Monday, April 18, 2016

Sunday's Sermon - Some Plain Talk

Acts 9:36-43
John 10:22-30

       The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
  Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me.”  And then, “My sheep listen to my voice”.
I think this is an accurate reflection of many of our conversations with God.  “If you want me to do x, y or z just tell me!” we say to God.  And God does tell us.  God tells us through the love God gives us through the blessings that surround us every day – through the air, the breath, the wind, through the trees, the grass, the birds, through the water and food we take in, through community, through LIFE.  God tells us through the scriptures that describe what it is to follow Christ – giving up all we have to teach, to love, to serve God’s people.  God tells us through our hearts, through our souls, through our consciences.  God tells us in a hundred ways and yet we still demand, “Just tell me what you want me to do!”
       It reminds me of a scene from the movie Bruce Almighty.  Bruce is driving down a road after being fired from his job and he shouts out to God, “Okay God.  You want me to talk to you?  Then talk back!  Tell me what is going on!  What should I do?  Give me a signal!” and at that moment as he’s driving he passes a sign that is blinking “caution ahead” repeatedly.  But Bruce doesn’t see it.  He doesn’t listen.  He continues both in driving and in yelling at God, “Give me some guidance, Lord.  Please, send me a sign!”  And at that moment a truck pulls ahead of him that is carrying signs – signs that say “Stop” and “Wrong way!” “Dead end!” and even, “Do not enter!”  But again, he doesn’t see it, except as an inconvenience around which he swerves.  Then he begs for a miracle saying, “I’m desperate!  I need a miracle, Lord.  Please, reach into my life and…” At this point he gets distracted and crashes into a pole.  Still, he begs for a sign, a miracle, an event that will help him.  He yells at God, he shouts at God, declaring that God is not doing God’s job and should be fired.  Finally he shouts out to God, “ANSWER ME!!”  At that moment his pager starts beeping.  He looks at the number, doesn’t recognize it and he says, “Sorry, don’t know ya.  Wouldn’t call ya if I did.”  We all know it is God, again, calling, answering Bruce in so many, many ways.  But Bruce fails to recognize any one of the signs – even the most blatant ones - and instead he just continues to beg for a sign, to beg for an answer.
           But today’s question from those around Jesus is perhaps even more profound than simply asking God what to do.  In this case they are begging – Jesus, tell us if you are the Messiah.  Or, God, tell us who you really are!  Tell us who you are in relationship to us.
            I think about this with our human relationships.  How do we know who people really are?  How do we know what they really feel about us?  How do we know who they are in relationship to us?  There is a saying in 12 step programs.  That saying is, “it’s none of my business what you think about me or feel about me”.  What that saying is trying to communicate is that we can never know what is inside another person’s head, not really.  No matter what they say, what they try to communicate, we will never really know what they think or what they feel, and it is a waste of our time and efforts to worry about that.  So what IS our business is how we are treated.  What is our business is how others behavior affects us.  Are we treated with respect?  Are we treated with care?  Are we heard?  Are our thoughts and feelings valued and taken seriously?  It is through others’ actions that we come to know who they truly are in relation to us.
           Imagine two different friendships.  One is a friendship that developes slowly, cautiously.  When you meet, your friend always asks how you are, asks with genuine interest, not just saying “how are you?” as a greeting like many do.  Your friend may tease, but always in a gentle, subtle way. Your friend begins to stop by occasionally, sometimes with a small gift in hand - a flower, a mocha, just because.  Your friend listens to you, is there when you need him, is available when you just need to sit.  He never, ever, says the words “I care for you”, but he is always there, with an ear to listen or a smile to give, always there.  Then there is another friend.  And this one tells you all the time how much you are loved and cared for.  But this friend's teasing is humiliating, even when she is asked to stop.  She breaks confidences, sharing information told with the request of silence, in trust,  and she shares these private stories sometimes in publicly cruel ways. This friend continues to tell you how much you are valued, but she is not available when needed.  She doesn't return phone calls or emails, disappears for spells until your help is needed.  She asks for you to be available at the drop of a hat and is highly offended when you are not.  But when you have gatherings, she comes only if she likes the other people invited, if it suits her, if she feels like it. Both of these friends have  things to say about themselves, have things to say about who they are in relationship to you.  One says nothing, downplaying his care.  The other speaks regularly about how deep her care is.  But their actions speak much louder than their words.
              As I read through today’s scriptures I was reminded of Matthew 21:28-32.  Jesus said, “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”
           Jesus told us through all that he said and all that he did who he was in relationship to us.  He told us clearly and plainly through his healings, through his words, through his compassion, through his sharing of food and wine, through his life who he was.  Still, sometimes it is hard to hear.  Other times we do not trust what we see or even experience and we demand more proof.  We ask again and again, “What do you want me to do?” “Do you love me?” “Are you the Messiah?”  “Are you there?”
We are called to do the same.  Jesus is clear throughout the gospels that those who follow him, who are his disciples will be known by our love.  We will be known as Christians, as people on the way, as people of faith, by our actions, by the love and kindness we show others.  Not by the words we say, not by the faith we profess, but by our love.  But what we see in the news are a lot of people who are claiming the name of Christian who are NOT showing the love of God.  They are acting with hate, with anger, with cruelty and sometimes with violence.  This is not the love God calls us to show.  We will be known by our love.  And so our job, always our job, is to learn how to love: better, more fully, more completely, each and every day.
            There are times when we will all ask God to show us a sign.  To show us who God is.  To prove to us that God is who God says God is.  But when we ask, we are reminded, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently that God, that Jesus, has already answered the question.  “Look around!  See what I have done!  Look at who I am in the world then and today!  See what love I have for you that I have done all that I have done through history and through your lives!  Am I the Messiah?  You know I am.  Do I love you?  You know that I do.  Through every breath you take, you experience that I AM.”  Thanks be to God.  Amen.