Sermon- 4.10.16

4.10.16 sermon– How long does a book sit at your house unopened? Or maybe I should ask how many new books do you have on your electronic devices that haven’t been read yet? I have 10 unread books on my Kindle. I must have 50 unread paperback books on the shelves. I hope to read them when I retire because all of these books look like really good.
I’ve learned that I have to set aside time if I’m going to remember what I read. I can’t read a few pages and put a book down, so I use reading time as a reward for getting work done. I get very involved in the story and if it’s a fiction book, I can picture the action as it’s happening. Do you do that? Some writers describe so well, I see the story unfolding in my imagination.
Now I’m telling you this so we can enter this gospel story together. Today, we’ve got a long lesson from John’s gospel, chapter 21, which was written later by a different author.
John 21 is called an epilogue and it was written to tie up loose ends that were left dangling in this gospel story. Last week, the lesson ended with the words that Jesus did many signs that are not written in the book…..but these were written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah…..and that through believing, you may have life in his name. While it is a beautiful ending, it’s abrupt. Chapter 21 renews the relationship Jesus had with the rest of his disciples and it shows the same overabundant and extravagant God we met in the beginning of John’s gospel. It closely links chapter 21 with chapter 1, reconnecting, recovering the relationship that seemed to be lost when Jesus was taken away from his disciples for crucifixion.
No one writes the good news of God in Christ the way that John writes. John writes his gospel as a member of a sect of Christians who closely follow Jesus. He knows God as holy and powerful, loving and over extravagant. John knows God as a God of abundant grace and mercy, whose plan for the world will only be detoured for a short time. And John trusts that God will keep his community safe and defend them from the enemies that all Christians are facing as John writes his gospel 50 years after Jesus’ ministry.
Using words that we can almost picture from the Genesis creation story, John tells us that Jesus was with God in the beginning. He was a part of everything that was created and life came into being through him. The life was the light for all people and even the darkness of the world can’t extinguish a light that God has created.
Using words of testimony, grace and mercy, John describes God’s action in the world. John the Baptist came to testify to Jesus’ identity. Jesus testified to the people by being baptized as one of them and then telling them about God. John the Baptist points his disciples to Jesus, as the Lamb of God-and isn’t that an interesting name for a new prophet-Lamb of God, the only one who would take away the sin of the world. John told his disciples that they should no longer follow him, they should follow Jesus.

