Sunday, July 31, 2016

What Makes You Know It's Jesus?

What Makes You Know It’s Jesus
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
July 31, 2016
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Exodus 3: 7-15
Luke 24: 18-31
Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives   
For your eyes show the way
    Your mind knows the truth
    Your being is the life.

18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

Do you remember the old commercials for Tootsie Roll pops? There was this wise old owl and he was challenged with finding out how many licks it would take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop. He would start counting. . . one. . . two-hoo. . . and then crunch. . . he would bite into it. He just couldn’t wait to get to that chocolatey center, and so the official scientific discovery would have to wait. . . the chocolate was just too tempting. I bring this up because this image best describes I think certain aspects of my youth class from this week at Bible School. The name of the class was “Images of Jesus” and the idea was that I would show them pictures of Jesus from art work, and we could see how the many different ways that Jesus has been depicted throughout time. We’d start with paintings and then branch off into movie depictions, writings, songs, etc. I took a class like this at seminary, and I found it very rewarding. . . and I had taught an adult study based on the idea here, too, but I hadn’t ever taught a group of teens. I thought I was up for the challenge, and I think it was valuable, but I had an idea after the first day that I wish I would have done, and this is where the Tootsie Roll Pop commercial comes into play. I wish as an introduction to the class, I would have played a variation on Pictionary, you know the game where you draw a picture to try and get them to guess the word. . . in this variation all of the words would be Jesus, and they would have to draw Jesus. . . and then as soon as it was guessed. . . they would stop. . . and then maybe we would get an understanding of what the definitive marking is for Jesus. . . what is the point in a picture where you go, “I got it that is Jesus. I recognize him now.” I think playing that game would have helped some. . . to introduce the idea that certain things tip us off immediately in recognizing a picture of Jesus, but like the Owl and the tootsie roll pop, we jump right over them, without taking the time to think about it.

I want you to picture Jesus in your head. What is it about the mental picture in your head that makes him Jesus? Is it the beard? The piercing blue eyes? The knowing smile? The kindness written on his expression? What is it that makes this picture of someone, Jesus? Is he on the cross? Does he have the markings of crucifixion, like holes in his hands? Does his action reveal him as Jesus? Is he doing one of those Jesusy things from the gospels? Is he hanging on the cross? Is he clothed in white sparkling samite. . . during the course of the week, we also played a game, where we did some categories. . . I asked the question. . . if Jesus walked into the room right now, what would be the first thing that Jesus would say to you? What would that be for you? Would he tell you everything is going to be alright? Would he say he loves you? Would he say keep calm and follow me? Or would his knowing eye, seem to look right through you into your soul. . . all at once making you feel all the guilt you have, for every questionable thing you’ve ever done? It’s an interesting question. . . how do you see Jesus? Who is he to you? Where does that image come from? The gospels are filled with so many different encounters of people with Jesus, and they all react to Jesus in just as many different ways. And I faced this question this week, who was Jesus to you when you were 13? How is he the same? How has he changed?

The question about what Jesus looks like is an interesting one because no one really knows. There was no polaroid snapping paparazzi in the first century, no facebook, no google images. . . no Roman celebrity mugshots making it on the Imperial DMZ. We have no idea what Jesus looked like, but yet it is something that has puzzled, inspired, and divided people for centuries. So much so that there were people in the 13th century who believed that a cloth that wiped the blood and sweat from Jesus’ face, left somehow the imprint of Jesus’s face, from which they could tell what he looked like. My kids this week thought that was crazy. . . but lest we find the people in the 13th century to be so gullible and naïve. . . go ahead and google “The Shroud of Turin” and you will find similar claims being made even today. . . people are so desperate for clarity on the likeness of their savior that there are actually people who swear that this cloth leaves behind something definitively shows what Jesus looks like. . . . There is also a computer created image. . . that I guess is based on Jewish. . . mid-eastern DNA. . . it is what Jesus is supposed to really look right. . . and of course there are folks who say it must be accurate because it is science and DNA. . .this is the definitive picture of Jesus, so what if he kinda looks like a cave man. . . and if you find this image, which is everywhere on the internet, you will also find people using it, using the picture to claim Jesus and to ridicule others. . . Of course everything on the internet these days does that. You find people asking, would you follow a Jesus who looks like this, no beard, no blondish brown hair, no piercing blue eyes? What would your answer be? Of course on Sunday, here in church, asked by a preacher, you’d say yes, of course right? But really would you? What is it that makes us follow Jesus? What is it that makes us know it is Jesus?

