Monthly Archives: February 2018

The Compassionate Christ, text version

I have been asked to share my sermon manuscript. A word to the wise, I don’t preach straight from the manuscript, it is more like a guide. Included are all the quotes I took out, I will insert the two icons I had intended to use and I have attempted to note my sources as best I can. I research a great deal online, so I hope I have given credit where is due. I will say I always find David Lose insightful and Working Preacher as well. A big shout out to Text Week for Jenee Woodards long list of sources and liturgy. You find the whole worship service from yesterday here but there it is quite short. I do not spend a great time on grammatical errors, I have attempted to clean up the text. So, after noting my sources above and some in the text of the sermon, here it is:

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Jesus was tired, weary, worn, grief stricken. The disciples have come back hyper and excited, his cousin has been executed….Jesus wants to get away a bit, to process things…his disciples success, perhaps unexpected success, his cousins brutal, horrible sensationalized execution. Pulled between the extremes…just wants a break Ever felt that way? Too much, too soon, too hard. The crowds that followed Jesus recognized he cared….they were tired too, worn, frightened, uncertain….hungry, thirsty….what they usually heard was condemnation…they were lazy, sinful, if they lived right then God would bless them, they would be healthy, have jobs, everything would okay….but obviously….they were poor, hungry, homeless cause they deserved it….often the same thing people hear now, well, if you tried harder, if you prayed harder, if you did it right….nothing bad would happen, this is your fault, you deserve whatever it is that has happened to you…there is so much angry and judgment and condemnation So many icons of Jesus are stern or angry..

Like this one,
PP:1 Jesus with Bible….looking at that is hard, how can one meditate on that face…

Jesus Icon - old

There are statues all over in churches Europe that makes this kind of grumpy look tame. There are pretty frightening images really, we have heard the fires of hell described, if we don’t do this or that, God will get us and I get it. These images and descriptions are to help get people on the straight and narrow….if you don’t stop your sinning this is the Jesus you will face, And yet for all the judement we might have read or heard….Scripture is full of stories of a God who loves us and call to us, a Jesus who cares. Several years ago this icon was uncovered:

PP 2: The icon the Savior of Zvenigorod

Andrej Rublew/ Der Erloeser/ nach 1420 - Andrei Rublev, The Saviour - Andrei Rublev, The Saviour

3RD-R4-L1 Andrej Rublew/ Der Erloeser/ nach 1420 Rublew (Rubljov), Andrej um 1360/70 – 1427/30. ‘Der Erloeser’, nach 1420. Aus einer Deesis-Reihe. Eitempera auf Holz, 158 x 106 cm. Moskau, Tretjakow-Galerie. E: Andrei Rublev, The Saviour Rublev (Rublyov), Andrei c. 1360/70 – 1427/30. ‘The Saviour’, after 1420. From a grouping with the Virgin Mary and St John. Egg tempera on wood, 158 x 106cm. Moscow, Tretjakov Gallery. F: Andrei Rublev, The Saviour Roublev (Roubliov), Andrei , v. 1360/70- 1427/30. ‘Le Sauveur’, ap. 1420. D’un groupe avec la Vierge Marie et Saint Jean. Detrempe a l’oeuf sur bois, H. 1,58 , L. 1,06. Moscou, Galerie Tretiakoff.

The eyes are so different…..it was painted in the 1500’s and lost and then re-found in 1918 in a barn in Russia. Only 3 panels of the 9 survived. It is badly damaged….but the eyes….the face is one of deep compassion and caring.   The eyes seem to look right at whoever is viewing this icon and the eyes are so filled with grace, love and caring….Icons are not “portraits” or snapshots or pictures, they are not supposed to be, they are an invitation to see God through them….Christ is the ultimate icon through which we see God

So the icon, the picture is not Christ, but a point for us to focus on Christ’s compassion for us, like our reading said, because we are like sheep without a shepherd. Or our shepherds have scattered us and driven us away. So God has promised us a shepherd who will take care of us, who will help us not be afraid. So Jesus claims to be that shepherd…who has compassion. The difference between compassion and loving is not simple, exactly, although we will focus on the loving Jesus in a couple of weeks. Compassion is a being with, loving is a choice in terms of behavior and attitude love is a choice, a decision, compassion is a way of connecting with another by God’s love and grace. The word compassion is taken from 2 words, com which means “with” and passion which means suffer….it is to suffer with…. Someone else….it is more than sympathy or empathy, or kindness, it is an identification with someone else’s struggles, pains, experience

