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Breathed Upon

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , on April 27, 2019 by timtrue

Delivered at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Temecula, California on the Second Sunday of Easter, 2019.

John 20:19-31

1.

Thomas missed it.

Early that morning, before dawn, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty, the stone rolled away.

But Thomas missed it.

A little later that same morning, Mary met the risen Lord and was commissioned by him to go and share the Good News with the disciples.

And so she went and announced, “I have seen the risen Lord, alleluia”; she told them the Good News.

But somehow Thomas missed it.

Nor was he there later that evening, when Jesus himself came and breathed on those who had gathered together.

Sometime later still, when Thomas finally does show up, the disciples tell him the same thing Mary said—except now it’s not just I but we: “We have seen the risen Lord, alleluia.”

The testimony of one thoughtful, faithful Christian has now been bolstered with the strength of community.

But, still, Thomas misses it.

“Unless I . . . put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side,” he announces, “I will not believe.”

And so, our day in the Church calendar for the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle is—can you guess?

Well, what day of the year would you assign to a guy forever remembered by the name doubting?

Yep, December 21st, the day of the winter solstice: the darkest, most doubtful day of the year.

Because—poor guy!—he missed it.

2.

Now, if you happen to be here today and you weren’t last week, you’re probably hearing the exclamation, “You shoulda seen it!”

We had an illuminated labyrinth this year. You shoulda seen it!

There was an Easter Vigil. You shoulda seen it!

We started the service by candlelight. You shoulda seen it!

There was a baptism. You shoulda seen it!

The Bishop’s Committee hosted a champagne reception. You shoulda seen it!

And on Easter day: the musicians were exemplary; the Easter egg hunt was joyful; Father David celebrated with his easy-listening British accent. You shoulda seen it!

But, if you happen to be here today and were not here last week, do you actually believe this exclamation?

Or, like Thomas, are you doubtful?

I mean, just look around!

Today, attendance is low. The Easter lilies have begun to droop. In many churches around the world, the pastor’s taking today off. Quite a contrast to last week! Maybe all the excitement is over-rated.

We clergy have a term for this Sunday, by the way: low Sunday.

If you ask me, I think maybe a better term is Doubting Thomas Sunday; because for all intents and purposes it looks like the Church around the world has missed it too.

Resurrection! New life!

Really?

Today’s feast is the Second Sunday of Easter; we’re seven days into the Great Fifty Days! It should feel just as celebratory as last week.

But, let’s face it, it just doesn’t.

Aren’t we all a lot like Doubting Thomas—whether we missed last week or not? He missed the actual resurrection: he was not a witness. And haven’t we all missed it too? After all, it happened two thousand years ago. None of us was around.

3.

However, I argue, the resurrection is still taking place, all around us, everyday! If we’re missing it, it’s only because, like Thomas, we haven’t yet learned how to see it.

Thomas did learn how, in time. The early Church historian Eusebius tells us that Thomas carried the Good News to India, believing so firmly in Christ that there he died a martyr’s death.

Even though we still call him doubting to this day, Thomas did learn how to see the resurrection first-hand. We can do it too.

Here’s how.

Today’s Gospel tells us that one week later, one week after he missed it, Thomas did encounter the risen Jesus with the other disciples.

So, what do you think happened during that week in between?

A week ago, Thomas said that he would not believe unless he should touch Jesus physically. Now, today, Jesus appears and—did you notice?—merely says, “Touch me, Thomas,” and Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas said he wouldn’t believe unless he touched Jesus; and yet today I don’t see him touching Jesus at all! He merely cries out at the sight of him!

What changed? What happened during that week in between?

Well, what happens when you experience something utterly fantastic?

The disciples must have been talking non-stop! All week long, Thomas must have been surrounded by, “You shoulda seen it! Jesus did this” and “he said that” and “he couldn’t have been a ghost because he actually ate with us.”

All week long, Thomas was engaging in conversations, eating meals, praying, fellowshipping, and doing things with these people who kept coming back to the amazing claim that they’d seen the risen Jesus.

You shoulda seen it!

So that when Jesus finally does show up, a week later, Thomas needs no further prodding. At Jesus’ word, Thomas falls to his knees and exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

To which Jesus replies to all of us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Thomas missed the actual, physical resurrection. Thomas was not among the first people to witness the resurrected Jesus.

But for that week in between he saw the effects of the resurrection. For that week in between, he witnessed first-hand what belief in the resurrection was doing to the disciples.

Now, we may have missed it too. Like Thomas, we weren’t there at Jesus’ resurrection; we weren’t with the first people to witness it.

However, in the week since—or in the two thousand years since (same thing, really)—we have been surrounded by the effects of the resurrection.

And when we learn to see these effects, then we witness the resurrection first-hand.

4.

Well then, what do these effects look like—just what are we looking for?

For the answer, we return to the Gospel narrative.

In the twentieth chapter of John, two times the words to Mary Magdalene are, “Do not be afraid”; and three times Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The Gospel of John contrasts fear with peace. Incidentally, John also says elsewhere that perfect love casts out fear: there’s a strong connection for John between peace and love.

But to return to my point, according to this Gospel, peace is winning:

Two times : do not fear :: three times : peace be with you.

It’s two steps back but three steps forward. That can feel discouraging, sure; especially on this Second Sunday of Easter, low Sunday. But the net outcome is peace overcoming fear.

So: Where do we see peace overcoming fear in our world?

Of course, we see it in Jesus’ crucifixion. He remains peaceful throughout his passion—arrest, trial, mocking, and execution. Throughout, peace overcomes fear.

But, you know, we see it even before Jesus walks the earth, with—for instance—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the OT book of Daniel. These three young men peacefully resist the tyrant-king Nebuchadnezzar, even though he threatens them with the fear of death!

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, we see it with the early Christian martyrs. “Give up your faith or die,” they are told. Yet time and again they face whatever fearsome threats come their way; and, though many of them die, peace gains the upper hand.

We see it again in Church history with Martin Luther when he peacefully protests the Holy Roman Empire, standing resolute even though threatened repeatedly with violence and death.