This question of image is important not only because we are a vision oriented species, and need to see to believe, but also because there are so many references to ‘image’ in the Bible. There is the first in the first chapter of Genesis, where it emphatically states that humans were made in the image of God. And then again in the ten commandments, when it states, that we are not to make any graven images of God, nor worshipping them as idols. Both of these it would seem are important when discussing visual representations of Jesus, too. We can see in the Christian history of images of Jesus a tendency towards idolatry of the images. And we see the backlash against such things, like during the Reformation when depictions, seen as idols where burned and destroyed. What is the trouble with images. . . why are they forbid in the Ten Commandments? Is it just because God is a jealous God and doesn’t want any competition? Or is the reason much more for our benefit?

I’ve always come at this question from the standpoint that it is for our good because God knows us so well and our tendencies. There are two major problems that are inherent to images, paintings, and photographs and the human relationship to them. The first is the very natural idea of the limitation of an image. . . the oneness. . . the fact that if God is this, or looks like this, then he cannot look like that. . . He created us as a visual species, and we are dominated by our sight. When we see something it is hard to unsee it, and it becomes an image burned into our psyche making it hard for us to see anything else. The bearded, blue eyed Jesus is a prime example of this. How many of you when I asked you to picture Jesus had that image come to mind, but that image is not at all close to historically accurate? How many of you could envision a Jesus another way, maybe another race, maybe a black Jesus, or even a Chinese Jesus, but again if you google it you will see those images. . . yes even a Chinese Jesus, but to be honest the beard does make its way to China. . . . so when we see a picture of something it becomes for us definitive of the thing itself, and that can be problematic because we may miss something truly wondrous about God or Jesus that does not fit our pictures. . . I’ve used this metaphor a number of times. . . because other things can become definitive for us,  not just pictures, sometimes miracles. . . and if you experience God in one way, then you expect to always in that same way. . . that would be like someone waiting at the Red Sea for it to part again. . . you might be waiting awhile. You can see the limitations of image.

The other issue is with an image because of its limitations it can be used and wielded. I’ve already talked about the strife on the internet, but our history is fraught with use of the image. All the way back to the Roman times. . . Constantine had a vision that said, you will conquer under this sign. . . the sign of the cross. . . and since then we have been fighting and fighting against the battle over the use of images, their power, and how we wield them. It’s dangerous because it is so subtle. Often times we don’t even know we are doing it, and the image becomes divisive, and needlessly so because there need not be any limit to what God and Jesus mean to people. These limitations are man-made not God-made. . . just like the images are man made.

Except for one. . . that is. . . the image of God. . . . we are each made in the image of God.. . and in that way we should see God when we see each other. Think of the many faces then God would have and could assume. . . and if this connection wasn’t enough. . . he also sent his son, Jesus Christ to don a face, a face that we would know, a face that we know, even if we don’t recognize it in one face. . . in this morning’s New Testament lesson, two of Jesus’ followers were walking along the road, they were joined by someone they did not know, did not recognize in outward appearance, it was not until Jesus broke bread that they could see him for who he was. This is the image that we must remember. . . loving service. . . Augustine said,

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.

