The Greatest of These

Matthew 22:34-40, 1 Corinthians 13, Romans 8:38-39
Preached at Asbury Grove; Hamilton, Massachusetts
July 14, 2024

It is lovely to be back here in the Grove. Last year, after the cottage owner’s association meeting, I fell at home and broke my ankle. I needed surgery, and then there were complications, and then recovery, rehab, physical therapy, and all the rest. I spent most of last summer in the recliner in the living room. So, it is nice to be walking and pleasant to be back here.

It is always interesting to preach in a place where one does not usually preach. I have been in my present assignment for three years. My people know me, and I know them. I know what they want to hear and what they need to hear. But when one preaches in a strange place and to a diverse audience, it becomes more of a challenge.

It is my belief that the preacher’s job is to challenge those listening, move people out of their comfort zones, and make people think. I further believe it is the preacher’s job to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

When I say challenge and when I say afflict, I don’t mean insult or unnecessarily agitate, but sometimes, it happens.

It would also be malpractice for me, not to mention the events of the last 24 hours. I think we can all agree that violence is never the answer, and I am holding all of those involved, including the former president, in my prayers. My prayers are also with the family of Corey Comperatore, the 50-year-old firefighter who shielded his daughters from the gunfire and was killed. I also hold in my prayers all those injured whose names we do not know.

We may be on opposite sides on many issues, but this evil must stop.

So, it seems appropriate that my topic for this afternoon is love. Love is the only answer to many questions, and love is the way of Jesus.

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And 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. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

The Ten Commandments, as revealed to us by God and recorded in Scripture, are divided into two groups. The first group instructs us how to relate to God, and the second group instructs us how to relate to one another. Jesus taught that by loving our neighbor, we love God, and by loving God, we have no choice but to love our neighbor.

I recently saw a post about this passage on Facebook, and it went something like this: Jesus was pretty clear about who we were supposed to love, everybody including, although it does not specify so here, our enemies.

There was a response that said Jesus might have been clear, but Jesus did not say how we were supposed to love and to what degree. Now, this is tricky because, in Greek, there are no less than five words for love, all having a different degree. There is brotherly love, friendly love, and erotic love. In English, we have one word: love. The same word I use to say I love hamburgers is the one I use to say I love my spouse.

But you see, Jesus was very clear about how we are to love others and treat others. He says so right there in the passage I read: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We are to love people as we want people to love us and treat people the way we want to be treated.

What does Paul have to say about this? Last week, I had a funeral, and the passage the family selected was from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. This is usually a wedding passage because it mentions love, but the family thought this summarized their brother.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

We can say all the right things and do all the right things, but if we don’t do it with and from a position of love, it is not being done for the right reasons. We do not serve those on the margins; we do not speak up for those who have no voice; we do not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those in prison out of duty but out of love. Everything Jesus did, every step he took and every word he spoke from out of love. If we want to call ourselves followers of Jesus and say we love God, then we have no choice but to love.

The story of creation is recorded in the Book of Genesis. It is a story of love, but there is something interesting to look at. During the first portion of creation, God speaks, and something happens. God speaks and separates light from darkness, water from land, every plant, and every animal.

But when it comes to humanity, God does not speak; God does. Scriptures tell us that with God’s own hands, God formed humanity from the dust of creation. God formed humanity in God’s own image and likeness but did not stop there; God breathed his breath, his ruah, into the nostrils of this new creation. God’s breath, which the ancients believed was the soul, was breathed into humanity and animated humanity. No other part of creation has this intimate relationship with the creator.

In the end, God sat back, looked at all of creation, and exclaimed, it is Good!  All of it, every part of it, was and is good.

We love others because they, like us, have been created in the image and likeness of God and given the divine spark when we drew our first breath. God’s spirit lives in each of us. We are not only the hands and feet of Christ; we are the face of Christ, and we are the image of God. We have to be able to look at the other and see Christ in them

Who do we love? Try this experiment. Close your eyes and think of the worst imaginable person you can think of. It can be someone you know personally or someone from history. Picture that person in your mind. That is the person you are to love. It’s not easy, but it’s not supposed to be.

So, the other part of this is that we love because God loves us. Again, hear St. Paul.

“I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

What separates us from God’s love, nothing!

For me, it comes down to love. Is what I am preaching pushing forward this idea of love? Are my actions showing God’s love toward everyone? Do the things I say and the things I support show love or something else? Our job is to love, break down barriers, and build larger tables.

I am fond of Bishop Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Curry is on a mission to show people God’s love and to show the benefits to our lives when we love.

My favorite quote, which I used to end my sermon today, is this. The way of Jesus is the way of love. And the way of love will change the world.

Let us go forth from this place, determined to change the world by loving more.


Political Violence is Never Right

Mark 6:14-29
Preached at St. Nicholas United Methodist Church Hull, Massachusetts
July 14, 2024

This morning, I was going to begin a series on worship based on the lectionary readings from 2nd Samuel. However, the day’s events have changed my course and topic for this morning.

In my twenty years of ministry, I have changed sermon topics on at least a dozen occasions, either the morning of the sermon or while driving to the church. As I reflect on those times, all of them involved a gun.

Do I need to stand here this morning and say that gun violence has gotten out of hand in America?  Is it possible that we love guns so much we are willing to sacrifice more lives so that I can own an AR-15? What anyone needs to own a weapon like this goes way beyond my capacity to reason.

But yesterday, our love of guns and political rhetoric took an evil and nasty turn. Lord knows I am no fan of the former president, and I pray he does not get elected, but this is not the way we settle differences; we must be better than this.

I oppose the former president with every fiber of my being, but I never want to see him or anyone in his family be the target of harm. My prayer last night and this morning is for his health and safety and those injured and killed. I especially pray for the family of the shooter as they try and make some sense of all of this.

But on the other hand, I have to ask the question, are we surprised by this?  Just this past week, a right-wing activist hoping to become the former president’s “secretary of retribution,” released a “hit list” of more than 300 targets. Most names on the list are media types, politics, and judges, who all came down on the other side of where the former president lands.

But the problem is not these guys; there have always been whack jobs advocating for political candidates; the problem is those who listen to them and get radicalized to the point they feel they need to do something. So, they travel to Washington and decide to take over the Capitol building or take a shot at a presidential candidate.

I also need to say that you are wrong if you are celebrating what happened yesterday. There is nothing to celebrate, nothing at all. There is nothing remotely Christian about any of this. This is not a time for celebration; this is a time for mourning.

