Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Mystery on the Other Side of the Door

John 14 - Jesus is talking with the disciples about his imminent departure. He tells them his Father’s house has many rooms and he’s going there to make the rooms ready for them. He tells them if he’s going to do that then that means he’s coming back for them. Then comes the thing that throws them for a loop. He says, “…You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Good old Thomas pops up and says, “No! We don’t know where you’re going or how to get there!”
How is it possible that they didn’t know that Jesus, the Rabbi, their Teacher, their closest friend was the way to get there? It sounds like Jesus thought they should have known.
What do you think? Do you understand what Jesus was saying? If you do would you mind sharing your insights with us? What are these rooms Jesus is talking about? Where are they?  What’s he doing there to prepare them for us? Are you sure there’s enough room for me? When do I get to go there? Do these questions run around your mind like they do mine?
How come it’s still a mystery to us what’s on the other side of the door? Do we really need to know any more than what Jesus said? He’s preparing rooms for us and there’s plenty of rooms for everyone.
That should be enough since in the very first sentence we heard in the gospel lesson this morning said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”
But we want to know what our rooms are going to be like. Will we have to share a room? Will I have to keep it clean and neat since it’s in the Father’s house?
These are the questions that popped into my head and then I wondered why I thought these were important questions.
After we get past the fact that Jesus himself is getting things ready for us we discover that the only way to get there is through Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life. We can’t get there without going through Jesus.
So, how do we get through Jesus? I think we get there by ‘believing.’  Philip wanted Jesus to show him the Father then he’d believe.  Like that would make it easier.
Jesus said that if he knew him then he knew the Father. Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him. How’s that work?
The Father and Jesus are in such an intimate relationship that they are One, the Holy.  Maybe, and this may be a stretch, they’re like a couple that’s been happily married for 60 years. They’ve been together for so long that they begin to think and talk and act like each other. In fact, they even know what the other one is thinking and that’s kind of scary.
If we have trouble believing that then Jesus said believe what we see, believe the evidence surrounding the miracles we’ve seen. We have seen some miracles haven’t we?
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and the only way to get to those rooms is by believing in Him, and the Father. Faith, believing, trusting in Jesus, trusting in God is all we need. If we have faith we can do even greater things than Jesus did. If we have faith, and ask, Jesus will answer so He can bring glory to his Father.
That sounds almost too simple doesn’t it? But that’s what John said that Jesus said. John wouldn’t tell us a story, would he?
So, now you want to know, just like Philip and Thomas, “How can I be sure, how can I find the ‘way?’”
I believe we can find peace and the answer to these questions by allowing ourselves time to be with God. We need to be in an intimate relationship with God through Jesus if we’re ever going to learn anything about these rooms and how we’re all going to get there.
That means that we actually have to carve out time for reading, study, prayer, and silent time with God. This takes discipline.
It’s a little like committing to losing weight and beginning to live a healthier life style through exercise and eating healthier. The thought, the desire has to become a passion before it becomes part of our lives.
Trust, faith, and discipline are three things we need to build this relationship with God. Every day we put it off just makes it harder to start.
If we believe Jesus really is the way, the truth, and the life then why do we make it so difficult to begin?
We need the quiet time, so we can hear God’s voice. Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”  Before we can hear we need to be listening, we need to be tuned in, we need time alone with God. We need it so we can begin to believe.
My friends, God loves you. He desires a relationship with you…and me. There’s a room waiting for us…if we trust…if we believe…if we ask. It’s just over there on the other side of the door.
Thanks be to God for his loving grace. Amen.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Jesus the Shepherd