We see it in our own nation’s struggle for Civil Rights, from the nonviolent songs of lament composed by slaves to the peaceful protests of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.

We see it gaining remarkable steam around the world in 1989: peaceful students protest a violent military in Beijing, willing to die in Tiananmen Square so that others may live; and the border wall in Berlin tumbles to the ground, signifying the end of large-scale governmental systems of oppression.

Peace overcoming fear! Around the world!

And we see it still at work in our own day—arguably more now than ever before—as our society responds to violent acts of terrorism and hate in peaceful ways.

Light overcoming darkness; life overcoming death; peace overcoming fear.

In the end, like Thomas, we haven’t missed it; for every day we witness resurrection, the peace of Jesus, first-hand.

Beyond the Tribal Walls

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2019 by timtrue

Luke 4:21-30

1.

Tribalism.

It’s a word we use in our culture to describe a group to which we belong, whose interests we care about deeply—my people, my tribe.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Which of you moms has never felt a kind of “mama bear” instinct, to protect your children—your people—no matter the cost?

Our modern culture, which places a high value on the individual, plays into tribalism especially well. You and I may be a part of one group—our church, for example. But what makes me really who I am as an individual is based on more. To which other tribes do I belong?

And these other, complementary tribes can go two ways, right?

I can belong to a smaller tribe within the larger tribe—a sub-tribe, if you will. Within St. Thomas, for instance, we have MoST, WoW, Prayers and Squares, and so on.

And, I can belong to other tribes, outside of this one—a car club, a bridge club, a sports team, the Rotary, an online chat group.

What makes me uniquely who I am, then, largely consists of the web of tribes to which I belong. My unique network of tribes makes me an individual, and hopefully a cool individual!

And so, naturally, I care a lot about certain tribes—the tribes I belong to; and the tribes I want to belong to—but as for all the other tribes out there, well, not so much. My time is precious, after all; and I just don’t have time for them. Got to draw the line somewhere!

But, despite what our culture tells us, tribalism isn’t always a good thing. We humans are inclined towards “group think” and “mob rule,” behaviors that shape our opinions and shade the truth.

So, in today’s Gospel, Jesus confronts and challenges his own, hometown tribalism, which had become not-a-good thing.

And the tribe doesn’t like his challenge. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” they ask.

Hold on, they say! They love their tribe! It’s part of what makes them who they are—what makes them unique and cool!

After all, this hometown tribe built their synagogue over the course of time into what it is today. Think of the investment: all that time, talent, and treasure!

And what does Jesus, this young upstart, know anyway? He’s just Joseph’s son, full of unrealistic ideals and pipe dreams.

And so, incredibly, these people—Jesus’ people; Jesus’ tribe—are so upset with the good news that they lead Jesus to the brow of a cliff in order to throw him off—an act that, thankfully, the Spirit prevents them from doing!

2.

What did he say to them? What did they find so provocative?

Well, first, Jesus mentions the Widow at Zarephath in Sidon.

Do you remember her? She and her son were both about to die of starvation. But God, through Elijah the prophet, brought them good news.

God could’ve sent Elijah to any widow. But God picked this one—in Sidon!

But that’s Gentile territory! She was not a part of God’s chosen people! She lived outside the tribal walls!

So next, in case his point wasn’t clear enough, Jesus mentions another character, Naaman the Syrian, who was suffering from leprosy.

This time God sent Elisha, another prophet.

And again, God could have picked any leper to demonstrate that the good news sets people free from all kinds of oppression. God could have picked a leper from among the Israelites, the chosen people of God, the tribe.

But God did not. Instead, through the prophet Elisha God again proclaimed the good news to someone outside of the tribe!

What did Jesus’ hometown tribe find to be so provocative? Jesus’ mission for him and for them was to go outward, to proclaim the good news to people who are not a part of the tribe!

God’s people have good news. It’s freedom for captives. It’s sight to the blind. It’s food for the hungry and healing for the leprous. It’s forgiveness of debts for those who owe; it’s jubilee, equality of all persons, Jew, Greek, white, black, and brown; rich, poor, and homeless; male, female, transgender, straight, and gay!

We have this good news! Keeping it to ourselves is hardly fair, hardly life-giving, hardly equal. Keeping it to ourselves, instead, is to hoard, to erect tribal walls, to keep us in and them out, to ignore the tribes we don’t have the time for. Keeping it to ourselves is anything but good news.

And two thousand years later it’s still much the same, really. As disciples, we are still called to dismantle tribal walls; we are still called to go outward; we are still called to find those specifically who are not a part of us, and to love them radically.

3.

Oh, now there’s a misunderstood word: love!

Don’t you find it curious that today we read that super-famous love passage, 1 Corinthians 13, which tells us so clearly what Christ’s love looks like; and yet we also read this passage about Jesus’ tribe trying to throw him off a cliff!

Love! Jesus tries to show his tribe what living into real love means—and their reaction is to try to kill him!

So, here’s what happens with us.

Once upon a time, we hear that Jesus means for us to go out into the world and proclaim the good news, to carry Christ’s love outward. And so we start a church.

Next, we think it’d be a good idea to have a building for our church, a visible, permanent manifestation of Christ within the greater community: to bring the good news in a stable, mutually beneficial way.

We then set our sights on turning this idea into a reality. And after a lot of hard word—a lot of time, talent, and treasure—lo and behold, we’ve done it: we’ve built our house of worship.

And, over time, we’ve developed our own unique touches. Our church has MoST. We have WoW. We have Dinners All Around. We include our pets. We are uniquely St. Thomas. Our tribe is pretty cool!

Christ is here, in our midst and in the midst of the greater community! We are proclaiming the good news! His love abounds!

What happens next, though, is the hard part. It happened to Jesus’ hometown synagogue; it happened to the church at Ephesus (cf. Revelation 2); and it happens to churches and other houses of worship today all over the world.

We lose our first love.

Instead of continuing with the work Christ left us to do—to proclaim the good news to those outside of our tribe—we look around—inside, at us—and decide, hey, we like this place.

And we decide to keep it just the way it is.