PP 3: Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin. Frederick Buechner

It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. Buechner uses this way of describing Christ….who has the compassion to really know what it is like to live inside our skin and not be satisfied until all have peace, joy and love and hope and faith

When we come to church, I think we come for a variety of reasons, some of which may have to do with duty or obligations, but I don’t think that that is the real reason, we are here not because we know everything, or we understand the bible or how to read it, we may not have actually ever opened, unless it was one of those times we used it like a magic 8 ball, God I need this and we flip open hoping for a great fortune to come forth….we might not know anything about God or Church or what it means to be a Methodist or Presbyterian….I think we come to church, because our hearts are aching, we have a sense, that maybe here, in this very room, that the hunger that resides deep in souls can be met in this Jesus….

Tenth Ave North released a song a few years ago Worn: seems to speak to this experience of the crowd, of Jesus of you and me

PP 4: I’m Tired, I’m worn,  My heart is too heavy.   From the work it takes to keep on breathing.  My soul is crushed by the weight of this world.    I know that you can give me rest, so I cry out with all that I have left

I think the draw, the reality of these weeks passage, particularly amid the brutality and violence that seem to permeate our world and his world, is that Jesus is willing to embrace the pain of others ( – rather than explain it, or minimize it, or seek to comfort it, or fit it into some larger plan, and Jesus honors and acknowledges it, this week’s scripture call us to trust that God is in the midst of our brokenness and pain, working for and calling us to new life and faith in Jesus, that in Buechner’s words Jesus looks upon the crowd and understands what it’s like to live inside their skin, inside our skin,

Here is the truth that I wrestle with often, perhaps the one thing that unifies us most fully is that each of us has experienced brokenness and sorrow, betrayal and uncertainty, fear and doubt, : it may be the abandonment of a parent, the betrayal of a loved one, the loss of a child, the death of someone we loved so much, the unfufillment of a dream, the oppression of those who hold power over us, or any number of other things.  (David Lose)

PP 5:     I wanna know a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life   And all that’s dead inside can be reborn   Cause I’m worn   (Tenth Ave North)

Yet this is so often true, is almost always true, to live is to struggle, to hurt, and to experience loss and brokenness. It is also to experience love and joy, delight and awe, a sense of wonder and hope. And we are worn, dead inside, our lives our broken, just like the crowd Jesus looked up…and this was their hope and ours

PP 6: Let me see redemption win, let know the struggle ends that you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn. (Tenth Avenue North)

What’s funny is that on most occasions we would prefer to hide that brokenness, this lostness, this sin from others. Probably comes from a kind of embarrassment.  Or perhaps it comes from a fear of being vulnerable    – we wonder if others will take advantage of us when our guard is down. Or perhaps it comes from a fear of being overwhelmed by our loss and grief. I don’t know; I suspect it is all of these and more. But I do know that we tend to favor strength, health, and independence, or at least the appearance of these things, over weakness, pain, and dependence. (David Lose) Or maybe I should say, I do. I have been trained that way. But I don’t think this is faithful to the gospel. Because this is what we long for: that God will gather the flock and bring us back and we will not be afraid

I don’t think hiding our brokenness is faithful to Jesus or who Jesus as the icon of God invites us to be. If Jesus is compassionate and understanding who understands our weakness, the Jesus comes along side us in our pain and discomfort and failures. Jesus doesn’t stand above us, or is distant from us, because Jesus has compassion for us, because we are like sheep without a shepherd and a good shepherd is the one who will draw us more deeply toward becoming the persons we have been called to be.

Indeed, my reading of this passage this week is that we are called to to be like Jesus people of compassion, because God is most clearly and fully present in the suffering and brokenness of the world. We are called to like Jesus, be a compassionate people by being honest about our brokenness and thereby demonstrate our willingness to enter into and embrace the brokenness of others. We are called to Follow this Jesus because we follow the One who not only had compassion, but was willing to live in our skin in all that it means to feel joy and sorrow, highs and lows, love and betrayal, life and even death on a cross, because this Jesus revealed that nothing, not even the hate and darkness and death that seemed so real on that Friday so long ago is greater than God, we believe and claim and witness to the Compassionate Jesus, who does not turn from that brokenness or that evil but indeed faces it with the love and light and life of God. We are invited this week, to follow this Christ, this hope of the world, this Christ of great compassion who speaks to our fearful hearts by conflict rent (taken from the Hymn Hope of the World by Georgia Harkness, the United Methodist Hymnal), who understands us and who is willing to walk everyday through all of our lives sorrow and pain, joy and laughter and enable us to be that compassionate presence for others. O Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead us, much we need thy tender care, Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus, hear o hear us when we pray (Taken from the hymn, Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us, attributed to Dorothy A. Thrupp, the United Methodist Hymnal). Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 

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The Compassionate Jesus

Today was quite a Sunday in so many wonderful ways. It was what we call a “packed” service and we had even taken out one element. What that meant is I had the joy of trying to cut my sermon down by ten minutes or less. I did some before I walked up to preach, the rest was done as I was preaching.

Mostly I don’t mind. Worship is more than a talking head, a preacher who is imparting his or her wisdom. But I was saddened in a way, because there were some things I really wanted to say. I wanted to share an icon, Christ the Redeemer, the Savior of Zvenigorod. I love this icon for to me the eyes are like no other icon, filled with compassion. Since I didn’t get to share it in worship, I share it here:

Andrej Rublew/ Der Erloeser/ nach 1420 - Andrei Rublev, The Saviour - Andrei Rublev, The Saviour

There are more modern versions, but this one is the original, written in the 1500’s and found in a barn in Russia in 1918.

Today we commissioned two new Stephen’s ministers and a new Stephen Ministry Leader. This ministry is such a gift to those who are blessed by their Christ like presence. We are all called to be compassionate like Christ is compassionate and these men and women take it very seriously.

The whole of the service today was a blessing. You can find the service in its entirety at this link

This season of Lent is a journey, exploring the many facets of this man Jesus who is an icon through which we see God. Jesus is the compassion and love of God made real. May we continue to deepen our faith during this season of Lent.

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The Tempted Jesus

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. The season began on Wednesday. It was an odd day with Ash Wednesday (the sacred day) along with Valentine’s Day (the secular day.) In between the two services, another mass shooting in a high school in Parkland, Florida. I am still saddened by yet another shooting. A couple of days ago I wrote a blog sharing my dismay and grief.

Today in worship as I rewrote my sermon in the last couple of days, I am aware that embracing the tempted Jesus meant believing that no matter what, like Jesus,  we are all called to face the adversary, Satan, and stand up and say not today, not in this place and time.  The Dalai Lama has said “For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, Until then may I, too, abide to dispel the misery of the world.”

So in worship today, we baptized an adult and called her beloved. We confessed our sins. We heard the gospel of Jesus’ baptism, temptation and call to proclaim that God’s kingdom is at hand. And we focused on what it means to to believe and trust God is with us no matter what. You can find the service video link here.

This story by Brian Andreas was shared in my facebook memories from four years ago

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In the midst of all that is, I pray for love and courage and moments of play to strengthen me and you to believe that God’s kingdom is at hand and we are part of it.

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No words, AGAIN, just grief

I have to admit, I have been avoiding social media in the last couple of days. Other than post Birthday wishes to my friends, and a quick peek, I am not spending much time there. I could say that Lent began and it is part of my Lenten devotion to spend less time on social media and more time with God. That would not be true.

On Wednesday afternoon, as I was going over the service and putting last minute touches on my sermon the news flashed about another school shooting. This time in a high school in Parkland, Florida. I don’t need to post any links it is all over the news. Confronted with services starting soon, I was frozen and unable to figure out what to do. In odds with how I usually handle these things, I didn’t change my sermon. The tragedy was mentioned in the midst of the prayers.

I am immobilized by what seems to be a non-stop litany of mass shootings. I have several drafts over the last year of blog posts that never got finished because I couldn’t figure out what to say. There are so many blog writers that can articulate the grief and pain and anguish better than I can.

In November of 2017, I started a blog and this is what was saved in my drafts:  

Another mass shooting. ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING. This time in another church, a small church, 26 dead,, 20 injured. I don’t know what to say anymore.

I didn’t post last week about the attack in New York City where bicyclists and walkers were run down by a truck. What is left say? I find myself sick to my stomach, numb to the numbers and my mind blank as to how to respond.

There are no words. None that can speak to this insanity.

