Sermon: Come and See

Children love to play the game “hide and seek.” Although they enjoy hiding, the true joy is being found by their loved one.

As adults, we become better at hiding from others — even hiding in places where we are supposedly sharing ourselves. On social media, we create an image of our lives that we want others to see. But we typically hide who we truly are.

It can be difficult for us to even understand who we are. We put out different images of us in various places — work, family, friends, church, social media, etc. — that we may ask, “Who is the real me?” The “real you” is the person you are in your encounter with Jesus. There’s no hiding from God, because God knows who you truly are.

To find out who we are — in all our depths and complexity — is something we find out most fully in our encounter with Jesus Christ.

“Come and See” by The Rev. Joe Gunby

“Come and See”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
John 1: 43-51
Jan. 13, 2019

Sermon: Witness to the Light

We know that standard Christian trope that through Christ we are saved. But what does that really mean? And does that mean that everyone else — even those who never encountered Christ in their life — are damned? Are we just the lucky ones, because we happened to grow up in a Christian family and/or live in a Christian society?

John tells us that Jesus is the true and final light who came into the world for EVERYONE. And salvation does not belong to us. It belongs to God. And the light of Christ shines to all people beyond our knowing, whether they are Christian, agnostic, atheist, etc.

In the Bible, Jesus is constantly healing and feeding people regardless of whether they believe in him. It’s not our job to coerce others to see the light, but rather following the light of salvation that guides our path. Others will see God’s light on our path, and if the light directs us, we can show others that light.

“Witness to the Light” by The Rev. Joe Gunby

“Witness to the Light”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
John 1: 6-14
Jan. 6, 2019 • Epiphany

Sermon: God With Us

As the Advent season begins, it’s a good time to reflect on how we see God. Early Gnostics struggled to see God with human qualities? Humans are so messy, limited and full of fault.

As a human, Jesus transformed the image of God, but it was still difficult for many to grasp — and still is to this day. How can Christ be both human and divine? It leads many people to “Christian-splain” things — creating images of God and how God would act in certain situations.

But it’s really not that complicated. When we look into the faces of other people, we look into the face God. I can only imagine that when Mary kissed the face of Jesus when he was born, she was in awe and curious as to how he will change the world. We should feel that awe in each encounter we have with others.

“God With Us” by Dr. Jodie Lyon

“God With Us”
Sermon by Dr. Jodie Lyon
John 1:1-14
Dec. 2, 2018 • First Sunday of Advent

Listen to the Choir Anthem: “Come, Emmanuel!

Homily: Abiding in the Word

PruningJesus tells us in John 15:4 that “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

Spiritual life is like a vine. And just as vines need pruning to stay in good health and bear more fruit, our spiritual lives need seasonal pruning. But we are not asked to do this task alone. God is the master gardener, and we can trust that God will help prune us so good things will come from us.

Lent offers an opportunity for spiritual pruning. Listen to God, and recognize what God is trying to do in our lives.

“Abiding in the Word”
Homily by The Rev. Joe Gunby
John 15:4-11
March 4, 2018

Sermon: Jesus is risen! But do we know him?

He is risen!

But what does Jesus’ resurrection truly mean to us? Are we really ready to accept the risen Jesus? Or are we too comfortable with our earthly life that we prefer to live our lives as if Jesus is dead?

If we are truly ready to accept the risen Jesus, and the eternal life offered to us, that we need to relinquish our need for certainty and comfort. Our desire of safety must disappear. Because that default setting that tells us to follow our bliss, maximize our profits and seek earthly pleasure  is not the life Jesus demands of us.

If we really accept Jesus, we must fly away from those habits that signal to us that Jesus is dead. He is risen! It’s up to us to change our ways and accept the risen Jesus.

Sermon

“The Jesus I Never Knew”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
John 20: 1, 11-18
April 16, 2017 • Easter Sunday

 

Sermon: “In the end, light will win”

jesus-light-1-jpgc200Does it look like light is overcoming darkness? It seems like darkness is winning every time you turn on the news. But John tells us that light wins.  The light that comes into the world is not a momentary light. It is a powerful light that brings life into the world, generating goodness, kindness and genuine love.

God asks you to be people of the world this holiday season. And despite what we see on the news, we can be happy today. We must trust that God’s light, God’s peace will reign. Christmas is a time when we can be cheerful, because we know that in the end, light will win.

