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Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Deuternomy 4:32-40 - link to NRSV text
Acts 8:26-40 - link to NRSV text
1 John 3:(14-17)18-24 - link to NRSV text
John 14:15-21 - link to NRSV text

The Ethiopian eunuch asks Philip a very brave question: "What is there to prevent me from being Baptized?" It seems a reasonable question in many ways. He was in his chariot studying Isaiah (as one does -- don't you?) when he happened upon Philip. Philip tells him that the redemption Isaiah anticipates has come in Jesus. And then they happen upon a convenient water source! What is to prevent him from being Baptized?

I still say it's a brave question. Anyone who asks that question today of a leader just might be greeted with a list: Well, do you REALLY understand what's going on in the Eucharist? What's your attitude on the authority of scripture, or on human sexuality? Do you still plan to work in that den of vice they call a court in Ethiopia? And then there's that delicate matter of your operation. You understand that it renders you unfit to enter the Temple, right? It's so important for people to know their place, and yours is, well ... not the same as ours. We need to have a few decades of dialogue about your place -- you can wait over there.

It reminds me of the very funny and very, very effective ad the UCC has created called "Ejector Pew." (Watch it if you haven't seen it -- brilliant!) But that's not the response the eunuch got from Philip. Philip baptized him, and he went on his way rejoicing.

A lot of sermons pretty much end there. It's the happy ending -- God loves you. You're in! Rejoice and skip into the sunset. But let's not end there. Ending there leaves us all wondering what's next. When we don't explore that question together, we often end up filling in the blanks with whatever our culture says is good. Rejoice and go on your way -- oh, and work hard and play by the rules, go to church every Sunday, be generous, don't do drugs, and make sure to send flowers on Mother's Day. Amen.

But have you ever noticed that in the "Great Commission" in Matthew, the passage most often pointed to as warrant for evangelism, that Jesus does NOT say "go and make converts," let alone "go and make churchgoers." The "Great Commission" is to make disciples, Baptizing them AND teaching them to obey Jesus' commands. This Sunday's gospel has a similar exhortation from Jesus: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

"Commandments" has a serious ring to it -- it gives the sentence a kind of James Earl Jones-gravitas. It's a favorite word of the Morals Police who want to add some teeth to those "work hard and play by the rules" commandments of our culture. "This," they say, rubbing their hands, is where we get down to business." They're often disappointed when they take a closer look at just what Jesus says is his commandment in John 15:12: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

"Oh good!" some folks would say, "I was afraid he was going to say something heavy. I just LOVE love, though. All you need is love! Love lifts up where we belong! Who could be against that? We're pretty much back to the skipping into the sunset rejoicing plan."

We're going to hear more about this next week, when our gospel passage includes John 15:12 -- and the next verse, which has quite a kicker that the romantic love of Moulin Rouge wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. But we've got a good introduction to the concept in this week's reading from 1 John (and it's short enough -- why on earth would anyone go with the shorter version of it?):

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us -- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

Jesus loved us such that he gave his life, his very self, for us, holding nothing back. As I've said before, that doesn't indicate that Jesus was a creature like the lemmings of Disney myth, flinging himself off a cliff for no reason other than to encourage others to do the same. Jesus is at work in the family business, and so Jesus' love functions as does his Father's: calling out a motley assortment of slaves judged of no account by the powerful, and gathering them as a community to become a people. I think that's worth keeping in mind when thinking about this week's reading from Deuteronomy.

Would it be Good News, would it be the family business of God and God's people if the Israelites were called out of Egypt just to become another kingdom with another Pharoah and another set of people condemned to slavery by rulers' military might? As St. Paul would say, by no means! God calls us -- especially those of us judged to be losers of no account in the world's scheme of things -- to freedom from this world's Pharoahs not so we can form our own domineering hierarchy with the "right" people on top, but so we can do things differently. We don't replace one Pharoah with another; God is our king, and any other applicants for the job can forget it.

That's radical -- so radical, in fact, that it remained controversial within Israel for centuries. How are we supposed to hold our own against hostile powers around us if we're not prepared to kick butt on their terms -- with armies, led by a kickass king? But what Jesus proposes might be even more radical -- and I'd give, well, a LOT to see if anyone picks this up for preaching this Mother's Day. Jesus' calling out of motley individuals to form God's people doesn't just say that having God as our king defines the nation, and therefore we don't need any human monarchs; it says that with God as our Father we are truly one family as beloved children of God, and that is to be the sole claim on family allegiance.

As far as our culture is concerned, that is CRAZY. That's bad. Does this story report the behavior of a good son, by conventional reckonings?

A crowd was sitting around him: and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother"
(Mark 3:32-35)

It reminds me of the game improvisational comedy troupes play (yup, I was in one once) called "World's Worst," in which comics are given a category of "the world's worst ..." and have to supply entries for it. I'd enter this one in the category of "World's Worst Message for a Mother's Day Card."