We also need to pause and acknowledge our grief. Grief for what we have lost and grief for what we have become. But I also grieve for the man who was killed. He was someone’s son, brother, husband, father, and friend. He was having a good time and did not deserve this, and his family did not deserve this. We are better than this. We must be better than this.

But in some sort of weird lectionary timing, we have a story this morning about another political assignation: the murder of John the Baptist. However, this story is not just about the end of John the Baptist; this story is about corruption, a leader’s corruption, and his family’s corruption. This story is about how one person would go to great lengths to silence a political foe.

As you know, John the Baptist is the cousin of Jesus. John was about six months older than Jesus; tradition refers to him as John the Forerunner. John was the one who came to announce that Jesus was coming. He lived a wild life. Scripture tells us he wore clothes of camel hair and ate whatever he could find. He called people to repentance, and, as his name would suggest, he baptized people.

But John was clear in his message: he was not the Messiah that man was yet to come. John’s job was to prepare things like the warmup act before the main band came out to play.

John had gotten himself on the wrong side of King Herod. You see, John would call people out for their behavior, and it did not matter if one was a pauper or a king; you did wrong, and John called you out for it. What was Herod’s crime? He married his brother’s wife. He divorced his wife and married the wife of his brother. By all accounts, she was willing to go along with this deal.

This King Herod was the grandson of another King Herod, Herod the Great. Herod the Great ruled over a unified Kingdom, but he divided it among his relatives when he died. Our Herod, called Antipast, was sort of a sub-king, but he wanted to restore his grandfather’s Kingdom, and it did not matter who got in his way. Herod wanted to be not only King of Jews but also known as a friend of the Romans.

Herod needed to gain the attention of Rome. After all, he was the King of a place no one had heard of and to which no one wanted to go. To be sent to Galilee meant you had fallen out of favor with Cesar. This was not a nice place to live and work. So, Herod launched an ambitious building program. He was going to make Galilee a great city, a big city, and he was going to make the Romans pay for it.

In those days, marriages were arranged to advance the family, so Herod married an Arabic Princess who would form a political alliance. But Herod fell in love with his brother’s wife and, much to the anger of the Princess’s family, divorced her so he could marry again.

The other problem Herod had was a problem of legitimacy; Herod’s family came to the throne when Marck Anthony convinced his superiors back in Rome that Herod the Great, who was not called Herod the Great at the time, would make a good King. But Herod’s new wife, who happened to be called Herodias, came from a Jewish dynastic line, so their marriage lent some credibility to his claim to the throne. This is all starting to sound very Game of Throneish to me.

As one can imagine, none of this sat very well with the Jews whom Herod claimed to rule. Although divorce was tolerated in some circumstances, this was not one of them. But what can you do about a leader who has been married a few times? The Romans liked Herod, so they looked the other way as long as he kept the peace in Galilee.

The religious writer Dianna Butler Bass summarizes what happens next. “John the Baptist wasn’t just a religious zealot who opposed divorce and remarriage. He charged Herod with ignoring Jewish law. And, in doing so, highlighted the corruption of these two idolatrous dynasties joined in this unholy matrimony. John wasn’t only attacking Herod for having sex with the wrong person (his brother’s wife) but for both being in bed with the Romans.

John didn’t accuse him of sexual immorality. By going after this scandalous marriage, John attacked Herod’s entire imperial project of collaborating with Rome while trying to gain religious legitimacy with the Jews to further his ambition. Herod could ill afford the bad publicity. The Arabic Kingdom to his south was already angry at him for divorcing and exiling their Princess; he couldn’t risk angry local Jews at the palace gates.”

Words have the power to persuade you to do things you might not otherwise want to do. This power of persuasion can be a good thing. We preachers use our words to persuade those listening to pursue a different course in their lives. My entire ministry is geared toward helping people see that we walk with Christ when we care for those on the margins and love everyone. I am unsure how successful I have been; sometimes, I feel like I have failed, but we soldier on.

Then there are those who use their power to corrupt. Those who preach hatred. Those who preach that some people are less human just because they look, act, believe, or love differently. They use their power to make us afraid of those who are different. And sometimes, their words move people to perpetrate acts of violence on those people they are afraid of.

Now, I cannot blame them; they have been repeatedly told that those who are different are responsible for their lot in life. They are the reason they lost their job or that they are coming for their job. They have been told that the ones who are different are getting stuff that they should be getting. They believe them because they have been repeatedly told that they are animals and should be treated as such. This language, this rhetoric, is the same that was used to justify slavery and the Holocaust.

The leader becomes Charismatic when they say things you want to hear, when they speak your language, and when they make you feel better about yourself. When they tell you it was someone else’s fault, you lost your job rather than the fact that you decided to try and overthrow the government rather than come to work. And sometimes, that charismatic leader gets you to drink the Cool Aide, hide in a shack in Wacco, or take revenge on their political enemies.  All the while, the leader hides, like a coward, behind their Constitutional right to say whatever they want. How many more lives must be destroyed because one man is a sore loser?

But I cannot place all the blame at one person’s feet. We did not get to where we are because of the ramblings of a failed political candidate. We got to where we are because we let it happen. I believe we got here because we stopped listening to each other and started talking over each other.

Let me say this as loud as I can: It does not matter who started it or which side began the moral decay in which we now find ourselves. What matters is that we need to be the ones to stop it. It needs to stop, and it needs to stop right now.

Now, we do not need to listen to every conversation. I will not listen to a conversation with someone who believes others are less than or deserve less. Not all points of view are equal, nor do all points of view need to be given time. Some beliefs need to crawl back under the rock they climbed out from under.

But with that said, we have lost the ability to have rational discussions. Politics has always been nasty. No one likes to see the sausage made, but at the end of the day, most politicians did what was best for the country, not what was best to get them reelected or to keep their party in power. The word politics comes from Latin, which means of the people or what is best for the people.

This afternoon, I will be preaching at Asbury Grove in Hamilton, Massachusetts. The Grove was founded as a Methodist camp more than 100 years ago. Nicky and I own a cottage there; it is a wonderful place to spend time. I was instructed not to preach about anything controversial or political. Well, try as I might, I cannot find anything in Scripture that is not controversial or political.

So here is the problem: We cannot have conversations about controversial or political topics because we have been told not to for generations. We have lost the art of conversation.

A recent law in Louisiana requires that each public school classroom display the Ten Commandments. First, the version the law requires to be posted cannot be found anywhere in Scripture. Second, why not focus on the words of Jesus rather than the words of the law?

