Light: Reflecting the Source – Part II

Light: Reflecting the Source – Part II
John 1:1-18

Last week we started with our new sermon series on Light: Reflecting the Source by talking about God the creator.  God’s first words to create this world was, “Let there be light.”  The creator God knew we could not live and thrive without light and it was the first thing he created.  He created it to give us life, purpose, and to bring order to chaos.  Today we talk about the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.

We are very familiar with the beginning of John’s gospel.  I gospel.   familiar with the beginning of John’t to give us life, purpose, and to bring order to choas.f you attended one of our Christmas Eve services you heard this scripture read.  It is one of the most beautiful pieces of scripture ever written.  The poetry is wonderful but what is even more impressive is what it tells us about the Light of the World. 

I would wager everyone here has heard of Jesus of Nazareth, the baby born in a manger, God’s son.  But do we truly understand who he is and what he meant to this world?  Do we truly know and can explain to someone else who Jesus is?  Can we say with certainty that we know Jesus?  I think we can talk about what Jesus means to our personal lives but what I am talking about is can we talk theologically about who Jesus is?  Theology is like biology or ecology.  The suffix, the last part of each of these words is ‘ology’ which comes from the Greek word logos.  It means the study of, specialty in or art of.  The prefix or start of each of these words tell you what it is a study of.  Bio means physical life.  Therefore biology means the study of the physical life.  Ecology is broken down like this, eco means interactions of environments, therefore ecology is the study of the different interactions of our environments. 

For the word Theology, ‘theo’ comes from the Greek word that means God.  Theology means the study of the nature of God.  Can we talk about clearly about the nature of who Jesus is?  We can all profess Jesus as our savior but can we explain him?  We should be able to.  If being a Christian means that we are followers of Jesus, then we should know who he is.  We should be able to explain who he is and what he has meant for the world. 

Here is the good news, this is already done for us, all we need to do is make it our own.  The first chapter of John’s gospel lends itself to explain exactly who Jesus is.  If we read this passage over and over we will understand who Jesus is and what he means to this world.  For today’s sermon we are going to take this passage verse by verse to explain who Jesus is.  You will find that at the end you will have a way to speak about Jesus you may never realized before. 

So before we start I want you to forget everything you know about this God-man named Jesus.  Cast out of your brain everything that your Sunday School Teachers have said (yes, for you High Schoolers, even me).  Get rid of the image of Mel Gibson’s Jesus walking to Calvary.  Get rid of that standard picture of Jesus laughing or all the other stain glass windows that make our sanctuary look so good.  I want you to come to this scripture brand new, fresh ears, open heart.  Come like someone who knows nothing about Jesus, God, or church.  So find the first chapter of John in your Bible, one of the pew Bibles, or on your phone, wherever and follow along.  Ready?

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

This gospel starts where we always should; “In the beginning.”  What was in the beginning, ‘the Word.”  Well what is the Word?  It tells us, the Word was with God and the Word was God.  So when this whole thing called existence started the Word was with God and the Word was God.  John starts off by linking “the Word” with God.  They are one in the same.  They are together, there in the beginning.

2 The Word was with God in the beginning.
John goes back and explains once again that the Word was with God in the beginning.  This is key and we will learn why as we go along. 

3 Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being.

The Word created the world.  Everything that has exists, is now and will be came into being through the Word.  This, the Word, made everything we know.  Since it has been around since the beginning, everything that we know and will know has been created through the Word.  I know what you are thinking but what about a platypus?  Did the Word really create a platypus because those things mess with my head.  They are mammals but they lay eggs.  They have a spur on their foot that on the males are filled with venom.  It is like when things were left over there was pile of scraps and out of that pile came the platypus.  The Word actually created that?  Well as the verse continues, “without the Word nothing came into being.”  Therefore since we have platypuses or platypi, or however you say more than one of those things.  There is nothing that has been created that wasn’t created through the Word.  That means all of creation, you, me, we all were created through this Word.

What came into being (4) through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people.
Now if we continue with the last part of verse three and tack on four we see that the reason the Word created everything.  Everything came into being through the Word because the Word is life.  The Word is foundation of everything that lives.  The foundation is what a building is built on.  Without a solid foundations buildings fall down, so the word was created on the most solid thing God knew, The Word.  This Word, as verse four says, is the light of all people.  Remember last week (I know I told you to forget everything, so humor me and remember last week’s sermon) God’s first words were “Let there be light.”  Light came to the world and now here in John’s gospel we are told this thing called light is the life for all people.  Not just some people, not just ones we like, not just ones who look like us, but ALL people.  The Word is the life that is the light for white, black, brown, yellow, red, straight, gay, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Republican, Libertarian, Democrats, American, African, English, Spanish, Mexican, Cuban, Chinese, Russian.  All people.  All means all.  “The life was the light for ALL people.”  But what does this light do?

5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.

This light that is life, as John Wesley said, is our wisdom, holiness, happiness.  It is the source of everything and it came to shine in the darkness.  Since sin entered the world the world had been in darkness.  This darkness surrounds us and at times consumes us.  Our sin can take us over and consume us without us even knowing it.  It is the darkness that seems like it will never end.  It is into this darkness that the light comes in and no matter what the darkness does it cannot extinguish the light.  During our Christmas Eve services we went to complete darkness.  We admit that without God we will be in complete darkness but God did not want us to stay there so he sent the Light.  He sent the Light that shines in the midst of the darkness and will always outshine it.  There is no darkness, there is no sin, that the light cannot get rid of.  No matter what a person has done, no matter how dark their soul feels, this light can shine in that darkness and transform it. (Amen?)

6 A man named John was sent from God. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. 8 He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.

Between verses 6-8, the author of John’s gospel tells us a little bit about a man named John.  We know from other gospels that this John is John the Baptist.  In Matthew, Mark and Luke, John the Baptist is the one who goes before to pave the way for the one to come.  But here in John’s gospel we learn something else.  John is sent “as a witness to testify concerning the light.”  To be a witness and to testify about something means you have to know it.  John knew this light, understood it, and was on a mission “to testify concerning the light.”  We will hear more about this man named John in a little bit.

9 The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world.
It is here that we hear what John’s testimony is about this light.  John points to the “true light”.  This “true light” “shines on all people”.  Once again not just a select or chosen group of people, but all people.  This light was coming to the world.

10 The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light.
Now we learn a little about what happened when this light came to the world.  Apparently this Light was in the world but the world didn’t recognize the light.  It is the same light that gave the world life and it was the same light, the same Word, the world was created in but the world didn’t recognize the light.  If you are created through this light why don’t we recognize it?  Why can’t we see this light when it is right in front of us?  Are we so blinded by our own darkness that we cannot see the light or at least recognize him.

11 The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him.
What is even worse is the light just doesn’t come to the world it comes to his own people.  It came to the people that should have opened their arms to him and welcomed him but they didn’t welcome him.  The truth is we are the same way.  If this light walked in here would we recognize him?  Would we be willing to let him sit by us?  Would I be willing to let him preach for me?  The truth is this light makes us uncomfortable many of the times and we aren’t comfortable with being uncomfortable.  A sanctuary is a place where we should feel welcomed, and like we are being hugged the whole time.  Yet this light came to give life to the world and sometimes light is blinding and even hard to really look at.  So we would rather kick the light to the curb instead of let the light surround us and sit next to us.

 12 But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children,  13 born not from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God.
But not all was lost, we read that some did welcome him.  As verse 12 & 13says, “Those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children born not of blood or by human desire or passion but born of God.  It was thought at one point that this light, the Word, would come only for a certain group of people.  They were the chosen people and God would bring them the light.  But here we understand that God welcomes anyone, ALL PEOPLE (again) who believe in his name.  It doesn’t matter who you were before the light came, once the light comes and you welcome him, you are born of God.  There isn’t a check list, a test, or a certain amount of karma you have to build up.  You believe in his name, the name of the Light, the Word, and you are born of God.

 14 The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

To make this happen the Word became flesh and made his home among us.  I love that phrase, became flesh.  This light, this Word, put on skin and made his home among us.  He made himself comfortable in the constraining feeling of skin.  The world came into being through him.  All creation bears his light because it has life, but he chose to put on flesh…why?  Because as verse 14 continues, his glory is full of grace and truth.  This light, Word, is full of grace and truth and that is why he came.  He came so we can see his glory, the glory of a father’s only son. 

 15 John testified about him, crying out, “This is the one of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than me because he existed before me.’”

This is when John speaks up again and cries out, pointing to this light, “this is the one of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than me because he existed before me.”  The beginning has shown up; the start of it all.  The foundation of life, the essence of who we are, has come.

 16 From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace;
With his arrival what do we receive.  Once again, what a great verse, “grace upon grace.”  Not just grace.  But grace with an extra heaping helping of grace on top of it.  This confers John’s testimony and tells us what we are dealing with.  A light, a Word that brings grace upon grace.  How many of us need grace upon grace today?

