Yes, And … (Not ‘No, But’)

“Yes, And … (Not ‘No, But’)”

holy trinity stained glass

John 16:12-15 – May 22, 2016

Just about everyone has been involved with play-acting at one time or another. Either as a child in a school play, in church at a Christmas pageant, or in a high school musical or other production. Or, if you weren’t in the play, one of your best friends was. Remember? Acting. Playing a part. Pretending you are someone else.

What about Jesus? He does not act fake or play a part or put on a false face (or voice). He is genuine, real. Jesus meant what He said when He was talking about the Holy Spirit, and about God His heavenly Father. His interaction with the other two Persons of the Trinity is completely natural, real, and genuine. Just as it was from before the foundation of the earth. The interaction between the Three Persons of the Trinity? Completely natural and perfectly genuine.

Let’s look at this passage of Scripture. From the Gospel of John, where our Lord Jesus spoke to His friends on that last night of His earthly existence. I suspect He had so much on His heart, so much that He wanted to say. Concerning His passion, death, resurrection, and all of the ramifications and consequences that would unfold. Jesus wanted to share all these things, but He tells us specifically that we cannot bear them now.

I don’t know whether anyone here has been in the position of understanding the full ramifications of a difficult situation. I am more familiar with healthcare, since I served as a chaplain for some years. In certain cases, I would be told about a patient’s diagnosis and prognosis, but then be hesitant to share that information fully. Because, the patient just couldn’t bear the full brunt of all the heavy, sometimes catastrophic news at that time.

It was sort of that way with our Lord Jesus, at that Last Supper table. He knew His friends could not bear the full brunt of the awful news Jesus knew so well. As the Amplified version of the Bible renders John 16:12, “I have still many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them or to take them upon you or to grasp them now.” In other words, in our 21st century understanding, the words and sentences Jesus could have told them would not compute. Would not penetrate into their brains.

The disciples must have been confused—anxious—maybe even downright fearful. And, who wouldn’t be? I’ve mentioned several times before about the tense situation in Jerusalem on that Passion Week, that last week of Jesus’s life. Our Lord Jesus delivered these words of our Scripture lesson today on the night of that Passover dinner, the night in which He was betrayed.

He knew He was going away—out of the disciples’ sight and daily experience. Jesus was preparing His friends for His departure. He wanted to remain with His friends, in fellowship and community. Letting them know He would be sending the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to be with them, always. Yet, in this situation—in absolutely every situation—our Lord Jesus was absolutely truthful. Real, and genuine.

A number of years ago, I wanted to use my voice for radio, and for commercials. I was coached by a professional. A professional voice-over artist. She had superb skills in using her voice, and was an excellent coach, besides. Since I was not as fluid and sometimes stumbled in interaction with others, she recommended that I try improv. Comedy improvisation classes. That led to two of the most enjoyable years of my life.

I went to small group improv classes at IO (formerly Improv Olympic) and attended comedy shows on a weekly basis for two years. In this improvisational work, I acted a multitude of parts. I wore different personas. That part of my story is important. Yes! I did play any number of roles. Yes, these roles were play-acting. However, improv brought my acting to a whole new level. Not only were my roles seem more real and genuine, my close-knit relationship with the rest of the improv team was cemented more firmly. For that little while, it was as if I were really embodying whatever role I was playing.

My parts and roles? Seem almost incidental compared to my most foundational learning from that time of doing improv. That lesson? “Yes, and … !” (As opposed to, “No, but … “)

If I say “No, but … “ it stops a scene right in its tracks. Difficult to keep going with that kind of negativity. “No, but … “ shuts people down, and cuts off possibilities. It’s like letting the air out of a balloon, and sometimes forces a scene to a full stop.

However—“Yes, and…!” is just the beginning! It’s a jumping off point. You have a multiplicity of possibilities.

In improv I learned—so well—about collegiality, cooperation, welcome, and helping people out. Being together in community, and fellowship. Yes, I knew about all these things, before, but not in quite the same way. I had learned about all those things in the abstract. More like book-learning, in school. But, how was it all different when I was on an improv team?

