Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bible study, Easter 6/May 29, 2011

John 14:15-21

15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18 "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

Chapter 14 of John's gospel is set in an interesting context: the Last Supper. In this long speech (that goes on for several chapters) Jesus seems to be telling the disciples several things he probably told them already, but this is his last chance to make sure it stuck.

Jesus has just told the 11 disciples (Judas has left the table to betray him) that he is leaving to prepare a place for them, and he, the way, the truth, and the life, will lead them there to be with him. In this part of the story, he promises that he will not leave them "orphaned" but that he will come back, AND another Advocate will also be with them.

There is a contrast here between those who are connected with/identified with Jesus (those who keep the commandments) and those who are disconnected ("the world"). Greek cosmology depends on dualism, and we see that creeping into the Christian Testament writings: Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, the flesh or the spirit. Here John labels those who are not connected to Jesus "the world", although of course those who keep the commandments and thus are connected to Jesus live in the world as well.

Christians have sometimes said "We don't need the law, we have Jesus" or "The Hebrew Testament and all those laws don't apply to us, we're saved". Jesus, a faithful and educated Jew, says no such thing; yet in our time, we Christians do not observe Jewish law (except for rather many of them which we know to be good for our life!)

What, do you think, is the role of God's law in the life of a person of faith, today? What does it mean to "keep" a commandment, and what do we do when we fail? How are we known as Christians--is it because we keep God's law, or by something else? Are there some commands that we have to keep, and others that are optional?

(To comment, click the "comment" button at the bottom of each post, and you'll be directed to a box for comments. Thanks!)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is There a Pastor in the House?

I'm always interested in, sometimes even amused by, people's response when "The Pastor" walks in. There's a range of responses:

"Hurry and stop sinning; the pastor's here and she'll tell God what we're doing."

These people obviously do not know me well, but if they'd give me a chance I might join in the so-called "sinning" (they could at least buy me a margarita, don't you think?). Besides which, God does not need me to tattle; nor do I stand in the place of God, certainly not to be judgmental about cussing, drinking, smoking, dancing, or playing cards (one of the many things I love about being Lutheran!)

Followed closely by: "Let's be polite, but not too nice; maybe she won't stay long."

A related story: when I was in seminary, one of my high school friends said, "I hope you'll forgive me, but if I ever see you walking around with one of those things around your neck, I'm crossing the street!" Well, I do wear a neckband clergy collar when I want people to know the pastor IS in the house; but hardly ever just for walking down the street! And not in my hometown.

"Guilty! How many reasons can I think of for not having attended worship for so long, and will she buy any of them?"
My role as pastor is really not to be an attendance clerk; you don't get an award for perfect attendance, you don't get penalized for less. I do take attendance, of course, for the purpose of pastoral care: if your worship pattern is different from "the usual", I might check in with you to find out why. Worship attendance is important to me because it's the only way I can be faithful. Left to my own devices, I would not remember to believe in God, but the community and the rhythm of the week, including Sunday worship, keep me accountable to my own spiritual well-being and my connectedness with the Divine. That isn't true for everyone, probably, but for some, yes. (I do appreciate hearing the reasons, by the way; good way to catch up, even in a store aisle.)

"Thank God, she's here!"

Sometimes, there is actually relief that I have arrived at all, even if the people don't know me, even if they weren't sure they wanted me there, even if they won't see me again. Funeral homes, hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions can be scary places, and if you're there and you've called me, it probably isn't your best day. I have wondered why pastors become so important in those moments, what I can really do, what it means for people who are otherwise disconnected from me or any other spiritual community. But there is something about the official-ness of the pastor--we call it "the office of pastor"--that reminds people that God indeed is present. I didn't bring God with me in a way God was not before; but awareness is heightened, attitudes shifted, hope increased when I, a visual reminder of something spiritual, walk in. I do believe all of us who are faithful, who know, at least part of the time, that we belong to God, have this awesome privilege and responsibility. We carry Christ with us, living our lives in ways that Christ is made known, made visible, to people who so long to encounter him.

So don't be surprised to see me. I go a lot of places in the course of a day. You might want to practice your response, or think about why you respond the way you do, as I expect it has more to do with you than with me. I'll be around, and I look forward to seeing you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bible study, Easter 5/May 22, 2011

So, welcome to The Bible Study. I'm going to post some thoughts about the preaching text for this week, and rely on your comments to help me shape the sermon. So, please--make some comments!

Here's the story for May 22:

John 14:1-14

1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going." 5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him." 8 Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, "Show us the Father'? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

I can only imagine how exasperating it must be for Jesus to have to keep answering the same questions, asked by the same disciples, over and over again. They still don't get it, and things are moving along at a fast pace toward his end.

Yet Jesus keeps these same people near him, still trusts them for the work he has called them to, even though it turns out maybe he should have called some references. But God has made some promises, and Jesus is here to fulfill them. For this sermon, I'm thinking about how God is loyal to US, how God keeps promises even when we don't keep ours or don't claim the ones God offers. Jesus is the way, the truth, the life; Jesus prepares a place for us to live with God; whatever we ask will be given. These are amazing promises.

Why do you think God bothers with us at all?
How have you seen these promises fulfilled in your life?
How do we still struggle with the "not yet/already" nature of God's promises, as Thomas and Philip seem to do?
What does it feel like when God "takes you back"?

Thanks for your input!