Archive for August 2021

Alive in the Resurrection

This is a word of encouragement that I delivered at the memorial service for John Maurer, held in-person on Sunday, 8/29/21, at Berkeley Friends Church. The scripture reading for this message was: Luke 20:37-38.

The resurrection is a mystery. We don’t really know what it means. We don’t understand it. Too often, as religious people, we pretend that we do. We act as if we had answers about what happens to a person after death. Stories to tell children to ease their fear. Stories to tell adults to ease their pain.

But the truth is, we don’t know the details. We can’t understand them yet, because the great day of the Lord is still coming. The fulfillment of God’s dream for the cosmos is still on its way. The consummation of the resurrection is hinted at, but not quite here.

It’s in Jesus that we have our best glimpse into what resurrection means. What it meant for him, it will soon mean for us. We know that Jesus suffered death, just like each one of us will. We also know that after three days in the grave, God raised Jesus from the dead. God restored him, gave him a new body that will never die. And that body has become the source of life and resurrection for the whole creation, for all of us who trust in him.

What does this mean? What will this resurrection look like? What will it be like for us to become like Jesus, sharing the fullness of his victory over the grave?

We don’t know. It’s a mystery. It’s something we can’t even imagine right now. But Jesus points us to this mystery. And he lets us know that the resurrection is nothing new. The resurrection is an expression of who God is from the beginning. Jesus tells us that our God is the God of the living; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses are all alive in him. To God, they are all alive.

To God, our friend John Maurer is alive. He partakes in the body of Christ, the life of the resurrection.

What does that mean? I don’t know. But God knows, and in Jesus this life is being revealed to us.

The apostle Paul writes that, “now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

We’re gathered together today in this love. Love for our friend, John Maurer. Love for one another. The love that we have discovered together in the resurrected Jesus, who is the firstborn from the dead. The firstborn of many brothers. Brothers like John.

In this love, we find strength to wait patiently for the revealing of God’s transformation of all things. In faith, we imagine what it means that, to God, John Maurer is alive. And in hope, we seek to become more like Jesus, so that we can be alive to God in the same way.

You’ve Got One Wish – Make It Count!

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 8/15/21, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture reading for this sermon was: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

Listen to the Sermon Now

Can you think of a time that you made a wish? We’ve all done it, right? You’re supposed to make a wish when you blow out the candles on your birthday cake. Or when you see a shooting star. Or when you find a lamp in a cave and this weird blue creature who speaks with the voice of Robin Williams starts singing and… Oh wait, that was a Disney movie.

Anyway, think back to a time when you made a wish. What was it?

Now think again. Imagine you have another chance to make a wish. But this time, you know it’s going to come true. Whatever you ask for will be yours.

What is it? What would you ask for?

In our reading this morning from First Kings, Solomon has just become king of Israel, succeeding his father David to the throne. He’s very early in his reign. He’s just settled some old accounts and secured his position in the very dicey transition of power from monarch to monarch. And it says that his kingdom is now firmly established.

Solomon was a man who sought the Lord, who came before God in prayer. And God appeared to him one night in a dream and said to him: “Ask what I should give you.”

Imagine you’re Solomon. What would your answer be?

Solomon’s answer is surprising. It’s surprising, because it is not some variation on the theme: “More.”

Because that’s what most of us want, most of the time. “Give me more.” More of whatever it is we have. More money. More autonomy. More attention. More success. More, more, more – give me more.

It shows a lack of imagination, doesn’t it? It’s easy to see life in terms of what we already have. Or maybe the things that others have, that we want.

Solomon shows he has a keen imagination. He has a healthy sense of his own limitations, an awareness of the impossible. And Solomon realizes that he already has enough. He doesn’t need more. What he really needs is the ability to deal rightly with that which God has already given him.

Solomon realizes that more important than riches or armies or palaces or wives, the most important thing that he has in his care is the people of Israel, God’s own chosen nation. He understands that God has established him as king, not for his own pleasure or vanity, but to serve as God’s instrument – to be a shepherd to his people, guided by the Lord. And so Solomon asks God for wisdom.

