Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"All Kinds" April 14, 2013 (Easter 3C)

Revelation 5:11-14
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

John 21:1-19
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Saviour!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Saviour, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Saviour. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Teacher; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Teacher; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to Simon Peter the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And Peter said to him, “Teacher, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.) After this he said to Peter, “Follow me.”

Will you pray with me? Holy One, you have given us an abundance of good things. Teach us to recognise your generosity; may we receive your gifts with an open heart, and with an open hand may we share them with others. In all your names, amen.

Any Dr. Seuss fans here? "One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. Black fish, blue fish, old fish, new fish. This one has a little star. This one has a little car. Say, what a lot of fish there are!" All kinds of fish... A  myriad, in fact, just like the angels in Revelation.

Peter and the other disciples catch a lot of fish...153, to be exact. That is a lot more than 8 or 9 people needed for breakfast! There was an abundance of fish. Now, there are a couple of things we could take from this. One is that there were 153 kinds of fish known to the world in Jesus' day, so it is as if the disciples caught one of each. On the other hand, there is the simple fact of more fish than they needed, an abundance.

What is abundance? It is having more than you need--not more than you want, but more than you need. If I had two cars, I would have an abundance of cars--I can only drive one at a time. If I had six TVs, I would have an abundance of TVs, there isn`t that much room in my apartment!

The disciples had an abundance of fish. 153 shared among 9 people is more than 15 fish per person! Unless they were very small fish, that is a great deal more than any one person could eat at breakfast.

And what does Jesus say to Peter after this generous meal? He asks Peter if he loves him--and of course Peter says yes; and Jesus tells him to care for his lambs, his sheep.  I don't think it is a stretch of the imagination to say that Peter has been shown what Jesus wants from him. "If you love me," Jesus is saying to Peter, "then be as generous to them as I have been with you."

You know, we come across this sort of image all the time in the Bible's conversations about God. There is the cup that runs over the brim in the 23rd Psalm; the huge catches of fish, the riches of Solomon, the land flowing with milk and honey, the manna from heaven...you get the idea. God is not stingy: God gives with an open hand.

It is something very basic about who God is, and how God is; giving, sharing, overflowing, more than we simple humans know what to do with. God does not measure things out, but simply gives, and gives generously.

God has given us many people, too, to share the world with. Tall people, women, black people, gay people, Canadian people,  strong people, Turkish people, men, funny people, smart people, people who eat meat and people who don't... so many different kinds of people in the world.  Each one is special and unique, like the 153 fish that were each counted. And yet we are all part of God's abundance, too, part of the "myriad of myriad," most clearly when we are gathered as community.

And when we, the church, gather at God"s table, we share in that abundance. Just as Jesus spread a meal of abundance for the disciples on the beach, we share in Christ's feast with the church at the Communion Table. We have more than enough, and we share. As I say every week--"This is not my table, or MCC Windsor's table; it is God's table, and all are welcome here. Everyone here is invited to share at God's table of grace."

Everyone means all. As there were many kinds of fish, and many many angels, we humans are varied and many too. Ourselves, who we are, is part of God's abundance; by being who we truly are, we share God's bounty with others. Unique and special, part of God's overflowing provision for the world--we are both. And as Jesus asked Peter, so God asks us: "Do you love me? Feed my lambs." From the plenty that we have--of love, of understanding, of compassion, of simple presence, of ourselves, of possessions, of wisdom, of hope--share, feed, care for, provide for, each other, the lambs of God. In all God names, amen .

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Five--Random!

Trying to get back in teh habit of blogging...so with a push from the RevGals, here's a random Friday five///

1.  How are you doing?  What's going on in your life?
Busy is the only word for it. The church has a project and a crisis, the community organisation that I sit on the board of ditto, still recovering from Easter, can't wait for my retreat in ten days...

2.  Have you ever resigned from a position?  What was the good-bye like?
Many times in my previous career and once as a pastor. In the latter case, they knew I was taking a sabbatical because of a divorce; they didn't know I was coming out as well.  The good-bye was supportive and caring, and I think would mostly still have been, even if they had known the real reason for the sabbatical.

3. So, we are still resurrecting...still getting used to New Life!!  What is a source of new life for you?
Increasingly, yoga. The level of tension in my life has gone up steadily over the last few months, and I knew I needed something. My weekly yoga class has been wonderful for stress relief as well as exercise and movement. I hope to make it to two classes a week at least from time to time, but for now, it's my Friday late-afternoon must-have.

4.  My friend is running the marathon on Friday, because it is on her bucket list.  What is something on your bucket list?
A trip to Australia, most especially to Uluru. This may seem mundane to readers from Down Under, but there you are. In accordance with indigenous beliefs and in respect for them, I would not climb it, but rather sit with it through a day.

5.  Tell us about one precious thing (tangible) you keep around your house, your altar, your pocket, and what is its story? 
I wear a gold Celtic cross my son gave me with I graduated from seminary. It means the world to me for both those reasons. I have also been told that it is rare to find a Celtic cross in gold, but I am not sure if that is really true. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

To Go Public or Not to Go Public....

So here's a question for you all (I know, the teeming hordes at the gate...all six of you!).

I am thinking of opening this blog up and no longer keeping it incognito. When I began it, I felt I needed the anonymity, that sometimes I might want to blog about things that I couldn't say in public as me. As time has gone on, either there's nothing I couldn't say in public or I am not as concerned about it! And, I would like to have a place to share some of the things I am (and hoping to) write, not only sermons, but prayers, book reviews, liturgy, random rants, etc. Of course I could continue to do so incognito, but I think I want them out there with my name.

