Sunday is Coming! “The Peace the World doesn’t give” John 14:23-31, Easter 6C

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid. “ (John 14:27)

Peace is illusive.

We often define peace as the absence of conflict.  Yet ongoing conflict seems to have the upper hand in our world. We believe it will defeat us.

We try to achieve peace through violence. To defeat our enemies often costs us dearly.  We remember and honor our war dead. Sometimes we remember the other side’s too. Innocent lives are lost in the crossfire. Lasting peace continues because we have hit our opponents hard enough that they will not come back…

…at least not for a while.

We define peace as acceptance. We may not like the way things are in the world or the way someone has treated us. We make peace with it by acknowledging the pain, carrying it as long as we must and somehow deciding that in order to live we cannot allow that pain to define us. We carry within us the scars of this peace.

We define peace as death. Sometimes we say things like “they are at peace now” after someone’s life has ended after a struggle. They are no longer breathing. Life is gone.  There is something final to this kind of peace.  “Rest in peace,” we say. Peace in their absence becomes grief to work through for us.

We define peace as tranquility. We seek peace in serene environments in the natural world: where the conditions are perfect, the breeze is gentle, the sun is warm, and people leave us alone.

We define peace as projecting calm. Those who can handle the pressure of tense circumstance, the heightened anxiety in others, the fear creeping up in themselves in the midst of turmoil overcome the intensity of a situation by remaining calm and drawing others into the focus required to overcome threats with poise and confidence.

We define peace as reconciliation. Two people come together after being in conflict. Feelings were hurt. Lives were broken. Actions have consequences. Offering contrition and responding with forgiveness destroys the power of separation with an embrace. Life is renewed, but things will never be perfect. There is still much to struggle through together. We have memories. But peace breaks into those lives, when the one with the power does not punish the other but welcomes them home. Our sharing of the peace in church is supposed to mimic this act of restorative love among us.

Jesus offers peace. But what kind?

Jesus becomes the embodiment of conflict and violence at the cross; exposing how fruitless violence is. He confronts power by declaring it powerless, “my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36) and declares “the ruler of this world has no power over me” (John 14:30). He is our peace; bringing us together into one restored humanity (Ephesians 2:14).

Jesus does not retaliate or raise the sword. Violence begets violence. Only the path of non-violence has the potential to break the cycle. The Pax Romana – peace through power, bloodshed and terror is exposed as no peace at all.

Jesus is a peace-maker; by not accepting the world as it is. He often creates conflict directed at him and his followers by healing on the sabbath, touching the unclean, eating with sinners, talking with gentiles and women, treating both the oppressed and the oppressors with dignity and respect, and teaching about a kingdom that often confounds his hearers assumptions by flipping their expectation about God, community and the world upside-down.

Jesus destroys the power of death at Easter. This “peace that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7) re-orders our world, so that God holds our future no matter what circumstances we face; even the dire ones.

Jesus often went off alone to quiet places to pray; but always in order to re-engage the world around him. We often get caught in escapism so we don’t have to deal with others. Jesus embodies a peace that is grounded in purpose for the sake of serving others.

Jesus calls us into the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). It is not just a matter of making amends for wrongdoing, but restoring our broken humanity as ambassadors to what Christ has done to destroy sin by becoming sin so that all things are made new n him and through him.

Jesus reminds his disciples that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate is coming. They will not be on their own, but God will see them through whatever is coming next. In their story, his passion is about to unfold. In our story, the future is unknown. Fear can be a real power in our lives. Jesus reminds them not to be afraid, but to trust the peace that he gives.

Sharing this peace, Jesus calls them to get up, and get on with it (John 14:31).

We should too.

-How have you defined peace?

-Where do you see Jesus’ peace that surpasses understanding?

-What makes you afraid of trusting that peace?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “Hate and Love” John 13:31-35, Easter 5C

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)

The trouble is, it is far too easy to hate others.

We live in volatile times. Our anxiety and other emotions are high, our fuses are short, and with plenty of blame to go around for “how we got here” it is much easier to take out our frustrations on other people with violence, cruelty and indifference than to do the difficult work of getting to root causes, doing deep listening, and owning our own participation in destructive systems and actions. Many of us, most of the time, have no idea what to do about this reality. We can feel lost and hopeless.

Yet Jesus summarizes his message with one command:

Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12a)

What does this mean?

To understand what Jesus is calling his disciples to do and become; it is beneficial to read the entirety of John 13-17. In the fourth gospel’s version of the upper room before his arrest and crucifixion – Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. It is a self-giving act of hospitality and care reserved for the lowest in the household to offer both guests and those of higher status as they entered a home.