We have not forgotten how to make laws and ensure that some people obey them; we have forgotten about mercy, justice, and, most importantly, love. Jesus said he was giving us a new commandment: to love God and love our neighbor, and yes, our neighbor included those we consider our enemies.

But Jesus did not stop there. Jesus said all the law and the prophets hang on this new commandment. Jesus’ entire ministry was about love and how to love. Everything Jesus did was from a position of love. Jesus taught that by loving our neighbor, we would love God.

The Commandments, the ones listed in Scripture anyway, are divided into two groups: one about our relationship with God and the other about our relationship with others. Love God, love neighbor. We don’t steal from those we love, harm those we love, pass legislation that harms those we love, or support people whose words and actions harm those we love.

Friends, we are in a horrible mess. It has been said that our country has not been this divided since the Civil War, a war that was fought over how we treat others. We did not get here overnight, and the Lord knows it will take a long time to climb out of this hole.

But can we decide right now that we will be part of the solution rather than continuing to be part of the problem? Can we decide that we will love just a little bit more? Rather than tell that joke, we say something nice. I do not hate those I oppose; I don’t understand them and may not like what they stand for, but I do not hate them.

Jesus was murdered for political reasons, Jesus upset the status quo. Jesus, like John the Baptist, held people accountable for their actions, but Jesus did it in a way that showed mercy, justice, and love, which upset the establishment. Jesus’ love was so radical and controversial that it had to be stopped.

Friends, love is my mission. I have this radical notion that everyone should be treated the same. I believe in a God whose capacity for love is so great we cannot understand it. I believe that God loves us no matter what and that if we love God, we will try to express that same sort of love towards others.

I am sad this morning. I had planned a sermon about the glories of worship and why we worship our awesome God, but that all changed when a misguided 20-year-old soul, created in the image and likeness of God, pulled the trigger of a gun, pointed at another soul created in the image and likeness of God.

The madness has to stop. We are better than this. Ghandi said if you want change, you have to be that change. If we want more love, we need to have more love. Let us go from this place today and love a little more.

The way of Jesus is the way of love. And the way of love will change the world. Amen.

In Weakness and in Strength

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Amazing grace. How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost. But now, I’m found. Was blind, but now, I see.

How many times have we sung this song? If I had to guess, I would say hundreds, if not thousands. But when we sing it, do we listen to the words? Do we understand the meaning those words are trying to convey?

Written by John Newton in the 18th century, Amazing Grace appears in more than 1,200 hymnals. By comparison, “Silent Night” appears in 536 hymnals, and the great Charles Wesley hymn, “O for a thousand tongues to sing,” is found in more than 1,500. The difference is that “Amazing Grace” has transcended the hymnal, and the 1971 version by Judy Collins made the top 10 charts. No other hymn can make that claim.

“Amazing Grace” is the song most people turn to to find comfort and strength when they are at their lowest. People of all faiths know at least the first verse, and so it is often sung at ecumenical gatherings. One lasting image from September 11 is the firefighters, police, EMTs, and all the rest joining hands and hearts at ground zero and singing “Amazing Grace” together.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.

This morning, we heard a portion of Paul’s letter to his Church in Corinth. The Church is divided. The people are in open rebellion against his leadership. Others have come claiming to be “super-apostles” and teaching against what Paul taught them. They have come to town, boasting of a higher apostolic authority than Paul and accusing Paul of being weak, “untrained in speech,” a slanderer, and an imposter.

Paul has a public relations problem and needs to find a solution. Paul speaks of a “revelation” he has had but cannot find the words to describe it. How can you describe the indescribable?

When Mr. Spock tries to save the Enterprise in the 1982 movie Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn, he dies doing his duty. He is placed in a capsule and shot onto a planet. In essence, they bury him. However, in the next movie, that planet becomes the site of the Genesis experiment, and the planet and Mr. Spock are regenerated. He is brought back to life and rejoins the crew.

Later in the movie, Doctor McCoy approaches Spock and wishes to engage him in a discussion of the afterlife. After all, he has truly gone where no one had before and returned. Spock tells McCoy that having such a conversation with a common phrase of reference would be impossible. In other words, McCoy would have to die and come back to understand what Spock experienced. Paul is having the same issue. How can Paul speak about what he has seen when no one else can?

Now, I have my issues with Paul, but his humility is not one of those issues. Paul is always hesitant to talk about himself after he tells his audience why they should listen to him. He tells his story not from a position of boasting but rather from a place of grace. Paul has experienced what only a few have: spiritual ecstasy, and he is hesitant to speak about it. His reward is that he is made fun of and called a liar.

Paul tells his Church that he will only boast “in his weakness.” To an American ear, this is hard to hear. We are constantly told that we must be strong. We are the greatest nation on earth. From the time they were little boys, we were told not to show emotion; emotion is weakness, and men must be strong. Any sign of caring for others is weakness or, better yet, “woke.” We must crush our enemies at all costs.

Then along comes Paul, who says, not so fast; it is not our strength that we should celebrate but our weakness. Paul had turned the whole thing on its head! I mean, how strong can a faith be where the leader of that faith willingly dies and the ultimate prize, if there is one, is death?

What is grace?

John Wesley defines grace as God’s undeserving gift, God’s free, underserved favor bestowed upon humanity. During creation, God spoke everything into existence. God separated the light from the darkness, land and water, sea and sky, all with a word. God created every plant and animal with his voice, but when it came to humanity, God paused. God stooped down, gathered the dust of what was just created, and formed humanity. With God’s own hands, humankind was created.

But God did not stop there. God breathed God’s breath, the breath of life, into the nostrils of this new creation. Some believe this to be the soul of humanity and that one is not truly alive until one takes one’s first breath. But either way, God put God’s very breath into humankind. God created humanity with God’s own hands in God’s image. The gift of life is grace.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline defines grace as “the underserved, unmerited, and loving action of God in human existence through the ever-present Holy Spirit.”

Grace pervades all of creation. Grace is God’s presence to create, heal, forgive, reconcile, and transform human hearts, communities, and creation. Wherever God is present, grace is present.

It was grace that brought creation into being. It is grace that bestows upon humanity God’s divine image. Grace redeems us through Jesus Christ and continually transforms the whole of creation. Continually transforms the whole of creation. Continually transforms. Transformation. It is grace, God’s sufficient and redeeming grace, that will transform the world and begin with our own transformation.