Instead, “Yes, and … !” was very much experiential learning. Where people depended on me, and I depended on everyone else. Where people grew very close, very quickly. Where there was mutual interdependence. Friendship. Fellowship And, extravagant welcome.

Sort of like the doctrine of the Trinity, which discusses the relationship and communion of the Three persons. The Trinity affirms “the total equality and complete uniqueness and diversity of the divine persons.” [1] Just so: opening up possibilities for us to see in the Divine Trinity, that Divine community from before the foundation of the earth. Mutual interdependence, friendship, fellowship, and—extravagant welcome.

Remember, Jesus told His disciples, “13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
This is the Holy Spirit Jesus is talking about! The Third Person of the Trinity who Jesus, God the Son, knew from before the foundation of the earth! Of course Jesus wanted to let His friends know that they would not be alone after His resurrection and ascension. That friendship fellowship and community that Jesus shared with them would continue. And, of course the Holy Spirit would remind believers of the things Jesus had taught them while He was on the earth. Guiding into all the truth—the Spirit of truth.

Three in One. One in Three. Father, Son and Holy Spirit (as traditionally identified for us in the Gospels and other places in the New Testament). All three Persons are included here, in this passage today. This holy mystery is about relationship and indwelling. It is about community and the self-communication of God. The Trinity is about the mutuality of God within the God-head, about our invitation into relationship by Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. “And it is about our mutuality with each other, guiding, speaking, and declaring to one another the glory of God, Father/Creator, Jesus/Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is our way of life made possible by God.” [2]

Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the three Persons of the Trinity—had and continue to have a real, genuine relationship. I have seen something like this among the congregation here at St. Luke’s Church. Our church members are real, genuine, concerned for each other.

I would like to invite us all to think “yes, and!” Yes, we at St. Luke’s Church are loving, genuine and real to others in the congregation. Praise God! That is not all. We can go further. Do more. Be genuine and real to as many people as we can.

Is this sometimes … difficult? Sometimes … a challenge? Yes, to both. However, it is a God-given challenge.

A few years ago, it was a popular thing in churches to ask “What Would Jesus Do?” I am not absolutely sure, but I suspect Jesus would live in community. Be real and genuine in all His interactions. Embody friendship, fellowship, and—extravagant welcome.        Jesus would not say “No, but …” “No, but—that won’t be possible.“ “No, but—that looks too difficult.” “No, but—that is just too much work.” “No, but—that person seems scary. And different.”

Instead, I am sure He would enthusiastically say “Yes, and … !” “Yes, and, I’ll be glad to help!” “Yes, and, we can be welcoming to those newcomers!”   Yes, and—friendship. Yes, and—community. Yes, and—genuineness. Yes, and—countless other exciting opportunities.

We all can practice this foundational learning I absorbed in my comedy improv training. Yes, it prepared me to be a better improv player and a better member of an intimate team. And, it also helps me navigate life, today. Be a friend in community—any community. Be as real and genuine to as many people as possible. Just like the deep, intimate relationship between the Persons of the Trinity.

Are you ready? Can you say “Yes, and … !” Not just here, in this community of believers, but outside in the world? In other places, other communities? I encourage you—I challenge you—I challenge all of us not to shut down conversations and opportunities by saying “No, but … “ Instead, be open. Be encouraging. Be positive. Say “Yes, and … !”

What would Jesus do?

[1] Lacuogna, Catherine Mowry, “God in Communion with Us,” from Freeing Theology: the Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective, 92.

[2] Hogan, Lucy Lind,  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1697

Advertisements

The Call of Wisdom (Repost)

(I was away from the pulpit and St. Luke’s Church this morning, so I did not preach a sermon. However, here is a sermon from some years ago. This uses the Old Testament text for today, Trinity Sunday: Proverbs 8:1-4.)

“The Call of Wisdom”

Prov 8 wisdom better than rubies

Proverbs 8:1-5

One of my very favorite movies is “The Wizard of Oz.” In it, three of the main characters are personifications of qualities within each and every person. I’m sure you remember the Tim Woodman, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. The Tin Woodman wanted a heart more than anything, because he wanted to be able to love. The Cowardly Lion wanted courage, since he was such a scaredy cat, he was afraid of his own shadow. And the Scarecrow wanted a brain, because he wanted to have good ideas and to think deep thoughts.

