Jesus is the Center

The Sixth Sunday of Pentecost
Proper 11
July 21, 2019

The readings for today are:
Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Click here to access these readings.

We have before us here this morning a really magnificent reading from Paul’s letters.  I mean, each week we have something magnificent to read here on Sunday morning, as the week begins anew, but today we’ve got something particularly nice.  It’s like that nice, big, shiny apple out of a bushel of really good, juicy ones, or a sandwich that doesn’t taste any different from other sandwiches, but because you’ve used some tomatoes fresh from your garden, and the bread is just out of the oven, and you’re eating it with a good friend, somehow the sandwich just tastes so much better.  Here is one of those good passages from the Bible, and it’s good because it tells us so much about Jesus.

            Now, we often say that we are healed in Jesus Christ.  All the pain we experience, all the hurt or the worry or the despair, all of it is healed in Jesus.  The Bible tells us that we are made whole in him, made fully alive and fully human, when we live in Jesus.  In Jesus we are made who we were meant to be, who God created us to be.  And all this healing happens, all this fullness and wholeness, because of who Jesus Christ is.  Now, Jesus doesn’t heal us as a doctor might.  Doctors work on our bodies – the physical stuff that makes us who we are.  A doctor might give us medicine, operate on us, or tell us to exercise a bit more or eat more fruits and veggies.  And this is good and important to living a healthy life in this body while it lasts.

            Jesus, however, heals us differently than all this.  Jesus is the life at the heart of our lives.  He is the life that helps us heal emotionally and spiritually, the life that helps us forgive those who wronged us, that helps move us from a life of despair to a life of fullness and goodness, even if it’s still tough.  Jesus is that life that brings us away from sin and hatred and into a life where we can see the light of God all around us: in the ground, in the sunshine, in those around us, especially those who we don’t know, and, perhaps most of all, in ourselves. 

And Jesus can do this, Jesus can heal us and make us whole, because of who he is: the firstborn of all creation, the image of the invisible God, the one who holds all things together. Now, this can all seem like theological and mythological language.  It’s all really easy to say, but what does it mean that Jesus is the firstborn of all Creation?  Or that he is the foundation of all reality?  I mean, we all know what a foundation is.  For the past we months we’ve seen that new addition to the First Community Bank go up.  And the first thing they did was dig into the ground and set a firm, flat bed of concrete down.  Then they built up more concrete to create the foundation.  And this foundation is, of course, so very important, and not just so that the building doesn’t sink into the soft mud, but because it dictates all the other pillars and supports of the rest of the building.  If your foundation’s off, your building won’t be straight.  Is Jesus like that?  A sort of foundation to the whole world so that, when we build and live our lives, we won’t get stuck in the mud and our walls won’t fall down?

This is an example, of course, of getting too deep into a metaphor.  I mean, this metaphor of the foundation of a building, it’s a good one, but it’s not enough.  Jesus as the foundation, Jesus as the cornerstone, Jesus as the blueprint – all these metaphors can help us understand how Jesus Christ acts in the world and in our lives, but at the end of the day they’re not enough?  And they’re not enough because Jesus isn’t just some blueprint that you look at everyone once in a while and is important to have.  Jesus isn’t just a rock that gives you a sure foundation.  And Jesus certainly isn’t a set of rules that, if you follow them, you’ll have a happy and comfortable life.  Because Jesus is a person: a full, living person.  So Jesus isn’t just the rules of, say, baseball.  He’s the coach who knows the rules backwards and forwards, who sits with you and teaches you how to play from the time when you’re just old enough to pick up a bat.  He’s the one who watches you and, with a firm and discerning eye, can give you advice on perfecting your swing or change how you’re throwing the ball so that you don’t thrown your arm out.  He’s the coach who, when you win a game, takes the whole team out for pizza; and when you lose, knows why you did and will work with you to improve.  Jesus is the coach who loves baseball so much that he seems like the game itself, that coach you want to impress not because you want to look good but because if you impress him you know that you’re really living the game, because he loves it so much, too.