And the greatest image of Jesus Christ is love. . . let us bear that image as the body of Christ, and just as importantly to see that image in all of those that surround us. Amen.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Joseph in Egypt Land (Walk Like an Egyptian)

Joseph in Egypt Land

(Walk Like an Egyptian)

Day 1

When Joseph was a little boy

He was one of twelve brother’s man

They sold him out (O ay O)

He woke up on a caravan

In Egypt land Joe found himself

In service of his master man

He had a wife (O ay O)

Joe ended up in the Prisian

He knew the themes of the jailer’s dreams, yeah

Ay O way O, O ay way O

Walk like an Egyptian

Day 2

It took a while but word spread
Joe knew what dreams were all about
When Pharaoh called (O ay O)
He told him about the coming drought

You better start acting now
By storing up all the grain you can
Then you’ll be set (O ay O)
When famine descends on your land

 It wasn’t me but God you see, so

Ay O way O, O ay way O

Walk like an Egyptian

Day 3

Joseph was now moving up

From Prison heat to the Palace fan,

He wisely ruled, (O ay O)

He’d become the king’s right hand man

He saved and stored up one fifth

Of all the crops while the Nile flowed

So when it stopped (O ay O)

The food he’d saved was quite a load

God gives where wisdom lives, so

Ay O way O, O ay way O

Walk like an Egyptian

Day 4

Remember Joe had 12 bro’s

Yeah, the ones who had sold him out

They were starved (O ay O)

They had no warning of the drought

They found their way to Egypt Land

And bowed before our hero man

What would he do (O ay O)

Forgiveness was in his plan

God’s love comes from above, yeah

Ay O way O, O ay way O

Walk like an Egyptian

Day 5

Joseph’s life was filled with ups

But in between there were also downs

But through it all (O ay O)

God’s steadfast love always abounds

And after many years apart

Joe finally had a family again

They’ll sing and dance (O ay O)

And learned to walk like Egyptians

They’re in his debt, hope they don’t forget, sing

Ay O way O, O ay way O

Walk like an Egyptian

You Can't Be Wrong

You Can’t Be Wrong

A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

July 24, 2016

at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia

Isaiah 40: 27-31

1 John 3: 18-24

Let us pray,

Help us to see despite our eyes

Help us to think outside of our minds

Help us to be more than our lives   

For your eyes show the way

    Your mind knows the truth

    Your being is the life.


I was having trouble finding full speeches from Shakespeare to use each week. There are still a couple I want to eventually do, but they don’t fit the times, and I think it is important to have it be right. I mean it would have been hard last week to ignore all of the things going on in the world just to fit an artificial sermon series plan I thought up back in June, and with Bible School this week, I think it is a good time for a pep talk. I looked over my sermons from the Sunday ahead of Bible School the last two years, and it is what I did. So a pep talk. . . I was looking for. . . there are some good ones, but they aren’t about taking the week to welcome some kids to Christ, to give of ourselves, and our time, to have a rewarding week of smiles, crafts, laughter, silly song, sillier games, instead they were about “screwing our courage to the sticking place,” or going “once more into the breach” and though the second, another from Henry V, leading his outnumbered men once again into the fight may seem appropriate, especially at about 11:15 or so on Wednesday or Thursday, when we are tired, and hopelessly outnumbered, by the pitter patters of so many pairs of little feet. . . or maybe we would almost feel like taking Lady Macbeth’s advice at that moment, but neither of those famous pep talks are quite right. So I thought that I would like to step away from the full speeches from Shakespeare, but still continue to some extent, with some of the shorter, but still more meaningful lines and famous lines. So many of our clichés and sayings come from Shakespeare and we hardly know it. So this week I took a line from Measure for Measure, it says,

                                 . . . Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.

Somehow that seemed really appropriate because many of us who will be working this week I’m sure are wondering if they made the right decision volunteering, or succumbing to so little arm twisting, thinking they should have held out for more. . . I want to say unequivocally this morning, “It will be fine. You are perfect for what you are doing. You will be great, and this week will mean so much to you, some kid, and to this church, and I’m sure God will be smiling. For we will be putting our love to work. . . and our hearts know, and the Bible of course teaches, that love is very much an action verb. Here check this out, from 1 John 3: 18-24.