And . . . it’s gone. Our perspective has shifted. We no longer focus our communal efforts outward; instead, we’ve become preoccupied with us, our tribe.

4.

So, last week we considered Jesus’ mission statement; and today, tribalism. Put them together and we discover something about vocation, calling.

Here’s my understanding of what a pastor is called to do—what I am called to be here at St. Thomas. A lot of things really—but here’s the predominant calling—and I know some of you out there won’t agree with me; please just try to hear me out. A pastor’s calling is:

To equip the congregation to do Jesus’ mission.

The kingdom of God is not like a building project, where we plan, save, build, and pay it off—check that box, we’re done, on to the next project!

Rather, the kingdom of God is like breakers on the beach.

Go to the coast, take your shoes off, roll up your pant legs, and run out to the edge of the water. And what happens? One moment your feet are in the water, the next they’re on only sand. Over and over again!

After enough time, the tide goes in or out a little, and you adjust. Over greater amounts of time, the size of the breakers increase or decrease—some days are almost glass, others are stormy almost beyond comprehension.

The shoreline is always changing . . . but also always kind of the same.

Many things change over time. Temecula is a vastly different town than it was thirty years ago. St. Thomas is a very different church than it was thirty years ago. Building projects have been planned and completed. Lots of action items have been checked off.

But the mission continues . . . much the same as always.

The breakers that are the kingdom of God continue, wave after wave, day after day, year after year, generation after generation. So, too, the mission of carrying the good news outward is to continue, generation after generation, to break upon the shoreline of the world.

My ongoing desire is to equip us, as a congregation, to proclaim the good news beyond our tribal walls.

5.

So, that’s my sermon, really; but I want to offer an epilogue.

I don’t think what I’ve said today about vocation comes as a surprise to anybody. This is who I am and what I understand my calling to be; and what I understand our calling to be together, as a Christian community.

But—I’ve heard some pushback—some of you find my understanding of vocation unsettling. It doesn’t fit your perspective of what a pastor does, of who a pastor is.

Father Tim, I’ve heard, you’re too outwardly oriented. Obviously, you don’t care about us! What about visitations? Sunday school? Youth group? The choir? MoST? WoW? The preschool? Stephen Ministries? The Bishop’s Committee? Weddings? Baptisms? Funerals? (Etc.) Aren’t you called to be our pastor?

Short answer: Yes! Emphatically! Absolutely!

Longer answer: These are all important ministries, in which I am deeply invested. They are the individual units that contribute to the overall equipping of our congregation.

To use the Apostle Paul’s analogy from last week, each one is an important, individual part of the overall body. But the body, he writes,

does not consist of one member but of many. . . . If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? . . . As it is, there are many members, yet one body.

There are many ministries, yet one congregation. As your pastor, my predominant focus is on what the overall body, as a whole, is called to do and to be.

This doesn’t mean I am not concerned about the individual parts as well. I am! But it does mean I may not be able to devote the time you’d like me to devote to your specific ministry, to your particular sub-tribe.

To change the metaphor, there are numerous other trees in the forest!

Anyway, I know, thinking about our communal calling is a new perspective for some of you, maybe many of you; and taking on a new perspective is hard. A new perspective means change; and change is uncomfortable.

But, truth be told, while this perspective may be new for you, it is not new for the church. As a matter of fact, it’s as deep as our tradition goes.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus called his hometown tribe back to their mission. Ever since, the Holy Spirit has been calling the church back to this same mission, again and again, like waves breaking on the shore.

I am simply doing the same, calling us as a church to return together to our first love.

Repenting Corporately

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2018 by timtrue

Luke 3:7-18

1.

Last week we discussed Luke 3:1-6. This week the passage is Luke 3:7-18. Last week was part 1, this week is part 2; and in both passages the message is the same: we are called to repent.

Repentance, as I said last week, is less a U-turn than a re-orientation, like a compass we use again and again, in conjunction with the other tools God has given us, to align and re-align ourselves along life’s way.

That’s what we see happening in today’s passage, isn’t it? The crowds are fleeing from the apocalyptic wrath that is to come—like a brood of vipers, John says, an interesting picture in its own right.

And when these people reach John in the wilderness and hear his message of repentance, they ask, “What then should we do?”

It’s as if they’re saying, John, we’re already using the tools at our disposal: the Torah, our spiritual guides, each other. And yet you say there’s more to it; that more is necessary if we are to bear fruit worthy of repentance. Tell us, then, what more is needed? What should we do?

Three times they ask it, in fact. From three different groups! It was their constant question.

It should be our constant question too.

For to repent is continually to re-orient ourselves.

Anyway, all that was discussed last week. So, what more we can learn about repentance today?

Time to put on our theological thinking caps!

2.

Here’s what I think happens when we present-day Christians in the United States hear this message of repentance. We go inward; we ask questions like, “Where have I sinned? Where do I need re-alignment? What do I need to ask forgiveness for?”

These are all good questions; we definitely should be asking these sorts of questions of ourselves on a regular basis. But this is only a small part of the overall message of repentance: the part of individual repentance.

In today’s Gospel, however, groups of people come to John and ask, “What should we do?”

Interesting! Corporate groups—crowds, tax-collectors, and soldiers; i. e., people representing societal bodies—come to John and ask him what repentance looks like.

And John’s answers are telling.

He does not say, “You, Maximus, stop being so arrogant. Search your heart; and where the Holy Spirit brings to mind personal sins—pride, selfishness, hubris—ask God to forgive you. Repent ye of your sins, and from now on use your physical strength for the common good.”

No! Instead, John answers the soldiers as a group, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation; be content with your wages.”

John addresses a group with a group concern; a criticism about soldiers that was largely true in general—though not necessarily true of individuals.

It’s the same thing Christ calls us to do, by the way, every time we renew our baptismal vows together. What should we, as followers of Christ today in the United States, do? We should renounce evil and resolve again to follow Christ; and we should do this together, as one body.

Repentance is corporate!

3.

What, then, does corporate repentance look like? This is my main concern in today’s “part 2” sermon.

