  And to honor the reality that people of all kinds of faith backgrounds and depths of faith can find themselves struggling to say Yes to the thing God is asking of them.   Again, MaryAnn does not disappoint, in her telling of stories and choices of scripture and authentic wondering aloud.

As a person whose need to play has often been diminished (or even disapproved) in churchy circles, it was a joy to find my way of seeing and being in the world and faith communities described in hopeful and even encouraging terms.

I read the book in 3 sittings (a couple of short flights and part of a layover), which makes me think a book club might be able to do a couple of chapters at a shot, depending.

As I put the book down to ponder this review, I found myself wondering who I needed to gather to read and discuss (yay for group discussion prompts) and try some of the improv games (even more yay for even more adventurous prompts).

—–

*Disclaimer: I received a free advance copy of the book in return for a review.  No compensation for me, no promises of kind words for the author or the publisher.  

No Fooling (A sermon that really doesn’t care about April Fool’s)

Reading from Scripture: John 20:1-18

Sitting in this beautiful sanctuary,
light streaming in through stained glass,
surrounded by shining faces and gorgeous flowers…
Hearing beautiful music echoing and reverberating
and the sounds of alleluias and greetings of He is risen, indeed…

It’s hard to put ourselves back into that garden, in the darkness before the dawn. And it’s even harder to put ourselves in Mary’s sandals, so to speak. In the sorrow and fear and concern that she must have felt as she made her way to the borrowed grave in which Jesus lay.

Remember, without the help of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, Jesus’ followers might not have been able to take his body, much less gather the herbs and ointments needed to prepare him for burial.

And wasn’t it just like God to provide a tomb just as it was needed? An unused tomb right there in the garden. So faithful to provide… But it’s not just that God is faithful.

For John, it’s the particular ways that God is faithful:
The one who spoke all the plants and trees into being
The one who provided everything the first humans might need in that very first perfect garden

Until it all went sideways…
But then even in the moment Adam and Eve were cast out, God was faithful to care for humankind and in every moment since, continuing to invite and teach and rescue and provide, and ultimately to redeem us – the image-bearers of that Master Gardener.

John made clear in the prologue that Jesus was there in the beginning
The Word was God and the Word was with God

The fact that Jesus is arrested, dies and is buried in a garden makes clear once more that the Word was indeed made flesh.
And bone.
Fully human.

Jesus was a man.
A man who knew the sting of betrayal.
Who knew the love of a mother and a father
He knew the kind of friendship that feels so much more like family
And the grief and pain of a loved one’s death.
He experienced the temptation of pride and power
The solace of time in quiet meditation… often in a garden.

Jesus was a man who experienced life fully.
And then knew a real and violent death.

And so, it makes sense that Mary found herself walking in the shadows through the garden
Walking through the shadows of grief
Grief that only grows deeper and more intense when she sees the stone was rolled away.
The body – his body – gone.

I mean… Who does that?
Who messes with a grave? In the middle of the night?
No one with pure and helpful motives.
No one who was a good Jew.

It was just not right.
How dare thy?
And who is going to help her?
Has no-one else noticed?

She can’t see properly
Can’t think properly.
She can’t face this alone.
So she goes back to the others…

Peter and the other disciple hurry to tomb
They see that she is right.
He isn’t there.
There seems only one explanation: He is gone, so someone must have taken his body.

The men go back to their homes, and Mary stays.
Alone again in her grief
Grieving for a teacher and friend
For all the days that he would never see,
For the meals they would never share…even the crazy ones with 100s or 1000s of people and only enough food for a few, but somehow…

She cried for the dreams that would not be…
For the people who might never know healing or hope,
Who wouldn’t experience forgiveness and true belonging the way she had

She grieved for Mary, Jesus’ mother, knowing the pain she was already feeling at his death.
Now this…

What would she say to Mary?   To Lazarus and his sisters?

Of course she was crying.
Maybe no longer an ugly cry, but the tears seemed to come from an unending supply…
like that well of living water Jesus spoke of.
They left tracks on her face and dark damp patches on her clothes and splotches on the earth

Even as she peeked down into the tomb
Even as she tried to make sense of the angels in there
Even as she found the words to answer their question..

Why was she crying? She was crying because he was gone.
And she had no idea where or why…

Ok. Deep Breath.
Come on Mary… pull yourself together.
Maybe the gardener will know…

He was, I suppose, technically the gardener.
Though Jesus had claimed to be the vine, and God the Father was the one tending the vine.
But Mary wasn’t thinking metaphorically at the moment.