17 as the Law was given through Moses, so grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ.
Verse 17 starts to separate this light and this Word from different ways of looking at the world.  In the Old Testament we learn that the Law was given through Moses.  Moses heard the law from God and gave it to the Israelites.  He implemented them and upheld them.  It is in the law that we hear “You shall not” and it makes it sound like if we can simply check off everything we will be okay.  The law existed but it wasn’t Moses himself, it was something beyond Moses that he made sure people were following.  When we look at the second part of this verse we learn more.  We see that “grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ.”  For the first time John names the Light and the Word.  It is Jesus Christ.  He brings grace and truth but it isn’t handed down to him, it is him.  Grace and truth came into being through him, just like the world, just like you and me.  We all came into being through Jesus Christ.  He is our foundation, our essence, our being, the image we are made in.  What starts to warp our head is when we put this into practice.  Grace and truth are Jesus Christ.  It is not simply his actions on the cross, or in his resurrection, they are Jesus Christ.  You want to know the truth, the truth is Jesus Christ.  You want to know grace, grace IS Jesus Christ.  You cannot know those things without knowing Christ.

18 No one has ever seen God. God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made God known.

Verse 18 reminds us that no one has ever seen God but God was made known to us, just as grace and truth is made known, through the Light, the Word, through his only Son, Jesus Christ. 

This is how we know Jesus. This is who Jesus is.  This is his nature, his purpose, and how he interacts in the world.  He is the source of all life, the true light.  He is grace and truth.  He is God’s only Son.  He is the one who is to come and he is the Word that puts on flesh and dwells among us. 

Jesus Christ is the light that shines in the darkness, that is for ALL to see.  The light that darkness cannot extinguish, although it tries.  The light for the world although the world and his people don’t recognize him.  Jesus Christ is the Light of life, the light unto this dark and fallen world.  He is our source of life and the way we can experience God.  This light is grace, wisdom, understanding, peace, joy, and the truth.  This light is my savior and I pray he is yours too.  This light is my God and the one that deserves everything I have and am.  This is the Light.

And all God’s people said….Amen.


John Wesley Quote

In his commentary on John 1:14 John Wesley writes this.  It is a great summation of our faith and what we believe.  It gives us a firm theology of Jesus that is expressed in John’s first chapter.

“Flesh sometimes signifies corrupt nature; sometimes the body; sometimes, as here, the whole man. We beheld his glory – We his apostles, particularly Peter, James, and John, Luke ix, 32. Grace and truth – We are all by nature liars and children of wrath, to whom both grace and truth are unknown. But we are made partakers of them, when we are accepted through the Beloved. The whole verse might be paraphrased thus: And in order to raise us to this dignity and happiness, the eternal Word, by a most amazing condescension, was made flesh, united himself to our miserable nature, with all its innocent infirmities. And he did not make us a transient visit, but tabernacled among us on earth, displaying his glory in a more eminent manner, than even of old in the tabernacle of Moses. And we who are now recording these things beheld his glory with so strict an attention, that we can testify, it was in every respect such a glory as became the only begotten of the Father. For it shone forth not only in his transfiguration, and in his continual miracles, but in all his tempers, ministrations, and conduct through the whole series of his life. In all he appeared full of grace and truth: he was himself most benevolent and upright; made those ample discoveries of pardon to sinners, which the Mosaic dispensation could not do: and really exhibited the most substantial blessings, whereas that was but a shadow of good things to come.”

And all God’s people said AMEN!

John 10:22-30 – Sermon – Hear My Voice

John 10:22-30
Hear My Voice
GOD, did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident?  GOD, instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t you just keep the ones you have now?  GOD, I went to this wedding and they kissed right in church. Is that okay?  GOD, what does it mean you are a Jealous God? I thought you had everything.  GOD, thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy.  These are questions that children have asked God.  They are funny and to look into a child’s mind is always entertaining.  But we all have asked God questions at one time or another during our life. 
In today’s text we receive another story of people asking Jesus something.  There seems to be a tread that we can follow in these questions or better yet in the people who are asking these questions.  You can place the people into three different categories: sincerity, entrapment or mistaken assumptions.  As one looks at the people who sit there and ask Jesus questions, they fit into these three different categories. 
In the third chapter of John we receive a story of a Pharisee Nicodemus who came to Jesus in the night to ask him questions.  Nicodemus asks Jesus how someone can be born again.  He asks this question out of sincerity. He honestly is looking for the answers.  He knew that Jesus was a teacher who came from God and wanted to know more, so Jesus answered him with care and compassion.  Jesus lead him down a gentle path full of love and grace.  The answer given befuddled Nicodemus, there was not a huge light that came on that shows us that he understood what Jesus meant by being born again.  But the point is that Nicodemus’ heart was sincere in the asking.
That is not the case for some of the other Pharisees in the Jesus’ life.  You don’t have to look too far to see that they try to entrap Jesus in order to bring charges against him.  Take Matthew’s recount in chapter 22, this is a text many of you are familiar with.  In this story the Pharisees use one of their disciples to go and ask Jesus if they should pay taxes or not.  Verse 18 it states, But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.  Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”   Jesus doesn’t answer them in the same tone as he does Nicodemus.  Here you can tell that he is a little shorter with his answer, a little more poignant, and you can sense the tension.
Then you have the mistaken assumption questions.  People ask Jesus questions but frame it in the wrong context or make assumptions about Jesus that they shouldn’t, and we all know what kind of trouble you can get into if you assume things.  This is the type of tone that today’s question comes in.  The people asking Jesus a question are not sincere and they are not looking to entrap him, well not quite yet.  Within this question they assume a lot and are mistaken in their assumptions.
First of all who is asking the question?  John tells us that the Jews gathered around him.  Something that we have to remember is that the author of John’s gospel does not mean the whole Jewish race.  Traditionally when you see the phrase “the Jews” in the Gospel of John it is in reference to the Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  The picture we receive now is one of the religious leaders cornering Jesus while he was in the temple.  The first verse of this section tells us why Jesus is in the temple.  It states that it was the Feast of Dedication, or the Feast of Remembrance.  It was a winter Feast and since it was probably a little chilly Jesus found shelter in the south end of the second temple area called Solomon’s Colonnade or porch. 
What happened was the religious leaders may have gotten caught up in all the celebrating.  The Feast of Remembrance is a time when they would look back at their history and see their forefather’s victories over huge threats.  This might have got the religious leaders blood going and they wanted to have history repeat itself by getting rid of their biggest threat, Jesus.  In order to do so they needed to get some things strait, they needed more information.  They cornered him in the temple and asked him, how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.
The thing is with Jesus is that he can see into our hearts, he knows our souls; therefore he knew why they were asking him what they did.  One of the commentaries I read restated the question as this, Jesus, do fit into our criteria of what the messiah looks like?  When they asked this they were demanding that Jesus answer them on their terms.  They wanted the Son of God to tell them a yes or no answer if he was the Messiah.  Since Jesus saw into their hearts though he knew the reason why they were asking was not a yes or no answer, it was much more complicated than that.  Jesus always gives the answers that the people really need, which may not be what they were looking for.  The main point we need to know is that the religious leaders were trying to push Jesus into a box.  We do this a lot with God.  We expect God to be the God we want and desire. 
I have stumbled on a blog called Letters from Leavers.  This site is dedicated to the rants of people who are fed up with the church.  They are so tired of God, ministers, and church people in their lives that they want to leave organized religion all together.  As I have read through some of these posts I am convinced that many of these people suffer from the same thing that these religious leaders did, trying to fit God into their own little box they created. 
Listen to one of these letters.  I have had enough.  I am leaving for good this time.  I have always grown up in the church, going to Sunday School, and attending worship.  Recently I went through a tragedy and neither God nor the church was there for me.  I prayed to God but God did not answer.  I reached out for help and all I got was a cold shoulder.  I am fed up with this so called God.  I always thought God was there to protect you.  God is there make sure bad things don’t happen to the people that believe in him.  That was not the case though and so I am out.  God is dead to me.  And then the letter goes on to rant about the church and the people in it.
Is it God’s fault that bad things were happening to this person?  No, we live in a fallen world and Jesus never made the promise that nothing bad would ever happen to us, that is a huge misconception about God. 
This person and so many more on this site all seem to be asking Jesus questions like, are you the God that will do things my way?  Are you the God who will shed riches upon me if I follow you?  Are you the God who will let nothing wrong ever happen to me again?  When Jesus hears these questions his answer is, Am I the Christ YOU are expecting, definitely not.
But why not?  Why cannot God be the God that we design?  The easiest answer is because we are not the designer, we are the designed, we are the created, we are the children who cannot create the Father.  Add on top of that, that we are humans, fallen creatures who have a limited ability to fathom the awesomeness of God. God is the only one who can tell us what God is like and he does in the second half of this text.
In this part we receive wave after wave after wave of grace from our Lord and Savior.  It shows us that although the Pharisees expected one thing out of Jesus, Jesus offers them grace, care, and love for his sheep.  Once again in the tenth chapter of John we get a picture of Jesus as a Shepherd and we are his lambs.  This is a common theme in John’s gospel and throughout the Bible.  That is the picture we receive from God.  Jesus, or God, is a shepherd and we are his sheep.
What do you picture when you think of sheep.  For me I get the picture of the only place that I have seen a ton of sheep, England.  As Alycia and I lived over in England for a year we saw a lot of sheep in a lot of different areas.  The town we lived in was right next to the Moors, a barren and unlivable place for humans, but a great place for sheep to roam free.  As we would drive around these moors we would always have to be on the lookout for sheep in the road. With all the grass that is in the moors, some very intelligent sheep would find the grass nearest to the fast moving machines known as cars to be the tastiest.  Inevitably we would see that one of these fast moving machines would collide with one of this not so intelligent creatures and the loser would always be the sheep.
It got me thinking about this image of sheep and shepherd that we get so much of in the Bible.  I looked at this dead sheep on the road and I would think to myself, I don’t know if I want to be God’s sheep.  I know like a sheep I will be sheared tonight but I hope I don’t smell as bad as they do.  I hope I have a little more intelligence, no much but a little bit more than they do.  I hope that I don’t just follow God because I don’t know any better.  All of a sudden this analogy was not working for in my 21st century mind.  The truth is it might not work in many of your minds too because of your experience with these animals.
As I looked back on this analogy I came to a realization.  I am doing it again.  I am making it about me.  
I am making it about us, instead of making it about God and learning something about God within this illustration.  What do we learn about God as the shepherd instead of us as sheep.  Verse 27 says, My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  In the text it states that Jesus is the kind of shepherd that knows each one of his sheep.  He loves his sheep so much that he gets to know them personally.  God is a God that is personal and wants to have that personal relationship with you.  It also states that if we are Jesus’ sheep then we know his voice.  We know when Jesus is calling us.  That tells us that Jesus is talking to us.  This means that our shepherd is active in our lives and cares so much about us, that he wants to talk to us, call out to us.
What is it though that the shepherd offers his sheep?  Eternal life.  Verse 28 states I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  Jesus is the type of shepherd that offers such an amazing gift to his followers.  He is so loving, so generous that he wants his sheep to be with him forever. He offers us a gift that no one else can give us.  He gives us eternity, a piece of eternity that no one can take away.  We worship one loving God.
Can you see the waves of grace now?  Can you see the loving care, compassion, and joy that Christ offers to his sheep? Even though the idea of being a smelly creature like sheep may be a little outdated, we can understand the care that Jesus offers.  We can understand a little bit better who our shepherd is.  In this text God is telling us who God is and I don’t know about you all but I like what I see.
God is telling his followers that we do not have to worry about eternity.  We can loss the fear of the future.  All we have to do is follow the shepherd.  If we do then we will have eternal life. The thing is though many of us don’t truly believe that in our hearts.  We have been tricked before in life.  We know that people fail to live up their promises. We have been hurt, lied to, and our hearts have been ripped out and stomped on.  What makes us trust God then?
We can trust God because God has never let us down.  God promised to never flood the world again and sends the rainbows to remind us of that, and God has lived up to that promise.  God promised that when the time was right he would makes things right again between us and him.  He would send his Son to die our death in order that we may have eternal life.  Jesus came to defeat death by rising again on the third day.  We are in the Easter season, a time when we joyfully proclaim that God did exactly what God said he would do.  God has always lived up to his promises.  There has never, in this history of the world, been a time when God has messed up or failed to do what was promised.
This must mean that if verse 30 is true.  If Jesus and the Father are one, if they and the Holy Spirit make up the 3 in 1 God that we worship and they have never failed in the past, then we can rest assured that they will never fail in the future.  All of God’s energy, strength and love was put into the sacrifice that was made on the cross. God did not fail and God never fails us.  This means that the promise of an eternal life with God must be true.  This means that the Good Shepherd never leaves our side and is always with us through our life. 
We see this in the 23rd Psalm, the second most memorized section of the Bible.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are with me.  Your rod and your staff, your shepherd’s crook they comfort me.  God’s grace keeps washing over us.
It is alright to ask God questions, that is how we understand who God is.  Asking God to be our image of God will always create a God who fails in some way.  This means that we need to have God tell us who God is. Once we do so we need to rest assured that God will live up to his promises.  Jesus, in this text promises to give his sheep eternal life.  No matter who tries to take that away from us they cannot because it is God’s grace to give out not ours.  It is our job to accept that grace.  It is our job to hear that voice of hope and love; that voice of salvation and simply say thank you.  Then live a life knowing that Jesus is there with us all along the way. Live knowing that you are wrapped up in the hands of God no matter what happens.  That is the voice that calls to each of us. That is God we worship here today. 

