I hope you read Psalm 121 today. It is a short Psalm, only 8 verses, but because it is short, it can more easily be committed to memory. That's probably how most people sung and heard this Psalm, listed as one of the Songs of Ascents - words of inspiration sung as travelers approached the Holy City of Jerusalem, which sat on a plateau to which travelers would climb.
It must have been a remarkable and uplifting site to see the Holy City on a hill from a distance, knowing that you were nearing the place where God was thought to dwell among God's people. Traveling was hard, most of it walking or on the back of slow-moving beasts. Weary travelers were inspired when they could look up and see Jerusalem - when the could lift their eyes and see the home of God.
The weary travelers knew the end of their journey was near. Not only was traveling long and tiring, but it was also dangerous. Roads between cities were unprotected, wild places, where many were set upon by robbers, or wild animals. Seeing the Holy City meant they were nearing the end of the danger, moving to a place where the God of all creation, the God who never fails to keep watch, the God who protects God's people made it home.
When you read this Psalm, think about coming home after a long journey, and the return to familiar comforts, welcoming faces, and rest for the weary soul. Then lift your eyes heavenward in the same way those Jerusalem travelers did millennia ago, and remember that the God who created it all will keep your going out and coming in from this time on and forevermore.
This is a photo of our dog Tucker. We adopted him nearly two years ago when his owner died suddenly and Tucker needed a new place to live. Despite his size (about 80 lbs.), he is the gentlest, calmest, most compliant pet we’ve ever had. Like most dogs, he is sad when we leave him home alone, but joyful when we return home. When we are eating, he is right nearby hoping something will drop to the floor. He always sleeps in our room with us at night.
And, Tucker was born blind.
But just because Tucker was born blind does not mean he can’t “see” the world around him. He does everything a normal dog would do except run and fetch. While he doesn’t have functioning eyes, his other senses make up where his eyes fail him. Tucker loves life and we love him.
Indeed, we know that seeing is not always done with our eyes. Most of us probably know people that are sight impaired, yet see the world with their eyes of wisdom, much more clearly than those with 20/20 vision. The first pastor I knew as a young boy was David Mc Cracken, who lost his sight due to diabetes. I never knew him when he had his sight, but I remember him reading scripture using a braille bible, teaching us in Sunday School, preaching occasionally on television, and serving not just 1, but 2 parishes in the Bronx.
Pastor Mc Cracken often told a story of a homeless man who knocked on the parsonage door in the middle of the night, not such an unusual occurrence for a Bronx neighborhood church located just north of the end of 2 subway line. Pastor Mc Cracken invited the man in for some food, warmth and conversation, even though he could see not what he looked like, or assess visually if the man may have meant to do him harm. The eyes of wisdom and love were all Pastor Mc Cracken needed to see the need of the man on his doorstep and to extend the hand of kindness to him. As the encounter came to an end, Pastor Mc Cracken gave that man some money and prayed him on his way. That man’s life was changed that night and his eyes were opened by the love and hospitality of one blind minister. Not only was the man inspired to turn his life around, but he too became a pastor of a congregation in Mt. Vernon, NY where he served for many years.
The eyes that Pastor Mc Cracken saw through that night were the eyes of Jesus. The eyes that see the suffering of the world, and the eyes that help us to see what we would never see ourselves. In today’s gospel, we witness an unusual healing, with Jesus spitting in the dirt and rubbing the mud on a blind man’s eyes and making him see. When I read the passage, I wonder if Jesus is poking fun at all the miracle gazers in the world who look for signs of miracles with noticing what truly happens. In this story a man was blind, and then could see. That is the miracle, because that is what happens every time we meet Jesus and we see something in front of us that we never saw before; when we see potential in someone that the world has forsaken; when we see a need to give, instead of defend our selfishness; when we see what we could be instead of avoiding looking at the possibilities.
Blindness may indeed be a disability in more ways than one. But thank God Jesus opens our eyes to see what we cannot see on our own.
For text of the Sermon - Click Here
Devotions for Week of March 26, 2017
Jesus said "Let the one who believes in me drink." That seems to be a pretty clear metaphor to guide us to where we get the source of all refreshment, especially on those days when our faith and our energies are sapped. Jesus calls us to the source of living water, which of course is himself.
But I think this statement also calls us to move in another direction. There is an action called for in Jesus' command. He calls his people to drink, to take action to quench our thirst, to participate, if you will, in the flow of the water, to stick your head into the movement somewhere between the source of the water, and its destination.