Paul speaks of a “thorn in his flesh.” There has been much speculation as to what this thorn is. Is it physical, spiritual, or mental? Paul does not say what it is, but it is enough of a problem that he mentions it, and it transforms him and his ministry. In many ways, this is Paul’s weakness.

Whatever it is, Paul calls it a “messenger of Satan,” and he believes that it has been sent to him to torment him and to keep him humble. Paul says he has prayed three times for God to remove this thorn, but God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come. ‘Twas grace that brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.

I do not hold to the image of a being called Satan. Is there evil in the world? Yes, there is. Are there evil people in the world? Well, that is a little more complex. Everyone is born with a clean slate, a “Tabula rasa,” and we learn everything.

At our core, humanity is good. After each “day” of creation, God stepped back and said, it is good. Humanity was included in that. What corrupts humanity is what we learn. We are not born to hate, to discriminate, to make fun of, and all the rest. All of that comes from fear and lack of understanding. So, no, there are no evil people, but there are evil actions.

The first thing evil does is divide. Evil creates an environment of distrust, which causes derision to take hold. Evil must have an enemy, something to focus on, so evil creates an enemy, usually a scapegoat to use as a way in. It might be a person; it might be an issue, but whatever it is, it will exploit it to the point of division. I might add that the problem does not have to be a big issue; sometimes, the minor issue causes the most significant division.

This is the place Paul has found himself, in the middle of a divided community. But notice that Paul comes in not as a lion but as a gentle shepherd. He does not boast of his strength but rather the opposite. Paul speaks of his weakness, and, reading between the lines a little, Paul takes the blame. Paul is the leader, and ultimately, the leader is the one responsible.

So, what does Paul do to get them back on track? Paul teaches them about humility, not humiliation but humility. Paul reminds them that they are all created in the divine image and that, at our core, we are good. No one is beyond redemption. If they have breath, they are capable of change.

Paul calls them to pray—for each other and for him—but notice how Paul speaks of prayer. Paul prays that God’s will be done. Paul is echoing the words Jesus prayed in the garden the night before his crucifixion. In the end, Jesus submitted his will to God and prayed that God’s will be done. There is power in surrender.

When we surrender our will, when we realize we don’t know what’s best in every situation, we make room for God’s grace to move in and through our lives. For us to be “conformed to the image of God’s son,” we must surrender our will so that God’s purpose for us may be fulfilled.

Surrender is not easy, and surrender is not weakness but strength.

But surrender does not mean we give up; it means the opposite: we work and work hard. We pray, and we get to work. Evil is well established and well organized, but it can be defeated, not on our own but by God. The light will prevail in the darkness.

We can never lose hope. God’s grace gives us hope. So far, we have survived 100% of our worst days, and we are still here. Jesus never promised it would be easy; he said it would be hard, but the promise is that we will never walk through it alone.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun. Then when we first begun.


When your Alma Mater Closes

On June 25, 2024, it was announced that the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to close Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts. ENC is one of several colleges sponsored by the Church of the Nazarene and has operated since 1900. I am a 1992 and 1995 graduate of ENC and was a staff member for a few years following my graduation. To say that ENC put me on the path to where I am today would be an understatement.

Returning home after being discharged from the Army, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I found employment and started taking classes at a local community college. I was not the best student in high school, so my shot at Harvard had long since passed. After one semester and a reasonably decent semester at that, I applied and was accepted at ENC.

For the most part, ENC was like every other college but much smaller. I went to class and chapel, ate lunch in the café, studied in the library, and went home. I did not interact much with the community beyond those students I was in class with. The pivotal moment, the moment I can point to that changed my life, happened in January 1992.

As with any degree program, there were certain required classes, such as English, math, history, a bible class, and a class on World Missions. I resisted taking this class for as long as I could. Looking back, I believe it was God’s providence that I did wait as long as I did.

The class I needed was being offered in January. These were intensive classes that met each day for several hours. Just as I was reluctant when I stepped on campus for the first time, I entered the class with reluctance.

A Nazarene missionary home on leave taught the class on leave from the Azores. I had never met a missionary before, save the priests and nuns who used to come to the parish looking for money. The teacher, Margaret Scott, is a kind, compassionate, Spirit-filled woman who became like a second mother to me—my spiritual mother.

The class focused on missionaries in the Church of the Nazarene and their work around the world. But a more minor focus was a group of students who had traveled to Romania to work in an orphanage. I am not going to spend much time writing about their work, just to say that it spoke to me, and I needed what we later called “the Romanian Experience.”

Long after I left campus, ENC adopted the phrase “ENC makes a DIfferENCe.” It is a little play on words, but it is true. It is not the school or the campus that makes the difference; it is her students and her faculty that make the difference. One of my ENC colleagues posted about his time at ENC on Facebook, and I commented that the spirit of ENC will live on in its alums and the work that continues.

ENC set me on a path of self-discovery. I found a deep sense of spirituality in the Orthodoxy of the Romanian people and was ordained a priest in the Romanian Orthodox Church in 2004. My time in Orthodoxy brought me deeper into a progressive/liberal theological position that led me out of Orthodoxy and toward a more inclusive church. It’s amusing that it all started in a church-sponsored school that has never been accused of being progressive.

I know that not everyone has warm and fuzzy feelings about ENC and the direction she has taken in the last few years. Many longtime faculty members had lost positions, and the school doubled down on the Churches’ conservative theology. But my time there was transformative, and I will always remember my days on that campus near blue Quincy Bay.

What must I do?

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Matthew 19:16-22

The Commandments have been in the news a lot lately. The passage from Matthew’s Gospel, as if by chance, was the scripture reading during Monday’s morning prayer, so it seemed very fitting to comment.

Jesus has just finished being challenged by the Pharisees concerning divorce. This is followed by Jesus blessing a group of children and his line about how we are to have the faith of little children, faith, as James puts it in his writings, a faith that is pure and undefiled.

Then, a man comes to Jesus and asks him what good deed he needs to do to obtain eternal life. Jesus replies that if the man wishes to be good, he must follow the Commandments. There is an assumption that the man is an observant Jew, so he certainly would know the Commandments.

The man inquired more about which ones he should follow. Jesus replies, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”

You might notice that a couple are missing. Jesus leaves out the Commandments concerning our relationship with God. No idols, keep the sabbath, not using the Lord’s name in vain, and not having any other gods. The Commandments Jesus quotes to the young man are the Commandments that regulate how humanity is to interact with each other.