Pilgrimage Sermon Series – Jesus Prayed for You – John 17:1-5-13-26

John 17:1-5, 13-26
Jesus Prayed for You
Today we start this Pilgrimage to God’s Promised Land.  Like I have stated in the newsletter, a pilgrimage is a journey or search for some sort of spiritual significance or sacred place.  In the first six weeks of 2013, Indian Trail UMC will be taking a pilgrimage to discover how and where God is calling us.  I hope this happens on two levels.  On a personal level I hope you will be asking God to give you personal direction, a personal Promised Land.  I hope you will pray and ask God to shed light on where God is calling you.  We are not all called to professional ministry, although some of you may be, but we are all called to be ministers of Jesus Christ’s love in this world.  We are all called, as followers of Jesus, as Christians, to go out into the world and be the love of Christ.  But how that is to be lived out is as individual as each of us.  But we all are called and I hope you will take time to pray and listen for God to answer.
The other level is on a congregational level.  I want to help us, Indian Trail UMC, figure out where God is calling us.  I know God is calling this congregation to do something for this community.  I know there is a Promised Land for us as a congregation but I don’t know what it looks like.  I have some ideas of how God is asking me to lead and directions to go, but I have learned that I’m not the only one that receives ideas from God about.  Some of the best things I have done in ministry was hearing God’s calling through other people and taking that and running with it.  That is how a renovation happened at one church and a third floor mostly used for storage was turned into a quality space for youth and young adults.  That is how a congregation came together to make meals for hungry children in Kenya and then two people actually traveled over there themselves.  Those ideas were not mine.  They weren’t the pastor’s.  They came from the laity who were simply shared, “I think God is calling us to do this.” 
Through the weekly sermons and the Bible Study I pray that God will reveal what he has in store for us as a congregation, through you and me.  The only way we can get to the Promise Land is if we share a common vision and mission.  If it only comes from one person, it won’t get far at all.  We will need to work together, pray together, listen together.  That is what this Pilgrimage is all about.  So with that said, who is ready for the journey?
When I was a youth I went through this 36 hour spiritual retreat called Chrysalis.  It is the youth version of Walk to Emmaus.  If you have never heard of these Spiritual Retreats, let me tell you they can be life changing.  They are deep, emotional, and fulfilling weekends.  There is a Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis community in our area so if you are interested I would encourage you to go on a walk or flight and I would be happy to make that happen for you.  In Chrysalis each table gets to make up their own name.  I sat the table of the Out-of-tuned Mashed Potatoes. (Remember we are youth)  There are many memories that come to mind when I think about that weekend but on in particular is receiving letters from all over about people praying for us while we were on this spiritual journey.  For some reason one that sticks out the most is an Emmaus group from Alaska that sent us a letter and a drawing to hang in our room that said, we are praying for you.  I think it stuck out in my head because I remembered thinking, Alaska?  There are people praying for me, by name, in Alaska?
Prayer is a powerful tool and what is amazing is that it can be felt.  When we were doing the 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations series I remember reading about a church who had prayer pagers.  I know PAGERS.  But what they would do would be to give out these pagers to people in their congregation who needed prayer.  They would publish the who had what pager number and people in the congregation would pray for that person.  When they would pray for them they would then call the pager.  The pager would go off and all the person knew was that at that moment someone was praying for them.  How amazing would that feel to know you were being prayed for?
Did you know that Jesus prayed for you, and for me and for this congregation?  It is right there in the scripture I read.  Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane.  This is a time of prayer that is enshrined in many stain glass windows.  Usually we think of the other gospels though.  We think of the Jesus’ prayer from Matthew, ““My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”  But in John we get another side of Jesus.  In John Jesus is thinking about his disciples, those that will come after him that believe in what he is doing.  He is praying for his disciples, his followers.  Jesus is praying for us.  In his last prayer before his crucifixion he is praying for you and he is praying for me.  He has us on his mind in the moments before he is taken to be killed for our sins.  WOW!
When we think of it that way we start to feel the weight of prayer on our shoulders.  What does it feel like to think of Jesus praying for you and your faith journey?  Jesus wants his followers, his disciples to understand the vision and mission of what he is doing in his crucifixion and resurrection.  He is praying that the twelve that are following him and all those that follow, even us gathered here this morning, will ‘get it.’
But what should we get?  Let’s break down a little bit of this prayer.  But let me define for you a little bit more what the difference between a mission and a vision is.  In leadership and church circles this can get very confusing about which is which.  Is the vision that drives the mission or the mission that drives the vision?  Which one stays the same and which ones changes? 
The mission always stays the same.  A mission statement is the driving force behind the purpose of a group.  It is what we rely on to push us forward.  A vision is what the future can look like if we follow through with the mission.  A vision changes to adapt to the current realities we face.  A mission stays the same. 
So what is the mission that Jesus lays out in this prayer for us.  There are three major foundations to this mission.  Verse 18 says, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”  The first foundation is that we are sent into the world.  Our mission is not confined to this sanctuary but out there.  Jesus sends us out into the world just as he was sent out.  There was something in our church culture, something in the past that has trained generations of people to think that the church is here for them.  The Church is like a gym membership where you hope to get the most out of what you pay in.  But Jesus doesn’t pray that we will get our needs filled or the use of the fellowship hall at a decent price.  No he says, “so I have sent them into the world.”
The second foundations comes out of verses 22-23; “I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one.  I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.”  “The second foundation is Jesus’s disciples living as witnesses of God’s love so that the world may believe that God sent Jesus through the lives of Jesus’ disciples.”[1]  We represent God’s love to the world.  That is huge to think about.  When people think about or experience God’s love it comes from us.  You are a representative of God’s love to the world.  The way we love the world is the way people will know why God sent Jesus.  Think about the way you live out your daily life and think that everything you do demonstrates God’s love.  When you shower an elementary school with angel tree gifts that shows God’s love.  When you are cut off on 74 and you demonstrate your appreciation with the one finger salute that shows God’s love.  Because you are a follower of Jesus, everything you do represents God’s love for the world.
The third foundation is found in verse 25 and 26.  “Righteous Father, even the world didn’t know you, but I’ve known you, and these believers know that you sent me.  I’ve made your name known to them and will continue to make it known so that your love for me will be in them, and I myself will be in them.”  This foundation states that we are people “sent in the same sending love that led Jesus to the cross.”[2]  You are sent out into the world with the same love that sent Jesus down to earth and to the cross. 
Those are the foundations of Jesus’ mission for his followers.  We are sent out into the world, representatives of God’s love, and in the love of God.  This never changes, is always the same, and is always constant. 
Jesus’ vision for us is laid out in the earlier parts of the prayer.  Once again it has three foundations.  The first foundation is found in verse 17 and 19; “Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth.  19 I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth.”  Jesus’ vision is us to growing and being formed in the truth of God.  This truth is found and revealed in Jesus Christ.  It is through Jesus that we know the truth, experience the truth, and understand the truth.
“The second foundation is a vision of joy as Jesus’ disciples focus their lives on the love that guided Jesus to the cross.”[3] It is found in verse 13;  “Now I’m coming to you and I say these things while I’m in the world so that they can share completely in my joy.”  Jesus wants us to be joyful as we bask in God’s love.  Joy moves beyond happy.  Joy moves us from this place to a sacred place.  It moves us outside just feeling good to a place where we have inner peace and understanding of God’s love being ever present in our lives.  That is what Jesus wishes and envisions for all of us.
Verses 20-21; “I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word.  I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.”  This is the third and final foundation of Jesus’ vision for his disciples, that we are united in God’s love revealed through Jesus.  Jesus wants us to all be one, the body of Christ, the Church.  United together and united in God’s heart.  He wants all of our hearts to be one with his own.  If we are one with God we will have joy and we can grow and be formed by the truth.  This is Jesus’ vision for us, his followers.
It is in the mission and vision of Jesus that we start this pilgrimage.  We start this journey towards the promise land by reminding ourselves what Jesus’ prayer is for us.  He wants us to be united with his heart, have joy which is found in his love, and grow and be formed by the truth.  We can achieve that vision if we follow his mission. The mission is to go out into the world as representatives of God’s love and sent by that same love.  This is empowering, moving and a great reminder that no matter where we are on this journey, this pilgrimage, God is with us, sends us, and sustains us.
We find that in the meal we are about to receive.  We feel it as we partake in the body and blood of Christ.  As you feast at this heavenly meal may you be reminded of the vision Jesus has for us and the mission we are put on.  May this meal sustain you as the Holy Spirit works through you to spread, share, and be God’s love for the world. 
And all God’s people said…Amen.