She couldn’t think of anything but her Lord.
And finding him.

That question again… why are you crying???
And then “Who are you looking for?”

Surely the gardener heard her speaking to those two…
Perhaps a practical approach would help,
after all they did just kind of “borrow” the empty tomb…

“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

It just took one word.
Mary.

The good shepherd knows his sheep by name
The sheep know the shepherd’s voice

Mary

One word, and right there, in the garden,
A new was dawning.
Mary’s eyes were open to a new reality,

Mary was the first to experience this new creation
This new world in which Jesus was risen.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not, will not, cannot overcome it.
Now God’s resurrection power was on display!

And while death was and remains the reality of life, Jesus’ resurrection points to the reality of abundant life. Not simply eternal life or some heavenly reality beyond our death.

Resurrection was and remains nothing short of re-creation.

Mary could see Jesus.
Grief upon grief had been answered by grace upon grace

She knew herself again
She knew it was him
And she knew he was alive
She believed he was the Lord

She was elated, and she needed a hug.  

I don’t know if it’s because there wasn’t a word for it in Koine Greek, but I’m pretty sure John meant to include the fact that Mary wrapped Jesus in a great big bear hug.

Because the next thing Jesus tells Mary is that she can’t hold him for long…

because he has somewhere else to be.
And so does she…

Mary is commissioned to go and tell the disciples that Jesus is ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God

In that one prepositional phrase to my Father and your Father… Jesus speaks the whole purpose of his life, death, resurrection, and now his ascension. The one he calls, “Father” is not his abba alone.

In his ministry, and in his death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus is opening the way for all of humanity to have the same relationship with God that he has.

This has been his mission and his invitation all along. for all of humankind – all of us! – to enjoy a relationship with God that is like this (fingers interwoven tightly)

Think back again to the prologue…
We are told that the Light came to the world, but the world did not know him.
And that even his own did not accept him.

But those who did receive him, who believed in his name…
To those he gave the power to become children of God.
Siblings in Christ.
Siblings with Christ.

As he returns to the presence of God, Jesus is opening his home and his family to them.
To the world.
To US.

And so Mary goes and tells.
Not in the form of some grand theological or doctrinal statement.
Not even an Easter sermon.

Mary tells them the most important truth she has ever known.
She provides for them a first person claim, a testimony, a witness to what she has experienced:

I HAVE SEEN THE LORD!

5 simple words.

Though I can only imagine she said them over and over….
Under her breath in wonder as she ran
I have seen the Lord… I have seen the Lord…

Almost breathless with excitement as she saw the first  of her brothers and sisters
I have seen the Lord!

With elation and laughter as they needed to hear her again…
I have seen the Lord!!! Yes.. the Lord.  Jesus!

I have seen the Lord!

In that simple sentence, she gives voice once again to the truth that each person’s experience and encounter with Jesus allows them to recognize who Jesus is and to express it to others.

See, Mary’s proclamation is not only a witness to her encounter with the resurrected Jesus, but also an interpretation of it.  She realizes that for Jesus to be raised from the dead, his claims must be true.  Which makes is an assertion about her own resurrection, her own future.

Jesus is Lord.
He is the Messiah.
He is, indeed, the King of the Jews
He is the Son of God.

Mary announces what she saw AND what she believes… simultaneously.

I have seen the Lord.

Sitting in this beautiful sanctuary,
light streaming in through stained glass
surrounded by shining faces and gorgeous flowers…
Hearing Beautiful music echoing and reverberating
and the sounds of alleluias and greetings of He is risen, indeed…

Week after week, we have the opportunity to proclaim Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in community, with family- our siblings in Christ. We do so in our hymns and in our readings and prayers. And on days like today, we get to proclaim Jesus as Lord in the sharing of the bread and the cup.

Jesus is here, as we gather, to be certain. It is often in holy gatherings like this that we hear our names spoken with tenderness and love and intention.  

As we leave this place, as we go out through those doors,
we have the opportunity to bear witness to the world that that we, too, have seen the Lord…  

No, that’s not right. We have much more than an opportunity…

We have the responsibility to assure that
not one beloved Child of God goes one more day
without hearing someone call him or her by name with love and intention.