Jesus takes the form of a servant and washes their feet, modeling his message by calling all of his disciples into a life of service to others.

In the conversation that follows, Jesus tells them of coming betrayal (John 13:21-30) and  denial (John 13:36-38) and yet stays with them. He proclaims himself to be the way, the truth, and the life when they don’t know which way to go (John 14:1-14). He promises the coming Holy Spirit as their advocate (John 14:15-31). He reiterates their ongoing connection by declaring himself the vine (his father the vinegrower and his disciples the branches [John 15:1-11]). He reasserts the mission: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12). Jesus warns that the world will reject and hate them as they hate and reject him (John 15:18-25). He explains to them again that the Spirit is coming (John 15:26-16:24). He promises them his peace (John 16:25-33). Jesus prays for them (John 17) before they leave the upper room and the events of his passion unfold (John 18-19). Jesus does this all out of love; a love that will cost him his life. It is a love that will give them his life. It is Christ’s life we still share.

This type of selfless, life-giving love is what Jesus calls us to share with one another. It is not generic love without context. It is not hokey love without any responsibility. It is not a shallow love without any consequences. It is love that embeds itself in the reality of human brokenness, heartbreak, disappointment and imperfection – creating something new.

This love washes, feeds, forgives and welcomes. This love knows the cost yet offers it freely. This love values the life and dignity of all others. This love takes the position of a servant rather than as the master. This love lays down one’s life for one’s friends.

In this love, Jesus shares his life crucified and risen; the life of restored people sharing in community; the life of generosity and gratitude; the life of celebration without limitation. The life of the Spirit is poured upon us.

In a small group Bible study I am part of one person stated, “Love requires action.” Our shared life in Christ offers a difficult yet straightforward path to resist the hatred, fear, anxiety, indifference and finger-pointing of this world by taking action. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

-What actions do you/can you/should you take to show Christ-like love to those around you to welcome them home?

-Who do you know that could use that kind of love?

-What is holding you back from taking action?

PGS

Episode 74: In the City for Good

The 2 Bald Pastors talk with Paula Mehmel, the pastor of Emanuel Lutheran Church in Hartford, CT. 

On Sunday, September 24, 2017, the people of Emanuel overwhelmingly voted to call Rev. Dr. Paula V. Mehmel as its eighth Pastor since its founding in 1889.

“Pastor Paula” as she is widely known, served as the Senior Interim Pastor at Elim Lutheran Church in Fargo. While most recently based in Casselton, N.D. she is a Minnesota native. Pastor Paula holds an undergraduate degree in English and German from Washington University in St. Louis and a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. Pastor Paula is a popular speaker, writer, and proud single mother of two sons who both attend Harvard University.

With a passion for serving the last, the lost and the least, Pastor Paula is a committed community member with a special interest in homelessness, refugee resettlement and addressing issues of sexual violence. She goes to Uganda yearly as part of South Sudanese Leadership and Community Development to do trauma healing and other work in the South Sudanese Refugee Camp.  Pastor Paula has also been deeply involved in homelessness issues and has served as president of Churches United for the Homeless for three years.

Pastor Paula’s calling is to make connections; between the timeless Word of God and our everyday lives, between the gifts God bestowed on us and the needs in our community and our world, and between people so that we might see all people, including ourselves, as precious and beautiful, but broken, children of God who have been redeemed by God’s grace and in order to continually extend our vision of who are neighbors are.

She relishes the opportunity to share her thoughts on anything from social justice to theology to random musings about her latest travel adventures.

Sunday is Coming! “Which Voice?” John 10:22-30, Easter 4C

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

With so many voices vying for our allegiance, it is difficult to discern which voice to direct our attention.

While people in Jesus’ day did not have the constant distractions of social media, a twenty-four hour news cycle, steaming devices and over-booked schedules in the way many North Americans do in the 21st century – there were still the competing voices of worth, inclusion, religious identity, might making right, racism, gender discrimination, economic disparity, blame, shame, guilt, grief, issues of health and wellness alongside other aspects of the human condition that were just as much a part of life two thousand years ago as they are today.