[1]Brown, Marc, Merry, Kathy, & Briggs, John. Does Your Church Have a Prayer? Discipleship Resources, Nashville, 2009, p.110.
[3]Ibid, p.109.

John 6:51-58 – The Bread of Life Part III – Sermon

John 6:51-58
The Bread of Life Part III
A friend of mine told me a story about how he was giving communion on Sunday and a little five year old boy came up to receive.  At five years old the kids in his church stay in the service and so this boy had just heard his first sermon on communion.  The minister could tell he was listening intently on the communion liturgy and his explanation of what was going to happen during communion.  At this church they did communion by coming to the prayer rail and then the minister would walk down and pass out a piece of bread to everyone.  Then he would walk down with one of those things that held a bunch of Jesus juice and everyone would take one and drink it.  As he went down the prayer rail with the bread everyone partook of it.  As he followed with the juice he got to the little boy, who looked up and said, “Preacher, I ain’t drank blood yet and I ain’t starting today!”
As the church was just being started there were rumors about it that it was a cult of cannibals.  Now we may find that shocking but you can see why in the scripture today and when we do communion.  “This is my body broken for you.  This is my blood shed for you.”  When we come to the Lord’s Table we feast on his body and blood.  In the scripture today Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  This is in the Bible, not a Twilight book.  You can tell why some people were hesitant about this whole Christianity thing if they had to eat a body and drink blood.
This railed up the crowd there listening to Jesus.  “Then the Jews debated among themselves, asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  But this doesn’t stop Jesus, he continues as he says later, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.”  So as we eat his flesh and blood then he dwells in us?  To an outsider this may sound just like a new summer horror movie plot.  The way it sounds is that we will be possessed if we eat Jesus’ flesh and blood.  I have seen less gory things on a Quentin Tarantino movies.  Yet this is still Jesus Christ saying these things…so what does it mean?
If we remember last week we learned that in John’s gospel the author loved to use metaphors.  Seven times Jesus says “I am…” something in order to give us a metaphorical look at who the Son of God truly is.  He continues the metaphor, “I am the bread of life,” in today’s passage and uses the eating and drinking analogy to discuss the sacrifice he will do later in his life.  When we partake in communion we take the bread and say this is the body of Christ broken for you.  We take the cup and we say this is the blood of Christ shed for you.  There are other denominations that state that in this act of Holy Communion the bread and wine turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.  There are others who say that this is only a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and is not the actual body and blood.  We United Methodists do what we do best and that is we hold down the middle of the road.  We throw down the mystery card and say we don’t understand how the Holy Spirit does what he does, but that in the act of communion it is both a symbol and actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.
So Jesus is using this metaphor of the Bread of Life to give us a better understanding of who he is.  He is trying to tell this crowd that keeps following him and wanting to know more about him that he will give the world salvation through his body and blood.  If we want to receive this salvation, this gift of eternal life we have to understand the sacrifice he will be going through.  “Jesus said to them, “I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  This salvific act that Jesus is doing is the bringing about transformation within us.  When we truly understand and accept what Jesus has done, by giving of himself for our sake and for our salvation, transformation happens within us.  The bread of life enables us to live this life as those who go on to live in the next.
Peter Reinhart, in his 2008 TED Talk [which I will post on our new Facebook Page this week for you to watch] says that bread is transformational food.  Bread actually goes through four major transformations.  Pop quiz, what are the three basic ingredients in bread? [flour, water, and yeast]  The very first transformation that happens in the bread making process is where the ingredients come from.  Flour is what happens to grains as you grind them up.  But how do you get the seeds from the wheat to then grind up to make flour, which is one of the basics in a ton of the food we eat.  Just ask anyone who cannot eat gluten and you will find out how much flour is in everything we consume.  But how do we get there.
I did what any 21st century preacher does these days, I surfed the internet and I found this video clip showing how to harvest the seeds from the wheat.  Just to warn you the sound is not that great but the information is.  
I know the sound was a little bad but this is probably a lot like how those in Jesus’ day harvested wheat.  There are three basic steps to get from the wheat in the field to the grains ready to grind.  First you harvest it or to put it another way you kill it.  You cut down the wheat that has ripened and is ready.  We constantly forget that most of our food was alive at some point but then when we picked it or harvested it, it died.  In the process to get flour it has to happen.
Anyway, then they take the heads of the wheat and place them in a pillowcase.  I am not sure if this is how they did it in Biblical times but it still works.  They beat it with a shoe or as the video had on it, “wack it” with a shoe.  What this does is seperates the seeds from the husks, shafts, and hulls.  It frees them up.  Then the final part is the winnowing.  To tell you the truth I have said that word many of times in preaching because it is used all the time with what John the Baptist talks about and in some of the other parables.  Until I watched this video I really didn’t understand it.  Winnowing, in this case using two buckets and the wind provided by nature, separated everything out so that the seeds were the only thing in the bucket.  Then these seeds would be ground up and turned into flour, which then we add to water and yeast and we have dough.
The first major transition in the bread process is the death of the wheat.  It was alive in the fields and then it is dead on our counter tops.  The second transformation is when you add all these ingredients together.  You take the flour and the water and  you mix those together.  That is called a clay.  Do you know the Hebrew word for clay?  Adam.  Then you add a leaven to it.  Leaven means to bring to life.  In the case of bread we add yeast, a live bacteria.  Soon this dead clay now has life.  This is the second transformation, life is added.  As we witness those three ingredients come together and then rise we are watching life happen.  Remember that Peter called bread, “yeast burps and sweat and starch guts.”  This yeast eats and releases gas and continues to rise.  Now stage 9 of the steps in making bread is what?  Proofing.  It is in this stage that we wait for the dough to show us it is truly alive.  The second major transition is life.  What was dead is now alive.
Then we put this alive dough into the oven.  Then Peter Reinhart says we reach TDP, which stands for Thermal Death Point.  This is the temperature at which all organisms of a culture will be killed by heat either instantaneously or within an arbitrary brief finite period.  (This is really turning into a gruesome sermon)  But this is the temperature, after 140 degrees Fahrenheit that the dough dies and turns into bread.  This is the third transformation.  We have gone from alive in wheat, to dead in flour, to alive in dough to dead in bread.  Until that TDP the dough is really uneatable.  I am sure there are some people out there that enjoy eating raw dough but it isn’t like the goodness of cookie dough, it really is tasteless and bland.  But after that TDP, that Thermal Death Point, after the dough dies, the taste is brought out.  It is something that is great to eat.
So there are the three of the four transformations.  Alive to dead – we get the flour; Dead to alive – we get the dough; Alive to dead we get the bread, but what about the fourth?  Where is that fourth transformation happen?  In happens within us.  When we eat bread, when we eat the yeast that has given itself up to die for the sake of making dough into bread, we are the final transformation.  What is dead provides life again, our life.  Bread is referred to as the staff of life.  It is the first product that was domesticated.  Every culture has some sort of bread in its history.  When we think of simple, basic foods, we think bread.  It is bread, dead dough, that gives us, humanity life.
I am sure you can see the symbolism here.  Jesus is introduces himself as “The Bread of Life.”  In order to give us life means he will have to be put to death.  But death was simply for Jesus a transformation.  Without death there would be no resurrection.  What was alive in a human form was Jesus Christ who then was placed upon a cross and died.  He truly and simply died.  But then he was alive again. 
Of course the people there that day did not understand what he was talking about.  Many of us here today read parts of the Bible like this and walk away scratching our head.  Remember metaphors are not supposed to be easy to understand or something that is clear cut but simply a way of understanding or a way of knowing.  Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  Since we stand on the other side of the first Easter, we understand what he is talking about but do we truly know it for sure?
That final transformation still needs to happen within us.  When it comes to being a follower of Christ we have to understand that what was Alive was then dead but then alive again.  Unlike bread, Christ is alive and promises to allow us to be alive forever too.  His death and resurrection makes life possible for us.  It is that sacrifice, that gift, that grace that transforms who we are and who we grow to be. 
Are you hungry for the bread of life?  Are you hungry to grow in that transformation?  Then let us get to know this person, this savior named Jesus Christ.  Let us sink our teeth into the creator who took Adam, simple clay, and created life.  Let us fill ourselves up on the gift God gives called the Holy Spirit and allow us to live as transformed people.  Let us rise like dough and face the world alive and full on the bread of life.
And all God’s people said…Amen.