Sermon

“In the End, the Light Will Win”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
John 1:1-5
Dec. 24, 2016 • Christmas Eve

Sermon: Letting Go

“Letting Go”
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
John 20:1-18
March 27, 2016 • Easter Sunday

Audio for this sermon is unavailable.

John begins the Easter story with the words “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark . . .” These words should not come as a surprise to those of us who have, during Lent, become acquainted with the darkness, what we called the Dark Wood, that place where all we seem to have is a past and we cannot see into the future. Nothing to look forward to, whether it concerns our health, our relationships, our family, our careers – all of a sudden there is a dead end, when all that had made life meaningful seems broken, broken beyond mending, and we are left with millions of memories and all kinds of pressures and anxieties, unable to see ahead.

Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb of Jesus while it was still dark. He had been her friend and teacher. And now he was dead; crucified in a humiliating public execution, and now lying in a borrowed tomb. When he died on that Friday afternoon, more expired than just his body. The hope of hundreds of people had died with him, for they thought he was the Messiah. From the day he first appeared in Galilee, preaching the good news of the kingdom of God and doing acts of power, the word had spread that Israel’s long awaited deliverer had arrived and with it the hopes of the people began to rise. But then as swiftly as his fortunes had risen, the tide turned against him, and although he’d tried to prepare them for what would happen, before they could take it in, he’d been arrested, tried, convicted and put to death.

At the point where they had come to expect so much, suddenly it was all over. Their hope had been crucified, and the darkness was overwhelming.  Surely this story of the first Easter tells us that no one is ever ready to truly encounter Easter until he or she has spent some time in the darkness where hope cannot be seen, and where new life is the last thing one would expect.

As Mary made her way in the darkness to the tomb, perhaps she reflected on memories of happier times that now seemed so far away, almost like a dream.  Maybe she wanted a few moments alone simply to be as close as she could be to the one she had loved and followed, the way we have felt at one time or another when we’ve returned to the gravesite of a loved one after the funeral and graveside services are over – to let the reality sink in. It is the closest we can get to them now, and the relationship we had is in the past, not forgotten – never forgotten – but in the past, the subject of reminiscence, the time for saying things like, “do you remember when he said . . .,” or “I’ll thought I’d never stop laughing when she  . . .,” or “Nobody played the piano, or baked a cake, or told a joke like . . ..”

When Mary arrived at the tomb she was horrified to find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. It did not occur to her that she was encountering something that God had done. She thought grave robbers had added even more pain to her already broken heart by stealing away Jesus’ body. And so she ran to tell Peter and John, who in turn ran to the tomb to see for themselves and they confirm her worst fears. Jesus is gone. The tomb is empty.

With nothing to see there, Peter and John return to the others, but Mary lingers, not knowing what to do next.  I really sympathize with her next move – you know how it is when you’ve lost something, and you know it just has to be there – so you go back again and again the last place you saw it, thinking maybe this time it will turn up.  So it is with Mary; she takes one more look inside the tomb just in case they all somehow missed something, but Jesus isn’t there.

Two angels have arrived, however. Unlike in the other gospels, they make no grand announcement that Jesus has risen and gone to Galilee. They simply ask her why she’s crying. And she tells them what is on her heart. “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.” All she wants is his body back. All she wants is a shrine for her memories, a place where she can come to mourn her friend and the hopes that had died with him.

Now we get to the good part! As she turns away from the tomb, she sees a man standing there whom she supposes to be the gardener. He asks her the same question the angels had asked: “Why are you weeping?” and so she goes through the whole story yet again and asks him if he’s taken Jesus’ body away. Then the unexpected thing happens in the darkness of her life, the gardener calls her by name, “Mary.” And she experiences, not what she was looking for – the body of her dead friend – but what she never expected to find or see again – the living Jesus, the resurrected Lord.

It is almost more hope than she can handle, and she reaches out in her joy to embrace Jesus, but the risen Christ says “Do not hold on to me.” Now, if I’d been writing the gospel, there’d be a few extra verses that included the opportunity for a reunion hug, and then maybe Jesus would say something like, “Relax, I’m back. Let’s get the others, put our heads together and make a plan.” That’s what Mary wanted – to go back to the way things used to be before that horrible Friday three days ago that had changed everything, back to the old, familiar life where everything was normal and somewhat predictable, back to the safety of the known.

But one thing she learned that day, and we know it too – we can never go back – never back to the days before that fateful Friday, never back to the days before the doctor’s diagnosis, or the employer’s pink slip, or the or the day mama died.