Here in this passage we just read today from Proverbs, we have another personification. Wisdom is seen as a woman, and not just any woman. Wisdom is seen as a giving person, as an open-handed person. She is at the crossroads, or important intersections, and at the gates of the town, where the town business takes place, calling like a herald. She is waiting and willing to give out wisdom and understanding to anyone who comes by!

If anyone is simple, or needs instruction, prudence or understanding, Lady Wisdom freely offers the gift of wisdom to anyone who will stop and accept it.

Which of us lacks intelligence sometimes? Which of us stumbles and makes mistakes every now and then, or sometimes even more often than that? Here, Lady Wisdom makes her offer of understanding and intelligence to anyone. “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.”

There’s a complication, though. I’m sure you’ve known people who seem to know simply everything. Know-it-alls, that’s the only name for them. You can’t tell them anything, they won’t listen to anyone, they aren’t in the least teachable, and they go their own way. They wouldn’t even have the slightest interest in Lady Wisdom’s offer of wisdom, mostly because they’re so busy dispensing what “wisdom” they think they have to other people who haven’t even asked for it.

Let’s face it. It’s not only the know-it-alls who could use some wisdom from outside. Many of us today lack wisdom, and don’t even know it. Humanity’s situation is almost like a horse, wearing blinders. From what I understand, a horse is perfectly happy wearing blinders. Blinders don’t hurt a horse, but they very much restrict what a horse can see. That’s awfully limiting!! Not being able to see the whole picture, but forced to see only what’s straight ahead of you!  Not even knowing that I lack wisdom, or prudence, or understanding is a really tough situation. But it’s a real situation, one that many, many people are in today.

Let’s look at what the book of Proverbs says about foolish people, as opposed to wise people. Here’s a representative list from the first several chapters of the book: fools are called lazy, sluggards, lying, dishonest, ignorant, knowing nothing, complacent, and ignoring wisdom.

That description is pretty negative! Even mean and nasty! That’s one thing about the book of Proverbs. It doesn’t pull any punches. When the authors of Proverbs see something the matter, they name it. They call it as they see it, to use a baseball analogy. There’s nothing ambiguous or wavering about the word picture drawn by Proverbs.

What can be done about this situation? Is it hopeless?

The Epistle of James sheds some light on the subject of wisdom. Looking at Chapter 1, verse 5, let’s listen to the words from the Apostle: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” So here, in the book of James, we have God making the offer of wisdom, again!

So, not only do we see a personification of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 8, waiting for us, urging us to reach out for wisdom, but here in the book of James, God wants us to ask for wisdom! God is more than willing to give it. The Apostle James says that God gives to all, generously and ungrudgingly! That’s good news!

So, even when we’re faced with new, unknown circumstances or a different kind of puzzle, we do have somewhere to turn. We can go to God, pray to God for wisdom and understanding, and God will come through! He will not leave us alone and helpless, struggling in a pool of foolishness.

Can any of us imagine the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz” NOT asking for a brain? That’s one great thing about that character! He wasn’t afraid to ask. He wasn’t shy. And neither should we be. We can certainly step right up and ask! And God gives to all, generously and ungrudgingly.

This free, gracious offer of wisdom can serve as a guide through difficult and puzzling cirecumstances. We can see that God is with us, and will be there for us through thick and thin, through the good times and the not-so-good times.

Whenever we’re uncertain, puzzled, in need of wisdom, God has made us the best offer of all–the offer of His wisdom. Praise God we have such a good and generous God, Who so willingly and lovingly gives us generous gifts and guides us along every winding road.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

Gift of the Holy Spirit

“Gift of the Holy Spirit” – May 15, 2016

Acts 2-38 repent, be baptized

Acts 2:38

What does it mean to know someone?  Can you know a sports star? Know all of his or her stats, his earned run average, how many sacks he got last season, how many assists she had to her credit in the last game?

We can know a lot about some really famous people, and yet not know them personally. I suspect you’re all familiar with the movie star Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones, Han Solo in the Star Wars movies, Jack Ryan in a couple of Tom Clancy movies). I know just a few things about him. He is a very private person, and a licensed helicopter pilot; he started in Hollywood years ago as a carpenter until he got his first movie role. I know things about Harrison Ford, But I have no illusions about being close to Harrison Ford.