John 6:35; 41-51 – Sermon – The Bread of Life Part II

John 6:35; 41-51
The Bread of Life Part II
There are a total of 7 “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John.  Seven times Jesus describes himself.  Those statements are…
I am the light of the world
I am the gate
I am the good shepherd
I am the resurrection and the life
I am the way, the truth, and the life
I am the true vine
I am the bread of life
All of these seven sayings are metaphors which are very common in John’s gospel.  A metaphor is a figure of speed in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.[1]  For example you probably have heard this metaphors before.  “She is drowning in a sea of love.”  Does this mean there is a woman drowning, which means she is breathing in liquid, somewhere out there?  Does that mean there is a liquid called love that he is breathing in?  No, the metaphor points to the fact that this woman is so caught up in love that it is consuming her. 
Here is another, this one is a little more poetic and comes from the works of William Shakespeare. 
All the world’s stage,
And all the men and women merely players; 
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. 
This is simply a commentary on life and a way to describe it.  Life is like a play (which is actually a simile and not a metaphor but I hope you get the picture. 
In John’s gospel there are tons of metaphors.  Jesus uses them all the time to describe who he is.  John uses this to give us a rich understanding and picture of God’s son but also it can make Jesus hard to figure out and understand.  “I am the gate; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” [2]  So we get this image that Jesus is a gate we go through to find pasture.  That gives us insight but only if you understanding what it means to find pasture.  If you don’t know what that means that can leave you wondering.  During my first sermon here I talked a lot about myself.  I told you who I was and I used phrases like, I am a father of two kids.  I am a husband for ten years.  Those were direct sayings that allowed you to get to know me.  But I didn’t say things like “I am the good shepherd,” or “I am the chief.”  I absolutely would not do what Jesus does in this text and say “feed on me.”  But that is what he does when he looks at those people around him and says, “I am the bread of life.”
So what was it like to make bread this week?  I heard a lot of you were intrigued by it.  Connie emailed me about this idea to have the bread maker going during the service to fill up our nostrils with warm baking bread.  Ahh, it smells so good!  How many of you were thinking about what Jesus says about him being bread?  As you went through the steps of baking and put your hands into the warm dough filled with active yeast, did you think of Jesus saying “I am the bread of life?”  As you took the flour, water and yeast and added the time, temperature and ingredients to it, did you think about the one who sustains us for eternity?
Bishop Will Willimon says, “Christianity is not a spiritual religion; it is an incarnational religion. It believes that God has a body, God takes up space, God will not remain ethereal and vague. This Gospel (John’s) opens with the declaration, “The Word became flesh and dwelt amount us.””[3]  John’s gospel reminds us that God takes up space in our lives.  He isn’t just an idea, a figure we dreamed up in our minds to compensate for our weakness, but has breathed our air, knows how it is to feel, and wants to take up room in our hearts.
Dietrich Bonheoffer was a theologian in Germany during World War II and was killed in a prison camp because he stepped out on faith and spoke out against Hitler’s regime.  He puts it this way, “The body of Christ takes up space.  That is, the body of Christ makes footprints.  A truth, a doctrine, or a religion needs no space for themselves.  They are disembodied amputees – that is all – but the incarnate Christ needs not only ears or a heart, but living people who will follow him.”[4]  Christ looks at the people around him, who were searching for him and he said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  He looks at them and says, “feed on me.”  “Take, eat, this is my body given for you.”
The people who ate the five loaves and two fish were hungry for more of this Jesus so they searched for them.  We come here today hungry to know the God who is in our midst and at times interrupts our lives as he tries to wedge himself into and find room in our hearts.  The Christian faith is not just an idea or a doctrine, it is an encounter with something, with someone, with the three-in-one God who here in our presence today.  
This is the problem with God, he won’t let us go.  He has all the right too.  If God decided to take humanity to court for a legal separation, we wouldn’t have a foot to stand on.  We constantly disobey, disown, and think we are the creators instead of the created.  Yet there God is, still trying to win us over.  I know countess stories of people who have been below rock bottom only to find Jesus there.  They are suffering depression, alcoholism, addiction, pain beyond belief and life is simply an act of suffering.  Maybe you can relate to that.  When they are so far down that they don’t feel worthy of anything, there Christ is offering a hand out and ready to pour grace into their thirsty souls.  There God is ready to walk right into their hearts and give them the life of the world bread they are truly hungry for.  Jesus is always right there, even when we are truly beyond hungry and are starving for forgiveness and grace, or meaning and belonging.
Let’s face it, as I preached last week I, like you, did not realize that one of our seats would be permanently empty.  Mildred’s death is a shock to us all.  I did not want to end my first month as your minister walking through what we have been through last week.  There is still plenty of mourning to go and pain to get through.  I did not want to show up today and act like that event is in our rearview mirror.  It is still raw, it is still fresh.  Part of me was glad that one of her last acts on earth was feasting on the bread of life.  It was in a moment of communion with God that she slipped from this world to the next.  And where has God been in all of this?  Where has the Holy Spirit been active?  Right here in your lives, in my life, in the lives of everyone who came to the viewing and all who mourn.  Jesus never leaves us and is constantly offering us the bread of life to live on.
From February 1 to March 2, 2003 Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s.  He filmed the dramatic effects it had on his body and psyche.  You can see this in the documentary film, Super Size Me.  During that month he visited McDonald’s three times a day and ate everything on the menu at least once.  During this month he gained 24.5 pounds and an increase in his body mass of 13%.  His cholesterol level jumped to 230 and he experienced other physical difficulties.  We laugh at this a little but the truth is that for that month he consumed the bread of death.  He filled himself up with things that were bad for him. 
It is easy for us to connect those dots.  Too much McDonald’s is bad for you.  Yet how can we look at our lives and be blind to the fact that we are feasting on just as bad metaphorical foods?  How many of us are in a relationship that we shouldn’t be in because it is physically harmful to our bodies or to our children?  How many of us suffer from smaller addictions that we cannot break and if we were truly honest with ourselves hold a little tougher grip on our lives than we like to admit?  How many of us find it too easy to slip into bad habits that we know are not good for us?  How many of us are so in debt that cringe every time we open the mailbox or answer the phone?  Are we filling our lives up with the bread of death?  Maybe I’m not talking about you but I guarantee you know someone who fits those description.
On the altar today we see stacks of homemade bread.  Our senses are on overload as we see and smell the wonders of bread.  We had to move some things off the altar to make room for this feast of the eyes.  Peter Reinhart says that “bread is a transformational food.”  I hope you saw that as you worked through the stages of baking; through the degassing, the mixing, the forming, and the baking.  Ingredients that don’t look like anything come together and make something.  What was lifeless then had life.
The same is true with the bread of life.  Those who are truly hungry are able to go through that transformation.   In the verses today Jesus says, “Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die.”  What use to send us to the grave is now going to send us to life.  Jesus, becoming the bread of life, and then giving up his life for the world is the cornerstone of this transformation.  This sacrificial act secured eternal life for us all and now he freely offers it to the all of us.  But I don’t want to jump ahead too much.  We will get to more of that next week but we need to realizes that the transformation that Christ offers is unlike anything else in this world. 
Peter Reinhart was on a mission to figure out how to bring out the best flavor in wheat bread.  He was attempting to create something that is good for us and taste great.  He said it is hard to take the healthiest part of wheat, the bran which is filled with germ and fiber, and turn it into something with lots of flavor.  The white part of wheat which is what makes white bread is easy.  It is purely starch with is really just sugar.  Sugar tastes great in all its forms.  That is why Wonder Bread is so wonderful.  But to get to the good stuff that our bodies need, that takes special skills, and an artists touch. 
This world has a lot to offer us.  We can see a lot of white bread around in our world.  Materialism, greed, ego, politics, celebrity, and power all taste great.  They are easy to partake in and understand why so many people like it.  Yet that is not what sustains.  The bread of life is what does much more than the rest of the world.  Jesus looks at our world and he says, “I am the bread of life.”  He is what we need to sustain ourselves for eternity.  He is looking for those places in our lives where he can set up shop and intrude.  He is looking for where he can intrude in order to wake us up to what he is offering.  He is standing right next to us waiting on us to finally admit that we cannot do it on our own and will be happy to take over our lives if we only give him a chance.  The bread of life offers us real true life-giving nourishment, if we only eat.
Metaphors can be hard to understand.  They don’t just come out and say it.  We have to learn about the topic the metaphor points to better understand how it points out the reality it is suppose to.  As you baked this week do you understand what Jesus means when he says “I am the bread of life?”  As you cut off a slice later on today and put butter or jelly on it, will you understand how the bread of life feeds us what we truly need in this world?   Jesus says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  We need that bread, Lord give us this bread always.
And all God’s people said, Amen.