So, two things happen at the same time during the act of repentance. We see these two things whenever we witness a baptism. The celebrant asks the baptizand two sets of questions (three questions each).

The first set is all about renouncing, or turning away from, something:

  • Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
  • Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
  • Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

So, for one thing, we turn away from something.

And, for another thing, we turns towards something. That’s what the second set of questions is all about:

  • Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
  • Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
  • Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

We repent publicly in baptism; and in our repentance we simultaneously turn away from evil and towards good.

But isn’t baptism an individual act? How is baptism related to corporate repentance?

I’m glad you asked. For we see this same expression of repentance whenever we renew our baptismal vows together, as a corporate body.

The very first question the celebrant asks the congregation is, “Do you”—as in all of you—“reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?”

In the act of corporate repentance it is the church body, not individuals, that turns away from evil and turns towards good.

Thus, to ask what corporate repentance looks like is to ask how we do these things as a church body. How can St. Thomas turn from evil towards good? Where does St. Thomas need to re-orient itself?

4.

Jesus would soon come with a winnowing fork, John declared, to gather wheat and to burn chaff.

When he did come, we know from the Gospels that Jesus opposed the religious and political establishments of his day, establishments that held the masses under their power.

These are the kinds of powers the writer of Ephesians means when he says, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness” (6:12).

These are the kinds of powers, too, we address in our baptismal vows with the question, “Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”

When Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God, he introduced a realm that is very different from the realm of the world. The world’s powers operate by domination; but Jesus operates by love, which shows itself in true equality.

Think this through with me. The religious and political systems in Jesus’ day dominated the lay people and the public, the “crowds”—a term used over and over in the Gospels. Jesus continually opposed these powers because they oppressed the crowds so in need of liberation.

Systems of domination do this: they create social hierarchies; they always seek to place one person above another.

The Roman system placed slaves below freemen; freemen below equites; equites below senators; and so on up the hierarchical pyramid until reaching the emperor at the very top.

And the Jewish religious system gave Samaritans and Gentiles a lower position on the hierarchy than Jews; the common laypeople lower than the scribes; and the scribes lower than the priests, all the way up to the high priest.

This is what Luke is getting at in the beginning of chapter 3, when he mentions all those tricky names:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

When John the Baptist began preaching his message of repentance out in the wilderness, obviously, there were established social hierarchies.

And yet now it’s the crowds, the tax-collectors, and the soldiers who come to John for repentance; and they come seemingly heedless of these established social hierarchies.

Equality! That’s Jesus’ new realm. That’s what John meant when he declared that Jesus would come with a winnowing fork to gather the harvest and burn the chaff.

Every valley shall be filled; every mountaintop leveled; every crooked path made straight.

The apostle Paul says it this way at the end of Galatians 3:

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29).

Racial inequality, religious inequality, socioeconomic inequality—Jesus came to eradicate these powers, to transform the systems of domination at work in our world into systems of love!

Wherever there is social hierarchy—wherever one person establishes himself above another; whenever anyone thinks herself somehow better than someone else—male above female, white above black, rich above poor, straight above gay, priest above layperson—eradicated!

Jesus confronted systems of domination wherever he saw them; his goal is to transform them. He calls us to do the same today, even if the powers crucify us!

These are the evils we renounce in our corporate repentance; and from them we turn to true equality for all in accordance with Jesus’ way of love.

5.

So that’s what corporate repentance looks like! And that’s the mission Jesus has left to his church.

As a church body, trying to live out Jesus’ call—trying to follow his example—when we look out at the people, places, and events happening all around us—all those tricky names—where do we see something, anything, contrary to Jesus’ message of love?

I don’t know about you, but when I look around for only a short time I see systems of domination and their powers at work seemingly everywhere: gun violence, refugees turned away at borders, children separated from their parents, unreasonable jail sentences, a widening gap between rich and poor, racism, hatred, bigotry—

Systems of domination are alive and well in our world today—“in rulers, in authorities, in the cosmic powers in this present darkness.”

When we renounce their powers and turn towards Jesus’ way of love together, corporately, as a church, then our voice is strong—much stronger than a mere collection of individuals could ever be.

This is our corporate calling: to re-orient ourselves continually; then, even if threatened with crucifixion, to be a stalwart community of resistance against the systems of domination at work in this present darkness; and finally to transform them into systems of love.

As we await Christ’s return, let us repent together!

On Trial with Pilate

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2018 by timtrue

John 18:33-37

1.

Today is the final Sunday of the church year: Christ the King Sunday, we call it. We focus on Christ in a particular way today: as king—as the one in charge—of his realm.

And in today’s Gospel we are confronted with two views of reality.

On the one hand, Christ tells us that his kingdom is the way of truth. On the other hand, Pilate’s kingdom is the way of violence.

We look at Christ the King today, then, through this lens: comparing two versions of reality. And what do we learn?

So, Jesus is on trial; and Pilate is the judge.

But doesn’t it almost seem—by the time we get to the end of the passage anyway—doesn’t it seem that the tables are turned? Doesn’t it feel like Jesus is in the role of judge and Pilate is really the one on trial?

Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

But, before answering him, Jesus asks Pilate a question—and already the tables are turning over: “Do you ask this because you want to know, or because someone told you this?”

And so Pilate answers, “I am not a Jew.”

It’s enough to say, “Of course someone told me about you! I don’t have the time or energy to concern myself with what goes on in Jerusalem—in your people’s insignificant corner of the world.”

In other words, Pilate, a Roman, thinks himself somehow above the Palestinian peoples, who go about their day-t0-day business over there, in some forgotten corner of the empire.

But, Pilate knows, even the people over there are capable of rising up in rebellion—which is why he asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus now answers, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, I’d fight back with an army.”

Jesus knows Pilate’s kingdom—this world—follows the way of violence.

But, in Jesus’ kingdom, violence has no place; his kingdom is not from here.

Well, Pilate misses the point; and declares, “So then you are a king!”

And here I can almost hear Jesus sigh.

“You say I’m a king,” he says. “But that’s not what I’m about; I’m not raising up some kind of political insurrection against you. Rather, I am here to testify to the truth—a greater reality than you are able to see, apparently. But if you will only seek the truth, find it, and belong to it, you will know a kingdom far better than anything you can now imagine.”