And this, of course, is just another metaphor for Jesus.  It’s not perfect, but it helps.  It helps us understand what this strange, beautiful, hopeful, founding and grounding presence is in our lives.  Metaphors like these help us to understand that person we encounter in our prayers, that makes our prayers more than just a bunch of requests but a relationship, a communion, with something beyond ourselves.  Metaphors like these help us to understand the fact that helping others, especially those who look and live a lot differently than we do, that helping them is a good in and of itself, regardless of whether we get anything back or not.  And metaphors help make sense of what’s going on in the Sacraments, why we feel the true, reconciling hand of God in the Sacrament of Confession; why a bit of oil on the forehead on Thursday afternoons here at St. James can bring us into the presence of the Almighty God; and why partaking with the whole Church, across time and space, partaking with them in the Eucharist, where we are given the gift of that same Life of Jesus Christ in a little bit of bread and a tiny sip of wine, how all that can continue us on the path to wholeness and oneness with God our Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth. 

Because these things we say about Jesus: we’re not just playing around.  When we stand up to say the Creeds, we know that they are speaking to a truth that is deeper and more profound than any of us.  When we live a life with the Sacraments and the Bible and the Church, we find that at their center, at the center of all we do, is the beating heart of all Creation.  When we look to where all the metaphors are pointing, where all our Christian lives are directing us, where all of Church history is singing and preaching and proclaiming about, we find: Jesus Christ.  In him all things are alive, because he himself is alive.  At the end of the day, all metaphors fail me, because it is not in metaphors that we believe, but in our God, living and true, who breathes upon us Life whenever we turn to him.

 

God is Very Near You

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 10
July 14th, 2019

Today’s readings are:
Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalm 25:1-9
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Click here to access these readings.

            Our reading from Deuteronomy this morning reminds me of how you find good pizza in New Jersey. It’s true. Often, when you’re looking for the best food you go to the best (and that means fanciest) restaurant, right? If you want great Italian food in general, there are a lot of places in New Jersey with cloth napkins and waiters with black bow ties and where you’ll pay, at least, $20 for a plate of spaghetti. Or, when you want a good steak, you’re not going to go to a fast food restaurant and pick something off the menu; you’re going to go to a nice place on a special day like your anniversary. And you’ll get a good cut of beef.

            But if you want a good pizza, you don’t need to go far. I think the best pizza in the world is out of a place called Joe’s Pizzarea in Flemington, New Jersey. It’s a little shop in a strip mall tucked away behind a supermarket where I worked as a kid. And they have the best pizza in the world (and the best cheese-steaks). Helene, though, disagrees. She likes a place in the strip mall in her town, in Middletown NJ, also near a supermarket and of the same, tiny size. These are the guys who, when they heard that Helene’s dad had died, gave us five or six free pizzas because “Lou was such an awesome guy.” You don’t need to go into New York City to find good pizza, and you don’t have to go to a fancy restaurant. These local shops know it best.

            Our reading in Deuteronomy is saying just this same sorta thing, though here we’re not talking about pizza but about God’s love. We desire God’s love. We long for it and hope for it like a man from New Jersey desires some good pizza, or a woman from the shore longs for good seafood, or someone from the great plains dreams of long, waving fields of grass, or when you’re out on a business trip and all you want to do is sleep in your own bed. And when we are out in the world, and we wonder how to act, and we say to ourselves: should I speak up? Should I keep my mouth shut? Should I take the job? Should I move to be near my grandkids? And we lift our eyes up to God and we say: “God, what should I do? Please, give me your commandments. Send me your love, your love that I long for every day and every night.”

            And what we hear in Deuteronomy this morning is, hey, you don’t have to go to New York City to find a good piece of pizza. When you want to hear a word from God, you don’t have to go up to heaven so you can listen in on the talk of angels and God Almighty. You don’t have to go across the sea to learn from a guru on a mountaintop. For the Word is very near you: it is in your mouth and in your heart to observe. And what this means is that we have God’s word, God’s answer to our questions and our longings and our hopes, right here. And not just here in at St. James, but that God is speaking to us, individually, in each of our hearts and in each of our prayers. So be with God in our questions. Talk to God about our hopes and dreams. Long for God in thought, word, and deed, and you shall find him beside you.