What about Jesus? Do we know things about Jesus? Can we describe things about His life, His ministry, or the things He said? What about the last week He was alive? His passion?  His trials, crucifixion, and death on the cross? Do we know about all that?

Peter did. Peter knew all those things intimately. Peter was also one of the disciples who had a very close relationship with the Rabbi Jesus throughout the three years of His ministry. We know that, through the Gospel accounts. But now, now is the morning of the Pentecost festival. A whole host of Jews from all over the region have gathered together in Jerusalem for one of the important feasts, one of the celebrations on the Jewish calendar. Peter had quite a crowd for his impromptu sermon. For—that was what he delivered. A sermon.

But, a sermon on what? Why did he feel like he had to speak out?

For that, we need to go back to our Scripture passage for the morning. I am reading from Acts chapter 2: “When the day of Pentecost came, they [the disciples and followers of Jesus] were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.”

What happened to the disciples? The Holy Spirit happened, that’s what! The Holy Spirit blew into that house, buffeting all inside with a violent wind. Then, on top of that, tongues of fire appeared over each one’s head. The Holy Spirit came and dwelt within each one of them—with each believer in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These tangible and visible signs of the Holy Spirit were genuine proof that the Holy Spirit was real. This coming was huge. And, this arrival was life-changing.

After such a momentous event inside the house, the newly-filled, newly-energized believers spilled out into the street. Can you see their excited faces? Can you hear them as they share about this amazing experience that had just happened?

I can just imagine a roving reporter, reporting on the noisy crowd in the streets of Jerusalem that day. “Here on the streets of Jerusalem are God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. I understand that a strange sound was just heard. You all can see the crowd coming together in bewilderment. Each person is hearing their own language spoken. Everyone here is utterly amazed! “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in many different tongues! I keep hearing again and again from these eye-witnesses, “What does this mean?” The minority opinion is, however, less flattering. Some are making fun of theses Galileans and saying, “They have had too much wine.”

You can see how brash, outspoken Peter couldn’t help himself. Energized by the Holy Spirit, he began to tell people what happened. Why all of the disciples were so energized, so filled with the Holy Spirit. And—about Jesus Christ, Jesus the Jewish Messiah, crucified, died and resurrected from the dead.

Listen to the words of Peter: “But God raised Jesus from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”

Does everyone here understand? Peter finally gets it! So many times previously, Peter and the other disciples just didn’t understand the words of Jesus. They miss His message completely, and Jesus needed to patiently backtrack, go over the same information again and again. Except—not now. The disciples—and Peter—finally understand! The Holy Spirit is now indwelling them, and Peter lets everyone in the crowd know that this Jesus, this Messiah, has come for them, too.

This Jesus, this Messiah, is the long-promised Messiah, foretold by Moses and the prophets.

Many people in the crowd had heard something about the Rabbi Jesus, who had been put to death just a few short weeks ago. Yes, and some even knew a lot about this Jesus, this supposed Messiah, long-promised and foretold by the Hebrew Scriptures. But, the words of Peter, energized by the Holy Spirit, went straight to the hearts of those who listened that day.

Listen to the words of our scripture passage today: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Wait a second. What is Peter talking about? Believing, and immediately getting baptized?

That is exactly what he means. Baptism was an established practice in the first century. Not done by everyone, but practiced by a number of people. To show cleansing, and repentance, and renewal of life. Jesus elevates this Jewish practice to what we call a sacrament.

As in the rest of believers’ lives, so also in the receiving of the sacraments, it is God who takes the initiative in approaching the believer. It is then the believers’ turn to respond joyfully to God, as a result of God’s sovereign gift of grace. Baptism is our response to God’s gracious gift of salvation, grace, and forgiveness of sins.

Let me explain in another way. Out on the cattle ranches of the West the unbranded calves that roam at large are known as “mavericks.” Theses calves are claimed by the rancher who is first to get his brand on them at the annual round up. A little girl from a Western state had been baptized one Sunday by the Methodist minister of the town. Her friends at school questioned her the next day as to the meaning of the ceremony. “Well,” she said, “I will just tell you. I was a little maverick out on the prairie. That pastor put the Jesus mark on my forehead so that when He sees me He will know that I am one of His children.”