To which Pilate famously scorns (just after today’s passage ends), “What is truth?”

And with this small question Pilate rejects Jesus and his kingdom, the way of truth, choosing instead to remain with the life he knows, a life of power, wealth, privilege, lies, and violence.

The tables are turned. Pilate’s the one on trial today, not Jesus.

2.

Maybe we’re on trial today too. Maybe we are like Pilate, more attached than we’re willing to admit to the way of violence.

Pilate is offered true freedom, a world of peace, security, equality, and authenticity; and instead chooses to remain living in his narrow conception of reality, ruled not by the Christ but by his own fears.

“Are you a king?” he asks Jesus again and again, belaboring the point, fixated—because he fears!

Pilate has no time for the truth, no time for the way of Christ, because he’s too busy fearing that he will lose his power, position, and privilege. He’s too concerned with the things that really matter to him, like protecting his name, status, and position; and like watching his back so some political hothead doesn’t assassinate him.

Pilate is trapped in his way of violence; trapped by his system; trapped in fear.

And thus he rejects the truth.

On this final Sunday of the church year, we stand on trial with Pilate. Do we also reject the truth? Like Pilate, do we love our status: our places of power, wealth, privilege, and maybe even lies and violence?

Jesus calls us to lay these things aside and stand in solidarity with our neighbor—our sisters and brothers who are in different places than we are.

3.

By the way, I’m being careful here not to say “who have less than we do.” Jesus does not call us to stand in solidarity with those who have less than we do. That’s not what mission and outreach are about.

So, in case you’re wondering if you heard me right, I’ll say it again: Jesus does not call us to stand in solidarity with those who have less than we have.

But, also, neither does he call us to stand in solidarity with those who have more!

For, in Jesus, we are called not to have a less-vs.-more mindset at all!

But isn’t this often the church’s approach to mission and outreach?

We, the church, decide to engage in a project to help our neighbors in need. Fine and well!

But then we say something like, “This outreach project will help those who are less fortunate than we are”; and then pat ourselves on the back and tell our superior selves we’re loving our inferior neighbors just like Jesus commanded.

We become the patron; they become the client; and they forever stand in our debt.

But superiority and inferiority? Patron and client? That’s not Jesus’ way. That’s Pilate’s!

Whenever we approach anything with an attitude of superiority—including mission and outreach—that’s not the way of love!

Jesus calls us to come alongside others as equals, to establish and maintain truly mutual relationships; not to compare ourselves with one another in order to figure out who’s better or worse, who’s right or wrong, who’s richer or poorer, who’s smarter or dumber, who’s superior or inferior; but to sharpen one another, mutually, as iron sharpens iron, for the common good.

Are we willing to listen to those who are different than us?

They may speak a different language; they may eat different foods; their skin may be a different color; they may identify as a different gender; their sexuality may be different than ours; or they may be different from us in . . . fill in the blank!

Are we willing to come alongside them? To stand in solidarity with them? To hear their stories? To listen to the truth?

Or are we like Pilate, too focused on our own treadmills to listen?

4.

I offer a concluding illustration:

We’ve all heard the familiar phrase: “Violence begets violence.” I don’t know who first coined it. But I do know that Martin Luther King, Jr. used it. Listen to these words:

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love . . . Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy; instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.[i]

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man committed to live out the principle of non-violent resistance, a same principle by which Jesus lived. Both men resisted the authorities, the powers that be, without fighting back, without violence.

Their deaths, both vivid demonstrations of non-violent resistance, shout a message that will be forever etched in humanity’s history books; a message for all people, everywhere, to give up living for themselves—for power, position, status, wealth, prestige, and privilege—and to live instead for the other.

Love the Lord your God; love your neighbor. This is the way of truth, to which Jesus calls us.

 

[i] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence_begets_violence.

And It’s Visceral

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2018 by timtrue

FatherTim

John 6:51-58

1.

How does one describe an altogether new concept, something that has never been described before? Words are limiting.

So, as a starting point, let’s turn to Greek mythology. There are many monsters in Greek mythology that look like nothing else, monsters that the authors of the myths had to describe to their readers who had never seen them before.

Scylla comes to mind: a hideous beast presumably that lived on the side of a cliff in a narrow strait and fed on sailors as they passed beneath. How would the myth’s author describe Scylla?

I strained my eyes upwards, and she came.

She was gray as the air, as the cliff itself. I had always imagined she would look like something: a snake or an octopus, a shark. But the truth of her was overwhelming, an immensity that my mind fought to take in. Her necks were longer than ship masts. Her six heads gaped, hideously lumpen, like melted lava stone. Black tongues licked her sword-length teeth. . . .

She crept closer, slipping over the rocks. A reptilian stench struck me, foul as squirming nests underground. Her necks wove a little in the air, and from one of her mouths I saw a gleaming strand of saliva stretch and fall. Her body was not visible. It was hidden back in the mist with her legs, those hideous, boneless things that Selene had spoken of so long ago. Hermes had told me how they clung inside her cave like the curled ends of hermit crabs when she lowered herself to feed. . . .

She screamed. The sound was a piercing chaos, like a thousand dogs howling at once.[I]

That comes from Madeline Miller’s recent book Circe.

But do you see? To describe a monster her readers have never seen, the author builds on what they already know: gray as a cliff, necks as long as ship masts, heads like lava stone, sword-length teeth, the cacophony of a thousand dogs howling at once, and so on.

To describe a new concept, metaphor is essential—metaphor based on what is already known.

So then, Madeline Miller described a creature—something concrete. What about when the new concept is abstract? How does one describe a new idea?

2.

For the people in Jesus’ day, the incarnation, God with us, was just that: a new idea.

Whether with the pantheon of Hellenism or the High God of Judaism, the common understanding was that God ruled and reigned from on high, far away, aloof and distant.