Well, that’s all very nice, but, at the end of the day, is it true? Is it true that all we need to do is listen to ourselves – listen to the thoughts of our hearts and God’s own personal word to us in prayer – and with that alone, we’ll find God? Well, in a way, no, it’s not. Or, at least, it’s not the only way to find God. There’s also the church – little ‘c’ church that’s here at St. James in Coquille, little ‘c’ church again in our diocesan life, and little ‘c’ church again in the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Anglican Communion worldwide. It’s also the big “C” Church, the universal Church that stretches across time and space. We are part of a community that lives in everywhere from Oregon to New Zealand to the northern tip of Scotland; a community that has thrived for two thousand years; and in which we’re still the Church whether we call ourselves Episcopalians, Baptists, or Catholics. And as Christians, we are called on to take part in that community. We’re called on to study the wisdom of Church tradition, to be in communion with other Christians whose practices and theologies look pretty wacky to us, but even so they’re still worshipping the same God and living and believing in the power of the Spirit (and at the end of the day, little more really matters). Part of our life in Christ is that, while we listen to the call of God to us in our own lives, our own loves, and our own hopes, while we continue to develop that personal relationship with have with God through Jesus Christ, we also open our ears to the Church (big ‘c’ or little ‘c’). For we alone are not enough.

But when we hear, and when we ourselves say, that God is very near us, we don’t mean that he’s only with us, or that he’s with us and certainly not with those guys over there. When we say that God is very near us, what we’re saying is that we can stop looking around all over the place for God and, instead, simply start loving. Don’t go to some far away country or search out some higher form of prayer – those things are good in themselves, of course, and we can learn a lot about God in other countries or from deeper forms of prayer. But God isn’t just at the end of the journey, waiting there and checking his watch because, you know, we’re really taking our time and we’re pretty late coming home. God is at the end of the journey, surely, but he’s also with us at the beginning of the journey and all throughout. God is very near us. And that nearness, and realizing that nearness and living into that nearness, that’s the point of all this. That’s the point of being a Christian. And yes, of course, realizing this nearness will lead us to do good things in the world around us and it will help us grow into more virtuous, God-loving people. But the point of living the Christian life isn’t just to do some good things and be virtuous for our own sake. It is to grow in Christ, to be open ever more fully to the breath of the Holy Spirit blowing through all of Creation. The point is to be near God, to be very near to God, and to invite and bring others into that life.

And this living, this living near to God, it does something to us. It builds us into people who are like Jesus Christ. In theological language, it makes us Sons and Daughters in the image of Jesus, the first Son of God Almighty. Like him, we will become truly human. And living such a life, we will then, like Jesus before us, go out into the world to continue his good work, be it at the county fair, at the food bank, at the barber shop downtown on Mondays, or in our normal, day-to-day interactions with the people of this world. But it all starts from living a life with God. It all begins, lives, and ends, with God.

 

The Kingdom of God has Drawn Near

The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 9
July 7th, 2019

This Sunday’s Readings are:

Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-8
Galatians 6:1-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Click here to access these readings.

            Last week I spoke a bit about “mission.”  We read a section of Luke’s gospel, as we’ve been doing all year since the start of Advent, and we heard a few stories that Jesus told about going out into the world and doing God’s will.  And, last week, we talked about how doing mission isn’t just about going to the four corners of the world or to the most dangerous parts of a country, but it’s also about seeing the person in front of you, whoever it is, and bringing to them the hope of God.  No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks backwards is fit for the Kingdom of God.  Or, in other words, look in front of you.  Minister to the people in your life, whether they’re out on your doorstep or a thousand miles away in Tanzania.  And, whatever you do, be present with the person who you are with.  Be present with the Life of God in the life of others and the world.