That Jesus mark was what so many new believers received, that morning of Pentecost. That Holy Spirit gift was what we received when each of us was baptized. Before we knew the Lord, each of us was a maverick calf, wandering on the prairie. Whether we are baptized as adults, young people, or babies like Christine, baptism is a joyful, outward expression of God’s love toward us. And, we know that Jesus will know that each one is His child.

Do you know things intellectually about Jesus? Or, do you have a close relationship with Jesus? Like the other believers on that Pentecost morning, has the Holy Spirit blown through your life and heart? I invite you all into a close relationship with Jesus, today.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

Mother Love, Parent Love

“Mother Love, Parent Love” – May 8, 2016

LOVE hear word cloud

John 17:20-26 (17:23)

This is a weekend to celebrate mothers. Yes, and mothers-in-law, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and nieces and other relatives and friends who are mothers. It is a special weekend, with special meals, gifts, flowers, and cards. Significant trips to the cemetery perhaps.  Happy Mother’s Day. What a wonderful sentiment. Hallmark card holiday, some might say. Particularly meaningful day to many. A day of pain and grief, of sorrow and longing, to others. An emotional day, for sure, with a whole range of emotions.

Reminds me of the particularly emotional night that we have in our Gospel reading for today. It comes from the last night our Lord spent on earth. From John 17:20-26, when Jesus prays for His friends after the Passover dinner.

Here is the beginning of that passage, the words of Jesus to His Heavenly Parent, in prayer. 20 “My prayer is not for them [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You.”

I wanted to highlight this section, as a prelude to the topic of this sermon. This sermon goes straight to the heart of why Jesus was here on earth. He was communicating that message to His friends and followers. This prayer lets us know Jesus is not just praying for His disciples. He is also praying for all those who come to believe as a result of the disciples’ spreading the Good News. That means, Jesus is praying for all Christians, throughout all time. He is praying here for us, too! Did you realize that? Jesus prays for us.

What does He pray, some might wonder? I’m glad you asked!

I continue reading from John 17: “22 I have given them [all believers] the glory that You gave me, that they may be one as We are one.” Here Jesus is talking about the unity of all believers. The family of God.

Did you know we are in God’s family? Children of God, that’s what we are. Knowing that living together, living in community is not easy, Jesus prays for His disciples and for us.  That prayer is for household families, the church family, and God’s world-wide family. [1]

All of us—no matter who—are included in Jesus’s description of family. All of us—no matter who—are included in the unity of believers.

But, I did not want to preach on the unity—fellowship—of the family of God today. I know that is a huge concept, and I’ve touched on it in recent sermons. No, today I wanted to describe God’s love.

Let’s let Jesus tell us more. From John’s Gospel reading, verse 23. “Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them [all believers] even as You have loved Me.”

I love what the commentator Barbara Lundblad said about this section of Jesus’s prayer. She talks about the surprising twists and turns of the Gospel of John. About the protective nature of this talk Jesus gave in the Upper Room, where Jesus proclaims God’s love. God’s love for—the world. God’s beloved children! [2]

But, Jesus does not just describe us all as children. He speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd. We as children—as sheep—hear His voice. But, wait! There’s more! Just as we are ready to shut the gate, Jesus mentions other sheep. Different sheep, not of our sheepfold.

The disciples must have been really confused by this time. Not only have these past few days been really emotional, but the band of disciples know they are in a tough spot. A dangerous situation. They all know that their Rabbi Jesus is high on the Enemies of the Jewish Leaders list. Who knows if there will be an official knock at the door, summoning some if not all of them to meet with the Jewish authorities? Jesus had some daring, walking right into Jerusalem on that Passover week.

Yet, what does Jesus do? He prays for His disciples, and for all of those who will believe. He prays a prayer of protection. He prays that these beloved ones of God will be protected from the world. That sounds like a prayer from a mother’s heart. We see a word picture of our Lord Jesus, seeming very much like a mother.