It's just not our culture's way of reckoning things. We appreciate our mothers, and I do think that we tend not to appreciate them anywhere near enough. But every Mother's Day, I think also of all my friends, acquaintances, and fellow or former parishioners who feel judged as a failure by everyone around them because they don't have our culture's ideal: a lawfully married spouse (or at least a life partner) and kids, preferably living in a well-kept house the adults own. The floral-industrial complex -- and far too many Mother's Day sermons -- leave them out entirely.

And then I think about some other mothers who won't be getting flowers, breakfast in bed, or ice cream cakes this Sunday. I think about mothers in Darfur facing agonizing decisions about which of their children to feed. I think about a mother in Zimbabwe I read about recently in the newspaper who wonders who will care for her children once the menengitis she's suffering from -- a treatable condition, but she can't afford the treatment -- takes her from them. And as much as I want to love and appreciate and honor the women in my community who give of themselves to love and nurture the children I see playing in the aisles of the church during the Eucharist on Sunday morning, I want to pose the question that seems unthinkable in our culture, and especially on this Sunday:

What if we saw every mama as our own mother or sister? What if we welcomed and nourished and stood up for every child as if each one was our very own flesh? Jesus' love -- the love we have received, and therefore are equipped to live out and pass along to our world -- is such that he said, "I will not leave you orphaned"; instead, he gave us an Advocate, the Holy Spirit of truth. And this week particularly, my heart breaks for all of those children who will be orphaned today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and Sunday.

This is a situation that is within our power to change. Clean water, a mosquito net, a phone call made or a vote cast to stop subsidizing violence -- a critical mass of small, simple things like that could give life to so many mothers and their children. So this Sunday, by all means give flowers, and ice cream cakes, and breakfasts in bed. Give all the love you've got to give to the women in your life. And because love -- especially God's love, Jesus' love -- is not a limited good, a finite pie we have less to give when we give some away, give a moment of your time, a second of your imagination, to other children's mothers, and to orphaned children. Pray for the capacity to receive God's love the way Jesus did, the way that overflows for the world. And please take a moment after ordering the flowers and signing the cards to send to stop by someplace like the ONE Campaign to find out what one person, one family, one moment can do to help create a world in which every mother can see each of her children get clean water, good food, an education, a chance.

Thanks be to God!

May 11, 2006 in 1 John, Easter, John, Justice, Kinship/Family, Leadership, Love, Mark, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals, Women, Year B | Permalink

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Wonderful sermon. I love my Mother, and I have long thought, to quell my own anger at times, that whoever I am angry at is a son or daughter or mother, someone loved this person, and Jesus still does, so how can I do less? I love that section of Mark.

Thank you for all your wonderful thoughts and spirit.

Posted by: Steve | May 17, 2006 12:54:11 PM

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

« Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B | Main | Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B »

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Deuternomy 4:32-40 - link to NRSV text
Acts 8:26-40 - link to NRSV text
1 John 3:(14-17)18-24 - link to NRSV text
John 14:15-21 - link to NRSV text

The Ethiopian eunuch asks Philip a very brave question: "What is there to prevent me from being Baptized?" It seems a reasonable question in many ways. He was in his chariot studying Isaiah (as one does -- don't you?) when he happened upon Philip. Philip tells him that the redemption Isaiah anticipates has come in Jesus. And then they happen upon a convenient water source! What is to prevent him from being Baptized?

I still say it's a brave question. Anyone who asks that question today of a leader just might be greeted with a list: Well, do you REALLY understand what's going on in the Eucharist? What's your attitude on the authority of scripture, or on human sexuality? Do you still plan to work in that den of vice they call a court in Ethiopia? And then there's that delicate matter of your operation. You understand that it renders you unfit to enter the Temple, right? It's so important for people to know their place, and yours is, well ... not the same as ours. We need to have a few decades of dialogue about your place -- you can wait over there.

It reminds me of the very funny and very, very effective ad the UCC has created called "Ejector Pew." (Watch it if you haven't seen it -- brilliant!) But that's not the response the eunuch got from Philip. Philip baptized him, and he went on his way rejoicing.

A lot of sermons pretty much end there. It's the happy ending -- God loves you. You're in! Rejoice and skip into the sunset. But let's not end there. Ending there leaves us all wondering what's next. When we don't explore that question together, we often end up filling in the blanks with whatever our culture says is good. Rejoice and go on your way -- oh, and work hard and play by the rules, go to church every Sunday, be generous, don't do drugs, and make sure to send flowers on Mother's Day. Amen.

But have you ever noticed that in the "Great Commission" in Matthew, the passage most often pointed to as warrant for evangelism, that Jesus does NOT say "go and make converts," let alone "go and make churchgoers." The "Great Commission" is to make disciples, Baptizing them AND teaching them to obey Jesus' commands. This Sunday's gospel has a similar exhortation from Jesus: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

"Commandments" has a serious ring to it -- it gives the sentence a kind of James Earl Jones-gravitas. It's a favorite word of the Morals Police who want to add some teeth to those "work hard and play by the rules" commandments of our culture. "This," they say, rubbing their hands, is where we get down to business." They're often disappointed when they take a closer look at just what Jesus says is his commandment in John 15:12: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

"Oh good!" some folks would say, "I was afraid he was going to say something heavy. I just LOVE love, though. All you need is love! Love lifts up where we belong! Who could be against that? We're pretty much back to the skipping into the sunset rejoicing plan."