            And now, in our gospel reading this week, we see a bit of what Jesus thinks that will look like.  For here he is the sending out of the seventy, who will go into every town and every place that Jesus was thinking of going to as well.  And, in a way, Jesus is teaching these seventy how to say hello and how to say goodbye.  It reminds me of how we teach children to say thank you.  Kids don’t know how to be polite, so we kinda have to prompt them, right?  When someone gives Gwendolyn something, whether it’s a gift on her birthday or her dinner when we go out to eat, often she’s so consumed with the joy of the gift or a plate of yummy food that Helene and I have to say, “Gwendolyn, what do you say?”  And she looks up at the person and says “thank you”, then goes back to the gift.  Jesus is doing some of the same stuff.  When you enter a house, he says, make sure to say, “Peace to this house!”  You seventy might be so ready to do the fine work of the Lord among these folks, you might be all excited and rearing to go, but don’t forget to say hi first. 

            Now, Jesus doesn’t say this just because he wants the seventy to be polite, but because the way a person says hello and goodbye matters.  I don’t want Gwendolyn to say please and thank you because they’re just empty gestures that make social interactions more smooth.  I want my children to say please and thank you because I want them to be gracious and thankful adults when they grow up.  You know, in the U.S., when we meet someone, we often say, “how are you doing?”, but there are those people who, when they say it, they actually mean it.  Not that they’re pushy or nosey and want to get into your business, but that when these people say, “how are you?”, they actually care about your response?  These folks can be tough for introverts who just want to stay below the radar, but even so, when you meet someone who actually cares about how you’ve been, it changes the conversation.  At least for me, it changes my day.  The world is a bit less drab and work-a-day.  It’s full of people who care.  That’s one of the real reasons to be polite.

            Now, when Jesus sends out the seventy, he’s kinda saying that you have to be like this person who really asks, “how are you?”  For, when you go into a town, and they’re all happy to see you and give you food (which is good, ‘cause you’ve got no money), and they sit and listen to you, make sure to say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  But when they don’t welcome you, when they kick you out of town with a dirty look, man, then you can look back and wipe off the dust of that town that clings to your feet, you know what you get to say then?  “The kingdom of God has come near.”  Nope!  You don’t get to return those dirty looks, or come up with some pithy remark that’s gonna sting just right. You wipe off the dust and say just the same thing as you said to everyone else: the kingdom of God has come near.

            Because you know what you’re doing out there?  You know what we’re doing out there in the world?  We’re not out in the world to join in the fight.  We’re not out there to get angry or choose sides or help draw battle lines.  We’re out in the world as Christians to preach the hope and the peace and the Salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We’re out there to tell people about the goodness of the Lord, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has drawn near to us, that he, not some empire or program or group, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the Salvation of the world.  And we need to see the person in front of us and speak that love and that hope into the fabric of their lives.  And sometimes that means just saying “how are you” like we mean it, though at other times it means that we should love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, help the sick, the poor, the lonely, the destitute, anyone who is right in front of us and who needs our love and hope and joy.  But in the end, all that is quite a bit like saying “how are you” like you mean it.

            Now, living the Good News of Jesus Christ can certainly get us into trouble.  There are people out there who think that just in being Christian that we’ve chosen a side, or just because we serve at our local food bank and keep our doors open so that anyone can come inside for a warm meal or just some coffee, that we’re in the thick of the battle.  And hopefully we’re not.  We’re followers of Jesus Christ, and through our study of his life and his teachings and the further teachings of the Church throughout the ages, we’ve come to understand that our duty as Christians is to do things like volunteer at our food bank.  And this study and experience and prayer has led some of us to different groups or parties.  And, with an election coming up, it’s important to remember that our Christian vocation has led some of us to be Republicans and some of us to be Democrats (and some of us to try to weasel out some space in the middle), but, if we are true to our faith in Jesus Christ, we are doing so because we are founded on God, not on a single party or side.  Our Christian vocation, our life in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, is what should dictate our actions, always and everywhere.