To communicate this up-close, new idea, then, Jesus used metaphor, building from what his hearers already knew: food and wine, eating and drinking.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

Now, to clarify, the concept of the incarnation was not totally new. Israel’s God was seen traditionally as a warrior. A God who gets right in the midst of our army and fights our battles with us—that’s incarnation.

Also, glimpses of the incarnation appear throughout the OT.

God spoke to Abraham. Isaac listened and watched as God provided a ram in his place. Jacob wrestled all night long with God. And God appeared to Moses as a burning bush.

God was a pillar of cloud by day and a column of smoke by night as the nation of Israel wandered the wilderness. God’s spirit possessed the artisans who built and furnished the Tabernacle and Temple. And God fought with Israel’s army as the chosen nation took possession of the Promised Land.

The concept of the incarnation was already there, at least in seed form. But Jesus chose not to build on this traditional knowledge. Why?

Well, a suggestion: What about the victims?

God may very well have been with the army of Israel, fighting their battles as they overtook the Promised Land. But, at the same time, is that to say God wasn’t there with the victims too, as they were overcome, stricken down, and, as the Bible reports, slaughtered?

As he builds the concept of the incarnation from bread and wine, Jesus is teaching the common people of his day, people who likely would have identified more with the victim than the victor. Was God with them? At the same time, was God—could God be—with their Roman oppressors? If so, surely God was with each group of people in a different way!

So, today, Jesus talks about the incarnation in a new way.

And it’s visceral.

To eat his flesh and drink his blood is to ingest God. We bite, break apart, chew, swallow, digest, and expel God. The nutrients of Christ become part of our very flesh and blood. God is so incarnational that the Christ becomes part of who we are just as we become more of him and less ourselves.

3.

This was an altogether new concept, a unique way to view God.

So incarnational that we eat, digest, and expel him? Why, that’s just too earthy, too profane!

But is it?

I remember a scene from a high school Bible study I attended regularly—I’m not trying to be crass here; just to illustrate a point. The topic was prayer; and one of the girls made the mistake of telling the group that she prayed whenever she used the restroom.

Now, to be fair, in her own spiritual life she was trying to practice St. Paul’s exhortation to pray without ceasing. But, of course, the rest us, and especially the male percentage of the rest of us, giggled and laughed and jabbed each other in the ribs.

“You’re not supposed to do that,” one person said; “or at least you’re not supposed to tell us you do it!”

“Well, why not?” she asked.

“Because you’re not supposed to pray there!”

And yet the Apostle Paul does exhort us to pray without ceasing. Which began a weeks-long debate; and the phrase “praying on the potty” became a part of our Bible Study verbiage for the rest of the year: “How’s your prayer life doing?” someone would ask; “Still praying on the potty,” another would reply.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is that the kind of language Jesus uses today to describe the incarnation is earthy, maybe even profane-feeling.

This language made a lot of people squirm in Jesus’ day; and it makes a lot of us squirm still today.

4.

We have no problem with the belief that God is transcendent; it’s our belief in immanence that we have trouble with. Understandably, we want to be reverent; we don’t want to be sacrilegious.

There is weighty precedence for what we do here each Sunday, namely approaching Christ together and communing at his Table. But God is also in every moment of our day and in every molecule of our being.

It’s okay to pray on the potty!

God is in here, in every moment and molecule of our being; and God is outside these walls too, in every moment and molecule of creation—

in the holy and reverent acts that are taking place in this and other houses of worship;

and also in the homeless hovels down in the riverbed, in the dregs of skid row, in rehab centers where people are recovering from addictions, in hospital ICUs where the sanctity of human life by necessity must take priority over matters of decency and modesty, and in anywhere else that might seem somehow too earthy or profane for our comfort levels.

And here’s where it all goes, as the rest of the Gospel of John proclaims: where the incarnation is, there too is God’s love.

Incarnation and love: you can’t have one without the other.

[i] Madeline Miller, Circe, Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2018, p. 114.

Love’s Superhighway

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2018 by timtrue

TECshield

John 6:1-21

1.

The information superhighway (i. s.) was supposed to be this awesome thing: awesome because now, at our fingertips, we have access to more information than ever before in only a matter of a few seconds!

You want to find a good restaurant? Why, just read the Yelp reviews. You need a new pair of shoes? They’re just a few clicks away. You can’t remember the names of the ships that went with Columbus to discover the New World? Just Google it.

But, if you’re like me, at times you might find the i. s. to be overwhelming, even paralyzing. There’s just too much information out there!

One search leads to another, which leads to another, and before I know it I’ve blown through two hours of my Saturday morning and three cups of coffee and I still don’t know the answer to what I set out looking for—or, worse, I’ve forgotten why I got on the i. s. in the first place.

Has that ever happened to you?

Now, as a church, left with the task of advancing Christ’s mission in the world around us, it goes something like this. We want to do some outreach. So how do we approach it?

Well, we grab a cup of coffee, sit down, and blow through a couple hours on the i. s.; where we find blog posts, web sites, book deals—all offering narratives of how some person or vestry or church succeeded and we can succeed too. But at the end of our drive we find ourselves still at a loss about where even to begin.

We end up, from my experience anyway, a lot like Philip in today’s Gospel.

Instead of beginning a new program of outreach, which is what we set out to do in the first place, we say things like, “Lord, how in the world are we going to do that? We’re in a lot of debt; yet six months of our operating budget wouldn’t even be enough for what we’d like to do!”

And instead of empowering us, today’s i. s. has overwhelmed us. Our outreach vision is paralyzed.

2.

But here’s the thing about the i. s.: it’s a highway of human knowledge; and human knowledge is not the same thing as love’s knowledge.

Human knowledge, however super it is, is nonetheless finite; but love’s knowledge is infinite. The i. s. comes to an end; but the highway of love’s knowledge has only just begun.

Don’t we see this in today’s Gospel?

Some five thousand people have gathered around Jesus; and they are hungry.

Jesus formulates a vision to feed them.

So Philip and Andrew, and we presume others around Jesus, gather information; but they come up short.

“This is a lot of people, Jesus,” they say. “Six months’ wages wouldn’t be enough to feed them. And we’ve looked around; but all we’ve come up with is this boy who has five barley biscuits and couple of sardines. What good will that do?”