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Here we are again, back to love and loving our neighbor, but this time we jump into the idea of loving, not in word or speech, but in truth and action, and if we look deeper into these verses we hear much of same idea that Shakespeare was getting at, and we again can wonder if Shakespeare was taking his idea directly from the Bible because here is not exactly the same thing, but rather the perfect flipside of what Shakespeare says. He says that doubts are traitors to the good, making that good go away because the action was never taken. . . often Hamlet’s lines echo these, but what John’s letter is talking about is the boldness that faith gives when love turns from words to action. Faith gives that boldness, freeing us, reassuring us, and filling up our tanks. There is a real fuel that comes when you are doing exactly the thing you are called to do in any given moment. It is tangible and palpable and real. It is truly an amazing feeling. We might get some of those this week, working with these kids.

I can say that looking back over the last two Bible Schools we held here, I have had them. Can you remember back to before we tried it? We hadn’t done something like that in a long time. We weren’t sure if we were going to have kids. I wasn’t sure that we were going to have the volunteers, but DeAnna said, let’s go, and we did. And it all fell into place. That first year we had 25 or so kids, and they were all related to folks of the church in some way, grandkids, nephews, cousins, etc. . . but they were here. And it was a great week. We had puppet shows, and the songs were great, Workshop of Wonders. The next year we added some kids from the area, which was cool, and stayed steady with the numbers. Camp Discovery. . . remember we had a little rigged up camp fire with a fan and some toilet paper rolls and some red, orange, and yellow tissue paper. It’s cool what you can do on a budget. . . and we did, more smiles, more memories, more songs stuck in your head. . . there somewhere in your head, for the rest of your life, if someone says a song, or just the words, it will be there, and once you bring it to mind, it’ll be days until you can shake loose from it. “The Lord gives wisdom, courage, and understanding. . . and that’s the truth.” . . . . . . . I couldn’t be more proud of what we have been able to accomplish together. Thank you all for everything that you have done to make it all happen. It has truly been a team effort and will be again this week.

Imagine though if we had allowed our doubts to rule us. . . if we were to allow the, well, but what if. . . or I don’t think it will work, or we don’t have the kids, we’re an aging congregation afterall. . . imagine what good wouldn’t have been, and we would have been traitors to that good. . . but we weren’t. . . so now then we can build off of that success. . . we can be bold. I don’t have any doubts now that we can pull this off, that this week will be an amazing time. . . some bumps along the way sure. . . but an amazing time, and one that is good, and important, and fun, and memorable. . . and to tell you the truth it has to work, it has to be good, because we are offering ourselves in love. . . we are putting truth into action. . . and that should and does give us boldness. . . It does right?

I find that I often try to stay away from “action steps” when I am preaching. I’ve always felt that laying a good foundation, plants seeds, and that those seeds can grow into many different flowers, and too much direction could limit the growth. If I were to say, well because I said this, then you all will need to do this. . . and then we will get here. . . but what if we were supposed end up somewhere else. . . what if there were separate callings we are having? What if my interpretation is right, but my application is much more narrow than it should be. I don’t want to limit it. . . and I’ve also been on the other side of the pulpit, and have been turned off by someone saying from this power position. . . you need to do this. . . or you need to do that. . . there may be a place for it, but in my experience it is often overdone, and it is something that I am wary of. So I am treading lightly today. . . or trying to. . . but on the other hand, there is much more to the Christian life than simple discerning. . . and I spend so much of my preaching time talking about discernment. . . the listening for the word of God to tell you, what is it that I am to do, who am I and what am I supposed to do? That is the question we all seem to be asking. . . but once that discernment comes. . . when you know, when you feel called. . . when you know what you are being called to do, and it is time to move forward and do it. . . looking back over my time here, I don’t think I have put much time into those pieces of the puzzle. . . that side of the ship. The I got it, but now what part. . . the taking the steps. . . the putting the call into action. . . the, to quote John’s letter. . . the truth in action piece.

