The world seems to be witnessing increasing levels of violence, fear, and hatred that challenge us each day. There are ongoing debates about how or whether to welcome immigrants and refugees to the United States; news headlines remind us about the plight of Syria and about the horrors of the Islamic State.
In such times, talk about mercy may seem more like wishful thinking. But mercy matters – now more than ever.
Americans voted largely along the lines of race, education, and party identification. Nonwhites strongly preferred Clinton, while whites decisively chose Trump. Compared with past Republicans, the businessman received a stunning surge of votes from non-college-educated white voters.
None of this is surprising.
And yet the result upends so much conventional wisdom.
Martha was a disciple of Jesus, and she loved, supported, and hosted him for dinner, as friends do. Yet Martha, like all of us, sometimes became bogged down by the details of her hospitality, and as a result, lost sight of the presence of the God she was serving — the God who was literally right in front of her. In my own story I, too, failed to encounter God when God was right in front of me, present in my friends, distracted as I was by the details of my hospitality.
THE LECTIONARY PASSAGES for these weeks of Pentecost make the season come alive. Why? Because who doesn’t light up at receiving gifts? We humans are pretty good at giving gifts—Christmas, birthdays, graduations. Yet our giving pales in comparison to that of the Holy Spirit. Usually we give because we expect something in return. The Holy Spirit gives freely and abundantly out of unending love and grace. These scriptures tell of the Holy Spirit giving us all we will need to lead God’s people: happiness, tongues, humility, and boldness. And yet we’ll also get more than we need: The Holy Spirit both gives and empowers.
For the work ahead, we will certainly need a power that goes beyond ourselves—unless we are satisfied with half-baked sermons, timid leadership, and time-bound visions. In case this sounds like your grandmother’s preacher on the “fruits of the spirit,” remember that the Spirit put on display in these verses is the prophetic, justice-loving, reconciliation-seeking third person of the Trinity who anointed Jesus with his mission. His was a mission “to bring good news to the poor ... to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18b-19). What a politically theological imagination, capable of transforming the world! It’s the same one the Holy Spirit gives to us today through the church for the world. That’s a gift worth dying for. Holy Spirit come, come quickly!
I have never really understood personal evangelism. Maybe it’s because I have never really been good at sharing my faith — at least not with complete strangers. I have never stood on the street corner preaching to all within earshot. I’m not the guy with numerous stories about how I shared my life story with the person sitting next to me on the plane, inducing a tearful admission that he needs Jesus. (I am not condemning these types of encounters, nor am I condemning these practices altogether.) To be completely honest, I don’t think I have even one story like that.
Recently, I have been trying to better understand the Great Commission. I have to tell you what I hear Jesus telling me in that particular passage. You might be surprised to find that he isn’t telling me to share the Gospel with all who will listen (although, that is part of it); rather he is telling me (and you) to go and make disciples. The former is really just words; the latter is words and actions, ultimately culminating in a relationship.
Editor's Note: This post was originally a sermon in our monthly Sojourners chapel.
Friends, grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Around the time I started middle school, my church acquired a series of books called The Left Behind Series. These books chronicle the final days of earth as outlined in the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic biblical texts. I won’t offer any commentary on the theology of these books, or even their literary value, but, as a middle-schooler, they were fairly impressionable.
The entire series begins with a dramatic reinterpretation of the rapture. People are going about their daily lives — driving to work, flying airplanes, making breakfast — when all of a sudden, people who had been there just seconds before are gone. Simply vanished into thin air. Of course, chaos ensues, because who is driving the car? Flying the airplane? Tending the stove? The world they leave behind is shattered, broken, and chaotic! This seminal event — the rapture — shapes the rest of the series as those who have been “left behind” work to win the ultimate prize — a place in heaven where they are no longer left behind.
Years ago on a bright Tuesday in March, I was driving to seminary and I found myself stuck in traffic on I-25. Sitting in a dead stop on the interstate I stared up into the clear blue Colorado sky and thought, “What in the world am I doing? I don’t believe a word of this Jesus stuff. I mean, It’s a fairy tale.”
But then in the very next moment I thought, “Except…throughout my life…I have experienced it to be true.”
I experience the gospel to be true even when I can’t believe it. And honestly sometimes I believe the gospel even when I don’t experience it. And I suggest to you today that this is why we have and even why we need Word and Sacrament. Because see, we are a forgetful people.
And it is to this office of Word and Sacrament that you have been called Matthew and I feel like in an ordination sermon, the preacher should in some way address the level of preparedness of the ordinand in question, and I am in a position to do just that.
This week I got an email from my friend Pastor Jodi Houge of The Humble Walk church in St Paul. Amy Hanson had emailed her asking if, when she’s at Luther, Amy could do her field ed placement at Humble Walk. So afterward when Jodi emailed me she said Oh my gosh thanks for sending Amy our way, I love her already. Jodi loves Amy Hanson already but not because of Amy Hanson’s winning personality, position or portfolio. Jodi Houge does not love Amy Hanson because Jodi’s so nice and has a big heart. Pastor Jodi loves Amy Hanson already based solely on the fact that Amy Hanson is loved by us. Based on the fact that Amy Hanson is our friend she will have an honored place at Humble Walk church in St Paul Minnesota.