And then three months later, there are still no words. I have wandered around with tears in my eyes and what little I have glimpsed on social media sites hasn’t helped. The left and the right posted incredibly unhelpful memes pointing fingers. These tactics do not change hearts and minds and spirits or bring back one of those loved ones.

I want to rant and scream and point fingers and assign blame. Instead like Jeremiah, I am appalled and grief stricken over the platitudes and empty words of us all, myself included. In chapter 8, the prophet says:

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
   my heart is sick. 
Hark, the cry of my poor people
   from far and wide in the land:
‘Is the Lord not in Zion?
   Is her King not in her?’
(‘Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
   with their foreign idols?’) 
‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
   and we are not saved.’ 
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
   I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. 


Is there no balm in Gilead?
   Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
   not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water,
   and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
   for the slain of my poor people!

Or from the thirty first chapter of Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
   lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
   she refuses to be comforted for her children,
   because they are no more.

In Lent, in some denominations, Christians are marked with ashes. It is a reminder that we are fallible, sinful, prone to go our own way, prone to only look after our own interests to the exclusion of others, with a propensity for evil. We don’t like to admit to sin or at least to our sin being as “bad” as others.

In my Ash Wednesday sermon, I gave permission for people to not berate themselves, that instead of giving up chocolate or candy, to give up bitterness and anger and give it up to Jesus among other things. I am not berating myself, but I am confessing that I do not know how to address this kind of evil in the world. I am ill equipped to change hearts and minds and spirits and lives in a way that stands against the forces of evil and destruction and death that are so often made real in these mass shootings. I am an utter failure at encouraging and helping people be change agents in this world of violence and hatred.

What I can do is stand in God’s grace and love and be challenged to not give up, to believe that God is still active in this world and has not deserted us in the mess we have created. Thoughts and prayers are not enough to bridge the gaping canyon between so many people. Thoughts and prayers will not change the violence, the hatred, the bigotry. Thoughts and prayers will not heal the deep despair, pain and fear so many feel.

In verse 16 of Jeremiah 31:

Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
   and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,

and a promise of a new heart and covenant for a people in exile:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.  (31: 33-34)

I will trust that God is challenging me, and perhaps you, to not turn away from what is happening, but face the evil in the world with power given through the goodness of God’s grace and love. If Lent teaches me anything, it is that I believe in a God who is embodied in Jesus. In Jesus, God confronts evil all the way to the cross. Jesus doesn’t shrink away, but stands against the powers of evil. Jesus proclaims a new way of livings and reminds me and us all that the kingdom of God is at hand.

Last year, Jan Richardson, a woman of great words and beautiful paintings wrote an Ash Wednesday blessing for the ashes. In it she writes, “did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”

She finishes the blessing with these words

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

So I am remembering what God can do with the dust and ashes of my life. I am reminding myself that out of my confession of all that I am unable to accomplish and do, that God is already creating in me a new heart and writing the law of love within it. Out of the tears and grief and prayers of my heart and spirit, God is making sure to empower me out of my frozen state into a renewed commitment to the reign of peace, justice and love I have been promised in Christ. During this time of Lent, I will focus on the journey of Jesus. I will walk the long road to the cross filled with evil, betrayal, injustice and pain and believe that there is resurrection and new life yet to come.

 

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Loving Our Neighbors

Today we finished up our sermon series “The Character of a Methodist.” Sunday was filled with moments: an update on missions and an invitation to participate, two children who shared why camp changed their lives and faith and every person who came to worship (or received a bulletin in the mail) was given a Valentine. On top of that, it is for many Christians, Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany before Lent begins.

We did it all and more in worship. I used the Mass Mutual “The Unsung” commercial from last weeks Super Bowl. It was shown at least half an hour before the kickoff, so many didn’t see it. It’s long for a commercial (two minutes) but for me speaks to what “loving our neighbors as ourselves” looks like. You can find the commercial here.  I recommend watching it, even if you don’t care to watch First UMC service today.

Loving God first with heart, soul, mind and strength is what we are challenged to do as followers of Christ. Loving God is made real in the fullness of the law, which is completed in loving one’s neighbor the same way one loves one’s self. Sometimes I shudder to really think that through: how I treat others, how I love others is a witness, a statement of how I really think, believe, love and live out my faith in God. The final worship service (and others in this series) can be found on the church’s website through this link.

As the season of Lent looms in the next few days, my prayer is that all of us might truly love God and that love be made real in everything we say and do.

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