So when I am teaching my class at Blue Ridge, we spend a lot of time on discernment. . . who am I and what am I supposed to do. . . what are human beings, and what are we called to do. . . is it all one thing or are we each called to different? Or is it some kind of mix of both? But then eventually we get to the next step. . . so you know who you are and what you are supposed to be. . . now the next step is to Resolve to do it, to be it. . . this is important because action comes from the will. . . we are given free will, and we exercise that will. . .

We Presbyterians believe that our exercising of the will to do good is in response. . . God has loved us. . . saved us. . . and out of a gracious heart we bend our will to the good, not because we must, but because we may. . . as my communion invitation goes. . . so this free will that we put forward is about resolving, and resolving is two part. . . there is the deciding to do, and then there is the commitment of and in the doing. There is the first step, there may not be a second step, you’ll get to that one in a minute, but I am resolving to take that first step and you do. . . now what happens as a result of that first step. . . are you rewarded, punished, or sometimes worse. . . what is just nothing. . . just bleh. . . no change, nothing happened. . . it seemed like a complete and total waste. . . and your resolve is tested. . . which I think then comes the last part of this puzzle. . . and that is perseverance. . . to take the next step after that, no matter what. . . to commit to the action because you discerned that you were called to it. That is the cycle. . . discern. . . resolve. . . persevere. Don’t you think that is true? You figure out what you are going to do. . . you begin doing it. . . then whatever comes along you stick it out. . . that I believe is the beautiful process of faith, and putting faith into truth and action. . . and when done “decently and in order” like that, in theory, you can’t be wrong. . . you go forward in boldness because your action started with God.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Even to the Edge of Doom

Even to the Edge of Doom

A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

July 17, 2016

at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia

1 Kings 3: 16-28

Matthew 22: 34-40

Let us pray,

Help us to see despite our eyes

Help us to think outside of our minds

Help us to be more than our lives   

For your eyes show the way

    Your mind knows the truth

    Your being is the life.


One of the things that I discovered on my vacation was the music from Hamilton, the blockbuster hip hop infused broadway musical that is finishing up its original cast run in the past few weeks. People had told me how good it is, but I didn’t have time to listen to it, but I did during the time off. The music and lyrics are really impressive, and the story is cool to me being historical and cleverly done. I had always wrote off Hamilton as the founding father to blame for the Banks and the run amok power of the central government. I knew he was one of George Washington’s to quote the play, Right Hand Man, but beyond that I didn’t know much, being more of a Jeffersonian type, but there is much more to the story, and I’m in, I want to study more and read more about him. But the reason I bring it up is that there is one song in it where Jefferson, who has been serving as the ambassador to France has been away, and then returns to serve in Washington’s cabinet. . . and the name of the song is “What Did I Miss?” and he had missed it all. . . the whole Constitutional Convention and all of that stuff. . . he missed a lot, and comes back to a bunch of battles and squabbles over the finer points of how to govern the new nation. . . one of the lines is, “What did I miss I come home to a political abyss. .  . .” I felt that was appropriate for this morning to start it off. . . because while we were away at the beach, what in the world happened in the world. . .

I mean where to we start? I think it was my last morning when the Orlando shootings took place, but since then it has been non stop. . . the news can barely keep up. Clinton with the Attorney General, the FBI chief being questioned, all overshadowed by 2 more black men being killed by cops, followed by a sniper targeting and killing the police in Dallas. . .the internet blowing up about which lives actually matter. . . protests stopping traffic. . . and then in Nice, France a truck driven by a man claimed as an ISIS soldier drives through a crowd of innocent people celebrating Bastille Day, killing at least 80 some. . .the number seems to keep rising, and then there is a coup attempt in Turkey. . . and it seems we still have to choose between Trump or Hillary Clinton for President. . . does that about cover it all. . . I hesitate to call the list complete because as just a little bit of time goes by, the chances to have to add to the list grow. . . are we still good. . . don’t check your phones.