So that whatever darkness obscures their vision
So that Whatever holds them captive
So that whatever binds their hearts
Is exposed to the light of Christ we carry in our stories of encounters with the risen Lord.

It is good and right to be here, but we have someplace else to be
We must go and tell our brothers and sisters.

I have seen the Lord!

Oh gracious God, may our eyes be open, our feet be swift and our hearts be bold.
That we might go and tell and live for you.
Amen.

Who is Truth?

The cock crowed.
Peter realized that Jesus was right. And as his heart sank, he left the garden of Caiaphas’ house.  The other disciple, the one who was known by the chief priest, he apparently stayed around to witness what would happen next.

We can think of this passage as Part 1 of Jesus trial, the second portion of which will be next week’s lesson. Listen for the Word of God to you from John 18:28-40.

I have to admit, this has always been a fairly troubling passage for me.
Because of the way the people behave
And because the stakes are so high.

Sometimes, you feel like you can understand the folks that John and our other gospel writers tell us about. I mean, it’s not hard to see myself in Peter’s impetuous passion and repeated mis-steps. Or even in James and John’s competition to be the star pupil, the one Jesus would choose as his chief of staff or make his second in command.

Certainly, when we get to Thomas’ moment in the spotlight after Jesus’ resurrection, we get a chance to commiserate with someone who needs concrete evidence, and yet is still beloved by Christ.

But this section of the gospel gives us a group of leaders – spiritual leaders- who act in very non-spiritual ways. And in Pilate, we have a man known for his incredible brutality, seeming to offer a chance for mercy.

Jesus seems almost normal by comparison…

Let’s look first at the first they in our passage, the chief priests and other leaders from the temple. Their actions, particularly because of John’s depiction, have been used to vilify “the jews” for generations.  

I think that has to do with the fact that John rarely speaks of individuals, aside from Caiaphas or Nicodemus.  And any time we can create a nameless crowd of others, they become less human somehow.

You know what I mean, right?  We might name the group – or just call them “they”

Individual people, with lives and hopes and dreams, become part of a collective.  No longer distinct and three-dimensional. They become lesser beings, made generic by a label, faceless, soul-less and worth less than those people we actually know.  

Before long, children of God become caricatures whose worst features are exaggerated
Compassion goes out the window.
Only to be replaced by fear and even hated.
You know… the opposite of love.  

John is not alone in setting Jesus and his disciples up as different from the religious leaders of his day.  But John tends not to point out differences between various sects – Pharisees or Saduccees… all are just “the jews”

I suspect this had to do with his particular context. A need to teach and encourage his stream of the early church, which existed a little later and was a little different from the gatherings of Christ-followers that Matthew Mark and Luke wrote for.

John would like to set up the Jews, especially those in leadership,as the embodiment of the Law.  They represent the old way of understanding our connection to God.  A connection more concerned about rituals and identifying particular sins. This focus on the Law made it hard for these leaders to see and hear Jesus’ teaching about the relationship that God desires with humankind.

John doesn’t need to tell his audience about Pilate.
Pilate was basically the embodiment of earthly power.
Of the sort of power that oppresses others
and amasses wealth and influence for itself.

While not the emperor, Pilate is, for this region, the emperor’s proxy.
He has full authority to wage war, to tax,to build infrastructure for the empire.
Or use forced labor to build a giant palace for himself.
He has the power to create and enforce civil law.
And he can serve as judge and jury for any who break those laws.  

Pilate was not shy at all about engaging in any and all of these activities. He built a reputation for brutality that is cataloged in more than one ancient historical text.

It seems at one point, he actually went beyond what the Romans could allow. The Samaritans once reported Pilate to the legate of Syria, after he attacked them on Mount Gerizim (36 CE). He was then ordered back to Rome to stand trial for cruelty and oppression, particularly on the charge that he had executed men without proper trial.

And so in this scene, John has gathered the Law, The Empire, and Jesus.

The Law looks at Jesus and sees trouble. But the law itself sets limits on what the religious leaders can do about it.
They can call him a sinner.
They can keep him from entering the temple.
They can definitely make it clear that he is not to be welcomed in community.

But what they’d like to do… be rid of him permanently…
Nope. No good.

And no going into the Palace of a Gentile ruler as Sabbath and Passover are about to start, either. But apparently, making clear to this ruler that they’d like Jesus dead… that’s ok.
As is bearing just-this-side-of-false witness on the front lawn of said ruler’s home.