However, pay close attention to the last part of what Jesus said to the man. Jesus tells him to obey the Commandments and then adds, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Commandments appear twice in Scripture, Exodus 20:1–17 and Deuteronomy 5:4–21, neither of which will appear on the walls of Louisiana classrooms since the legislature wrote their version. But I digress. Jesus added a commandment that does not appear in either version, “love your neighbor as yourself.” That love thing.

The man replies that he has done all of this but feels that he still lacks something and asks Jesus what that is. Jesus’ reply shocked the man: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Wait, following the Commandments is not perfection?  Will keeping the rules not get my ticket punched to get into heaven? Jesus, how can this be?

Jesus tells the man to sell all he has and give the money to the poor. It was not enough to sell all he had; he had to give the sale proceeds to support those less fortunate.

At the end of the passage, it is revealed that the man was rich and that after hearing Jesus’ words, “he went away sad.” The man’s possessions meant more to him than obtaining the very thing he sought: perfection.

The entirety of Jesus’ ministry has focused on human interactions and how we care for one another. For Jesus, perfection comes not only in keeping all of the rules but also in loving and caring for each other. For this young man, the thing that prevented him from truly loving others was his wealth. The question for each of us is, what keeps us from truly loving others?

Search Me

1 Samuel 3:1-10, Psalm 139

In 2018, the streaming service Netflix released a movie about a preacher his community had ostracized for the radical message of inclusiveness he began to preach. Carlton Pearson, the ministry featured in the film, claimed he heard God’s voice, and that voice gave him new insight into Scripture that was so radical for those listening that they abandoned him.

Pearson was ordained in the Church of God in Christ, an evangelical/Pentecostal denomination. He was educated at Oral Roberts University and mentored by Roberts himself. After graduating from university, Pearson would become an associate evangelist in the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association.

1981, Pearson did what many thought was impossible: he started a church in Oklahoma where black and white folx worshipped together. This was revolutionary. He became so popular that his weekly worship services were broadcast on television. In the pre-pandemic world, a preacher being on TV was rare; now, everyone is a TV evangelist. In 1996, Pearson was consecrated as a bishop and continued to rise.

Pearson’s Church has a well-defined doctrine that states non-Christians are dammed to hell for all eternity. Unless you know a particular version of Jesus, are saved by that Jesus, and are washed in the blood of that Jesus, you are going to hell. So, it’s not only non-Christians but non-specific types of Christians going to hell.

Pearson made an excellent living preaching the Gospel of Exclusion; his Church rose to over 1,000 in attendance each Sunday. But soon, that was all going to change.

I don’t often preach and teach from the Hebrew Scriptures, but I make an exception on rare occasions like today. The lectionary gives us the call story of the young Samuel. Samuel is asleep and hears a voice he believes belongs to his master, Eli. Three times, Samuel rises from his slumber and rushes to see what Eli wants, only to be told Eli had not called him.

The third time Samuel comes in and wakes Eli, Eli figures out what is happening. God is calling Samuel, and Samuel needs to listen and discern what God is asking him to do. The people are in disarray and need someone to lead them and straighten out what has gone wrong. They have stopped listening to God and have been relying on themselves. They have been getting lousy intelligence from preachers who seem well-meaning but have been convicted 34 times for doing it incorrectly. This is not the end of these preachers; there are more than 80 more charges against them, but they continue their rise to power because the people refuse to see the truth. Hmmmm, this story sounds all too familiar.

I have mentioned this before: I am a theologian in the reformed tradition. That means that I believe that the Church needed to be reformed and continues to need to be reformed, but we also have been given a brain and the ability to discern. Freedom of thought was a significant point of the reformation, allowing the people to read, understand, and discern Scripture for themselves, with guidance from those trained for that purpose. No longer were we simply to follow for fear of going to hell.

However, the prophets and the mystics were caught up in the cleaning and reform. The Church threw out a very rich portion of her past and has been unable to recapture it. Today, when one speaks of hearing God’s voice, one is treated with skepticism, especially if it is a radical departure from the norm.

Samuel was not sure what he heard. Carlton Pearson was not sure what he heard. But they both knew they heard something and needed to discern where that voice was coming from. Just a bit of caution: God does not call one to maintain the status quo; the opposite is often true. God is calling us to something new, different, and a little scary.

One night, Pearson was watching a television news story about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. He felt a sense of compassion for the people caught up in what was going on to such an extent that he felt a tug or a pull on his heart in a different theological direction. Pearson began to doubt the very idea of hell as a construct of God but rather a construct of humanity. He discerned that hell was not some supernatural creation but rather a creation of humanity.

Pearson’s theology, like that of most Evangelicals, is rooted in the theology of John Calvin, who says humanity is so depraved that it needed a scapegoat to satisfy God, through the blood sacrifice of his only Son, to change its ways. In other words, humanity was born in sin and has a propensity towards sin. Put this in contrast to Wesley, who believed that humankind was basically good but had lost its way, and Jesus came to show us how to get back on track through love and God’s grace.

Changing one’s long-held beliefs about anything, whether theological or political, is difficult. We need solid ground to stand on, and when that solid ground begins to shift, it shakes us to our very core.

But we do not discern on our own; Samuel needed Eli, and Pearson needed some close associates to help him.  Samuel found an ally in Eli, but Pearson had difficulty finding someone who would listen to him. The call must be tested and tried to make sure it is God and not us.

In my almost 20 years in ministry, I have encountered several people who feel they have been called to ordained ministry. God called me, and I must listen to that call. My usual response is that God calls, but the Church tests and confirms that call. We do not and should not ordain someone just because they feel God has called them. This testing, this discernment, does take and should take years because we do not want to make the wrong decision. Does that still happen, yes, it does, but we try to see that it does not.

Pearson developed the Gospel of Inclusion and stated that Jesus came to save the whole world, not just the elect. That through God’s love, mercy, and grace, all will be redeemed, and it is our job to bring God’s kingdom here to earth and not wait for God’s kingdom on some fluffy cloud somewhere. Pearson believed that Jesus came to all and for all, not just those who believed in him. This radical departure was too much for some and led Pearson to be branded a heretic by his Church and cast into the outer darkness. I know the feeling.

In a letter from Paris in 1787 to Mr. Willilam Smith, private secretary to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants.” What Jefferson was saying, I believe, is that we must never become complacent; we must always be willing to look at how things can be changed for the better. Of course, Jefferson was writing about the new Constitution but the same is true in the Church.