What we miss and beg God to give back is gone. Easter does not change that. So we cannot cling to the hope that Jesus will take us back to the way it used to be. The only way out of the darkness is to move ahead. And the only one who can lead the way is the risen Christ, not the old teacher we once knew. We can’t hold on to him where we are, but we have to let go and allow him to take us where he is going. He calls us to follow him, not to hang on to him. And following Jesus is a never-ending process of discovery because he is always on the move, unable to be confined to the past, and waiting to be revealed in new ways to us in the future.

Easter is the first day of the new week – the new life – and we cannot understand the true joy and meaning of Easter until we realize that God has given us in the resurrection a new perspective on life. The God whom Paul described in Romans as “the One who can make things that are out of things that are not and the one who can make dead things come to life again” (Romans 4:17) is a factor to be reckoned with as we think about the future. We are not alone in our struggles in life; it is not simply our strength, our intelligence, our abilities, our determination or our willpower that are the only forces at work in our lives. God is in our lives too – out there ahead of us, taking what seems dead and beyond mending, and bringing it back to life again.

And if God’s undeniable presence is factored in as we contemplate the future, despair is undone and hopelessness disappears. We can no longer look on our brokenness and say we are beyond mending. We know that if God was not only able but willing to take the broken body of Jesus and raise him back to life, what can God not do? What lives, what families, what careers, what relationships can God not mend?

The effect of Easter on us is to change forever the way we use the words “possible” and “impossible.” Our God is alive and going before us into the future, and therefore our despair is inappropriate because it concludes something about the future that we finite human beings have no ability to conclude.

Because Easter has happened, we know that the God who leads us into the future, who had the power to raise Jesus from the dead, also had the mercy to send him back to the ones who had betrayed him. Even Judas, who had really made a terrible mess of his life, I believe would have received pardon and forgiveness from Jesus if he had not despaired of his future. What he did was not much worse than what Peter did. There would have been mercy enough for him if he’d stayed around to see what God could do with what he had done.  He didn’t understand that out there in the future there is a God powerful enough to make dead things come to life again and who is merciful enough to be willing to do it.

Out of the brokenness of our own lives, in times when we feel lost in the Dark Wood, God is there too. As we’ve said before, God does some of God’s best work in the dark. So in the darkness, before we know or are aware, God is shaping our tomorrows, bringing life out of death. And there is enough power and enough mercy in God to deal with whatever difficulties we may face. Jesus died on the first Good Friday, but despair died on Easter morning.

After the resurrection Mary was never the same again; nor is anyone else who has experienced the risen Christ. That is the good news. That is what the gospel proclaims. We do not have to worry about what lies ahead for us because we know that Christ has already gone on before us and waits for us there. Darkness is banished; despair is no more; our risen savior is on the move and he’s calling our names. Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Amen.

Sermon: The Gift of Being Lost

“The Gift of Being Lost”
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
John 3:1-10
March 6, 2016

Audio for this sermon in unavailable.

There are times in life, even when we’re doing everything we think we’re supposed to be doing that we realize at some point along the way we’ve gotten lost – taken a wrong turn, become preoccupied with our busyness  and missed a signal, zigged when we should have zagged, put our minds on automatic pilot once too often. However it happens, we wind up not  where we want to be, doing perhaps what we didn’t want to do, worried about how things haven’t turned out as planned, and wondering how did that happen and how in the world do we find our way out of this place.  Being lost is not a once in a life time experience for most of us; it happens from time to time and requires a mid-course adjustment , but sometimes we don’t know how to start, maybe feel stuck, maybe feel scared, maybe feel inadequate and not up to a change even though the present is uncomfortable.

The story of Nicodemus’ night time visit to Jesus is a familiar one to many.  He has lived to this point within a very well defined framework. He’s comfortable with it; he knows its contours; everything is under control, nothing within his reality is loose or untamed or inexplicable. The very first words out of his mouth are a confident, “Rabbi, we know.”

Nicodemus is a Pharisee; he takes his faith very seriously. To preserve the faith the Pharisees had separated themselves from secular influences centuries before, and practiced rigid rules of purity and sacrifice. They were a distinct class, inflexible defenders of tradition, who over the years had grown in power and influence. They knew the limits of divine action, how God does and does not work in the world. They knew what is possible and not possible. Within their system there was no room for surprise; God is awesome, magnificent, and perfectly predictable.