That’s the thing about mothers. (Most mothers, I mean.) It doesn’t matter whether their children are small, or whether they’re grown. It doesn’t matter whether the child is near or far, employed or out of work, healthy or sick. A mother still thinks of her son, her daughter. A mother still prays for her child, no matter where, no matter what.

We are all children of God. God is our Heavenly Father, our Heavenly Parent. We are much beloved by God, and chosen and precious to God. That’s all of us, right here. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, or what we’ve left undone. It doesn’t matter what we look like, or whether we are in poor health, or whether we’re right- or left-handed. God loves us.

But—what about people who haven’t had an ideal relationship with their mothers? I know these things are difficult to think about, and difficult to talk about. However, sometimes they do need to be voiced. These words and experiences are truths for many. Maybe not many here, but for many across the country, and throughout the world. For some children, and for some adults, that is a real and painful reality in their lives.

Every Mother’s Day card or gift, every reminder of Mother’s Day, whether on commercials, in shop windows, or from friends or relatives, is accompanied by a sinking heart, feeling of regret or grief, or perhaps a flash of anger. For all those for whom this is your reality, I grieve with you today. I have several friends for whom this is true. I do feel great compassion and sorrow in my heart, for them and for those who still suffer.

I turn back to Barbara Lundblad. She says, “we hear Jesus praying as a mother worried for her children. “I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus said. You are my own and I will be with you forever.” Jesus, who will not let us down, who will walk right by our sides.

I hear echoes of the most comforting of Psalms here. Psalm 23, which Jesus must certainly have been familiar with. True, this was King David talking to God, but David’s words have transcended the centuries. His words have been true for oh, so many. “Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil.” Why? Because God is walking right at our sides.

Finally, David says, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Do you hear? That is what Jesus wants for us. God’s transformative love for us will shine through. We, as God’s beloved children, are going to dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.
That’s the long view. Now, how can we use these words in our lives, today?

This is the wondrous mystery revealed to theologian Julian of Norwich in the 14th century. This well-educated Christian woman devoted her life to God through study and contemplation of scripture. She wrote a theological treatise in a day when not many people were well-educated, much less women. Her words have now become a hymn that we could sing today: “Mothering God, you gave me birth. Mothering Christ, you took my form. Mothering Spirit, nurturing One.” [3] God is so much more than we ever could imagine.

Alleluia to God, heavenly Parent of us all. Amen.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/04/year-c-seventh-sunday-of-easter-may-8.html

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2851

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2851

(Thanks to Barbara Lundblad and Carolyn Brown for their words and ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

Healing of the Nations

“Healing of the Nations”

Rev 22 leaves of tree

Revelation 22:1-5 – May 1, 2016

When some people take trips, they often take tours. Large tours, with a large group of people, or sometimes a small, intimate tour. When you go on a trip to a different town or an exciting place, don’t you enjoy tours? When I went to Washington D.C. last May to see my daughter, we went to the National Cathedral. We went on one of the behind-the-scenes tours there, and were in a small, intimate group that went through the cathedral from top to bottom. Fascinating information! And such a gorgeous, awe-inspiring place, too!

We can think of today’s Scripture passage in that light. John was on a tour of the new heavens and the new earth. He was getting a personal tour from an angel, showing him all the awe-inspiring highlights of the new-created Holy City.

This new creation is going to be great! Just from the short description here, I can sort of, almost imagine how intricate, how detailed, and full of splendor that new Holy City will be. Can’t you? Reading from the end of Revelation 21: “22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.”

This City is not only full of glory and splendor, but, wait—there’s more. Much more!

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.” Did you hear? The river of life, and the tree of life, with leaves for healing of the nations.

Let’s start with the river of life. That life-giving river is free for any to draw from. We can follow the allusion to the river or water of life, throughout the Bible. In Genesis 2, a river watered the Garden of Eden and made it fruitful. In Ezekiel 47, the prophet spoke of a river flowing through the Temple. Zechariah 14 mentions “Living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem.” And in John 7, our Lord Jesus says, “Out of the heart of the one who believes in Me shall flow rivers of living water.”