In the wider passage of John 9-10 (in which this smaller pericope [John 10:22-30] is found), Jesus gave sight to man who was born blind. The religious people wanted to know who had sinned to cause his blindness – his parents or the man himself (John 9:2). Jesus declares “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him…As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:3, 5). By the end of this story, these religious leaders have chased the man who received sight away as they now turn to question Jesus. He identifies that even though they can see, it is they who are blind by their own sinfulness (John 9:29-41). Jesus then explains that they are like thieves who come to steal the sheep, but he is the Gate for the sheep (John 10:7), and the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).  Conflicted over what to do with Jesus, some of these religious leaders believe Jesus is possessed by a demon (John 10:19-21). In this passage they ask Jesus who he is directly: “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus tells them (and reminds the reader/hearer) that he just did (John 10:24-25)!

What competing voices are they listening to that they cannot see the works he does or hear the words he says? What about us?

While those who refuse to take notice of who Jesus is, for the sheep Jesus promises both eternal life and protection as they hear and follow his voice (John 10:27-29).  Often we get drawn into the side question of who gets to be part of his flock (Jesus answers: “I have other sheep who do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” [John 10:16]).

Better questions to dwell-in are:

How might we become better listeners and followers when Jesus calls us to belong?

-What are the things that distract us from seeing, hearing and believing?

-Who is it we are listening to – if not our Good Shepherd?

Developing our own discipleship and our outreach to include others rests in honestly wrestling with these questions.

PGS

(Thanks to the Eastern CT Conference Pastors: Dick Burgess, Brett Hertzog-Betkowski, Danny Hammons and Mary Robinson for the discussion leading to this reflection.)

Sunday is Coming! “What if you could meet him one more time?” John 21:1-19, Easter 3C

“Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus” (John 21:4)

What if you could meet him one more time?

What would you do?

What would your reaction be if you could see him – after?

 – after you left him; after his death; after your friends told you he was alive; after going to the place where they buried him but the tomb was empty; after you thought  you saw him again, but it now just feels like a dream?

What would you do if you thought you saw him after you got back to work; after you got back to normal; after you got back to life…to life…after?

What would you do if you thought you saw him on the beach while you were fishing from your boat on the lake?

What if you thought you saw him wave?

What if he was calling to you; asking if you caught any fish?

What if you saw him build the fire?

Would you consider it might really be him?

Would you shrug it off?

Would you try to ignore him?

Would you tend to the abundant catch that seemed to only appear once you saw him?

 Would you stare?

Would you show him to others?

Would you ask if they saw him too?

What if you could meet him one more time?

Would you dive off the boat?

Would you leave everything behind?

Would you swim as fast as you could?

Would you keep you eyes fixed on him?

What would you do when you got to the shore?

Would you run to him, call to him and wave your arms to get his attention?

Would you stand in front of him in spite of yourself and the guilt you carry?

Would you embrace him when you saw him?

Would you confess, “I can’t believe it is you!”?

Would you say, “I am so glad to see you!”?

Would you tell him how much you love him?

What would you do when he smiled?

Would you smile back?

Would you cry?

Would you listen to what he had to say?

Would you do what he told you?

Would you ever look back again?

What if you could meet him one more time?

Come and see.

PGS

Sunday is Coming! “Walking to Emmaus – Jesus will meet you there.” Luke 24:13-35

Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Grief.

Fear.

Sadness.

Disappointment.

Despair.

Guilt.

Loneliness.

These emotions all have a place on the road to Emmaus.

Two disciples: one named Cleopas (whom we have never heard of in Luke before) and an unnamed disciples (perhaps intentionally left anonymous so we find ourselves on that road too) were headed home because they thought the story of Jesus was over. For whatever reason they had joined the Jesus movement. When Jesus was executed – their hope that he was the Messiah who would “redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21) died with him. They had heard the witness from the women that Jesus’ tomb was empty that morning (Luke 24:22-24); but like the others must have dismissed that proclamation as an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11).

Into this very human response to death and disruption; the risen Jesus joined them on the road. Not recognizing him, they welcomed him to join them as a simple act of hospitality.

Engaging Jesus in conversation on that seven mile journey they were unaware he was with them. They told him what they had known about Jesus and they listened to Jesus explain the whole scripture to them (Luke 24:27). This exchange is remarkable – it is open and conversational; not judgmental or argumentative. One wonders what these two companions were thinking while listening to this stranger. Wouldn’t you want to hear Jesus teach for a couple of hours on the long walk home?

They still did not recognize him until they broke bread together.

Grief.

Fear.

Sadness.

Disappointment.

Despair.

Guilt.

Loneliness.

We do not have to walk this road alone. The risen Christ reveals he is walking with us all along. In the breaking of the bread we see him. In the sharing of the word our hearts burn. We come to Jesus together.