With all of this going on, I thought it might be good to get back to the basics. . . so here is Jesus answering the question about what is the most important commandment. . . to which he answers with the two fold commandment of love. . . here is Matthew 22: 34-40

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

How do we feel about this right now? How do we feel about love? How is our faith in the supreme power of love these days when division and terrorism and control and fear and hate and everything else seems so much more strong than love? Do we still feel that Loving our Neighbor and Loving God is enough. . . enough to do to solve all the problems that the world is throwing at us? How is our faith in that? IN the God so Loved the World that he gave his only son. . . stuff? The loving our enemies stuff? The City on a hill? The salt? The eyes on the sparrow stuff, or the lilies of the field? What do we consider these days when we look at those lilies? Do we just see them wither and fade? As I was trying to figure out whether to stay with the Shakespeare theme or move on. . . there are still quotes I want to get to, but none of them seemed to fit this morning. . . I decided to branch off into the Sonnets, because Shakespeare like many poets writes often about love. . . but he really gets at something with Sonnet 116 that spoke to me in this moment. Let me read it now, but it is also printed in the bulletin.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

There are so many powerful lines in this. . . Love “is an ever fixed mark,” it looks on “tempests and is never shaken.” We are certainly in a tempest now. . . the winds of war blowing all around us, and the winds of division flowing all between us. . . can we love? Is love enough to stand in those winds? Love “is the star to every wandering bark.” We are certainly lost now, wandering. . . we look for leadership and find dividers, liars, and frauds. . .we wander towards one then the other. . . grasping at straws in hopes that well we gave that idea a chance let’s try the other. . .  we look for ways forward, and find ourselves up against critics at every turn, and every reason against what we feel we should do. Let’s do this. . .and the chorus resounds, nah that will never work, but yet no one replaces the thrown away idea with a better one. . .  can’t go this way, don’t know where it leads, can go that way, that is sure defeat, can’t go backwards, we’ve been there already. . . that’s lost right. That’s wandering right. It would be nice to have a fixed star, but that requires a faith that we are struggling with these days. There was once a time when love was the answer but no more. . . the world has gotten beyond such silly fancies, grown up, no longer innocent enough to be saved by something so simple as love. . . .look, Shakespeare, speaks to that too. . . “Love is not time’s fool. . . it alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom.” Even to the edge of doom. . . love stands, so it would seem that we are the wavering wandering ones, but that love is that ever fixed mark. . . still there as a possibility, that it is never too late, even to the edge of doom. And then he swears to it, he says, “If this be error and upon me proved, /  I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

So Shakespeare here gives his testimony that love is still the answer, and on it swears his writing. That’s quite a swear, much better than him having Romeo swear to the moon to Juliet, the ever changing inconstant moon. . .  because none of that would then even exist. None of his writings would mean anything if love were not the ever constant and fixed mark, that still has power and meaning all the way to the edge of doom. . . . well here we are, does his testimony help? Or is Christ’s words and sacrifice enough? Is our own experience with love enough? Have we seen its power up close in our lives? Has it sustained us? Do we know it deeply in our hearts? It’s there. . . it’s always there. . . why because God made the world that way. . . his love fills every inch of this world, even when it is blowing out of seeming control, even so, even now.