It’s an overwhelming, paralyzing problem. It would take a miracle!

In other words, they tried but failed.

Maybe it’s time to take another tack.

Or, better yet, maybe it’s time to let the idea die and move on.

But where their finite highway of information comes to an end, Jesus’ infinite highway of love has only just begun.

And somehow—I don’t claim to know, for love’s information is beyond human information—that miracle does take place. Somehow the 5,000 end up fed and satisfied, with leftovers!

3.

So, now I want to turn a corner and offer a “for instance” exercise.

For instance: What would it take to begin an outreach program for foster youth in our own backyard; in, say, Riverside County?

Most of you know I’ve done some work with Vida Joven, an orphanage in Tijuana. Well, we call it an orphanage; but it’s really a home for abandoned kids, wards of the state. It’s really the same thing, more or less, as what we in the states call a group home for foster children.

This got me thinking about foster children in our own backyard. Surely Mexico’s foster system is nowhere nearly as developed as ours, I thought; the need has got to be greater there, right?

So I sat down with a cup of coffee and took a drive on the i. s.

And I learned some facts:

  • There are about 4,000 children in the foster system (ages 0-18) in Riverside County.
  • If a child is not adopted by the time he or she reaches Middle School, chances of being adopted at all drop to near 0%.
  • Children are almost always booted out of group homes on their 18th birthday—whether they’ve completed high school or not. Happy birthday, right?
  • Nationwide, 83% of foster kids are held back by the third grade; about half graduate high school; <3% go on to earn a college degree; and 66% will be homeless, go to jail, or die within one year of leaving foster care (posted June, 2012).[I]

The needs of “orphans” in Mexico are profound; and we should not slacken our efforts with organizations like Vida Joven. However, I was surprised to learn, in the U. S. we have “orphans” too; whose needs run just as deep.

About 4,000 foster children live right in our backyard, in need of food, clothing, shelter, and, maybe even more importantly, stability and education. These statistics show: we can’t delude ourselves into thinking that our present foster system is adequate.

On another drive along the i. s., I learned about something good that is happening in San Diego County, called San Pasqual Academy.

This public charter school was the brainchild of two county supervisors who in the late 1990s decided it was time to do something about the plight of adolescent foster kids in S. D. County. The vision was to establish a residential home-and-school for foster high school students. And I’m happy to say that in 2001 SPA opened its doors, successfully defying the statistics I shared a moment ago ever since.[ii]

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take this idea a step further?

Episcopal Schools have a longstanding relationship with the Christian liberal arts tradition. This approach to education is designed to teach the whole person. It includes a spiritual element that public schools cannot. Its purpose is to develop leaders for tomorrow’s generation.

What if we brought this kind of education to foster youth in Riverside County?

Yet another drive on the i. s. took me to Imago Dei School, an Episcopal Middle School in Tucson that educates, specifically, at-risk students with the goal of making them high-school ready. It has proven to be a tremendously successful program; one that, despite being 100% private, has always been tuition-free!

Seemingly impossible funds—“six months’ wages”—can be raised! Modern-day miracles do happen. An Episcopal foster home-and-school in Riverside County, overwhelming as it feels, is possible.

4.

Jesus once had a vision to feed 5,000 people. So he asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat?”

It was an overwhelming vision. So, “I don’t know,” Philip replied, paralyzed; “six months’ wages wouldn’t even be enough to pay for all the food we need.”

It would take a miracle!

Philip found himself at the end of his human knowledge—at the end of his information highway.

But there, at only just the beginning of love’s knowledge, he watched as Andrew approached Jesus with a boy who was willing to offer something: five loaves and two small fish.

And Andrew said, “It’s not enough food for five thousand people, Jesus; probably not even enough for five.”

But it was a start.

And Jesus knew it!

And I like to think the boy knew it too. Even if no one else believed in Jesus’ vision for outreach—neither Philip nor Andrew was there yet—even if it was just Jesus and a boy, it was a start.

And, as far as Jesus cared, that was enough. “Make the people sit down,” he said.

And we know what happened next. Love’s knowledge produced so much that the 5,000 were fed and satisfied; and twelve basketfuls of leftovers were gathered up.

Twelve basketfuls! Seemingly impossible funds! A miracle!

 

Does a vision for an Episcopal foster home-and-school in Riverside County feel overwhelming, maybe even paralyzing? Is your response to this vision, “It would take a miracle!”?

Yet already we have seen much more than five barley loaves and two fish in front of us—Vida Joven, San Pasqual Academy, NAES, Imago Dei School.

I pray that Jesus will take these and multiply them; and that we will see a modern-day miracle in our midst.

 

[i] Cf. https://vittana.org/43-gut-wrenching-foster-care-statistics ; https://www.nfyi.org/issues/education/ ; http://www.amarillo.com/article/20120624/NEWS/306249799

[ii] See www.sanpasqualacademy.org/background.htm

Quality of Life, Trinity Style

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2018 by timtrue

Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_Jesus_and_nicodemus

John 3:1-17

1.

What do we mean when we talk about “quality of life”?

It’s not just how wealthy you are, though financial well-being is a part of it.

Nor is it just about your health, though physical well-being fits into the picture too.

And it’s not just about social status, though relationships play a part.

Quality of life, we know, is a combination of all these things—and some others—how they work together in an integrated way to make your individual situation, whatever it is, most enjoyable for you.

Some people have serious health concerns. If this is you, then you know you don’t just give up and say, “Oh, well, guess it’s just a thorn in my flesh.” Rather, you seek the best remedies available. Maybe you will never experience full health again. Nevertheless, by keeping other areas of life in balance you can experience daily a high overall quality of life.

Or . . . how many stay-at-home moms have never daydreamed about dropping the kids off at daycare in order to land a job and bring in some extra income—income that you know will both make ends meet and give your family some extra “play” money?

Yet the stay-at-home moms I know also willingly make the extra-income sacrifice precisely because they want their children to experience greater stability in home life.

Quality-of-life questions are tricky. But achieving that sweet-spot quality of life is just that: sweet!