And then it is the Empire’s turn to collide with Jesus. And in this interrogation, Pilate begins to see that Jesus might be trouble. But in order for Pilate to sentence Jesus to death, he must determine that Jesus is a revolutionary.
A political dissident

This is why he asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

In response, Jesus speaks of a “kingdom” — a place where God reigns, a community of those who are of God. Rather than threatening Rome, Jesus is subtly inviting Pilate to enter this place, his place. A place that is not of this world.

This kingdom is not political or violent. And it is certainly not revolutionary, at least not in the sense that Pilate would imagine.

Jesus is Lord of a kingdom that is more like a pasture
Where he has gathered up those who hear the voice of the shepherd
Who drink of the living water
Who eat the bread of life
Who follow the way of love.

Jesus is Lord of those who would love one another and the world that God loves.

That’s how very revolutionary Jesus’ Kingdom is…
It rests on making God known in the world,
On bearing witness to the truth,
On gathering in those who hear the truth,

In other words, if Jesus is a king, it is not of a kingdom Pilate would recognize as such. Because any worldly title fails to capture the fullness of the mission of one who is truth itself.

Jesus invites Pilate to receive his testimony and be part of the truth. And Pilate’s attempt to interrogate Jesus as prisoner is just flat undone. Here we can see the whole of John’s gospel in a nutshell:

The only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth, comes into the world to make God known. Then his servant-friends, also sanctified in truth, are sent into the world to continue the mission of love.

If his kingdom were of this world, he says, his followers would be engaged in violent resistance. But he is not that sort of king, as evidenced by the sheathing of Peter’s sword and Jesus’ healing of the man he attacked.

And so Pilate asks.. “What is truth?”

Of course, an even better question for Jesus…
Who is Truth?

The short answer would be, “I am.”
I am.
I am the light…
the light that dawns even in the darkness of betrayal and arrest
The light that dawns as resurrections defeats death

I am the shepherd…
The shepherd that protects the sheep
The shepherd that lays down his life for the sheep

I am the way
I am the truth

I’d love to pretend that Jesus as the truth is an easy and uncomplicated thing to believe… and to understand. But well, Jesus is complicated.  As are we humans who try to follow God.

My pastor friend Marci pondered the reality that at the close of this passage, the crowd gathered in Pilate’s yard chooses a bandit over Jesus. That word choice- bandit- is intentional.John is bringing back, yet again, the earlier imagery of sheep, thieves and bandits.

Marci pointed out that the sheep in Pilate’s courtyard do not recognize the Shepherd’s voice. “Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice”, Jesus says.

And both of us wondered, in light of this saying, what it means for a church functioning in a time when we regularly hear the words “fake news”

In a culture that always expects us to align with one “side” or another because they have the right answers and everyone else is lying or just wrong.

And here’s what I believe our challenge is as a body…here in this place and as the church universal… 

If we confess (as in proclaim) that Jesus is our truth, (and way, and life), we must come together to discern the truth. 

We need to listen for his voice, and then figure out how our lives can reflect his life and his light to one another, and more importantly, to the world.

In many ways, this listening and discerning is about seeking truth.
Seeking a deeper understanding of who God is,
and who we are when we abide in God.

Seeking truth, isn’t about finding the one right answer.
So much as a willingness to say, “I’m not sure” and remain teachable,

Understanding Jesus as Truth calls us to an openness and curiosity about what others are hearing and learning.

Jesus as Truth is not a list of “right” behaviors
—after all, Jesus kept company with all manner of people,
most of whom were considered to be about as wrong in life as they come.

Jesus as Truth is bigger than our human morality, with its binaries of right, wrong, good, bad.

Jesus as Truth calls us to hold on loosely to the idea that we have it figured out, and to hold on tightly to the knowledge that God does.

Pilate, and Caiaphas, and all of the possible outcomes to this “trial” of Jesus are a sideshow to the Truth of Jesus that is revealed in this story.
To the fullness of God being revealed in this story.

What could any of those actors in this story have done to diminish Jesus, to limit his truth, to keep him from loving his own right up to the very end?

Nothing.

There is nothing any of them could have done to stop the Truth of God’s Love for the world.

When we get distracted by controlling the truth, or fighting over the truth, or denying the truth— we forget that we aren’t the truth.

But Jesus…. Jesus IS the truth.

Thanks be to God.