That's not to say it isn't important to take some "quality time" with Jesus in prayer and meditation. There is promised refreshment in doing that. But don't ignore the the second verse in our text today "Out of the believers heart shall flow rivers of living water." Jesus promises refreshment so abundant that Jesus himself will flow out of our faithful hearts, our faith transformed into loving acts that will flow out to others.
Faith then is formed by our relationship to Jesus Christ, the living water, but since living water is flowing water, we also participate in the movement of Christ in the world, equally refreshed, and providing refreshment to those downstream. We live and work in the world, because that is where Jesus is, that's where the living waters flow bringing love, peace, justice and kindness to all of God's creation.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood this and thought this was important as he observed a "world come of age" - where human knowledge had pushed the tradition concept of God as the explanation of all unknown things to the margins of reality. He didn't see this as a threat to our spirituality, but as a way to refocus that faith on the God that exists in our midst. Faith then, is not belief in what we can't see, but participation in the work of God that we do see. From prison, he wrote
One of the features of John’s beautiful Gospel are the stories of people who encounter Jesus. In contrast with the other evangelists, John draws out the encounters, showing interplay between Jesus and his conversation partner. In these moments, I think we can make a more personal connection with Jesus, and know that he is patient with our search of understanding and meaning in life. Like Nicodemus in last week’s encounter, Jesus transforms the life, this time of an unnamed woman, who stops at a well for an unexpected conversation.
The first thing we learn from Jesus at the well, is that in God’s there are no barriers between God’s people. The woman who visits the well is doing so in the middle of the day, at a time when she can reasonably expect nobody else would be there. She is probably a woman of questionable reputation, ostracized by the other woman who use the well in the morning when the temperature would have been cooler. That a man would be at the well at the same time must have been a great surprise to her. But after they talked, something even more surprising would happen.
The woman is reluctant to give water to Jesus, symbolic of the social barriers of the time (man/woman, Jew/Samaritan, moral/immoral), but none of that matters to Jesus, who makes a stunning claim, that Jesus would draw water for her, and that this water would be “living water”, water that would quench thirst for all eternity. As we saw with Nicodemus last week, the woman did not quite get what Jesus meant, at first. The conversation continued and the woman was amazed at what Jesus was able to tell her about herself.
Then a most amazing thing happens. This marginalized and shunned woman runs from Jesus to tell her neighbors about her encounter with Jesus and invited them to come and see – and John tells us that they listened to her, and came. This lonely woman at the well, received living water from Jesus, and was transformed that day from social outcast, to inspired evangelist – from outsider, to a leader of a movement.
How have your encounters with Jesus transformed you?
For the full text of the Sermon - CLICK HERE
Devotions for the Week of March 19, 2017
There's a buzzword today that's become so overused that it no longer bears any real significance. That word is "ICONIC".
An icon is an image that encapsulates a much deeper and greater truth than can be easily communicated through the written word. If something is iconic, therefore, it stand for something that no words can describe.
While the word has become trite, especially in its modern usage to describe any number of images you might click on your computer screen, there are some truly iconic things that stand the test of time, no matter how hackneyed the word becomes.
One such icon is John 3:16. You've seen it everywhere, especially at sporting events where people hold up banners and posters to get people to notice the one verse in Holy Scripture that gives us, what Martin Luther called "The Gospel in a Nutshell" - "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life". There is real power and real promise in that one verse, and it is therefore an iconic representation of the fullness of God's grace.
Even with its iconic status, on its own John 3:16 can be misinterpreted without its adjacent companion, John 3:17, which says "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." Without John 3:17, the previous verse can be rendered as just another "sorting text" in the bible where only true believers receive the grace of God. But John 3:17, provides a bit more texture and depth to its more famous preceding verse. Not only does it draw us to God's grace in the person of Jesus Christ, but it clarifies God's intent that the entire world is loved and the entire world is to be saved. No part of the world is condemned, and God will not stop the love until all have been wrapped up into God's plan for eternal life.
Next time you read John 3:16, as a source of comfort in the promises of God, don't stop at the end of it. Go another verse further on, and see the abundance and the depth of what God's grace will accomplish. That is truly iconic.
Welcome to The Soul Cafe, a place for gathering, for learning and for conversation.
We invite you to join us as we study and discuss how God reveals himself to us in the Bible and in our lives.
Please read our blog, share our devotions and join the conversation.
About this website
Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.