For those of you who have gone this route--anonymous, then public--how did it go? Did you go back and check to see if there were any posts you would not want the public (or your congregation) to associate with your name? Did you announce that "the pastor now has a blog, well, actually has had one but now you know?" Did you change the name of your blog? How did it go? Suggestions, thoughts, warnings?

I know, of course, not to use people's names without their permission, to hold to proper boundaries, etc. I am just wondering if this is the right way to go.

Monday, April 08, 2013

"The Integrity of Doubt" Easter 2C

Acts 5:27-32
When the guards had brought Peter and the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey God.” When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to the council, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” They were convinced by him, and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name.

John 20:19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the religious leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Saviour. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Creator has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Saviour.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Saviour and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Child of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Will you pray with me? God of the living and the dead, immerse us in your resurrection life. Give us the desire to be patient as you have been patient with us, to be merciful with doubters as you are merciful, to encourage and enable those who waver, even as you have encouraged us. Through Christ Jesus our risen Saviour, amen.

I have to say, first of all, that I have a certain sympathy for Thomas. It is a pretty wild tale the others are telling. Jesus, alive? When the power of the Roman Empire crucified him? How can this be? It simply makes no sense.

Through the centuries, Thomas has been criticized for this attitude. He is called "Doubting Thomas," and tradition says he went to what we know today as India, to bring the gospel to people who had never even heard of Jerusalem or Judaism and to whom even Rome was only a rumour, as was fitting for someone who had to see to believe, that he preached the Gospel to people who not only had not seen but had no context for what he was teaching.

But I think Thomas is wiser than we usually consider him. He won't believe something others tell him, even though he wants to believe. He won't follow the crowd, won't believe just because he wants to believe. He needs to find out for himself, needs to know the truth for himself, not what Peter and John and Mary and James are telling him.

It must have taken some courage to do that; to say, "I don't care what you think you saw, or heard, or experienced. That was your experience, not mine. It would be beyond wonderful if it were true, but I need to know for myself."

And then when he does see Jesus, how does Thomas respond? He says, "My Lord and my God!"  He doesn't need to do what he had claimed he wanted to do--touch Jesus' wounds--to know it was really him.

There is a lot to be said for someone who will not fall into something without careful consideration, who needs to know for themselves. Thomas found the truth out for himself, not as a result of someone else's work or theory or experience. It comes from his heart. Even a weak speech sounds better when it comes from someone who truly believes what she is saying. We have all heard bosses, politicians, even pastors, say things they didn't truly believe. One of the reasons I came out was because I found that I had to be fully my authentic self, if I was going to be any kind of a pastor. I had to be able to speak all my truth, and to preach and counsel and lead from a place of authenticity.

So Thomas is doing exactly what he needs to do here. He is testing what he has been told, not daring to trust to what he wants or hopes, but needing to know the truth.

This is the glue that fastens belief to our hearts--our own experience. I can speak truly to people about coming out because I have. I can speak authentically about cancer survival, and to parenthood. However, I cannot speak of recovery, for example, because that is not my story. I can be supportive and encouraging and sympathetic, but I have not lived that experience.

Thomas and Peter are the disciples that give me the most hope for myself as a follower of Jesus. Thomas struggled to believe- but when he knew what he believed, he went literally to the ends of the earth to share the good news he had found. Peter denied Jesus three times--and yet became the leader of the early church.

The question is not how quickly a person believes, but how strongly and truly. A sudden faith can fade as quickly, burned out by the excitement of new belief. A faith that has grown slowly, through tests and trials and pain and doubt is a tested and strong faith.

Today is Yom Ha’Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance; we remember the millions of Jewish people, gay men and lesbians, people living with a disability, seniors, Poles, Roma, and others, killed by the Nazis for the crime of being alive. We might expect the survivors to have little or no faith—who could believe in a God that allowed such things to happen? And yet, we find that they do have faith, a faith that has been tested and made stronger.

A strong faith is like a brick wall, built carefully, one brick at a time. If you look carefully at a brick wall, you can see that some of the bricks are turned sideways, so the short end is exposed instead of the long side. That’s called a "bond," and there several of them—Sussex bond, Flemish bond, and so on, depending on the pattern of the bricks. They are there not merely to make the wall more attractive, but because they make the wall stronger. Without the bond, the pressure of the top bricks would push the lower ones out of line and the wall would collapse. The bond redistributes the pressure, and the wall stands firm.

Thomas's doubt is the bond in the wall of faith. Those doubts, which seem out of place--they don't go the same direction as the others--are in fact what makes the faith stronger. Knowing what you do not believe makes what you do believe stronger.

I was once warned against seminary, because, I was told, it would make me doubt what I believed, and turn me away from Christianity. Yes, I did have to question the basis of my faith in seminary. I had to dig deep and really look at why I believed, and what I believed and what the consequences were of that belief. Think about it for a moment--would you really want as your spiritual leader--which is who seminaries are training--someone who hadn't examined their beliefs, hadn't tested them, didn't know the basis of their faith? Because into every life come some times of doubt and questioning, if we are honest, and if we have done that work of examining and testing and hard work of doubting, then we have a surer foundation to stand on, we know that even though we are uncertain and afraid, we know why we believe and it is a little easier to hang on to our faith. We have created that bond in our wall of faith, and while it may sway, that wall won't fall.

As we go out into our week, have faith in your doubt. It leads to a stronger faith. In all God's names, amen.

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

Personalities fascinate me--people do. One way I try to understand history and places is through people--which is why I love good histor...