[2]John 10:9
[3]Pulpit Resource, Vol. 37, No. 3, Year B, July, August, September 2009, William Willimon, p.27

John 6:24-35 – Sermon – The Bread of Life Part I

John 6:24-35
The Bread of Life Part I
The basics of bread are easy.  Flour (the ground up seeds of wheat) plus water plus a yeast.  This makes up the basics of any bread recipe.  No matter what type you are trying to create it has to have these three ingredients; flour, water, and yeast.  Some sort of bread has been around for thousands upon thousands of years, some say about 30,000 years.  It has been a staple in life for the last 10,000 years.  Wheat and barley were one of the first plants domesticated and planted as a source of food and revenue in Asia and Europe.  Bread was a vital part of any civilization and that is true today.
Today there is a movement of artisan breads that are more readily available.  These are the fancy breads that we see in the bakery section of the grocery stores or at the bakery.  These can get really fancy with different crusts and flavors inside.  Now instead of just regular bread you can go to a restaurant and see that the sandwich comes on ciabatta or focaccia bread.  There is a new awakening for the types of bread that we use in our everyday lives.  Growing up I remember when Subway had either white or wheat and now that have five or six breads to choose from.  But no matter what type it is at its core it is still basically flour, water and yeast.
I have attempted to make types of bread before.  I went through a stage of experimenting with homemade pizza dough but I never really made a real loaf of bread.  As you can read in the newsletter article there are twelve basic steps in making bread.  I didn’t really realize this and I have learned this week that each one is crucial to the outcome of a good bread.  Each step has to be followed and the artisan part, or the art of baking, comes out during these steps.  It is how someone uses the time involved, the temperature of the oven and the ingredients to determine what the bread looks and tastes like.
Peter Reinhart is on staff at Johnson and Wales at the Charlotte campus and is world renouned for his baking.  He did a talk a couple years ago about bread and transformation.  I found this talk incredibly insightful and so you will hear a lot about it over the next coupe of weeks.  Remember that name though because I will be mentioning it a lot.  Peter informed me that there are the twelve steps and all of them are vital and important in the baking process.  Let’s walk through those twelve steps this morning to bring everyone on the same page.  You can also find these steps in the newsletter article as a reference as we go along.
1.      Scaling – or as the French call it Mis en Place.  This is the weighing and measuring out the ingredients.  Too much of something can through the whole recipe off.
2.      Mixing – this is the process of adding those ingredients together at specific times and at specific temperatures.  As I experimented with pizza dough different recipes had water and yeast at different temperatures and they all came out different.
3.      Fermentation – this is when the yeast starts to work.  Yeast is a living organism that turns sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide.  During this part of the process the yeast starts to teat the enzymes in the flour and turns them into flavor.  As Peter Reinhart says all bread really is yeast burps and sweat and start guts.  Yummy!  Without this process though you would have flat, flavorless bread.
4.      Folding – during this part of the process you are degassing the dough.  You are breaking up that CO2 that the yeast is creating and making room for the yeast to continue to work.
5.      Dividing – this is simply splitting the dough into workable amounts to yield however many loafs the recipe calls for.
6.      Rounding/Pre-shaping – putting the dough into the desired shape.
7.      Benching – this is letting the dough sit a while and relax again. 
8.      Makeup/Panning – This is simply putting into the pan that will bake the bread
9.      Proofing – during this step the yeast is proving the yeast is alive and healthy.  This is the final rise of the dough
10.  Baking – you are cooking the bread in an oven
11.  Cooling – letting it rest and cool in order not to burn ourselves
12.  Storing – this is when they package it up or eat it up like I prefer.
These twelve steps will yield bread; the substance truly is part of our daily lives and has been for almost forever.  These are the same steps that were around 100 years ago and even over 5,000 years ago.  The process has not really changed over time although the artisan part has here and there.  But that is how we get bread.
Bread is the stuff that last week Jesus used to feed 5000 people.  He took the five loaves of bread the youth had on him and he fed all those people and had twelve baskets of leftovers with.  It was that miracle that set the stage for this sermon series.  As we go through the rest of John 6th chapter we learn how people reacted to being fed in that miraculous manner.  Here is what happened.  After feeding the 5000, if you remember, Jesus was nervous because the people wanted to make him their king.  In order to escape that he went up onto a mountain alone.  While he was up there, the disciples headed off on a boat headed to Capernaum.  As they were traveling the waters started to get rough and the wind drove them out onto the lake about three or four miles.  Then they saw Jesus walking out to them on the water.  After the disciples panicked a little Jesus got on the boat and they were at Capernaum.
We pick up the story this week with the crowd.  While the disciples and Jesus were heading the Capernaum the crowd was waiting for Jesus to come down of the mountain.  In the morning they knew that only one boat had left with the disciples on it and that Jesus wasn’t with them.  No one saw Jesus come down off the mountain and walk across the water.  They were wondering where Jesus went and so they hopped into some boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.  When they get there they find him and they are really confused.  What they really want to know how Jesus gave them the slip and got over here.  There was only one boat missing and he wasn’t on it but now he is here…?
Jesus answers them in verse 26, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted.  Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you.  God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”  Jesus knows that they are not searching for him because he gave them the slip but because they are hungry for more.  They are hungry to learn more about the one who fed them that miraculous meal. 
In a commentary I read this week Benjamin Sparks wrote about Rice Christians from 19thcentury China.  This is what he said, “There was a name in nineteenth-century China (and perhaps all over Asia) for persons who came to church because they were hungry for material food.  They converted, were baptized, joined the church, and remained active members as long as their physical needs were met through the generosity of the congregation.  But once their prospects improved and they and their families no longer needed rice, they drifted away from the church. Hence missionaries called them ‘rice Christians.’”[1]
This happens all the time even in the modern church.  I know people who go to certain churches because their kids get a discount at the church’s school.  Or they become members in order to get a lower rate on the wedding they are planning.  We all know people who come to church for what the church can give to them and then when they don’t get that anymore they leave.  Jesus sees a little of that in the people who followed him to Capernaum.  They wanted more of that fresh miraculous bread but Jesus knows that stuff will fad eventually. After a while that bread will taste just the same as everything else.  What they need, what their souls are truly hungry for is the “food that endures for eternal life.”
After they hear this they want to know how they can get that type of soul food and Jesus tells them all they have to do is “believe in him who God sent.”  They come back with a follow up question, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you?  What will you do?  Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”  I wonder if these types of questions grated on Jesus’ nerves?  They get under my skin from time to time.  This question that the people ask just proves that they are only in this quest for Jesus for themselves.  They had just witnessed two miracles, Jesus feed the 5000 and then mysteriously getting to Capernaum without a boat and now they are demanding a third.  Plus they are using scripture to attempt to get Jesus to do what they want.
We do this all the time.  We have an idea about how God is supposed to act and so we attempt to force God to do it that way.  We constantly demand signs to answer our questions or as another hoop that God has to jump through for our obedience to happen.  When we do this we are simply being “rice Christians.” 
Yet what Jesus is offering us today is the Bread of Life.  He is offering us food today that is richer than anything at the most expensive restaurants in Uptown Charlotte.  He is offering us something that is everlasting.  What Jesus is offering us is the chance to be transformed by the Bread of Life.  If we believe in Jesus then we will never go hungry and never be thirsty.  This is metaphorical here.  There are places in the Bible that you cannot take absolutely literally.  We will need real and physical food and water to live life.  But what we are truly hungry for, meaning, purpose, acceptance, belonging, love, grace, forgiveness, peace, is all found in the Bread of Life. 
It is amazing that all this bread is (holding up the loaf of communion bread) is flour, water, and yeast.  The people who created used the same process, the same steps as we walked through earlier.  Over those steps raw materials are transformed into something that almost miraculous.  Time, temperature and ingredients came together to create what we will partake in today, the physical bread we will feast on.  God, the artisan of life, used time, temperature and ingredients to send his Son to be the sacrifice needed to save humanity.  That process is also being felt in our lives too.  Maybe the timing is just right for you to start your transformation?  Maybe you are realizing that God’s miraculous ways are present in your life and you want to continue to the process of being made whole?  Maybe life has turned up the heat in your life and it seems a little overwhelming?  Maybe the right ingredients are not present in your life and you need to go all the way back to step one again and rescale your life, reprioritize your life again?
The good news is that Jesus offers us a way to do just that.  The meal that we are about to partake in is a means of Grace where we can physically met, connect, and be transformed by the Almighty Baker.  We come today to the table and partake of one loaf because we who are many are one in the body of Christ.  Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  Let us ready ourselves and then come forward to be fed by the Bread of Life.
And all God’s people said…Amen.