Look for the outsider and outliers. Invite and welcome them. Visit someone who is lonely or hurting and bring a meal. Listen. Share. Jesus will meet you there.

Meet with a small group over food. Discuss the scripture readings for Sunday. Catch-up on your lives. Pray for one another and the world. Jesus will meet you there.

Serve people. Wherever you connect with friends and loved ones and strangers. Look for Jesus in the faces of others. Jesus will meet you there.

Gather with the church for worship. Sing. Pray. Listen. Ponder. Pay close attention to the words. Discover yourself and where God is at work in the stories. Share the Eucharist and meet once more the risen Jesus . As the people of God continue becoming the body of Christ. Jesus will meet you there.

Where will you walk with Jesus on the way?

PGS

Also Available on John 20:19-29 –

A few thoughts on this Good Friday

Our noon Cross+Walk crew at St Paul Lutheran Church in Old Saybrook, CT

Today is Good Friday. It is a day for us to pause and consider Jesus and his cross. While there is much to see and contemplate here, this Good Friday as I look upon the cross – I see these things…

1. I see my own sinfulness.

I find it unavoidable to see the cross of Jesus and not consider my own sin and unworthiness before God. But the cross is also the place to experience God’s undeserved love and mercy. The cross calls me to repentance – to seek a new direction in my life as the forgiveness of God pours over me. Many Christians (and non-Christians alike) believe in a wrath-filled vengeful God whose hatred of disobedience and self-centered actions demand the violence of the cross in return. I don’t meet that God at the cross. Rather, I see a God that loves us beyond measure for the sake of making us whole. At the cross I see Jesus calling us to care for one another like he loves us. Picking up one’s cross to follow him is a call to into the self-giving-sacrificial love of others we first see in Jesus.

2. I see value in his suffering.

We like to hide our pain and sterilize the world’s suffering. We want happy and comfortable; neat and clean. We avoid death and seek things on our own terms in order to keep us interested. The ugliness of the cross confronts all of that. On the cross we see the One who suffers alongside the suffering; One who dies among the dying; One who uncovers every uncomfortable, messy, bloody, violent situation we would rather not have to deal with and rather than tucking it away he makes it the center of his mission. At the cross I see a God who will hang alongside us when we feel the most vulnerable, abandoned and alone. At the cross the message I hear is not “death will get us all” or “you get what you have coming to you in the end” but “I am with you always…Be still and know I am God…I have called you by name and you are mine.”

3. I see our understanding of power turned upside-down.

Jesus’ enemies thought they could do away with him by having him killed. His religious opponents believed the ends justified the means. The Empire in which he lived believed that might made right. At the cross injustice, corruption and our blind allegiance to both are exposed. At the cross Jesus values everyone who is ignored, blamed, scapegoated, thrown-away or stomped-on by others. At the cross Jesus succumbs to power to show its weakness. At the cross Jesus’ death reveals that death had no power over him (and now poses no threat to us either). At the cross I see every person in power and the systems they represent deemed ultimately irrelevant as Jesus alone is Lord.

These are a few things I see this Good Friday at the cross of Jesus. But there is one more thing I see today too. At that cross I find a community of people who are also seeking and called into his undeserved reconciliation, healing and peace that surpasses understanding – centered in love, mercy and hope.

Standing with them at the foot of the cross of Jesus – I am grateful.

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The ongoing conflict between scarcity and abundance” John 12:-1-8 Lent 5C

“You always have the poor with you, you do not always have me.” (John 12:8)

There is inherent conflict in this passage.

The most obvious is between Judas and Mary. Judas believes the extravagance of Mary’s perfume is a waste – the nard could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. Jesus intervenes by accepting her gift of love as she anoints his feet as preparation for his coming burial. The narrator’s comments discredit Judas’ character as a thief.

The message: faithfulness is acknowledging abundance and offering thanksgiving over conniving and scarcity.

A second conflict imbedded in this scene comes between The religious leaders and Jesus. In John 11:1-44, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. This scene is the after party to celebrate this amazing sign of the kingdom and the restored life of Lazarus. In the verses between (John 11:45-54), the religious leaders under the direction of the High Priest Caiaphas, plot to kill Jesus out of their fear and the implications of Jesus’ ministry and message. Caiaphas justifies this plot by saying, ‘it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed’ (John 11:50).

The message: Jesus’ anointing (the title ‘Christ’ means: anointed one) serves as a foretaste not only of Jesus’ coming execution – but also his coning resurrection. In an upheaval of the power we expect – Jesus is revealed as the Christ.