            The work of the seventy was to go out and proclaim the kingdom of God.  And when they did, what happened?  They found that they had a power that they had never imagined.  And what happens when we, we Christians living in the 21st century, go out and do the same?  What happens when we go out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in thought, word, and deed?  What happens if, instead of getting lost in some vague and vain debate, we simply love the life of Jesus Christ in others and try our best to nurture it within them?  Well, to be quite honest, we’ll probably get hurt.  We all learned back in elementary school that doing good doesn’t always turn out good for us in the end.  But at the end of the day, it’s not about us.  Doing the right thing, loving our enemies, and listening to and caring for the person in front of us, none of that is really about us.  But they’re the right things to do.  Because it isn’t through bickering, hatred, or divisions that the kingdom of God will draw near, but through love, and respect, and an open, praying heart.  For it is through Jesus Christ alone, and no other, Jesus Christ who went to the cross so that we humans could be reconciled to God, it is through such love that we humans, and our world, may be saved.        

 

Keep Your Eyes Forward

Pentecost 3
June 30, 2019

Today’s readings are:

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Click here to access these readings.

        When I was a kid, I played a lot of baseball.  It’s something that you just did if you grew up in the shadow of New York City like I did.  Yankee Stadium, where the legends of baseball used to play, was just a short trip into the City.  And the Mets were just across town.  The Red Socks were up in Boston and the Phillies and the Oriels were just a little further.  Down in the South and up here in the Northwest it’s all about football, but in New Jersey, it was baseball.

        Now, I played baseball from T-ball up until middle school, either on a team or with the neighborhood kids.  But at whatever level, whether I was trying to smack a home-run or catch a pop fly, there was always one bit of advice I always got: keep your eye on the ball.  Maybe other kids got this quicker than I did, but, for me, when I played, I was always wondering about what was going on around me.  I was looking at the people on base, or I was worried about whether I’d hit the ball or strike out.  But my dad and my coaches always told me: keep your eye on the ball.  Whether you’re batting or playing in the field, the first step is to keep your eye on the ball.  Sure, doing so won’t guarantee that you’ll hit the thing or catch it, but it’s that first step.  Look forward, focus, and keep your eye on the ball.

        Now, Jesus tells his disciples something very similar in our gospel reading today.  No, Jesus isn’t planning to make a baseball team out of the disciples so he can take on the Samaritans in an ancient World Series.  Jesus is trying to teach his disciples how to follow him, how they should hear his call to them, and how they should join him.  Luke records a few things Jesus said to the disciples and, perhaps, to some people who were called and who chose not to follow him.  And one of these sayings is a lot like “keep your eye on the ball.”  It’s this: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”

        Now, this is one of those “gulp” passages.  This is one of those passages (and there are quite a few in the Bible) when we come face to face with what it means to love God, and what God means when he says that he loves us.  Often, I think, we take this passage to mean: don’t doubt.  Don’t you ever doubt, even for a second.  In God, our life is changed, from the inside out and from the outside in.  In God our life takes on new meaning and new hope as we grow to be sons and daughters in the image of Jesus Christ.  We become who we were truly meant to be.  But if we look back, if we look back to our old lives and our old sins and, even for a moment, relapse, then that’s it, we’re through, we’re not fit for the Kingdom of God.

        No, no, I don’t think that’s what this means.  Even though we are alive in Jesus Christ, we still sin.  We’re not perfect, even if we were baptized, even if we take the Eucharist each and every day.  That’s why, in our Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer, one of the promises is that “Whenever we sin” (not if we sin but whenever we sin) whenever we sin, we will return to Christ.”  Being a Christian doesn’t mean that, from now on, we’ll lead a perfect and blameless life; being a Christian means that we will orient our entire lives to God.  We could be a long way off from a perfect life, but that orientation, that turning, again and again, towards God – that’s what’s important. 

        No, what I mean when I say that this passage – that no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God – when I say that this is a “gulp” moment, I mean that in it we come to understand the depth of what it means for God to love us, and what it means for us to promise to love God.  Now, I don’t know much about farming, but I know this much: when you’re working a plow, when you’ve got that plow deep in the soil, look in front of you.  Or, for those of us without experience in farming, think of when you learned to drive a car.  When you’re driving, look at the road in front of you.  Check a mirror here or there, make sure you’re not speeding, but, on the whole, look forward.  When a kid trips, what does the parent always say?  “Look where you’re going.”  So, in other words, when you’re following Jesus, look at what’s in front of you. 