John mentioned the tree of life here in Revelation. There are not as many allusions in the Bible to a tree of life, but there are two. The tree of life is found in the Garden of Eden, in Genesis 3. And, in Ezekiel 47, the prophet describes the tree of life at some length. So similar to the description here in Revelation!

This healing aspect of the tree of life really intrigued me. Yes, in the time of the new heavens and the new earth, we will receive life from both the life-giving river and the life-giving tree. But, healing? Who doesn’t need healing, in some way, somehow? Especially now, in this fallen, imperfect world. Individuals need healing in many important ways. Physical healing, yes. But also psychological healing. Emotional healing. And, spiritual healing.

We are not in that time of the new heavens and new earth, though. We are still in the in-between time. Sometimes today, certain churches and ministries teach the children of God that God our Heavenly Parent actually makes us sick.

According to these churches, God has given us diabetes, cancer or depression to teach us something. Or, God allowed, even orchestrated neglect, trauma or abuse to take place to somehow make us a better Christian. As if God would ever do such a thing!

In the Bible, we learn about God healing various people. Time after time in the Gospels, Jesus heals individuals in body, mind and spirit. Just like the tree of life, with leaves for healing. Healing, upbuilding leaves. When we enlarge that healing to groups of people, of nations, there can be healing of relationships, healing of resentments, healing of hatred and animosity. To reference the book of Isaiah, God will settle all disputes, and see that every sword is beaten into a plowshare. No one will ever need to fight or go to war anymore.

This is just one aspect of group healing or national healing. But, there is more! I am so appreciative of the point of view of a commentary I consult from time to time, The African American Lectionary. [1] In it, Reverend Michael Lomax gives a short background and history of healing services. How these services over the years have allowed and provided African Americans hope; “hope to endure racial discrimination, economic exploitation, and emotional trauma, debilitating physical illnesses, death, and ruptures in relationships.”

Thank goodness that—in many places across the country—conditions have improved. Not only African Americans, but all people of color are often able to, in the words of Rev. Lomax, “have access to various modes of physical, mental, and emotional healing, including advanced health care and various kinds of counselors. Still, healing services continue to be a mainstay in African American congregations, where worship leaders invite the community to look beyond problems to catch a glimpse of God’s plan for restoration.”

Here we are, in the in-between time. We are not yet in the time that John talks about in this passage today, the time of the new heavens and new earth. We cannot see the crystal clear river, or smell the sweet, medicinal odor of the leaves on the tree. Not yet!

However, God has given us promises. God has given us a plan. God’s plan for restoration.  In the here and now, in the in-between time, God does heal, in any one of a number of ways. As Rev. Lomax says, “God’s healing may not include a cure of our immediate ailments. Instead, God’s healing may provide resources for us to press on in spite of our ailments. In healing services, God awakens the hope that allows us to live with grace and dignity in the present, even as we await God’s ultimate transformation of our brokenness in the future.“

What do we hear from this passage today? This word picture of a life-giving tree that bears fruit every season and is fed by a crystal river that flows out of the throne?  Sure, we have an abstract message about the fullness of eternal life. Sure, it is a complicated picture of life. However, the world will be transformed. It is completely as God intends it to become.

We can ask a follow-up question: how would this picture of the end of the world help Christians who are having hard times now? I think this picture would give believers hope. Hope in God, and praise for hope in God’s name on the foreheads of the redeemed.

As Rev. Lomax says, “God’s ‘healthcare plan’ provides equal access to wholeness and does not simply favor those who are already powerful and privileged. The healing leaves that God offers in this scene are as accessible as the river that flows. The healing supplied is not only an individual experience but also a communal experience because the leaves are “… for the healing of the nations” (22:2).”

Yes, this visionary tour of the new creation by our angelic tour guide gives us hope for the present. Hope for provision of strength. Praise be to God! God’s healing is here and now. And, God’s healing is something we all can look forward to!

God willing, may God’s healing come on earth as it is in heaven. Alleluia, amen!
[1] Michael R. Lomax, Guest Lectionary Commentator, Associate Minister, Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church, Nashville, TN,  http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=4

(Thank you to Rev. Michael Lomax and to the African American Lectionary for their excellent insights into Revelation 22:1-5.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)