lamb-phormium-grass

Throughout John’s gospel lesson, Jesus uses words of invitation, Come and see, follow me. At the Cana wedding, Jesus supplies an overabundance of the best wine-a wine the bridegroom can’t afford. Jesus answers the questions of Nicodemus who comes to him under cover of darkness, asking what it means to be born from above. And Jesus explains that he was sent into the world to save the world; God doesn’t want to see people destroyed, but saved by him. God has an unconditional love for all of God’s people. God doesn’t want anyone to be lost. But some will wander away and may never come back again. God keeps calling.
Jesus answers all questions, no matter who is asking. With Jesus, there are no stupid questions, no boundaries, no fences-only welcome. He gives the unholy Samaritan woman at the well living water, he healed a Roman officials son and a lame man at Bethsaida and he feeds five thousand. He healed and he taught and he confronted the men who would have stoned a woman caught in adultery. When Jesus said, Let the one with no sin cast the first stone, they all turned and walked away.
Jesus taught and explained that he was the living water, but more than water; faith in Jesus would never leave anyone thirsting for truth. He taught that he was the bread of life, but much more than the flat bread that kept them alive; Jesus would never leave anyone hungering for righteousness. Jesus taught that he was the light of life that no one could extinguish as he talked with the prophets and with God on Transfiguration Mountain. His suffering and death might have extinguished the light that the evil people could see, but you can’t see much light when you insist on living in darkness. That’s a choice that people make, but God continues to call them back again. No one is lost until God says they’re lost. It’s a good lesson to remember.
As Jesus came closer to crucifixion, his disciples and friends gathered closer to him. The gatherings became closer, quieter, more intimate. There were times of prayer, of anointing, of foot washing, of sharing meals-all regular parts of their life together. Although they scattered, running for their lives at the crucifixion, the women once again came to anoint, to pray, to wash the body of Jesus but they found he wasn’t there. It was a confusion of hopeful wonder and absolute terror, not knowing who had taken Jesus’ body away. But then he appeared to them in the locked room, not once, but twice and opened their minds, helping them remember what he had promised. Their lives together came full circle last week in that room as Jesus breathed on those gathered disciples the Holy Spirit.
Did you notice that Jesus never reprimands his disciples for a lack of faith in these last days? Jesus comes from the God of abundance and gives them abundant courage through the Holy Spirit. When he exits the tomb, he only leaves behind grave clothes. When Jesus exits the upper room, he leaves with them his witness and the Holy Spirit. And when he encounters Peter and the other disciples who have fished all night and didn’t catch a thing, he says, put the net down on the other side. What a ridiculous thing to say! If the lake has no fish, it has no fish. But Peter plays along and tosses out the net and can’t pull it in because of the overabundance of fish they catch. There’s only person who has ever shown what mercy and abundant love are and that is Jesus. He shares a breakfast of fresh fish with them over the open fire and Jesus once again begins an intimate conversation with Peter. Peter, do you love me, Jesus asks. Yes, Lord, Peter responds, you know I love you. Then feed my lambs. Peter, do you love me, Jesus asks. Yes, Lord, you know that I love you, Peter says. Tend my sheep. Peter, do you love me? Lord, you know everything! You know that I love you. Feed my sheep. With these words, Peter the fisherman becomes Peter the apostle, the follower of Christ. Although he denied his discipleship out of fear for his life, he would one day give his life for the Lord who died to redeem him.
Jesus gives to us grace upon grace; free gifts of love, family, relationship, life, breath, the freedom to open our arms wide to embrace the God who will make us the whole person we were created to be. These are gifts from our Lord, who was with God the Creator, from the beginning of time. We have come full circle as we finish this last chapter from John’s gospel. But we await the day when Jesus returns to live with us and we live in the second glorious coming and experience our resurrection from the dead. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