        Now, this can mean two things.  First of all, when you follow anyone, what should you be looking at?  The person you’re following.  Look to Jesus Christ and to God his Father. Look to the life and the love of the world around you; look to the light and the fullness and the grace that you have been given.  At times of joy, remember that all goodness comes from God, not from we ourselves but God living in us.  At times of sorrow, look to those moments of help and community that is the Spirit breathed into the ones around us.  At times of anger, look to God to how to handle that anger and discern, with God, if it is a righteous anger and needs to be spoken, or if you just need to go blow off some steam.  At times of difficult decision, look to God and his Church for guidance and wisdom.  In your work, praise God; in your play, praise God; in all things: praise God.

        And the other thing is this: as we follow Jesus, as we continue the work of Jesus in the world, look at those who are right in front of us.  Often, churches can get bogged down with a sort of “do do do” attitude towards ministry.  When someone says “ministry”, it can often seem that all we mean are those large and official ministries like soup kitchens and missions to other countries and huge building projects.  And these are all great and important ministries that are the responsibility of the Church, but there are others as well.  We all have a call to ministry to those individual folks in our lives, from the members of our families to the clerk at the supermarket.  And that ministry might not be rescuing them from despair (though it certainly might be), but, oftentimes, giving them the good, honest hope of Life in their lives.  We don’t have to be saccharine about it, or be happy and exuberant and energetic all the time.  That would tire out even the most type A extrovert there is.  But we should live our lives, in whatever way God has given us to live, we should live our lives as people who have been given a great hope and a great life. 

Because what we have before us, what is in front of us, every moment and every day, is a flame of Life unquenchable and eternal.  Down at the core of our souls, beyond all hurt and pain, beyond even all our joy, is the beating heart of Christ, which is goodness pure and simple like a drink of cool water on a hot day.  The reality of all things is a turning to God in love.  So when you put your hand to your plow, be that in working at the food bank or serving on diocesan committees or just simply going about your common business on a cool summer’s day: look in front of you, keep your eye on Christ, and give to the world that Life that you yourself have been given.  For in such life is eternity.

To You All Hearts Are Open

Pentecost 2
June 23rd, 2019

Today’s Readings are:

Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22:18-27
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Click here to access these readings

        The other day, Gwendolyn and I watched a scene from a 90s children’s cartoon called the Prince of Egypt.  The movie follows the story of Moses, so it’s sort of a children’s version of the Ten Commandments.  I’ve never seen the whole thing, myself, but a friend once showed me the scene where Moses encounters the Burning Bush.  It’s a really beautiful scene, and I wanted to show it to Gwendolyn.

        Now, you all know the story of the Burning Bush: God reveals himself to Moses in the form of a bush that is on fire but not being consumed.  Then God issues a call to Moses to save the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  It’s a powerful scene in the Bible, and this cartoon rendition is a pretty powerful one as well.  Now, in the scene, Moses is standing all amazed at this strange sight before him.  He hears a voice, and he asks, “Who are you?”  And God gives him his name, which is one of the center-points of God’s revelation to us: I am that I am.  God is pure being, pure love, pure life; that is who he is.  And this name reveals that God is not just any other god, like Zeus or Thor or someone, but the God at the center of all existence.  That’s quite a name.

But in the scene, God also asks Moses who he is.  Or, rather, he tells Moses who he is, but Moses doesn’t believe him.  First, he calls out to Moses using his name: Moses!  Moses!  But Moses barely answers.  Then God says that he will send Moses to Pharaoh and set the Israelites free from their slavery in Egypt.  Moses comes up with all these excuses of why he shouldn’t be the one, but God just says, no, it is you who are to go.  In short, God says: Moses, this is who you are; Moses responds by saying, that can’t be. 