We're going to hear more about this next week, when our gospel passage includes John 15:12 -- and the next verse, which has quite a kicker that the romantic love of Moulin Rouge wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. But we've got a good introduction to the concept in this week's reading from 1 John (and it's short enough -- why on earth would anyone go with the shorter version of it?):

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us -- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

Jesus loved us such that he gave his life, his very self, for us, holding nothing back. As I've said before, that doesn't indicate that Jesus was a creature like the lemmings of Disney myth, flinging himself off a cliff for no reason other than to encourage others to do the same. Jesus is at work in the family business, and so Jesus' love functions as does his Father's: calling out a motley assortment of slaves judged of no account by the powerful, and gathering them as a community to become a people. I think that's worth keeping in mind when thinking about this week's reading from Deuteronomy.

Would it be Good News, would it be the family business of God and God's people if the Israelites were called out of Egypt just to become another kingdom with another Pharoah and another set of people condemned to slavery by rulers' military might? As St. Paul would say, by no means! God calls us -- especially those of us judged to be losers of no account in the world's scheme of things -- to freedom from this world's Pharoahs not so we can form our own domineering hierarchy with the "right" people on top, but so we can do things differently. We don't replace one Pharoah with another; God is our king, and any other applicants for the job can forget it.

That's radical -- so radical, in fact, that it remained controversial within Israel for centuries. How are we supposed to hold our own against hostile powers around us if we're not prepared to kick butt on their terms -- with armies, led by a kickass king? But what Jesus proposes might be even more radical -- and I'd give, well, a LOT to see if anyone picks this up for preaching this Mother's Day. Jesus' calling out of motley individuals to form God's people doesn't just say that having God as our king defines the nation, and therefore we don't need any human monarchs; it says that with God as our Father we are truly one family as beloved children of God, and that is to be the sole claim on family allegiance.

As far as our culture is concerned, that is CRAZY. That's bad. Does this story report the behavior of a good son, by conventional reckonings?

A crowd was sitting around him: and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother"
(Mark 3:32-35)

It reminds me of the game improvisational comedy troupes play (yup, I was in one once) called "World's Worst," in which comics are given a category of "the world's worst ..." and have to supply entries for it. I'd enter this one in the category of "World's Worst Message for a Mother's Day Card."

It's just not our culture's way of reckoning things. We appreciate our mothers, and I do think that we tend not to appreciate them anywhere near enough. But every Mother's Day, I think also of all my friends, acquaintances, and fellow or former parishioners who feel judged as a failure by everyone around them because they don't have our culture's ideal: a lawfully married spouse (or at least a life partner) and kids, preferably living in a well-kept house the adults own. The floral-industrial complex -- and far too many Mother's Day sermons -- leave them out entirely.

And then I think about some other mothers who won't be getting flowers, breakfast in bed, or ice cream cakes this Sunday. I think about mothers in Darfur facing agonizing decisions about which of their children to feed. I think about a mother in Zimbabwe I read about recently in the newspaper who wonders who will care for her children once the menengitis she's suffering from -- a treatable condition, but she can't afford the treatment -- takes her from them. And as much as I want to love and appreciate and honor the women in my community who give of themselves to love and nurture the children I see playing in the aisles of the church during the Eucharist on Sunday morning, I want to pose the question that seems unthinkable in our culture, and especially on this Sunday:

What if we saw every mama as our own mother or sister? What if we welcomed and nourished and stood up for every child as if each one was our very own flesh? Jesus' love -- the love we have received, and therefore are equipped to live out and pass along to our world -- is such that he said, "I will not leave you orphaned"; instead, he gave us an Advocate, the Holy Spirit of truth. And this week particularly, my heart breaks for all of those children who will be orphaned today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and Sunday.

This is a situation that is within our power to change. Clean water, a mosquito net, a phone call made or a vote cast to stop subsidizing violence -- a critical mass of small, simple things like that could give life to so many mothers and their children. So this Sunday, by all means give flowers, and ice cream cakes, and breakfasts in bed. Give all the love you've got to give to the women in your life. And because love -- especially God's love, Jesus' love -- is not a limited good, a finite pie we have less to give when we give some away, give a moment of your time, a second of your imagination, to other children's mothers, and to orphaned children. Pray for the capacity to receive God's love the way Jesus did, the way that overflows for the world. And please take a moment after ordering the flowers and signing the cards to send to stop by someplace like the ONE Campaign to find out what one person, one family, one moment can do to help create a world in which every mother can see each of her children get clean water, good food, an education, a chance.

Thanks be to God!

May 11, 2006 in 1 John, Easter, John, Justice, Kinship/Family, Leadership, Love, Mark, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals, Women, Year B | Permalink

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