[1] Proper 13, Pastoral Perspective in Feasting on the Word. O. Benjamin Sparks, P.308.

John 6:1-15 – Sermon – Abundance

John 6:1-15
I am slowly, SLOWLY getting use to this 9:00am worship hour.  It is definitely a change.  More for Alycia who has to wrangle two kids and get them here by herself by 9.  We will get used to it and week three was a little easier than the past two.  I was talking with a friend of mine who wants to come here me preach but lives about an hour and half away.  I told him that worship is at 9:00 and he requested we change it to 11 for the week he and his family were coming.  I told him no.
I realize there are some pros and cons about this worship time slot.  Some of the pros are the fact that I will never miss a Panther’s game.  I’ll be home in plenty of time and heck, I could even make a game when we are done at 11:00.  I will never have to wait in line at a restaurant after church.  I still have plenty of time in the day to do whatever I want.  One of the cons is I will have to figure out some different sermon illustrations than what I could use if we worshiped at 11:00. 
For example, how many of you are hungry?  If this was 11:30 instead of 9:30 I be the number would be almost doubled.  Plus, there are some awesome snacks down in the fellowship hall as a nice buffer between breakfast and lunch.  Hunger is a fickle thing.  It is something we all experience at one time or another.  We all know what hunger is because we all have had it.  But there are people in this world who know real hunger because they haven’t eaten in days.  The backpack ministry we donate too here is great because there are kids in our community that will go home on Friday and not have a good meal until they come back to school on Monday.  But we all get hungry.  It is cycle of life.  We use up all the nutrition in our last meal and our bodies start to remind us that we need to eat.  We need to put some fuel into our stomachs.
We all have different ways we react to that feeling.  For me, when I am hungry I start to get irritable.  My head might start to ache a little and my fuse gets really short.  But after I have put some food in my belly, I’m better.  I wonder what the crowd was acting like that had come to see Jesus.  They had seen the miraculous signs that Jesus had done with the sick and they wanted to know more about him.  They flocked to him because of they started to learn something about this guy named Jesus and what he could do.  They wanted to know more.  So they came in huge numbers.  We come here today hungry for Jesus too.  We hunger for that connection, that grace, that love, that forgiveness that only Jesus can offer.  Are you hungry this morning? 
There are four gospels in our Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic gospels.  They seem to share similar sources and although they take different perspectives they follow each other in their story telling.  John seems to stand out on his own and looks at the story of Jesus a little differently.  You can come out from reading these four gospels with the same message but the story is told differently in each.  One difference is found in the telling of this story.  In the synoptic gospels the disciples look to Jesus and ask how they are going to feed the 5000 people sitting there.  Here in John’s gospel Jesus asks the disciples, “Where will we buy food to feed these people?”  John tells us that Jesus asked this question to test the disciples and he already knew what he was going to do.
In John’s gospel there is no doubt that Jesus is divine.  Jesus is God’s Son and John does everything in his power to demonstrate that.  In other gospels you can see a more human side of Jesus, but not in John.  In this story we see that Jesus is aware of the needs of the people and knows how to deal with them.  But instead of doing it himself he wants to involve the disciples.  He looks at Philip and poses the question, “Where are we going to buy enough food to feed these people?”  Philip opens the calculator app on his smart phone and does some quick math.  “Roughly five thousand people give or take.  Multiply that about $5 per extra value meal at the Kosher Deli and you get $25,000.  Jesus, you will need about half a year’s salary to buy enough food to feed all of these people!  And that is just a value meal, which will not fill everyone up!”
Then Andrew comes up and says “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish.  But what good is that for a crowd like this?”  That is all Jesus needs.  He found his gap and he is ready to burst through.  I have more in common with Philip then I care to admit.  As a planner I like to calculate everything.  Alycia makes fun of me because she will ask me  question and if it is number related, out comes the calculator and I find out the answer.  Alycia is rolling her eyes the whole time.  I like the easy answers and sure things.  I try to think about every option and what is the most feasible.  I love to find what is the most reasonable way to handle a situation.  I don’t like to fail, although I have a lot, and so if things aren’t going to go well, then I may not think about doing it.  Yet Jesus isn’t interested in the safe answer or the sure thing.  Jesus could care less about what is reasonable. 
So where does that leave us this morning?  I love preaching this story because of what it represents.  This demonstrates for us the idea of abundance.  When God gives he gives abundantly.  Jesus say in John’s 10th chapter, “I have come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.”  Jesus brings to us more than we can ever imagine.  What he offers is more than we actually need. 
When we think of abundance what is the first thing that comes to mind?  The amount of French fries you get at Five Guys? The amount of cars on 74?  The amount of political ads on TV now, no wait that will become worse as we get towards November.  When we think of abundance we also think of stuff.  Those people on Hoarders have an abundance of ‘stuff’.  How many cats do you have to own until you have an abundance of cats?  This story is really all about God’s abundance.
After Jesus receives the five loaves and two fish from the youth what does he do?  Notice it wasn’t an adult that stood up and said, “here Jesus can you use this?”  No it was a youth.  The adults were probably hoarding all their snacks to make sure they had enough for themselves.  That would be the reasonable thing to do right?  Jesus is holding the five loaves and two fish and he tells the disciples “Have the people sit down.”  The verse goes on to say, “There was plenty of grass there.”  The first sign of abundance was the grass.  There was enough room in this field for everyone to have a seat.  How much grass has to be available for 5000 people to sit down on?  I don’t know if you could fit 5000 people on our lawn out there?  We probably have just under 100 people here this morning and so think about 50 times more people like us.  That is a lot of space yet there was enough room. 
I think this shows that Jesus has enough room for all of us.  There is enough space in his heart, in his grace, for all of us to be there.  I know there are people who feel they can’t come to church because they won’t be accepted or they say “the church doesn’t want people like me.”  Yet in Jesus’ eyes and at this spontaneous meal he makes sure everyone has a place to sit down.
All 5000 people sit down and then Jesus gives thanks for the bread and fish.  Then he passes it out to everyone.  I love what it says next, “each getting as much as they wanted.”  Jesus didn’t just pass out enough to fulfill everyone’s needs.  No everyone got what they wanted.  One fish sandwich may be enough for some, but some may have wanted a second.  Jesus’ didn’t hold back, he gave them what they wanted.  All 5000 people ate until they were full on those five loaves and two fish.  They didn’t get just enough to take away their hunger headaches but they ate until their bellies hurt, until they had ‘plenty’ to eat.  Not just enough but plenty.
You know what plenty feels like don’t you?  You have had plenty to eat when you can’t suck in your belly any more.  You try but for some reason that 2 pound burrito you ate is sticking out and over your belt.  Plenty is that third plate of Thanksgiving that you probably shouldn’t have had.  But there is the abundance again.  Jesus doesn’t give us what we need but offers us even more.  His love and his grace is more than we can ever desire or want.  In Psalm 23 it states, “my cup runneth over.”  Everyone in that crowd that day felt taken care of, loved, and full.
Then after everyone was full the disciples picked up 12 baskets of leftovers.  12 baskets!  It isn’t just a couple of pieces of bread but it was tons more than what was originally offered.  Even then there was an abundance of leftovers.  Can you imagine if you were the youth who offered up the 5 loaves and two fish and then after dinner the disciples walked back up to you with the12 baskets to take home?  How would you explain that to your parents.  “Yeah, mom, I know you sent me out on my trip to hear that Jesus guy with two fish and five loaves of bread.  I decided to give it to him and then he let me bring all these baskets back home!  NO I didn’t steal them, it was a miracle and Jesus made my bread and fish multiply to feed everyone there and these are the leftovers!”
There are some people who like to claim that what really happened was that when they saw that the youth had given up his food, they dove into their own pockets and shared what they had brought.  I can see how this might happen.  If you get enough mom’s together you could probably cook a holiday feast with the amount of goldfish crackers, gummies, and other snacks they have in their purses.  But what this does is really take away from the miracle here.  That idea says that if we shame people enough then miracles can happen, but I don’t see that here.  I see a miracle.
There is a story about a man who was caught in a flood. As the flood waters were rising, a man was on the stoop of his house and another man in a row boat came by. The man in the row boat told the man on the stoop to get in and he’d save him. The man on the stoop said, no, he had faith in God and would wait for God to save him. The flood waters kept rising and the man had to go to the second floor of his house. A man in a motor boat came by and told the man in the house to get in because he had come to rescue him. The man in the house said no thank you. He had perfect faith in God and would wait for God to save him. The flood waters kept rising. Pretty soon they were up to the man’s roof and he got out on the roof. A helicopter then came by, lowered a rope and the pilot shouted down in the man in the house to climb up the rope because the helicopter had come to rescue him. The man in the house wouldn’t get in. He told the pilot that he had faith in God and would wait for God to rescue him. The flood waters kept rising and the man in the house drowned. When he got to heaven, he asked God where he went wrong. He told God that he had perfect faith in God, but God had let him drown.  “What more do you want from me?” asked God. “I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”[1]