So if that is the case, how are we here? How has it gotten this bad? Has love failed us? Or have we a long time ago accepted less than love. . . has love gotten so watered down that it is not enough anymore because it isn’t really love anymore. . . its just a word that has no meaning. . . an idea. . . red and pink card on a Hallmark Card long since thrown in the trash? Why isn’t love enough because we attribute the word enough to love. . . we think we’ve done enough. . . we think that we’ve loved enough. . . we think that we have done our love duty and can rest, but that is the thing with a love that goes to the edge of doom, there is no such thing as enough, unless you are there with love at the edge of doom loving. Our world has missed the mark because we have missed the mark, and we have outsourced our responsibilities to love our neighbor to others, to institutions, to those “bigger” than ourselves, and when they fail we think that love was not enough, and we know we can blame it on them, because they wanted us to outsource to them, because it gave them power and importance, and control, but love is not something that works better when “Better people” are doing it. . . because there is no such thing as “better people” with love. God made us all with the ability to love in our own way, and no one could ever do it for us better than we can. God made us all in his image and told us to be fruitful and multiply, and then he said in the culmination of time through Jesus Christ that the greatest of these commandments is to love our neighbor and to love God. . . not to let our neighbors love for us, but for us to love our neighbors. . . and love like that, lasts all the way to the edge of doom and is never enough. . . and  nothing else, nothing less, nothing easier, nothing more elaborate, and grandiose, and global is ever going to be enough either. . . . simply love.

Now. . . I got to the end of writing that and I thought, how trite, and redundant and open ended that was ever going to be, and I realized I hadn’t yet said anything about the Solomon passage from 1 Kings that Paula read this morning. . . Take each of those three characters, let’s do the two easier ones first. 1. The real mother: She loves her baby. . .her son. . . enough to go to the edge of doom for her son, and the edge of doom for her is to let this other woman steal her baby and raise him, as long as the baby lives. . . to sacrifice the truth for that child’s life. . . That’s the edge of doom for her, that is her sacrifice, and she willingly goes there, for love. 2. Now look at Solomon, and this story is given as a definition of wisdom, and wisdom is something we surely need these days. How can you tell the difference between love and love, or love and a lie, how do we know the right loving path forward, when we are being told all different kind of things. It seems like the basis of love that Solomon sees here is, who is letting it all fall apart, and who cares enough to try to hold it all together the pieces. We look at some of these questions and apply it to our world. . . who are the voices that are tearing things apart, and who are the voices that are pulling things together, and how can we begin to be the voices that are pulling things together ourselves. And then we get to the third character. . . the other mother. . .the villain of this story. And it’s a little bit harder to identify with her. But we have to look at the context of her. She’s not somebody who woke up in the morning and decided she wanted to steal someone else’s kid, instead she is somebody who woke up in the morning and found her own kid dead. And had that much emptiness in her heart, that she was willing to do anything to fill that emptiness, even if at the cost of somebody else. In a round about way you could say that that is love too. But it’s the kind of love that tears things apart. . . the kind of love, well I’m loving them but at expense of these others, that’s more of the problem where we are. If we are loving out of a place of emptiness, where we are willing to step on everyone else who may get in our way in the process, then we are more of the problem. We have that enough in this world. . . but no we have to love our neighbor. . .

And why our neighbor, why does Jesus use that word, neighbor, instead of every body, or the entire world. Why doesn’t Jesus say we are to love everyone? What is the deal with neighbor? I’ve wrestled with that a lot, and I’m not sure, except that neighbor seems to have a local idea. . .that we love outward from the local center instead of so far apart trying to love the entire world so you can’t really love anyone. . . it’s one of those interesting things, that loving one person all the way to the edge of doom, is so much harder than loving the entire world just a little bit. Loving one person all the way to the edge of doom, is so much harder than loving the entire world just a little bit. Dostoyevski has a character like this in The Brother’s Karamazov,  he creates this character, Ivan, who loves humanity. He has justice in mind, thinks everyone should be equal, and hates oppression and wishes to shelter the weak, hates God for allowing evil into the world. He loves humanity, but he hates people, because people never live up to his ideals and standards. He can’t stand people, they are disgusting and horrible. There is wisdom in that too, can we love the people around us so much that it just expounds in love and people can see it? I think that is the only chance we have, the only hope we have, the only answer we have. It seems so counter productive. We want to save the whole world in one fell swoop. It would have made a lot of sense for Jesus to have taken over the Roman apparatus, to have simply become the new king, the new emperor of Rome. You’d think the son of God could have done that, and then he’d have all that Bureaucracy in place. To put into place the benevolent structure of God’s kingdom himself. But instead he shared meals with people he shouldn’t share meals with. And when faced with the power structures that be, he chose to die on the cross instead. He loves this world all the way to edge and into the doom, only to be raised three days later, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father, from thence he will come to judge the loving and the dead. Amen.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Three Old Fishermen