But then they heard about Jesus and saw him in action. Now on the one hand, the signs, the miracles he is able to do mark him as a man of God because as Nicodemus says, “no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God”; but here’s the problem – Jesus is obviously not qualified; he’s not one a Pharisee; he hangs out with unsavory people; he doesn’t follow all of the 613 rules that a truly God-fearing person must; he heals on the Sabbath, touches the unclean, and eats with gentiles. He reinterprets tradition.  Nicodemus and his friends are experiencing a kind of cognitive dissonance. What they know for sure and certain seems to be the opposite of what they have actually seen and experienced. It’s not a comfortable place to be in. Nicodemus is lost and in the dark. It is not by accident that he comes to Jesus at night.

Jesus answer is not the one Nicodemus had hoped for, not the one that says “you’re on the right track, Nicodemus. Just keep on doing the same things, the way you have your whole life; don’t change a thing and everything will be all right.” No, Jesus says “No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.” Or in a more loose translation – “You can’t see God if you don’t start back at square one and start over like a child.”  And naturally enough Nicodemus’ answer is, “you gotta be kidding me; you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!”  Or more accurately, according to the New Revised Standard Version, “How can anyone be born after growing old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” And then Jesus totally loses him with “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” And Nicodemus’s reply is an uncomprehending, “How can this be?”

Sometimes we have to start over from the beginning with all of the assumptions and definitions and categories and goals that we hold so dear, blown away by the spirit.  It means letting go of control and searching for truth in the midst of new realities. As our model, Jesus recommends the open and unprejudiced mind of a child, non-judgmental, capable of immediate response, ready for excitement and the experience of awe. Children can be in the present moment without some part of them stepping outside of the experience to hold it at arms’ length to evaluate it, filter it, and critique it. This is what Buddhism knows as “the beginners’ mind” where one is always the student, always willing to begin afresh and anew, always ready to learn and to experience more.

Often when we are lost, don’t have our bearings, and the ground shifts under our feet, we cling to what we already know, what has worked before.  But you know that cliché, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” Sometimes before frantically clutching at outdated and worthless straws, it is better to sit still and simply be, to have that beginner’s mind – to listen, to look around, and stay in the present rather than desperately casting about for alternative scenarios – and then — wait for the breeze.  As much as we’d prefer it, God doesn’t not behave anything like the God of the movies –  no incredible Star Wars special effects, no magnificent, resonant Morgan Freeman voice, no miraculous George Burns’ friendly-old-guy type appearances. Just a still, small voice, a hunch, an intuition, a coincidence here, a surprise occurrence there.  Funny things happen that tend to add up to more than expected. God is in the details; God is in the small things that we will miss if we fail to be quiet and attentive.

A poem called “Lost” by David Wagoner is often quoted either in whole or in part by various authors reflecting on darkness – Richard Rohr, Barbara Brown Taylor, Joan Chittister, Eric Elnes . He describes what to do when you find yourself lost:

Stand still. The trees ahead
And bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger.
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers.
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it you may come back again,
Saying Here.
No two trees are the same to the Raven,
No two branches are the same to the Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still.
The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Good advice: Stand still; get your bearings; study your surroundings; pay attention to details; wherever you are is called “here.” And then wait for the breeze, and only then take one step at a time. Patiently, slowly.  The path is never straight or well lit, so charging ahead can be more harmful than helpful. If you’ve ever walked a labyrinth you know how it twists and turns, sometimes it seems as if you are doubling back on yourself, going in the wrong direction, but with perseverance and concentration, walking slowly one small section at a time, you finally reach the goal, the center, and the presence of God.

The journey from being lost to being found does not happen in an instant or even overnight; it takes time, to be sure. We walk to where we see the next step revealed and then must stop and wait for the breeze, the signal to take the next step forward. Some describe as similar to driving a car at night, “You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”[i]

Have you ever wondered if Nicodemus found his way out of the dark wood? Or did he stay stuck, wondering “How can this be?” He is mentioned twice more in John’s gospel,  first as a defender of Jesus against the Pharisees who had wanted Jesus arrested, saying “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” (7:51) He hi criticized by the Pharisees for his tolerance. And then later after Jesus’ death he is named as a companion of Joseph of Arimathea, bringing spices and assisting with the linen cloths to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. No longer the confident, but lost, interrogator, he has worked his way through the contradictions he’s experienced to become a disciple, a student, a follower; he has been touched by the wind that blows where it will with the grace and love and mystery of God; and he is lost no more.   When we feel lost, may it be so for us as well.  Amen.

[i] Eric Elnes, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and other wanderers), 2015, 100.