2.

Well, thus far I’ve deliberately avoided the subject. But let’s bring it in now: religion. Where does your faith fit into your quality of life?

For Nicodemus, his faith was a crucial factor.

Today, Trinity Sunday, Nicodemus comes to Jesus confused. “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” he asks.

His confusion indicates, among other things, just how important to him his faith is.

Nico—can I call him Nico?—is a part of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leadership that, according to John, is so vehemently opposed to Jesus in the first place. That Nico comes to Jesus at night, under cover of darkness, suggests how risky it is for him to seek Jesus out; and how much of a risk he was willing to take on account of his faith. His health, his wealth, his social status—he lays his quality of life on the line for his faith.

And the conversation isn’t easy. Jesus talks about being born from above and Nico only understands what it means to be born from below. Jesus talks of the Spirit; Nico of the flesh.

Jesus teaches the teacher of Israel that for those born from on high, the highest quality of life is initiated by God the Father, available through the redemption of the Son, and continues through the ongoing, everyday presence of the Spirit.

Jesus teaches the teacher that God is not as he has always thought, but is instead Triune: Father, Son, and Spirit.

The conversation ends with Nico fading into the darkness, seemingly as confused as ever.

3.

We’ll come back to Nico. But first an excursus. I want to tell you about a book I’ve just read and found to be utterly and simultaneously fantastic and profound. It’s called Circe.

Any fans here of Greek mythology? If so, you probably recall the adventures experienced by the Greek hero Odysseus after the fall of the city Troy. One of these involved the witch Circe, who turned Odysseus’ men into pigs and back again; and at whose island home he stayed for a year as a guest.

Odysseus’ adventure enters this book; but only briefly. For he was a mortal; but Circe is immortal. She is a witch-goddess, to be more precise. And this is her story, covering some 10,000 years of ancient history.

She was born daughter of the Titan-god Helios. And thus, through her eyes as a bystander—for daughters didn’t dare interfere with their fathers’ schemes—the reader comes to know the Greek and Roman pantheon in an enlightening way: from a lesser goddess’s—that is to say a female’s—perspective.

These gods lived outside the moral universe of humanity. And thus they cared little for human beings. Truth be known, they cared little for anything but themselves, especially the most powerful among them, like Zeus and Poseidon and Helios.

At the same time, they loved to be worshiped—through the groveling prayers of humans and their sacrifices. And so, quite sadistically, as Circe relays, the gods of the pantheon inflicted pain and suffering on humanity in order that humans would grovel and sacrifice for their pity.

Point for the moment is the pantheon had no love—for divinity or humanity!—within it.

Circe, on the other hand, cared deeply for mortals. She thought it unfair and unjust for the gods to treat mortals with such contempt.

So, one of the things Circe does is find clever ways to rebel against the dysfunctional deities through favoring mortals, especially the weak and marginalized. Another thing Circe finds herself doing—and this runs much deeper to the heart of her story—is increasingly to desire mortality for herself; for only through mortality, she feels, will she be able to love as deeply and genuinely as possible.

In other words, she desires to be transformed through love.

It’s a brilliant book. I couldn’t put it down—I read 119 pages at my first sitting! The author’s name is Madeline Miller; and it’s only her second book. Her first—equally as brilliant—is The Song of Achilles.

Both are excellent reads for understanding the Hellenistic mindset so prevalent in Jesus’ world.

4.

And that is why I bring this book up.

This book captures the religious mindset of the broader world in Jesus’ day; which was of a pantheon of gods who cared little for humanity—other than their groveling prayers and sacrifices.

The Hellenistic world feared its gods—whether a pantheon or just one god over all. And such a mindset—fear!—does little to improve quality of life.

Now, Nicodemus was a part of this Hellenistic world!

As you know, Nicodemus didn’t worship the Greek and Roman pantheon. He worshiped the god of the Hebrews—the same God, he thought, that he saw in the man Jesus.

But there’s a crucial connection to draw here.

The gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon were incapable of human love. So, too, in the minds of most people in the Hellenistic world, including most Jews—so, too, was a god who created the world and forever since watched over his creation as an aloof and distant king.

Thus was Nicodemus’s god to him.

Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, feared his god. Nicodemus—Nico—offered prayers and sacrifices to his god. Nico may have even loved his god in some way—in the way that we love a movement to which we belong—that is, with a kind of human love.

But, for Nico and most everyone else in the Hellenistic world, could his god actually love him? It was an entirely foreign thought. How was it possible that a god could love humanity? How could it be that a human being could be born from on high?

And yet, Jesus teaches Nico, today (my emphases, obviously):

  • “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
  • “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.
  • “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.”

Father.

Son.

Spirit.

Love.

Today, Jesus teaches Nicodemus that God is not a pantheon of dysfunction. Neither is God absolutely monotheistic, unable to love co-equally and co-eternally. Rather, God is three-in-one, from eternity past, before there ever were heaven and earth and time and space, always loving and including the other, co-equally, co-eternally—forever and ever, God is love.

And the mind of Nico, the teacher of Israel, is blown.

5.

Fortunately, this is not the only place Nicodemus shows up in the Bible, fading back into the darkness whence he came, apparently confused. In fact, he shows up two more times, both in this Gospel.

In chapter 7, members of the Sanhedrin command the Temple police to arrest Jesus without probable cause. Nicodemus is there; and he calls the Sanhedrin out for their injustice—only to be ridiculed by them. He sympathizes with Jesus, not in the dark now but in the light, before his peers.

His social status, wealth, and even his health don’t seem so important to him now.

And he shows up again in chapter 19, in the full light of the sinking afternoon sun, to carry the body of Jesus with another formerly secret disciple, Joseph of Arimathea, to a tomb.

Through God’s love, Nico has been transformed. His quality of life is on a new plane. He has gone from a life of flesh to a life of the Spirit; from thinking God is distant and aloof to experiencing, first-hand, relationship with and even within the Trinity.

For God is love.

So then, to answer my earlier question, “Where does your faith fit into your quality of life?” it transforms it beyond anything you could ask or imagine.