It is difficult to pay attention and stay alert with all the stimuli competing for our attention. There’s little wonder that we don’t have much left when it comes to being aware and present. I know this only too well as a parent—my biggest frustration and weakness is screaming coming from the backseat.
Much of what distracts us seems innocuous enough at first: media of whatever form, busy schedules, you know the noise I’m talking about.
We all need help learning how to negotiate, and ultimately minimize, these things.
But I wonder about those distractions that work on us at deeper, more existential level, like concerns about safety and well being, and the future. Or how about that underlying awareness, just at the edge of consciousness that death and destruction, both at home and abroad, is constant, pervasive, and inevitable. It’s so ubiquitous that we’re (almost) numb to it. And yet it eats at us. It’s a constant companion, the source of an underlying anxiety that colors our whole existence. And that anxiety, that ever present fear is a sign of our times.
The tragic events yesterday at the Tree of Life Synagogue weigh heavily on many of our hearts this morning, and it’s hard to know exactly what to say, except to lament with Bartimaeus, “Son of David, have mercy on us.”
I don’t know about you all, but even before yesterday, our reading from Hebrews really spoke to me. Lord knows I am anything but holy, blameless, and undefiled. But that’s not the only reason why this is such a poignant reading. The author of Hebrews, like Paul, is emphatic: the Christian story is part of the larger story that begins with God’s chosen people, the Jews—that story of God bringing the world to redemption through a Jew, our Lord Jesus Christ.
I wonder if you’ve ever felt threatened. I suppose all of us face significant danger in our lives at some point. But I wonder if you’ve ever felt threatened. Can you remember what it was like? What were you afraid of? Were you anxious about losing something or someone? Were you afraid that you or someone important would be harmed? Or were you afraid of what others might think of you? Were you trying to protect something. Maybe it was something valuable, perhaps property, or an heirloom, or a person. Or maybe it was your honor, your reputation, your status.
Hildegard of Bingen was born in 1098 and died in 1179. She was a mystic, a theologian, a physician, and a musician. Called the Sibyl of the Rhine, Hildegard often referred to herself in humble and lowly terms, but it is clear that she was extremely well read, well written, and wise.
Today, Hildegard is perhaps best known for her visions, which she says she experienced in all five senses. She had mystical visions from a very early age through her forties.
She says that in one of these she received a message from God to write out her visions, but was unwilling to do so out of humility. She became extremely ill, and was finally compelled to write her visions, she says, by a noble woman and by St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
In the process of writing a sermon for a funeral this week I thought a lot about what it means to be remade in Christ’s image. The deceased’s family picked Matthew 18 as the first reading, an unusual but terrific decision. Jesus says there, “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
This got me thinking about what we’re becoming. By we, I mean disciples of Jesus: people who have accepted that they stand as sinners in need of God’s forgiveness; people who recognize that they are powerless to bring about the kind of change in themselves that will truly matter; people who have heard and believe that God loves them regardless of their powerlessness.
What happens to us when hear and believe this?
I’m also posting over here, now, as a facet of my job. Head on over as it suits you.
I don’t know about you, but when I read about Paul’s vision of heaven, the first thing I wonder about is not what Paul saw, but what that thorn in his side was.
If Paul were with us today, I’d ask him why he shared that rather personal bit of information about himself. My imagination digresses into all the different possibilities for what might have ailed the apostle.
It seems like it was serious. Paul’s metaphor carries with it something more than just a minor annoyance. In fact, it sounds like it bothered the hell out of him. He was desperate to be rid of it.
Many of you know me well enough to guess the kinds of resources that I considered as I prepared this morning’s sermon. I looked at one of my favorite icons, the Pentecost, which features Mary, seated in the center of the disciples, a dove descends above her, and tongues of fire alight the heads of all.
I thought about works of children’s literature. I even thought for a brief moment about incorporating yesterday’s royal wedding! But the readings from Acts and John are too good to sidestep with other texts or art or even current events.
The risen and soon to ascend Jesus tells his disciples that he will soon depart from them, and in his place, he’ll give them an advocate.
What will this advocate do? Jesus tells us that the advocate will testify on his behalf. This advocate will speak for Jesus, will speak with Jesus’ authority, with Jesus’ identity. This advocate is so important, Jesus explains, that in some sense, Jesus is leaving precisely so that this advocate will come. And that’s curious.
Listen to this sermon.
I suppose it is natural to think that the proof of divinity in Jesus’ story is his resurrection. And if a kind of miraculous proof were what someone were after, then I can’t imagine a much better example than the resurrection. But in this parable, this “I am” statement in John’s Gospel, Jesus claims his divine status not through miraculous deed, but rather through relationship and self-sacrifice.
Jesus calls himself the good shepherd, and he calls us sheep. His sheep. He is not a usual shepherd though. For instance, He knows his sheep and they know him. This is clearly not just recognition. This is a deep and abiding knowledge
I’ve always loved this painting of the rising Christ. Piero della Francesca painted it about five and a half centuries ago in San Sepolcro, Tuscany, where you can still see it, although it’s no longer in its original home, the Palazzo della Residenza, the town hall. According to my favorite research site, Wikipedia, the leaders of Tuscany, before any meeting, would pray standing in front of this image. Of course, for us, that’s a bizarre idea, but for Tuscans it made sense. Sure, as Italians their government had a cozier relationship with Roman Catholicism than American governance has had with any denomination.
But it goes deeper than that. The town’s name, San Sepolcro, literally means the “Holy Sepulcher,” the Holy Tomb. While this might sound like kind of a morbid name for a town, remember that for Christians Jesus has overcome the power of death. The tomb is no longer a symbol of death.