John’s gospel, the psalm reading, and Peter’s epistle all use the image of the Messiah as a shepherd and us as sheep.
Going with that, what image pops into your mind? Do you see a picture kind of like some we’ve seen before with Jesus dressed in white with a lamb on his shoulders and maybe one or two at his feet? Or maybe you get an image of Jesus sitting on a rock with his disciples all seated around him listening intently to his every word. Everything is peaceful and serene.
Knowing what you do about sheep and shepherds and maybe even thinking back to 1st century Jerusalem do you think that’s really what shepherds look like? Do you really think everything is all peaceful and quiet around the shepherd and his flock?
Maybe you do but I don’t. The reason being is that I’ve had a flock of sheep and lambs. There was seldom peace and quiet. I certainly didn’t wear white when I was working with lambs and ewes.
Think about a shepherd in Jesus’ time. Think about how much they had to know and what resources they had available to them to care for and protect their flocks.
Roddy Hamilton in his Spill the Beans blog said that Nancy Rockwell suggested that Jesus is more like a cowboy than a shepherd. Think about what a cowboy does with the herd as he takes them up to the mountain pastures, tends and cares for them while they’re there, and then brings them back to the valley for the winter and the spring calving season. Think about all the skills and knowledge a cowboy needs to do all that.
Doesn’t a shepherd do the same thing? Even though the sheep are smaller in stature the shepherd still needs to tend, care for and protect his flock. He is always on the watch for a sick or injured sheep. He has to pay attention to the weather and the signs in the sky and the surrounding environment so he knows when storms are coming and he needs to get them all to shelter. A cowboy does all that too.
Now think about the task Jesus had with the disciples and with us today. The disciples and his flock today certainly require a lot more skill to care for and manage than you or I possess. Don’t you think it’d take more of a cowboy mentality than a kind and gentle shepherd mentality to tend for and care for a flock like us today?
When I think about the things I’ve done in my life I’m convinced that Jesus had his hands full at times. It’s a wonder to me that he never gave up on me. Shoot, it’s a wonder my parents didn’t just toss in the towel sometimes.
Humanity being what it is needs a god with good sense, a tough exterior, a love for humanity that can’t be swayed, and patience beyond anything we can imagine. In other words humanity needs a god like our God, willing to do whatever it takes to bring us back to Him. Our God needs to be able to go out on a limb for us; he needs to be able to love and forgive us when we’ve failed him for the umpteenth time.
We can hardly get our minds around what it must take for God to put up with our shenanigans day after day, year after year. If we were in charge we’d have given up on us a long time ago.
Before we get all puffed up and proud because God has chosen us let’s not forget how many times we’ve tried and failed to live like Jesus. We’re not any better than those Pharisees Jesus called ‘thieves and robbers.’
Take a minute to think about how much we’ve been blessed with the last couple years, our crop yields, our gifts from members who’ve left some of their estates for us to use. Now think about how many are struggling in the world to find enough to eat, let alone find some shelter from the extremes of the environment. What have we done to alleviate their pain and suffering? How much have we given of our time and gifts to make sure they have something to eat, warm clothes to wear, and a roof over their heads?
We’re not very good at being shepherds for those folks who need a shepherd. So, why does God still call us? Doesn’t it make you wonder?
I’ve probably passed more panhandlers than I’ve stopped to help. When I have stopped it’s usually with cash, probably not what they really need. If you’re like me you don’t want to stop and give them any of your precious time. Maybe you have and you just don’t want to hear another hard luck story.
Jesus, did take the time, many times. Imagine how many stories he listened to. Imagine how many dirty bodies he sat beside; imagine how many he touched…and healed.
No, we’re not very good at shepherding. We need God and the forgiveness that comes to us from Jesus. We need the Holy Spirit to continually remind us, to continually convict us of our sin and failure to care for those God places before us every day.
We need to get down on our knees and ask for forgiveness for those times we’ve failed him, let him down, and just plain ignored his voice in our hearts begging us to give to that guy hitchhiking down the Interstate 80 or the traveler who stops and needs gas to get on down the road to wherever it is they’re going.
We need to pray that God forgives us and then ask for the courage to trust him to take a risk and help someone we probably wouldn’t have helped last week.

We need a Good Cowboy Shepherd to lead us, to save us from ourselves and the world. Thanks be to God he loves us unconditionally and grants us his grace again and again. Amen.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Open Hearts, Open Doors

Two disciples walking down the road, talking about the events of the last few days in Jerusalem. Mysteriously, another person joined them and asked, “What is this you’re so intently discussing?”
They couldn’t believe there was anyone who hadn’t heard about the crucifixion of their friend, Jesus. So, they told what they’d witnessed and what their friends had found when they went to the grave where the body had been placed.
In their hearts they knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the One all Israel had been waiting for. Then, their dreams were dashed to the ground, broken like a wine goblet tossed into a stone hearth. They were grieving for their friend because they’d hoped beyond all hope that he would be the One who would save them from the oppression of the Romans.
This one who was walking with them began to teach them the lessons from their own Hebrew Bible, stories from Moses clear up through the Prophets. With all that they still didn’t recognize the One they were grieving.
When they arrived at their home they invited Jesus to come in and eat with them, still not recognizing Him for who he was. So, he sat down with them and just like he’d done at the Passover meal a few days ago he took the bread, blessed and broke and gave it to them. When they took the bread a light came on! This is exactly what they’d witnessed in the upper room with the others! This was Jesus! They knew for the first time that he was truly alive!
They ran back to Jerusalem to tell the Eleven what had happened. Can you imagine how excited, how out of breath they must have been when they opened the door and told everyone what had happened…and then they found out that Jesus had also appeared to Peter! That corroborated what they knew. Jesus was alive!
Today we will celebrate the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and we will remember. Jesus is with us and we may very well feel our hearts burning with his love and peace.
Then, what’s next? Will we have the same excitement to share this good news with others?  Will this good news open any other doors for people who wouldn’t ordinarily come to worship with us?
As we eat this bread and drink the juice and remember Jesus may we, every time we eat and drink this coming week remember…and be filled with God’s love and grace and peace. May every meal we share with family and friends and strangers be a time for us to celebrate the joy of being in the presence of the risen Lord Jesus.

Thanks be to God for his grace and peace. Amen.