There is also an ongoing conflict uncovered in this passage between the culture, the church, and the poor. Jesus says, ‘you will always have the poor with you, you do not always have me’ (John 12:8). The misinterpretation of this verse out of context by the church has served to neglect its mission in search of worldly power and wealth. By individual Christians this verse has been used to justify corruption and greed. A better translation of this phrase is ‘keep the poor with you as you do not always have me’ (see Dr. Lindsey Trozzo’s refelction on this passage from Working Preacher, online available: www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3993 ).

The message: our lives are not about choosing Jesus or the poor, but rather to see Jesus in the needs of our neighbors, recognizing the dignity and humanity in all people. What does that look like – a fragrant, beautiful, abundant gift of gratitude and service in the love Mary shows Jesus here. What if we cared for the least among us like that?

Out of this growing conflict Jesus forges a new way forward – abundance, sacrifice and our common humanity over scarcity, power and dehumanization.

Those powers will seem to take control as his arrest and execution loom with growing tension. But Easter…is coming!

Where do you see abundance, sacrificial love and dignity unfolding around you? Where can you participate?

PGS

Important Announcement from the 2 Bald Pastors

Please take two minutes to listen to his audio announcement from the 2 Bald Pastors

Sunday is coming! “The parable of the overtly responsible son” Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Lent 4C

“But we had to celebrate because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:32)

[An alternative telling of Luke 15:11b-32…]

Once there was a man who had two sons. The eldest son was hard-working and knew his place. One day the family farm would be his, and the responsibility of managing the estate, the business and their employees would eventually all fall upon his shoulders. He got up early and worked late seeking to gain the experience, know-how and work ethic required to be successful. As he prepared for his coming future, he sought the wisdom and counsel of his father.

The younger son was no farmer. He slept late. He was not dependable. He was lazy and spent his time day-dreaming of a life (and lifestyle) that was far away. He was more or less useless when it came to the family business, did not manage his affairs particularly well, and was not much a planner. But his father loved him, as did his older brother.

One day to the older son’s shock, a hired hand told him of his brother’s departure.

Not only had he left to seek his fortune on the road elsewhere, he had dishonorably talked their father into splitting the family inheritance and giving him his portion to him now. As he left home, it was the equivalent of saying his family ‘was dead to him.’

It hurt to hear this news.

The eldest was mortified. His father had been duped. His job would become more difficult. Business would be much more challenging with far less capital to utilize. He was furious. What hurt the most was that his brother did not have the decency to say ‘goodbye.’

In the years that followed, the older son became a hard man. His disdain towards his brother’s selfishness grew. He also came to resent his father’s foolishness. Since his father could not be trusted to make sound financial decisions, the eldest pushed him away.

The father was relegated to the sideline as his eldest son took over the business.

With hard work and time, the farm became a better success than ever. The latest projections indicated that in only a few short months the worth of their estate would double from its original size before his father had cut it in half. To make the next push forward, it would mean taking on more hands to increase yield. This was their year.

If there was a time to celebrate his success…it was now.

Coming back from the fields in the evening one day, the older son heard the music before he saw the party.  For all his father’s faults at least he had recognized how his efforts saved their family from ruin. As he drew closer to the party, the older son began preparing his speech; thanking his father for the opportunity to lead and for all those in his employ for their hard work and dedication. All he had ever hoped for was coming to be. He stood outside, took a deep breath and looked into the party through the doorway.

Then he saw…him.

Not only was his younger brother present, he was making a mockery of everything this older son had accomplished since he had left. He was wearing his father’s robe and ring. He looked scrawny, sickly and aged by hard times, but he was laughing and joyous, drinking his older brother’s wine and eating a feast prepared for him. FOR HIM.

His father had his arm around his younger son.

The older son was not sure which one he was going to confront first as he clenched his fists and his heart pounded so hard it almost burst through his chest.

His father came outside to meet him instead. It required all of the older son’s willpower not to lay him out on the floor, or shout in his face. Instead, the father could see the rage in his eldest son and put his arm around him. In that embrace, his son gave him a piece of his mind, saying he did not deserve this kind of treatment. His absent, wasteful, deplorable brother did not deserve this either. His father held him a little tighter, paused, turned to face him, looked him in the eye and said,

“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:31-32)

The older son stood firmly in his place, watching the celebration as his father took him by the arm to invite him inside.

If you were standing there, what would you do next?

PGS