Three Old Fishermen

They were both fishing in the evening as the sun set to my back,

And I watched, trying to figure out for myself who was the more

Successful, that is if the definition of fishing success is actually

Catching fish because from my experience it may not be the case.

I never saw either catch any fish, though the pelican could have,

Being so far away, certainly been packing them away in his beak,

For it was made for him special to hold more than his belly can,

But I couldn’t see, and so, set my mind imagining his failure in

Tandem with the man to my right. I watched him for hours, sitting,

Beer in hand, line extended out into the surf, waiting, so patiently

For exactly zero bites. Though I didn’t know for sure, I imagine,

He was so patient because the rest of the world moved so fast,

This extended moment was a break from it all, to sit, with nothing

More to do, than to get to sit and wait, and that somehow the reel

And rod made it active enough to be considered doing something.

He couldn’t simply say, “Hey Honey, I’m going to the beach to do

Nothing,” and it had been years since heading to the beach to drink

Beer (as the only attraction) was an acceptable pastime, and fishing,

Therefore, was somehow something enough, and so there he was

Sitting and waiting. In the time I watched him, I never saw him cast,

Nor did I ever see him reel. In fact, I never saw him raise the rod,

Jiggle the line, or bring in the slack enough to check for a bite. No,

He just sat, and waited, taking occasional sips. He didn’t even drink

Aggressively, but rather seemed to wait for that, too, with no need

To rush the buzz. Like an Old Bull, sauntering slowly down a shady

Hill, knowing that what he sought awaited, so he must seek other fruit

Than fish. I wonder if the pelican shares such silly notions, for his

Fishing ritual, is at least as ancient as ours, if not more. Could he,

This avian symbol of insentient freedom, fish to escape, to pass time,

To rewind, to clear his mind, to seek and find, something sublime,

Like we do? His inherited ritual is much more active, gliding, this way,

Then that, just above surface of the water, when something flashing

Beneath, catches his eye, just enough, and he rises up, just enough.

He gets that perfect angle, and dives, disappearing for a moment,

A fish for a split second, before emerging back to the surface, floating,

Wings tucked, like a duck, perfectly still. Is there something to turning

Into what you want to catch, for a moment? We don’t do that, instead

We send our surrogate to lure our prey, a little wiggly worm, or squid,

Or some plastic fish replica, shiny and bright enough to hide a hook.

I wish I could have seen whether he hid some fish in his beak because

Then I would prove my preconceptions about birds, like other animal

Species, that they do not fish for fun, but for food. As fun as it looks,

The flying and the diving, alone and part of a V, it’s necessary to life,

And tied directly to surviving. Do we feel that when we fish, despite

The sport, the escape, or is the escape just that, an escape from life’s

Imposters, for a moment of the real? I don’t think my fisherman, beer

In hand, was seeking such things, but I was—when I headed to the beach

As the sun was sinking behind me, facing my shadow stretching ahead,

Watching a bird and a man fish, seeing with much more than my eyes,

Allowing my imagination to soar, to sit, to dive and to ponder—seeking

A sense of the sublime, and found it in a connected empathetic moment

Of place in my mind, and I will take it with me the next time I go fishing.