Now, this film isn’t the Bible, but I think it does a great job of picking up a really important theme in our Scriptures: who are you?  Time and time again in the Bible, God asks a person, “Who are you?” or, perhaps more appropriately, “Is this who you really are?”  It happens often when God calls someone to a specific task.  When the Jeremiah is called to be a prophet, he says, “You can’t mean me; I’m just a boy!”  Jonah does it better: when he’s called, he doesn’t just say “no” but turns tail and runs the other way.  But it’s not just when people are called to some great task that God asks them, “Who are you?”  God asks this to King David when he commits first murder, then adultery: “Is this who you really are?”  And Jesus asks it to St. Paul when he first appears to him: “Why are you persecuting my people?  Is that who you really are?  Or are you someone more?”  And Jesus asks it all throughout the Gospels as well: to the woman at the well; to a bunch of fisherman who then become his disciples; to St. Peter in that beautiful story at the end of John’s Gospel, though here Jesus doesn’t have to ask the question directly.  Instead, he asks to Peter (three times to balance his three denials of Jesus): Peter, do you love me?  And when Peter responds “yes”, each time Jesus tells him: “Feed my sheep.”  In other words, he’s saying: if you love me, Peter, if you are one of my disciples, then here is who you are: feed my sheep.

Now, we’re asked “Who are you?” pretty much all through the day.  When we go to the doctor’s office, especially if we’re a new patient, we have to fill out these long forms that ask us our name, our address, our closest-kin, our medical history, and on and on.  When we sign into our email, we’re asked for our user name and password.  Some larger churches have name-tags so that everyone knows that this is Joe and this is Frank.  And I don’t know about you, but I get tired of all this.  And all I want is to go to a place like in that old show “Cheers”, where everyone knows your name, where people know who you are deep down to your core.  That’s one of the beauties of a family: they know us, through and through; or one of the deep graces of your home church: when you walk in the door, or when you see one another out in town, you know them, you know their pains and their joys.  You know what they’re going through and what they’ve gone through.  You know them.

And how much moreso with Jesus.  There’s a great prayer at the beginning of our Sunday liturgy; it begins: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.”  Now, I’m not required to say this prayer each week.  It’s one of those optional prayers, but even so, I always make sure to begin the liturgy with this prayer.  And I do so because I think it’s important to remember just how close God is to us, just how deeply and thoroughly God knows us, and that he still loves us and is dedicated to that love.  Because the presence of God, the mere presence of him, be it in the Bible or the history of the Church or in our own lives, God’s presence strips away all that we think we are, all that we write on those forms in doctor’s offices, all the user names and passwords, all the titles we put before our names or the letters after them, and gets down to the nitty gritty of each of us.  And who are we before God?  When God has seen through all of our smoke-screens, all of our mind-games, what does he see?  Nothing more, and nothing less, than his own beloved children.

That’s a lot.  I could stop right there, and we could all sit for a while to drink that in, because that’s huge.  The Creator of Heaven and of Earth, of all that we see and know, and all the angels in the heavens, the ruler and life of all that is: loves us.  Thinking about this, you can maybe understand why some people become monks and nuns, so that they can sit and ponder and work within this great reality all the days of their lives.  But what can we do with this awesomeness, this great grace that the Lord God Almighty loves such creatures as us, and loves us so much that he would take the form of a human and die on a cross?

Well, one of the things we can do is to ponder this reality, to pray within this reality of love and goodness.  But Jesus gives us something more as well.  At the end of our gospel reading this morning, look at what happens: the man, once enslaved by a legion of demons, is now whole and healed, and he wants to go with Jesus.  But Jesus sends him back, and what does he say?  “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”  Tell people about God.  Tell people about your life with God, and your life lived in God’s love.  Tell people about where you meet that love: in your garden, with your family, volunteering at the food bank, here at church.  Proclaim God’s love in the world.  You don’t have to stand on the street corners and yell at people that God loves them (actually, I’m pretty sure Jesus told us to be cautious of doing this), but we are called to not just keep God’s love to ourselves but to share it, to open our arms wide and share our story of our walk with God.

We are Spirit-spreaders, we Christians.  So cast those nets wide, sing your songs loud and with a full voice, and love your God with all that you are.  For God loves you for all that you are, and more.