There is an idea that the Church undergoes what has been called a 500-year rummage sale. This is the process whereby the Church looks in all the nooks and crannies to find things to give the heave-ho or to change. But change should not happen simply for change sake but should only come after periods of discernment and testing to see if the proposed change is God’s will or not. I am not talking about what color to paint the Church’s front doors, but rather theological understanding.

The point of all of this is simple: God is continuously speaking to and through the Church. The Church needs to reclaim its prophetic voice and be that voice crying in the wilderness, not to condemn but to show just how much God loves the world. The Church needs to be the voice that helps people and does not cause harm. Author and Theologian Sarah Bessy said, “People should never be the collateral damage of your theology.”

God’s voice needs to be heard, especially in our crazy, mixed-up world that we are living in now. We are bombarded with conflicting messages every day, and we need to hone our skills of discernment. Is what we hear helping or hurting? Does what we hear promote love or hate? Is what we hear from God or ourselves.

God is still speaking to us, and God is still speaking to the Church. The question is, are we listening?


All Consuming Presence

John 3:1-17

On the Church calendar, today is set aside to commemorate the Holy Trinity. This uniquely Christian doctrine defines the relationship between God, the creator, Jesus, the redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, the sustainer. There is one argument that states belief in the Trinity is what makes one a Christian.

I agree with this but add that it is not what we believe that makes us something but whether we live by the words we believe. One can believe all the right things and say all the right words, but one’s actions will deny everything one says and believes. So, being a Christian requires more than just the correct belief.

There is no direct biblical evidence for the belief in the Trinity, but there are shadows of the Trinity in all parts of Scripture. Written into the creation story is the image of the Trinity, “let us make them in our image.” During the creation event, the Spirit hovers over the water and controls the chaos that can be found there.

Later in Scripture is the story of three guests who come to visit Abraham. This story is known as the “Hospitality of Abraham,” and the three guests represent the three persons of the Trinity. There is another meaning to this story: we are to treat all guests as special, as we never know if we are hosting angels.

Then we turn to John’s Gospel and the most poignant example of Trinitarian theology. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the written text, the Word is capitalized to indicate a proper name. The Word of God is not Scripture; the Word of God is Jesus. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Jesus speaks of the relationship of the three Divine Persons but in a veiled way. The study of theology would have been much simpler if Jesus just said what he meant, but that is not the case. Jesus speaks of this relationship between himself and God and, towards the end of his ministry on earth, mentions that the “advocate” will soon come to be with them. He mentions the Holy Spirit as the Advocate, which we celebrated last week at Pentecost.

As with all doctrines, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity took years to define, redefine, and refine. I will also add that this is one of the most incomprehensible doctrines of the Church. However, it is still an important doctrine, for we learn a bit about human relationships by understanding the relationship between the three persons.

So, what is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity? Sit back, relax, close your eyes, and prepare to be dazzled by my theological brilliance.

“The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is the central doctrine concerning the nature of God, which defines one God existing in three coequal, coeternal, consubstantial divine persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit, three distinct persons (hypostases) sharing one essence/substance/nature (homoousion). As the Fourth Lateran Council declared, it is the Father who begets, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.”

Did you get that?

I won’t spend much time trying to unpack all that since I do not truly understand it. It is also an attempt to explain the unexplainable. I am not sure we are supposed to understand God, and trying to put human emotions and words on God only limits a limitless being.

Like most things theological, we come to this definition in reverse. The question began if Jesus was divine, and therefore God, how could God be killed on the Cross? So, theologians got together and backed into this definition. The critical thing to remember is that there are not three gods, only one. Think of it in the same way marriage changes a couple. Joined together, they are one, but they do not cease to be separate people.

Let me emphasize something I said earlier: it is not belief in doctrine that makes us Christian. How we live and what we are taught makes us a Christian. I believe that doctrine is vital as it gives us a basis for our beliefs. The creeds and other statements have been hammered out over time and are the basic beliefs, not the totality. Do you have to understand it all? No. Do you have to believe it all? No.

I am more of a Red Letter Christian than a doctrinal Christian. If you recall older versions of Scripture, the words of Jesus were printed in Red. Red Letter Christians focus more on what Jesus actually said rather than what others say he says. Go right to the source rather than secondary writings.

With all of that said, let’s look at John’s Gospel, which we heard this morning.

Nicodemus comes to see Jesus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a leader of the people who must be very careful in coming to see Jesus. At this point, Jesus is starting to get the leaders’ attention. This meeting takes place just after Jesus flipped the tables in the Temple, an event designed to get the attention of the authorities.

Nicodemus comes at night. He is lurking in the shadows so as not to be seen by anyone. He acknowledges that Jesus is what he says he is: God’s son. This could not have been easy for him. Nicodemus wants to learn more and understand what Jesus is all about. But he is confused by what Jesus is telling or attempting to tell him. He ends up leaving more confused than when he arrived. He must have had some understanding or at least enough that piqued his curiosity. We see Nicodemus again after Jesus’ crucifixion. Nicodemus brings the spices that are necessary for the burial rite to take place. Not only is this a significant expense for him, but he is also doing it very publicly, which shows that he believes that Jesus is what he says he is.

But the end of this passage is the most important to grasp.

We hear the famous line, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” As important as I believe this verse to be, it is the next one that sets the pace.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Let’s sit with this for a moment. God did not send Jesus to condemn. Out of love, God sent Jesus not to condemn Creation but to point the way towards salvation. God could have destroyed all of Creation but chose a different path, the path of love. If Jesus did not come to condemn the world, why do we humans feel it is our Job?

I will also point out that the 3:16 line says, “But may have eternal life.” Some translations say, “Shall have eternal life.” I point this out to show that Jesus did not come to force anyone to do anything but instead pointed the way and left the rest to us. The choice is ours.

Earlier, I mentioned that Trinity is an example of how we relate to one another. The Trinity is an excellent example of what Methodists call contextualism, the idea that we are connected.

Although each of the three persons is separate, they share the same essence and mission, if you will. What joins them together and what keeps them together is love. Augustine developed this idea of the Trinity as love in the 5th century, and it is the backbone of the idea that we are to relate to one another through love.

God loved Creation so much that Jesus came, through love, to show us a different way. Because God did not want to abandon Creation after Jesus’ ascension, God sent the Spirit, who continues the work of Jesus, helps point the way, and gives us the strength to live in love as Jesus taught.