And the text says that God is very pleased with Solomon’s answer. God grants him not only greater wisdom than anyone else before or since, but also all the other things that he might have asked for, but didn’t: Riches, honor, and a long life.

What would you ask for? I want to say that I would ask for wisdom, just like Solomon. But am I being honest with myself?

What are we, as a community, asking for? When God says to us in the silence, “ask what I should give you,” what is our response?

Do we ask for more? Bigger? Better? Do we ask God to baptize our own will, the choices that we have already made, the assumptions that we already have? “God, we already know what we want. We’ve already made up our minds. Just make us successful!”

The wisdom of Solomon is knowing that what we have isn’t the point. What we want isn’t necessarily what God wants. And what feels good in the moment isn’t necessarily what God blesses.

Early Quakers understood this. Wisdom, discernment, a humble seeking of God’s will, this was at the heart of their faith. Early Quakers believed that God’s leading is more likely at work when we feel called to things that we don’t want. Because God’s will is not about our personal pleasure, or even our beliefs about how the world ought to be. Discerning God’s will involves releasing our own desires and allowing God to show us his desire for us in this particular moment and circumstance.

Solomon was the wisest king that Israel ever had, because he understood priority – that which comes first. Solomon knew who he served. He knew that his first calling was to obey the voice of God. His responsibility was to serve the people of God, whom he had been given authority to shepherd.

As followers of Jesus, we know an even wiser king than Solomon. We know a shepherd who is even more reliable. We know a person who has laid down his life and his ego to be a good shepherd to us. And because Jesus has laid down everything to embody the wisdom of God, God has given him everything, lifting him up to the highest position in the cosmos and making him king of kings and lord of lords.

What will you say when God speaks in your heart: “Ask what I should give you”? Will you be like Solomon, aware of your responsibility to shepherd the sheep, to care for the people, to move as Jesus leads, so that the whole body can be built up?

“Ask what I should give you.”

Lord, give us wisdom. Lord, teach us to follow you. Teach us to serve and shepherd one another as you lead us. Lord, bless us as a community that listens for your will, abides in your love, and seeks first your kingdom. Amen.

God is Near

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 8/8/21, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture reading for this sermon was: John 6:35, 41-51. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

Listen to the Sermon Now

God is near to us. He’s at the front door, knocking for us to let him in. He’s at the dinner table with us, breaking the bread and pouring the wine.

Jesus is the bread of life. God is near to us, because when we eat this bread, when we receive Jesus within us, we will never be hungry again. We will never be thirsty again. We will never die. Because the life that is in us is the life that was with the Father from the beginning.

Do you remember what God did for the Israelites, in the desert, after he delivered them from slavery in Egypt? Do you remember how he led them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night? Do you remember how he fed them with manna from heaven, and quenched their thirst with water from the rock?

Jesus is the new manna. He is the bread from heaven that God sends to fill and sustain us on our journey together through our own wilderness. Jesus is the rock. He is the water, springing within us like a well, until we are completely restored.

Jesus is the bread. He is the wine. He is the water and the rock.

Jesus is God with us.

He is near to us. He is within us. He’s inside us. Ordinary water, you have to drink. But this water comes from within. He gushes up from inside us, filling us with goodness. Jesus transforms us. When we have eaten the bread of his body, we become like him, and we give life to others.

God is near. Closer to us than we are to ourselves. Because he has sent us the bread from heaven. Because Jesus is the house of God, with angels ascending and descending. Because the one God promised has come and is risen. We will never be abandoned. The Spirit of God is among us; the living Jesus stands in the midst.

Feeding us. Guiding us. Protecting us with his shepherd’s staff.

The word of God is near to you – Jesus is in your mouth and in your heart. Like bread, like wine, like a great wind, and like fire. Like a still, small voice.

God is here. We show up because he shows up. Because we are the sheep who hear and recognize the voice of the shepherd.

We are gathered together in the presence of Jesus to be fed by him. To eat his body and drink his blood. To feast on the word of God. And by his grace and power, to keep it.

In the words of the prophet Isaiah:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Come to Jesus. Come to the rock. Come to the spring of water that gives overflowing life. Come to the bread from heaven, that we may eat of it and never die.