Sermon- Sun. 3.6.16

I’ve had four opportunities to travel to Europe and the Middle East and let me tell you, each of my journeys showed me a world you don’t find here in Weatherly. When you travel to a foreign country, you have a chance to enjoy and to experience a culture by being fully immersed in it. You hear the language, you meet the people, you experience the surroundings.
I remember visiting Dresden in Germany and Galilee in Israel and thinking all of this is so old. Galilee is the same Galilee from Jesus’ time and in Dresden, we find the mother church with the statue of Martin Luther standing in front of it. When you visit these places on vacation or on tour, time stands still. We are held in the stillness of God’s time, as our experiences wash over us and change us forever.
Although these experiences are typically called vacation, they are little windows into the realm of God’s world. I believe God helps hold us still, in quiet, so we can experience God in each of these places. Whether I was visiting churches in Greece or mosques in Bahrain and Turkey, it’s clear that we have found special ways to worship God within our own religious parameters. This is important, because we are all people of the Bible. All of our religions got their start there and God’s protection for God’s people started with Abram, who became Abraham, who was the father of both Ishmael and Isaac. God doesn’t love us because we’ve found the perfect way to honor or love or worship God. God’s love, mercy and forgiveness happens because God the Creator cares for, loves and nurtures the creatures that God made. God is the perfect parent, who loves perfectly, lavishly, even recklessly. And that brings us to our gospel lesson today.
This story of the prodigal son is a favorite story, a very familiar story, but maybe for the wrong reasons. I thought a prodigal son was a repentant son, a foolish son who saw the error of his ways. Doesn’t it make sense to think that in Lent a son would see his foolish ways and come back to his father to ask for forgiveness? We keep hearing, Return to the Lord, repent, change your ways. But prodigal is not about repentance. The word prodigal means wasteful, reckless, out of control with no thoughts for the future. It’s not just spending lavishly, it’s about giving as lavishly. The prodigal bug has bitten every member of the family-young son, older son, even the father.
Now, most of the time, we take a superficial look at the characters in Jesus’ story, the arguments between them and then we get down to the real point that Jesus is making. It’s Jesus who is the Savior and Messiah. Today’s lesson tells the true nature of God, who eats with tax collectors and sinners.
The lesson shows how God interacts with the creation God loves. It’s an unusual story for us, but it’s typical of God. Maybe this story is here in the middle of Lent, just before the cross and crucifixion, to help us better understand, worship and love the God who so loved the world.
Let’s start with the youngest son, the baby in this prodigal story. Life is good, but life might be better somewhere else-in another country or another culture. This guy is all about himself-self serving, self absorbed, just plain selfish. If he honored his father, like a good Jewish boy should do, he’d wait for his small share of the inheritance and bide his time working in the family business. But he wants his money-now. He wants his share-now. And his foolish father agrees, cashing in stocks and bonds, taking a hit in this market. He gives the kid his money and off he goes. He’s cut himself off from his family forever through his disrespect for his father. He is as good as dead to his family and may never be seen again.
While the younger boy is out spending his money, the older son is home, running the family business like a good son should do. With his brother as good as dead, this will all be his someday. It’s a good investment of time, to work hard. Just build up the business, work the farm and property dreaming of one day running the whole business the way he wants to run it. But that will be after he’s buried his father; for now, he follows Dad’s advice.
Off in another land, the younger son has had his fun and his money’s run out. His friends have disappeared and he’s alone and hungry, but he’s too proud to beg, so he takes a job. No good Jewish boy would ever take this job, but right now, his need and his hunger override his religious views. He’s living in a pig barn, taking care of pigs, eating the pods that the pigs eat.
Now that the party’s over, he’s got a lot of time to think. This is a miserable way to live. No one should have to live this way. Even my father’s slaves are living better than me, eating better than me. This is no way for a Jewish man to live. Wow-suddenly he’s stopped thinking of himself and he’s thinking about his faith, his father, his religion? Or is he thinking about his homelessness, his hunger and his fear? Could he be thinking about both?
He makes a plan to go home, to ask his father’s forgiveness and to live as one of the hired hands. It’s a big step down from beloved son to hired slave. But it’s a big step up from disobedience to obedient, from sin to salvation, from lost to found. Even while the son rehearses his speech, his father sees him coming in the distance, his heart rejoices that his son is not dead, but alive and he rushes to greet him, to hug him and pull him back into the family again. He’s not dead, he’s alive. It’s party time! Pulling out all the stops, the slaves prepare a banquet, the father throws a big party and greets his son like the royalty that God sees in all of us. Think about that line-the father greets his son like the royalty God sees in all of us.
Now the older son comes from the field, sees the party and is furious when he hears who the party is for. This son has his own selfishness going on and throws a tantrum for his father. I’ve worked like a slave, I’ve never disobeyed, I’ve never been given. Stop, his father says, what’s mine is yours. You’ve always been with me and you’ve never been lost-until now? The question is will one child leave God’s side simply because God loves another child just as well? We have a very big God with lots and lots of children and a reckless way of loving and forgiving, even before the words are spoken. Jesus asks the religious leaders, Can you live with that?
Has there ever been a time when you’ve really been lost to God-when you feel cut off or abandoned or forgotten? Has there been a time when God has reminded you- it’s been awhile. Let’s talk-we’ve got a lot to talk about.
I believe we can rest in the same assurance as the apostle Paul, who reminds us in Romans 8; We are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s the good news, that’s the gospel. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie