Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, June 30, 2013: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:  2 Kings 2:1-2,6-14  +  Psalm 77:1-2,11-20  +  Galatians 5:1,13-25  +  Luke 9:51-62

mandela

Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa 1994-1999. Freedom Fighter.

I’ve been keeping a close eye on the news, watching and waiting for any changes in the condition of the man President Obama has compared to George Washington, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.

Mandela, as you know, became president of South Africa in 1994 after decades of struggling against the system of racial segregation known as apartheid.  In his youth, Mandela was a lawyer involved in anti-colonial politics.  He directly opposed the National Party that came into power in 1948, first non-violently, and later by leading bombing campaigns against military targets.  He was captured, convicted of sabotage, and sentenced to life imprisonment, part of which was carried out on Robben Island, a prison compound off the coast of Cape Town.

Mandela served eighteen of his twenty-seven years of imprisonment on Robben Island, and the stories from that place are a part of his living legend: how he befriended the prison guards, reaching for their humanity in an inhumane place; how he gifted his captors with plants he grew on the windowsill of his tiny prison cell.  I was in high school when the government of South Africa finally bowed to demands for his release, as he had grown to become an international symbol for the anti-apartheid movement.  That was 1990.  Four years later he’d gone from prison inmate to president of the newly reconstituted South Africa, an office he held from 1994 to 1999.

When I visited South Africa as a seminarian in the summer of 2000, Mandela’s presidency had just concluded, and the country was nervously making the transition from his leadership to that of his successor, President Thabo Mbeki.  It was difficult to move from the iconic leadership of the man who had confronted the violent powers of the institutionalized racism of the Afrikaners’ National Party, and had lived to tell the tale, to his successor.  There was a great deal of fear that the non-violent transfer of power from the National Party to the African National Congress, Mandela’s party, would finally break down and that the country would be plunged into violent conflict and civil war.

That was almost fifteen years ago, and South Africa has made the transition from one leader to the next more than once now, each time confirming Mandela’s vision for a peaceful, multicultural nation.

After leading the nation through decades of the anti-apartheid movement, then as its elected president for five years, in 1999 Nelson Mandela stepped down from public office, ready for a quiet family life.  At the age of 80 he married his third wife, Graça Machel, also a political activist, from Mozambique.  For the next few years he continued to be an active presence in South Africa’s political and cultural life.  Then, in 2004, he announced that he was “retiring from retirement,” receding more fully from the public eye, though always in the national consciousness.

Tahrir Square, April 8, 2011.

Tahrir Square, April 8, 2011.

I asked Judith Kotzé, the South African LGBTI activist who was with us at the beginning of this month to share news and build support for IAM — Inclusive and Affirming Ministries — how South Africa was faring now that Mandela and Tutu, and other leaders of the anti-apartheid movement, were growing old and struggling publicly with their health.  She said to me, “we are, of course, grateful for their leadership.  They were symbols of the anti-apartheid movement.  They brought the world’s attention to South Africa.  But that was twenty years ago.  Today we don’t need another Mandela, or another Tutu.  We need networks of activists.  We need the entire nation to push toward the vision they gave us.”

We’ve been traveling with the prophet Elijah through the book of First Kings for the last month, from his initial confrontations with King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, to his exile in the wilderness east of the River Jordan where he fed and healed the widow of Zarephath and her son.  We remember how he condemned the power of the state when Naboth’s vineyard was illegally seized, and declared a coming day of judgment when the mighty would be brought low, and Israel would return to the Lord, its God.  Last week we reflected on how lonely this work was, how silent God could be, how again and again those touched by God are sent back into the fray, when all they want is to be allowed to retreat from the struggle.

Finally, this morning we see Elijah retiring from his public ministry.  He, alone among the prophets, does not die but is lifted into heaven by God whose power manifests in the appearance of a fiery chariot.  Elijah is ready to make this journey, and even seems to prefer that he be allowed to take it alone, but his protégé and successor, Elisha, is determined to accompany him.  Along the way from Gilgal to Bethel to the Jordan, Elijah and Elisha are joined by fifty others from a group we’ve not heard of before, called “the company of prophets.”

This company of prophets is one of the first signs we see that Elijah’s ministry has been about more than a dramatic public confrontation between power and the prophet.  It has been about stirring the public’s imagination and creating a space in which people could begin to imagine themselves as members and leaders moving toward God’s vision for the world as it was meant to be.

In his book, Prophesy and Society in Ancient Israel, scholar Robert Wilson writes,

“Although there is no direct evidence on this point, members of [the company of prophets] were presumably individuals who had resisted the political and religious policies of the Ephraimite kings and who had therefore been forced out of the political and religious establishments.  After having prophetic experiences these individuals joined the group, which was under the leadership of Elisha.  In the group they found mutual support and were encouraged to use prophesy to bring about change in the social order.”

Reading between the lines of scripture the picture that emerges is that, far from his imagining, Elijah has not been alone in his struggle against empire.  Inspired, perhaps, by his public witness, a community of prophets, a society of resisters, a network of activists has emerged who are already practicing the tools of prophesy, the art of truth-telling, to make change in the world around them.

This company of prophets, led by Elisha, accompany Elijah to the place of his ascension and there Elisha makes his request.  “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”  Throughout his ministry, Elijah has performed miracles that confirmed his message.  He created abundance where there was scarcity.  He called down fire on his enemies, and commanded the waters to part before him.  His message to the powers and principalities could not be ignored, when he was so obviously filled with power from another source.  Elisha asks for that power, the power to lead with credibility and authority.

Elijah’s response to the eager young prophet is instructive.  How often do we see leaders, whether it’s in business, or politics, or even the church, who try to select their successors.  It is tempting, when a person has invested all of themselves into a lifelong project, to want to ensure that it will live on past the leader’s departure.  How many companies, or movements, or congregations have suffered when a leader’s desire to select their successor saddles the community with the wrong person at the wrong time?

Elijah does not promise Elisha anything, because Elijah knows that his own ministry has been powered by his relationship to God.  Elijah has argued with and complained to, but ultimately been faithful to the God who gave him power to meet the demands of the ministry to which he was called.  Elijah knows that, in the end, it is God who will select his successor.

So he tells Elisha, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”

Here’s how I hear Elijah’s reply: if you have the vision, you will have the power.  “If you see me as I am being taken from you…”  If you can see that I was always about something greater than me, then you will still see me even when I myself am not here.

Elisha and the company of prophets had seen, and did know, that Elijah’s work had always been about more than Elijah.  It had been about bringing the people of Israel back into right relationship with their God and with one another.  It was a ministry that began during a drought, a sign that the king was not caring for the window, the orphan and the stranger, but which brought the rain.  Over and against imperial power that sought its own interests at everyone else’s expense, Elijah’s ministry had been marked by costly truth-telling for the sake of the common good.  Elisha, too, was marked as one ready to lead the twelve tribes of Israel; one who shares the vision for the world as God made it to be.

Ascensions: Elijah & Jesus

Ascensions: Elijah (top) & Jesus (bottom)

The story of a wonder-working prophet ascending into heaven, and leaving behind a community of followers ready to continue his ministry should sound familiar to any of us who have been Christian long enough to celebrate the festivals of Easter and Pentecost at least once.  The gospel of Luke draws heavily on the story of Elijah in its presentation of Jesus.  The people even wonder if Jesus is, in fact, Elijah returning for them.

They can wonder this, in part, because rather than dying, Elijah is taken up into heaven to be with God.  This ending is powerful not because of the prestige it confers on Elijah, but because it defies resolution.  Elijah is not dead, but ascended, which means that he might return at any moment.  Indeed, the way Christians order the Hebrew scriptures, the last book of the Old Testament is Malachi, from which we read, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” (Mal. 4:5).  To this day, our Jewish brothers and sisters leave a place at the Passover table for Elijah, who may yet come knocking at the door during the festival of liberation from the slavery of Egypt.

Likewise, we who are Christian, see in the stories of Elijah and Jesus a vision for God’s work in the world that is greater than any one person, a message that is bigger than the messenger.  From Jesus’ own defiance against the slavery of the grave, we draw power and conviction that God’s work in this hurting, broken world is not done yet either.  We have ordered the books of the New Testament so that they also end with the promise that God’s visionary Word will come again, as the book of Revelation ends with these words, “‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)

And, of course, we say these words each time with gather for a meal at this table, as we recite the mystery of faith: “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.”  And, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”

These words, spoken over and over, aren’t magic spells that turn bread into sacrament, they aren’t ingredients in a liturgical recipe.  They are pledges of allegiance to a new world order, the one we saw breaking in through Elijah, through Elisha and the company of prophets; through Jesus and the company of the apostles; through our brothers Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.  These words, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” are acts of sedition, drawing us into a struggle for the future of the world.

Nelson Mandela was not released from 27 years of imprisonment so that he could enjoy his retirement.  Nelson Mandela was set free in order to lead the people of South Africa, and the entire world, into a greater freedom.  For freedom he was set free!

And so are you.  So are you, my dear brothers and sisters, who by baptism have been initiated into the company of prophets, the community that looks at Elijah, and Jesus, and sees the message in the messenger.  Who see the vision.  Who are called prophets of the Most High.

You have not been set free from lives of bondage to racism, or classism, or sexism, or nationalism, or heterosexism, or militarism, or consumerism, or capitalism simply in order that you might enjoy a more peaceful life.  In Christ, you have been set free from all these powers, powers that try to tell you who you are, powers that try to reduce you to one aspect of your identity, in order to liberate the world from these same lying, death-dealing powers.

After years of prophetic leadership that saw an end to apartheid, Nelson Mandela stepped back so that others, many others, could continue to work of freedom, truth-telling and reconciliation in South Africa.  After a prophetic ministry that brought King Ahab and Jezebel low, that brought waters back to parched lands, Elijah withdrew so that others, a company of prophets, could lead Israel back to God.  After a public ministry so encompassing of God’s politics that it led to a cross, a tomb, and a resurrection, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so that we, together, the church, might become God’s advocates for God’s emerging reign of peace with justice, of a world of plenty shared equitably with all, of love for everyone forever.

We are called to be prophets of this reality. Whether we are working to relieve hunger, marching for LGBTQ equality and civil rights, working for passage of common sense immigration reform, organizing to ensure all citizens continue to enjoy equal voting rights.  Whatever our vocation, whatever our cause, we are called to set our minds on freedom, this morning and every morning. Come, Lord Jesus!

Amen.

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, May 26, 2013: The Holy Trinity

Texts:  Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31  +  Psalm 8  +  Romans 5:1-5  +  John 16:12-15

The "Shield of the Trinity" or "Scutum Fidei" diagram of traditional Western Christian symbolism.

The “Shield of the Trinity” or “Scutum Fidei” diagram of traditional Western Christian symbolism.

Preaching on the Sunday the church commemorates as the festival of the Holy Trinity is full of traps for the preacher, or so I am told.  “Don’t preach doctrine,” I’m advised.  No one wants to hear a sermon on doctrine, especially the doctrine of the Trinity.  It’s a mystery.”  And, the best advice of all: “No flowcharts.”  So, it is with some trepidation that I have ascended into the pulpit this morning to preach, and worse, to preach about the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Holy Trinity is, indeed, a mystery.  But it’s not a mystery the way the pyramids are a mystery, or the way the huge statues on Easter Island are a mystery.  We use the word “mystery” to describe those immense, incredible works of humanity precisely as an invitation for someone to solve the mystery.  Calling something a mystery almost immediately draws us into the role of detective.  Like the old story of the sword in the stone, we approach a mystery wondering if we will be the one to finally release it from its trap.

Or, the other option I suppose, we allow the word “mystery” to scare us away.  “The Holy Trinity?  Don’t bother giving it a second thought, it’s a mystery…”  But that’s not the kind of mystery it is either.  In fact, in the realm of Christianity to say something is a mystery is to say that we are called to spend our lives asking questions of it, probing it for wisdom, being shaped by its knots — but not to solve it.

So, with some humility, let’s spend just a short bit of time on this festival of the Holy Trinity considering its mystery.

To begin, as Christians we are the inheritors of a beautiful and ancient tradition of thinking and speaking about God that comes to us from our Jewish sisters and brothers.

Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad

Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God.  The Lord is One. (Deut. 6:4)

Shema Yisrael at the Knesset Menorah in Jerusalem

Shema Yisrael at the Knesset Menorah in Jerusalem

This is the shema, which we read in the 6th chapter of Deuteronomy, the 4th verse, a statement of faith that, for Jews, is about as close to a creed as they get.  It is the basis for what we have come to call monotheism, the belief that there is only one God.  That God is not one among many.

This inheritance is the entry into the mystery.  Not a clue.  Not a piece of evidence.  But a doorway.  We belong to a community with a long and beautiful tradition that has known in its blood that there is only one God.  So whatever the Trinity is, it is not three Gods, but one.

But we who are Christians are also a family marked by a very special relationship to God through the revelation of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth: a living human being who was born, who lived as a teacher of the love of God, who spoke the truth to those in power, who was crucified for confronting the authorities of his day, who was raised from the dead (another mystery of the faith), and who assured us that God would send an Advocate to guide us in truth and continue to instruct us in the paths and promises of God.

Jesus spoke during his lifetime about his relationship to God as being like that of a son to a father, but he muddied the waters a bit there. He said cryptic things that we’ve been reading for the last few weeks.  Things like, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father;” (John 14:9) or “I am in the Father and the Father is in me;” (John 14:10) or, this week, “He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine” (John 16:14)

Jesus is the second person, the second stopping point, in contemplating the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  Jesus exists as both God and human, giving humanity new access to divinity — and the other way around.  And all this talk about glorification, well… it’s a mystery!  But, as is so often the case with scripture and the words of Jesus, it appears to have something to do with teaching us to see the world as God sees it, not as we do.

When I hear the word “glorify” I tend to think of lifting someone or something up with praise and adoration.  If I’m glorifying you, then I’m assuming the position of a lowly one so as to draw attention to you, the elevated one.  But in Jesus, God is glorified, God is lifted up.  And, Jesus says, God will glorify him, God will lift him up.

Glorification, in the realm of God, becomes something altogether different — not the elevation of one over another by acts of praise; but, instead, the mutual sharing of life together, the revelation that our life is shared in and with each other by acts of love and self-giving.  Part of the mystery of God in Christ Jesus is the radical reorienting of reality that brings God down to earth, that lifts humanity up to heaven, that gives us a shared body to which we all belong.

The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity whom we celebrated last Sunday at the festival of Pentecost, is that Advocate, the presence of God with us that was promised by Christ.  The Holy Spirit is the point in the mystery of the Trinity that breaks open the relationship of God to Jesus and makes that relationship available to each and every one of us.

Here the mystery gets even thicker.  Consider this, that for the first three centuries of the Christian church there was widespread disagreement about the nature of this Holy Spirit.  Was it God?  Was it of the same substance as God?  Was it equal with the Father and the Son?  Those questions weren’t decided formally until the Council of Nicea (from which we get the Nicene Creed) in the year 325.  And, of course, as it is with most decisions in church, the fact that the council voted on it didn’t settle the issue for everyone involved.  People continued to struggle to understand the meaning of the Holy Spirit.

This is a wonderful illustration of the words of Jesus from today’s gospel.  There he says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” (John 16:12).  Remember, Jesus is speaking these words at the Last Supper.  They haven’t yet seen him crucified, or raised from the dead, or appearing among them in the locked room.  They aren’t ready yet to understand, much less trust in the mystery of the Holy Spirit.  But centuries later the church was able to look back at all that had happened, all that had been said and taught, as well as their own experience of how God was alive with them, through each other, in the Church and they were able to say something new about God’s unity in community.

Living here on the other side of the resurrection, having experienced the power of God through the church, the child of the Holy Spirit, we are in a position to trust in the mystery of the Holy Trinity — not to understand it, not to solve it, but to trust in it.

The Holy Trinity by St. Andrei Rublev, using the theme of the "Hospitality of Abraham." The three angels symbolize the Trinity, which is rarely depicted directly in Orthodox art.

The Holy Trinity by St. Andrei Rublev, using the theme of the “Hospitality of Abraham.” The three angels symbolize the Trinity, which is rarely depicted directly in Orthodox art.

If we go back to the ancient Hebrew assertion that the Lord is God, the Lord is One, and we pair that with the word from the book of Genesis that gives us these words from God, “let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” (Gen. 1:26) then we arrive at one of the many teaching moments of the mystery of the Trinity.  We trust, as a matter of faith, that our God is one.  That’s what we’ve been taught since we were children.  We don’t have three gods, we have God: the three-in one and one-in-three.  And we’ve been taught that we are created in the image of God.  But what does that mean?  Am I three-in-one?  Are you one-in-three?

The power of a mystery of faith doesn’t come from how we untie its knots, but how it unties ours.  Here the mystery of the Holy Trinity addresses one of our most basic errors: that we think we exist alone, in solitary.  That we can be human all on our own, without relationship to anyone else.  That’s certainly how we structure our society.  We create the expectation that each person be able to care for themselves in a very narrow way, economically, and we penalize and humiliate you if that is not possible.  But we don’t do such a good job of noticing all the ways we are interdependent upon one another for things that can’t be measured with dollars: safety, belonging, friendship, wisdom, respect and love.  These things, just as necessary for life, can only come from community.  We cannot live, we cannot be human, alone.  We can only do it together.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu talks about this concept using and word found in the Zulu or Xhosa languages, ubuntu, which means (roughly translated), “people are people through other people.”  We aren’t fully human alone, we are only fully human together.  And the mystery of the Holy Trinity is ready to teach us this: that we are created in the image of a God whose own life takes place in community.  We are made in community just as God exists in community; and we belong to the one body of Christ, just as God is one.

Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad

Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God.  The Lord is One.

The essence of a mystery, the way we use the word in church, is not to unravel it but to dwell within it.  To let it unravel you, and then bind you back up.  This is just one more way, I suppose, that we are created in God’s image: that we, too, are mysteries.  Each of us many in one, and one among many.  We do not need to be solved, only loved, and that is the gift that the Holy Trinity wants to offer us: the open door to life lived in the communion of God who creates, redeems and sustains us; God who surrounds, accompanies and empowers us; God around us, toward us, through us; God our parent, our sibling, our family.  God in all, for all, forever.

Amen.

 

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, June 3 2012 — The Holy Trinity, 1st Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:   Isaiah 6:1-8 and Psalm 29  •  Romans 8:12-17  •  John 3:1-17

Pastor Erik, 16, on summer tour with Nexus in Charleston, SC, circa 1989

When I was in high school, each summer — right around this time of year, in early June, just after school had let out, but before summer had kicked into full swing — the high school choir from my church would go on a choir tour.  We’d spend the spring putting together, choreographing and rehearsing a show and then we’d take it on the road.  We went to Texas one year, Tennessee another.  We even came here to Chicago once in the late 80s — maybe you’ve heard of us?  We we called “Nexus.”  We were sort of the 80s church-based equivalent of Glee.

The summer tour was the highlight of the year.  It was the thing that kept us all motivated to come to rehearsals each Wednesday night.  But tour wasn’t all about the concerts we’d do each evening, or the people we met in each of the stops along the way.  No, mainly, tour was all about what happened on the bus.

In order to transport 30 kids, 5 sponsors, 6 sets of risers, drums, guitars, and all the suitcases for all the singers and sponsors, you needed a tour bus.  But we were low-budget.  We weren’t traveling in the sort of luxury tour busses you see pulled up outside the Vic or the Riviera on a Friday night.  No, we traveled in used school busses, purchased by the church and repainted white and red with the name of our congregation on the side.  They were low tech.  They lacked air-conditioning.

It was on the bus that our group of 30 played out all our high school dramas.  We fell in love over the tops of stiff-backed chairs with green plastic upholstery.  We played I-Spy and 20 questions.  We told stories and jokes.  We flirted, we teased, we fought, we made up.  We were a society on the bus, we were a microcosm of the world.  We were popular and we were awkward.  We were studious and we were slackers.  We were fair-of-skin and we were be-speckled with pimples.

If we’re lucky, we’ve all had “summer tour” experiences in our lives.  Maybe it was a sports team that went to regionals, or a debate team that competed in the out-of-town tournaments.  Maybe it was a group of fraternity brothers or sorority sisters that shared a house (and a bathroom).  Maybe it’s the group of friends that goes to Vegas or rents a house on the beach.  Maybe it’s the group that gets together for breakfast once a week at the diner, or maybe it’s the people who gather on Friday nights to play poker or Scrabble.  Whatever the pretext for your grouping, it’s the people you share life with.

Life is meant to be shared, wouldn’t you agree?  Life isn’t really life if we isolate ourselves from the world, if we simply endure time spent in the company of others so that we can get back to being alone.  Sure, there are introverts and extroverts among us, we all have different needs for solitude and levels of tolerance for social situations.  Yet, even the most introverted of people finds some pleasure in human company of one sort or another, even if it is simply sitting close to one another as one reads a novel and the other other a newspaper.  There is joy that comes from being in community.

Biologists and sociologists would say that the human being is a social animal.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu talks about the African idea of ubuntu.  Roughly translated ubuntu means, “people are people through other people.”  It means that apart from community, there is no humanity.  It’s something we all forget in ways both big and small.  In our actions and our attitudes, in our foreign policies and in our household relationships, we can begin to treat each other like objects, like tools that exist simply to meet our individual needs.  The notion of ubuntu reminds us that it’s not so simple, that every human action has reactive consequences for the rest of us.  When a person remembers this, when a person lives in a way that respects her or his impact on the rest of us, they say that person has ubuntu.

One of the ways we talk about this theologically comes up today in the church’s observance of The Holy Trinity.  For the last half year we have traveled with Jesus, from the preparations for his birth during Advent through his passion and resurrection during the Three Days and Easter.  As the end of his earthly ministry drew near, Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them orphaned but that he would send an Advocate, the Spirit of truth.  We celebrating the sending of that Holy Spirit last week with the festival of Pentecost that brings to an end the fifty days of Easter.

Today we begin the second half of the church’s year, a season the church calls simply “Time after Pentecost” or “Ordinary Time.”  The sanctuary, which has been draped in blue, then white, then green, then purple, then white, then red will soon be dressed in the greens that symbolize growth in the life of faith throughout the summer and the fall.

But this season begins today with one last festival, a white day in the church’s calendar, the festival of the Holy Trinity.  The day is white like the robes traditionally worn for baptism, to remind us that in baptism we have entered into a new kind of life, the kind of life that can only be lived in community.

Paul’s letter to the church in Rome puts this to us so beautifully, combining not only the communal life of God — the Creator, the Beloved, and the Spirit — but also the ways we are drawn into this life with God when he writes,

When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”

When we say, quoting Genesis, that humanity is made in the image and likeness of God, this is part of what we are saying as well — that God, who exists in the community of the the Parent, the Child and the Spirit, has created us for community as well.  That we are not only parents and children, but by the Spirit we are adopted into a family of being that includes everyone, everywhere.

This was the part that was always so hard for us to remember on the summer tour bus, which had a sort of predictable arc to its storyline.  After months of late night rehearsals we boarded the bus with lots of energy and excitement.  Seats were claimed with purses and pillows, with seniors always asserting their right to the prime seats in the back of the bus. The first few concerts would go well enough, but we didn’t really hit our stride until about half way through.  Early tour romances were quick to burn out, but provided plenty for the rest of us to talk about.  By halfway through, we had established a new way of relating to each other.  We were a unit.  Hours spent on the bus driving from Iowa to Ohio had forged a new identity, and our closeness came through in our performances.

Then it would start to unravel.  Friendships fell apart over jealousies.  Condescension devolved into bullying.  Things were said and done that were hard to forgive and the bus started to feel like a prison on wheels.  We lost our ubuntu and started living for ourselves, nursing hurt feelings and wounded pride.

You’ve probably seen what it looks like when teenagers have a big falling out with each other, when they lose their ubuntu.  It’s not pretty.  It’s even worse when adults do it though.  When we lose our ubuntu we have all sorts of ways of taking it out on each other.  Our cliques become more brutal than any school lunchroom or tour bus, as we sell each other into poverty and bomb each other into oblivion in the name of self-interest and self-defense.  Our ubuntu is so obscured that we lose track of our common humanity.  We need to start over.  We need to be reborn.

That is the case with Nicodemus, a leader among the Jews — caught between the demands of empire and the passionate new vision for humanity and all of creation taking the country by storm as the Jesus bus stops in one town after another.  He know in his gut that no one could do what Jesus was doing without God’s power and purpose on his side.  But he can’t imagine how to cross the distance between the ways things are and the way things are supposed to be.  He asks, “how can anyone be born after having grown old?”

Don’t we know this question all too well ourselves?  How can we start over at this age?  How can we become new people, now that we’ve already bought a house, or finished a degree, or raised a family?  How can we become new people when all we’ve ever known is this way of being, these passed down prejudices, these categories of us and them?

Jesus says the answer is love.

“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.”

The only way our tour bus ever made it back to Des Moines in one piece was by the power of love.  Somewhere, out on the road together, we remembered that the God we were singing about each night in each of those churches was real, and so was that God’s love for us.  We were still young enough for our hearts to be open to the possibility of forgiveness, and repentance, and reconciliation.

As our church enters the second half of the year, the long green season of ordinary time, we are called to remember the white robes of our baptism that symbolize our adoption into the community of God — our Maker, our Savior, our Power.  It does not matter if we have grown tired and hopeless, if our have grown bitter and angry, if we have grown jealous and fearful.  In Christ Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God is making us new.  We are being born again, in and for and through one another.

Amen.

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