The Trinity is not about hypostasis, homousion, or all the significant theological terms. The Trinity is about love, relationships, mission, and how we are all connected to each other and all of Creation. Salvation is not an individual act, but rather, it is a corporate act. Salvation does not end when we “give our life to Christ, “find Jesus,” or “get washed in the blood,” whatever any of that means. Salvation begins and ends with how we treat and relate to one another. We are to love one another. And care for each other and Creation. The Trinity exists to show us this way, this way of relationship. God needed the other for Creation to happen. Jesus needed the others to complete his mission. The Holy Spirit continues to need the energy of others to walk with us and guide us as we live and love others.

The verse says, “God loved the world.” It does not say, “God loved individuals,” it does not even say God loved humanity, and it certainly does not say that God loved the United States of America. The verse says God loves the world, all of it.

Our “salvation,” whatever that means, is directly tied to the salvation of others because it is dependent upon how we treat the other. Believe in the doctrine of the Trinity or don’t believe in the doctrine of the Trinity; that’s not important. Living out the relational aspect of the Trinity is what’s important.

Jesus said, “love God love neighbor. On these two hang all the law and the prophets.” This was not a suggestion; it was a command.

So, go forth and love. Love God. Love all of humanity. And love all of Creation.


Not all Catholics are Roman

In the summer of 2023, I was elected bishop by the Holy Synod of the Ancient Apostolic Church of Alexandria (AACA). My consecration was to have taken place in October of 2023, but due to my accident, surgery, and subsequent complications, it has been postponed until May of 2024.

Bishops are teachers of the faith, and vow to “guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.” This can sometimes be challenging in this ever-changing world we live in; we need guideposts along the way. Guarding “the faith” does not mean sticking to things that do not work or language one can no longer understand. God is continuing to reveal God’s self to humanity, and as such, we need to be willing to reinterpret what we thought we understood, considering our age.

The AACA is a micro-denomination consisting of very few clergy and an even lesser number of lay people. The AACA is an inheritor of the Old Catholic and Liberal Catholic traditions, which I will explore further in this essay and the following.

Having a solid foundation is essential in any discussion, especially a theological discussion, so to that end, a common understanding of terms is essential.

In his book, “A Catechism for the Liberal Catholic Church,” Bishop Wynn Wagner defines the term “liberal” not in its most common form, political, but from a theological understanding. “The word ‘Liberal’ comes from the Latin word for ‘free.’ We strive to be free and generous in our thinking and our actions. We try to let you be as free as you are, so we try to avoid bigotry and divisive dogma.”

With this definition in mind, the AACA has set for the following vision:

“The vision of the Ancient Apostolic Church of Alexandria is to honor the past while embracing the present. We seek to respectfully engage creedal theology while dialoging deeply the esoteric and mystical themes that have been always present in the church, but which have at times been suppressed and ignored. Ours is a vision of contemplation and service. We walk a pilgrim path seeking ever to enjoin fellow spiritual sojourners in the way of wisdom and Transfiguration.”

The other problematic word in a discussion such as this is the word “catholic.” The title of this essay is “Not all Catholics are Roman.” When one uses the term “catholic,” one immediately thinks of Rome, and that is all well and good, but the definition is much broader than that.

Again, turning to bishop Wagner, “The word ‘catholic’ is often translated as ‘universal’ and that is a fairly good definition. It actually comes from the Greek word that means ‘whole.’” Bishop Wagner continues, “If you are universal, you can be many things at the same time… The word universal is a way of saying something is a generic fit for everything. If something is whole, it is a healthy fit, a fundamental fit. A universal church can divide believers from non-believers, while a whole church sees God’s hand at work everywhere.”

Although I will explore the history of the Liberal Catholic Church in another essay, the LCC was founded in 1916 by Bishop James Ingall Wedgwood and further built upon by Bishop Charles Webster Leadbeater. The LCC combines the sacramental practice of the “catholic church” with freedom of belief. In essence, the LCC is catholic but reformed. The AACA seeks to deconstruct the Liberal Catholic Church tradition holding three qualities in tension: tradition, innovation, and culture.

Quoting from the website of the AACA

“The three qualities we hold in tension guide us in our continued reconstruction of the Liberal Catholic Church tradition in that we value and honor the rich theological heritage of sacramental Christianity seen in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, and within Anglicanism, and with the Liberal Catholic Church tradition evolved in the past hundred plus years. We are not stuck in tradition, holding onto it like a golden calf; instead, we endeavor to seek liturgical and theological innovation that honors the past, respects the present, while looking reverently to the future.”

Wagner, W. (2008). A Catechism of the Liberal Catholic Church (3rd ed.). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Website of the Ancient Apostolic Church of Alexandria:

Good Friday: Hail, King of the Jews

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree,
The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.
The Son of the virgin is pierced by a spear.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.”

These are the words from the 15th antiphon of the service of Matins of Good Friday and remind us of what has happened. The creator of all that we see has been murdered by the very people who should have been rejoicing at his coming. So filled with greed and hatred and fearful of a loss of power, they became traitors and killed the very God worship because they were too blind to him.

I think we underestimate what has taken place. We focus so much on the dying for our sins business that we miss the beauty of the whole thing. We get so caught up in ourselves and what was done for us that we overlook what was done and by whom.

It hit me last night. I was alone in church tidying up a bit when I started thinking about the foot-washing portion of last night’s service. The Maundy Thursday service is my favorite of all the Holy Week services. So much is happening, and the symbolism is vibrant if you are looking for it.

We have the scene in the Upper Room with Jesus and his friends. As an act of humility and a lesson on how we are to serve one another, Jesus kneels and washes their feet. Washing a person’s feet is usually the job of the lowest member of the household; it is not a pleasant task, but it must be done. The roads of 1st century Palestine were dirty and dusty, so one’s feet would be a mess when entering a house. In smaller homes, a basin with water would be stationed near the door; in larger houses, an attendant would wash your feet.

But in this scene, God the creator, in the person of Jesus the Son, kneels before creation itself and washes its feet. The King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the creator and sustainer of the universe, has taken on the role of a servant, lower than a servant, as an example of how we are to be of service. It gives me chills to even think about it.

This is why the bloody sacrifice theology does not make sense to me. A God willing to go to such an extent to show humanity a better way is not the God that desires a blood sacrifice for some debt that that same humanity owes back to God. It simply makes no sense.

I have no idea why Jesus had to die, but he did.

But at this moment, let us focus on this cross in the middle of the sanctuary. The cross is a symbol. For us, it is a symbol of hope and love. But for folx in the 1st century, the cross symbolized oppression and death. But the wood that fashioned the cross did not start this way.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus learned the carpenter’s trade at the knee of his stepfather, Joseph. It would have been unusual for a son not to learn the father’s trade. I have no idea, nor does tradition tell us what Joseph made. Did he build chairs, tables, or houses? Did he fix broken stuff? We don’t know anything other than that he was a carpenter and worked with his hands.