How many times are we the man waiting as the flood rises?  How many times do we say, God will save me as we ask the boat to leave?  I know when I am struggling with faith or for answers to come for God I tend to get it in my head the way it supposed to be and I look for that instead of being open for God to work in God’s own way.  I tend to look for the most reasonable way to do something but then later I realize I may have denied God the ability to work and provide a miracle because I was too caught up in the fear of failure.  When we do this it seems that we are telling God we know better.  In one of the synoptic gospels during this story the disciples beg Jesus to let the people go but instead he lets them stay and eat.  The people going home would be reasonable but then a miracle could not happen. 
Are you hungry?  Did you come here today hoping to be fed by the Spirit?  Well welcome, there is plenty of room on the grass.  Come and have a seat.  Are we willing to let God work through you?  Are you willing to give God our five loaves and two fish and then get out of God’s way?  Give him what you have because he can turn it into enough to feed thousands.  Are you willing to eat plenty have so many leftovers that you have to share them with those you know are hungry?  Are you going to leave this place today so filled with grace that you flock to the next time we come together and you bring others with you because you have been fed by Christ?
My prayer for Indian Trail UMC is that we are hungry and we trust in God to feed us.  Because we if are willing to hand over our five loaves and two fish, if we are willing to eat plenty of what is offered, then I promise we will see a miracle of abundance.
And all God’s people said…Amen.

John 3:1-17 – Sermon – Blessed Trinity

John 3:1-17
Blessed Trinity
I read a sermon by Thomas Long this week.  He started it off by telling this story, “In a magazine article recently, a forest ranger in Wales described the most common question that visitors to his park ask the forest rangers. Many people, he said, come to the park to hike one of the beautiful trails that wander through the forest, trails designed to display the magnificent trees and plants, to let the hikers encounter the array of wildlife in the forest, and to take hikers on to hilltops for breathtaking views of the countryside. But the most frequent question that visitors ask the forest rangers is not “Where does this trail go?” or “How long does it take to hike it?” or “Do we need bug spray on the trail” but instead “Excuse me, can you tell me where the trail starts?” It makes sense. No matter how lovely or breathtaking a trail may be, if you don’t know where the trail starts, you can’t hike it.”[1]
When we think of God, where do we start?  Where does that trailhead begin?  Let’s start where we should always start, in scripture.  The doctrine of the Three in One God, the Triune God, the Trinity is not something that is spelled out in the Bible.  The word ‘Trinity’ is not found in the Bible itself.  The doctrine is something that was fleshed out later as the church started to develop.  There are places where we can point to in scripture though and demonstrate this idea and see where this doctrine came from. 
At the end of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus gives the disciples what is called the Great Commission.  He says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Jesus tells us to baptize people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Then in 2 Corinthians Paul ends his letter with a benediction.  “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” You can see a trend here with when Jesus and Paul refer to the whole name of God they say Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
My theology professor at Duke, Geoffrey Wainwright is a spitting image of Alfred Hitchcock, and is quintessentially British too.  He always said, ‎”When I say, God, I mean Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  He drilled it into our heads that when we talk about God, if we are going to talk about the Christian God we worship, that God has a specific name and that name is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  If you remove one piece of that name of God, you no longer have the God we worship.
The name of God is really important.  We can go all the way back to Moses and the burning bush to see that.  Moses wants to know the name of God so he can tell Israelites who is sending him.  He asks God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”[2]
If you know someone’s name then you understand a little bit of who they are.  Try to describe someone without using their name and you can get only so far.  For example, can you guess who I am thinking about?  There was a musician who was known for his guitar skills.  He is known world wide for his licks and runs.  His mastery of the instrument set the tone of new style of rock and roll.  He is seen as a revolutionary musician.  Would you know who I am talking about?  What if I told you he was black and had hit albums hit the 60s.  He has influenced many throughout the his life.  Do you know who I am talking about yet?  There are still too many people that come to mind.  The person I am thinking about is Chuck Berry.  Not Jimi Hendrick or even B.B. King.  Yet, if I started with his name you all would have been with me from the start.  There is power, understanding and acknowledgement when you know someone’s name. 
The fact is we know the name of God and that is what we celebrate today.  Our God’s name is the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.  Three different persons in one God.  They are all the same yet they are different.  They serve different purposes yet they are all one.  It is a confusing and mind numbing doctrine but that is our limited human brain trying to make sense of God. 
When we start with God’s name we learn more about who God is and what he does.  If we look at the scripture story today we get the familiar story of Nicodemus talking with Jesus.  But Nicodemus comes searching for something; something that many of us come to Church searching for.  He comes to Jesus at night after being astounded by the miraculous signs.  He comes because he wants to know more.  He comes because he wants to be apart of the God who is making the ministry of Jesus possible.  He, as a religious leader, can sense that there is something important going on here but he can’t put his finger on it.  He is introduced to a different way of seeing God, talking about God, and is confounded by the language.  Born again? Born of the Spirit?  Many of us feel the same way when we first started to learn about God.
When we stand at the trail head we see things for the first time and we can be easily distracted by the beauty and the language those who have been on the trail for a while use to describe it.  Yet if we look at Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus we can see that Jesus still pushes us in a weird way.  As Jesus explains what is like to follow God he is demonstrating the community that God exists in.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in community with one another.  We are invited into that community.
One of the misconceptions of our modern day Christian language is that we constantly are telling people that they need to invite Jesus into their lives.  Jesus needs to come into their life.  Yet the reality is that Jesus is not telling Nicodemus that if wants to know God better that all he has to do is ask Jesus into his life.  No instead he talks about being born of the Spirit.  The reality is that God doesn’t want to be invited into your life, God wants you and invites you to be a part of God’s life.  God wants us to be a part of the community and the relationship that makes up the Holy Trinity. 
But this is the joy and love of God that we need to remember.  There are lots of images out there of what God is thought to look like.  Some see God as a clockmaker who created the world, wound it up and then let it go.  He is the creator but doesn’t interact with the world any more.  Others see God like a cowboy that John Wayne or Clint Eastwood played.  He is one who brings down justice with a cold and swift fury.  He is sitting on a cloud, like Zeus, waiting for us to mess up before he sends down lighting to punish us.  But that is not true.  God is active, vital, and loving this world right now.  What is amazing is that God invites us to join him in that work.
I want you to reach back into the dark recesses of your brain and remember a popular piece of clothing from back in the 1990s.  I know it is hard to go back a decade in a half, but do so.  Remember these bracelets that came out with WWJD on them. They were started by a youth pastor in Michigan to help his youth remember to think about what Jesus may be asking them to do in situations.  It caught on nationwide and soon everyone was wearing them.  To think about what Jesus would do in a certain situation is a noble and great idea.  But it almost makes God out to be a life coach not God.  All we have to do to be a follower of God is to think about what he would want us to do in this situation.   While on a youth trip to Lake Junaluska one summer the speaker there asked another question which I found what a much better way of thinking about it.  He told us we should be asking, What is Jesus Doing? 
When we place our lives in the midst of God’s life then the world seems different, changed, and we see things anew.  That is because we are seeing things through God not our own eyes.  We are walking through life while dwelling inside the community of the God we worship.  It is hard to do that and not feel for the people that God’s heart breaks for.  It is hard not to feel compassionate about feeding the hungry, helping the sick, and reaching out to the least of these.  It is hard to sit back and watch people be oppressed and taken advantage of.  That is because when we place ourselves in the midst of God’s relationship with God’s three persons, we are changed.
We can see this the best at the communion table.  I truly enjoy doing communion through intinction because of what it represents.  The physical act adds so much to the sacrament it self.  Think about it.  When we come to receive communion what do we do.  We get up out of our seats and we come forward.  We put our hands out and receive the gift of the bread and wine.  “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.  The bread which we break is a sharing in the body of Christ.  The cup over which we give thanks is a sharing in the blood of Christ.”
The God we worship is a God of community, a God of relationships, a God of constant and unconditional love.  The Three in One, Triune, Trinitarian God we worship is named the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We are invited into that relationship.  We are welcomed into the love and compassion that the three persons have for one another and us.  As we stand at the trailhead we realize that the trail we are walking is the one God is walking.  When we are ready we step forward in the work God is already doing, the relationship that God is already living out, and the love that God is already expressing.  When we are born again, born of the Spirit, when we finally want to give our lives over to God, we are invited into community, into relationship.  We are welcomed into God’s life, God’s community and the relationship that is the God we worship, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And all God’s people said…Amen.