In our Gospel text from today Jesus says to abide in his love, to love one another and then he calls his disciples friends. But the Bible tells us that he had other friends too. Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany were Jesus’ friends. He like, totally hung out their house all the time – they stocked his favorite beer in the fridge. And when Lazarus died, Jesus stood at the tomb of his dead friend and wept. These were Jesus friends. And since at our Big Fat Church Meeting after liturgy today we are going to talk about things like sacred hospitality, I started to wonder what kind of hospitality 3 strangers who came to our church might receive if we found out that those 3 strangers were actually Mary Martha and Lazarus. If we knew that the people entering the doors of this, our little House for all Sinners and Saints, were actually Jesus’ friends, that they were those whom Jesus loved then despite what we thought of their personalities, despite how we felt about them or their status in society or their politics, despite any of this they would automatically have an honored place, right?
We would, as Jodi does Amy, already love them not based on how we felt about them, but we would love them with the love Jesus speaks of in our gospel text for today… which in Greek is called agape love.
The Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 28 tells us:
The angel spoke to the women: "There is nothing to fear here. I know you're looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed.
"Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, 'He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.' That's the message."
Someone beloved to me is suffering from a horrific disease right now. If I could fight this disease with a sword all my pacifist tendencies would run screaming for the hills and I would take up that sword and I would fight. Just the thought raises a rage up within me that is passionately intense and I long for such a sword.
I can’t help but think that Jesus must have felt some of this, human as he was. Because of who he was and what he did the poor and the outcast and the sick were drawn to him and so he saw suffering every day. He healed and he taught and he called for others to follow him, yet the suffering still was all around. Some part of his humanity must have wanted to take up a sword and fight it. Yet he knew that violence was not the answer.
There was another way.
So instead of a sword, he took up... a towel and filled a basin with water.
As we walk with Jesus ever closer to Good Friday, we recognize today as Maundy Thursday, commemorating the day that Jesus celebrated his last Passover meal — the Last Supper — with his disciples and washed their feet. Later that night, he would go with them to the Garden of Gethsemane, to wrestled with his humanity and the mission God the Father had called him to — to suffer and die on the cross at Golgatha the next day. Jesus asks his disciples to stay awake with him, to keep him company and join him in prayer. But they fall asleep, leaving Jesus alone in his dark night of the soul.
This is my body ... broken for you.
We've compiled a playlist of songs inspired by or that speak in some way to the Holy Week journey that brings us to Maundy Thursday and the great mandate from which the day takes its name: "If I, the Master and Teacher, have washed your feet, you must now wash each other's feet."
How are you? I am fine.
Actually that’s not true.
See, I wrote another sermon this week. A real one. I worked on it all week. And then yesterday afternoon I threw it away and just wrote you this letter instead. Because I realized that in my sermon I was trying really hard to convince you of something.
What is a church?
Is it the stained-glass windows or welcome bell mounted in the steeple? Is it the straight-backed pews or scent of incense wafting into the narthex? Sunday school classrooms or spaghetti dinners in the basement?
If you view a church as a building, what happens when it goes away?
According to Reuters, 2011 was a record year for church foreclosures:
“Since 2010, 270 churches have been sold after defaulting on their loans, with 90 percent of those sales coming up after a lender-triggered foreclosure, according to the real estate information company CoStar Group," the article reads. "In 2011, 138 churches were sold by banks, an annual record, with no sign that these religious foreclosures are abating, according to CoStar.”
That famous yet fictional saint of the church, Homer Simpson once said Well, I may not know much about God, but I have to say we built a pretty nice cage for Him.
So, we’ve been slowly making our way through Mark’s Gospel since December and our reading for today starts exactly 26 verses into the book. Here’s a little re-cap to catch you up to speed: The Beginning of the Good news of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist appears in the wilderness with his questionable wardrobe and dietary choices and baptizes Jesus. Heavens torn open. This is my beloved. For which Jesus is rewarded with 40 days in the wilderness with the wild beasts and angels. Repent and believe the good news of the kingdom.
On his way to Capernum he picks up some stinky fishermen.
Then on the Sabbath he’s teaching in the synagogue – and everyone’s like “wow. That Jesus isn’t totally full of it like the other guys” Finally he casts out an unclean spirit after commanding it to shut the hell up.
And that’s pretty much where we pick up the story today.
For those who re-discover their faith by taking seriously the vision offered in the second chapter of the book of Acts, the Occupy movement may appear to them as the New Pentecost. Note the similarities between the ancient story and the contemporary movement:
- In Acts, the emergence of new power occurred when the “gossip” about the Resurrection became a life-empowering message that transcended all lingual differences: “each heard in his own language.” Likewise in Occupy Wall Street: in the development of a new means of communication, people of diverse backgrounds both spoke and heard in a common language. It was, indeed, a New Pentecost.
For years, I've liked to call the Rev. Jim Martin, author of the new book Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, "my favorite Jesuit."
I'm certainly not alone in my fondness for Martin and his wry spirituality.
Stephen Colbert is so enamored of the exceptionally clever cleric's wit and wisdom that he made Martin the official chaplain of the Colbert Nation. (Click HERE to see some of Father Jim's past appearances on "The Colbert Report.")
Martin, culture editor of America magazine and a prolific writer whose previous books include My Life With the Saints, A Jesuit Off-Broadway and last year's The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, has an uncommon gift for making faith — and even religion — both accessible, genuinely hip and if not fun, exactly, at least enjoyable.