Wood is part of creation that begins its life as a tiny seed that, if conditions are right, will grow thousands of times its size and can be used for many purposes. Trees provide oxygen, shade, and, sometimes, food. When cut down, that same tree will keep us warm and help us cook our food. We can build useful things with wood, like tables and chairs, and altars for sacrifice and celebration.

The Romans used wood to oppress the conquered people. The wood of the cross became a symbol of fear and death and an end rather than a beginning. The Romans undoubtedly felt wood was useful, but little did they know just how useful it would be.

“Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree.”

Many of the faithful do not like to meditate on the events of God Friday; they prefer the happy resurrected Jesus rather than the bloody Jesus of this day. But we cannot have Easter if we do not have Good Friday. We cannot have life, everlasting life if we do not first have death.

I turn again to Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury.

“Good Friday invites us into a place of utter desolation. It reminds us of everything that is not good in the world: gross injustice, abuses of power, scapegoating of the vulnerable and those who are different, betrayal, abandonment, and the horrendous violence that human beings always seem willing to inflict upon one another. All that is ugly, shameful, and sinful about humanity is brought into focus on Good Friday, as Jesus is nailed upon a cross.

And yet, it is Good, not because of what takes place but because, within the worst of circumstances, Jesus demonstrates God’s self-giving for a broken world with profound and ultimate goodness. Jesus demonstrates the cost of goodness in the world—through his self-sacrifice to pay the price of all sin—and does not shrink from it, despite the tears and fears of Gethsemane.”

The Archbishop speaks of Jesus’ payment of the “price of all sin.” Notice he did not say in payment of a debt due to sin. Yes, Jesus was murdered because of sin. Jesus was murdered because of the very ugliness of humanity, that very humanity that God loves so much. Jesus was murdered because he spoke of love, acceptance, and service to all and for all.

The religious leaders wanted Jesus put to death because he was calling them out for the shenanigans. They were so drunk with power that they could not see another way, so they convinced the Romans to do their dirty work for them, and the Romans, who could have cared less, obliged them.

But that wood of death, oppression, and fear turned into the wood that brought new life and hope in a world gone crazy. There was nothing special about the wood chosen; it was just ordinary wood. But God used ordinary things for extraordinary purposes.

Hanging on that wood, Jesus showed just how much love he had for humanity. Below him were those who had just nailed him there. They were mocking him and casting lots for his clothes. Looking down through blood and sweat, Jesus forgave those who had just killed him. It might not have meant anything to those gathered there at that time, but for us, it shows the extent of his love, God’s love for all of humanity.

“Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree,
The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.
The Son of the virgin is pierced by a spear.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.”

Maundy Thursday: By this everyone will know

John 13:1-17

It should come as no surprise that I believe the central message of the Gospel, the good news of the Gospel, is love. God loves the world so much that the events of the next three days were allowed to unfold. God loved creation to such an extent that God was willing to come and be part of it and show us a new way to live, to love, and to serve.

The name Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum and refers to the last line of the Gospel passage we read this evening. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” A new commandment, not a new suggestion, a commandment, a mandate, a mandatum.

Tonight, we commemorate the institution of the Sacrament of the very body and blood of Jesus. Through the act, Christ gave himself and continues to give himself to the Church and the world. This was a gift of sacrificial giving and is the only thing that can be given. The selfless outpouring for others is the essence of love—no greater love than to lay down one’s life for others.

But let us back up a bit in the story.

Jesus is gathered with his friends for their last Passover together. They are together, in borrowed space, unsure of what is coming. They are all there is a hopeful expectation that this is the night that the plans are announced. Indeed, plans have been announced that will revolutionize how we interact. But these are not the plans they were expecting.

The revolution was not physical but spiritual. They will all know this…

Several times during the evening, Jesus refers to this: do this, remember this, know this. What is this?

When the supper was ended, Jesus took bread, “and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'” We heard these words of Paul in his letter to the Church in Corinth. These are called the “Words of Institution” and are said each time we celebrate the Eucharist.

Jesus takes the bread and the cup and offers them to those seated with him, offering himself to the world through this. This is sacrificial love in action. But it goes deeper than that. This is not some mere symbol; in a spiritual way, Jesus comes to us through this Sacrament.

There is also a reconciling element to communion. It has become the fashion to use the Sacrament as a weapon to divide God’s people further. Some places of worship restrict who can come to the table for many reasons, none of which I believe are valid.

At that first celebration of communion, all of Jesus’ Apostles were present, all of them. Except for John, all those sitting around that table would abandon Jesus in his hour of need. They would think of themselves and their safety rather than be with their friend and teacher in his final hours. Peter was there, the one who would three times deny that he knew Jesus. And Judas, the one who betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver was there and was given the bread and cup of reconciliation and love.

It is important to remember that although Jesus knew what would happen and what those around that table would do, he still provided the bread of life and the cup of salvation. He reconciled them, forgave them, and provided the grace of the Sacrament. How can we do any less?

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had this to say, specifically about foot-washing but along the same lines as the reconciling element of communion.

“Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Every disciple. Jesus also predicts his death and the betrayal of Judas. Yet he washes Judas’ feet. Jesus knew what Judas would do, but still, he breaks bread with him. Jesus extends love and the possibility of change and redemption all the way to the end. He never treats Judas as ‘the enemy’, as worthless, as someone whose dignity and humanity can just be erased or disregarded. Even in betrayal and pain, Jesus attends to the humanity of the one who hurts him.”

Love, forgiveness, and service will be the themes for the coming days. Jesus shows us through his actions how and why we are to love and serve all and work to bring reconciliation wherever we can. This is the Gospel in action and is an imperative.

We show love by our actions, and one of those actions is not setting up artificial obstructions to God’s grace. God made it rather simple; we have made it difficult. It is a very weak God that needs humanity to defend it. Why would we spend so much time and energy building higher walls when God wants us to build larger tables.

If we truly love our neighbor, then it is our responsibility to work to dismantle all those things that separate all of those policies that keep people out when we should be letting them in. God is not the God for just a few, but rather God, my God anyway, is the God that loves all equally and without hesitation.

By this, everyone will know.

By this love, by this outpouring of love, by this sacrificial love that Jesus taught us and that we are commanded to show to others is how they, the world, will know that we are his followers.


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