Saturday, May 31, 2008

Living By Faith

Romans 1:16-17, 3:21-28

Down through the ages, parents have been tempted to use the threat of divine judgement to keep order in the house. Parents tell their kids: You know, God is watching – so what would God think? Or, something to that effect. Of course, the kids can always throw that back at their parents! Whatever the case may be, such questions assume that God not only looks over our shoulders, but when God doesn’t like something, we’re going to suffer the consequences.

Now, I do believe that God has high expectations for us – like any good parent has for his or her children. But the flip side to this idea can be troubling. If we start from the idea that our relationship with God is one of parent and child, then the question is: Must a child earn the love of his or her parent? If not, and if God is our parent, then does God expect us to earn God’s love and affection?

St. Paul, like many of us, believed that if he was good enough, zealous enough, observant enough, then God would love and accept him. So, he worked hard at his religion, and he became rather proud of his accomplishments. Now, by all rights, he was a good man, but ultimately he discovered that no matter how hard he worked, he couldn’t measure up. Indeed, he came to see himself as chief among sinners. In his words, "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." And if that’s true, then even Mother Teresa is a sinner and has fallen short of God’s expectations. If they don’t measure up, then what hope do I have?

In these two passages from Romans, Paul addresses the question of sin, of righteousness, of law, grace, and faith. His proposal offers us a word of hope for a new life and a new opportunity to serve.
I. JUSTIFIED BY GRACE

As we see in chapter 3 the biggest stumbling block to the Christian faith is the Law. Paul has a high regard for the Law. He sees it as a signpost of God’s high expectations and as a tutor. As our teacher, it not only reminds us that God has high standards, but that God also expects us to live together in a way that is peaceful and just, generous and gracious. Paul also recognizes that without the Spirit, the Law is a means of death. It offers no hope of transformation.

Recognition of this fact can lead to despair. Because if we’re fated to fail, what hope is there for us? The answer is this: What is impossible for us, is possible for God. The key is God’s offer of forgiveness and God’s willingness to see us in a new way. In Christ we who are unrighteous become righteous – not of our own power, but through God’s grace. We may choose to rebel against God’s will, but God is willing to embrace us and enable us to become new creatures. This is a message of freedom and of healing. It takes sin seriously, but it doesn’t lead to death.
To make his point Paul points us to the cross. He suggests that Jesus’ act of dying on the cross serves as an atonement for sin. Although this could mean that Jesus’ death either placates the wrath of an angry God or satisfies the honor of an offended tyrant, neither of these common interpretations proves satisfactory. In fact, if we believe that God requires that his son be brutalized so his honor can be satisfied, then what does that say about God’s parental instincts? But if we see the cross in the light of the resurrection, then the cross is God’s means of identifying with our death, so that in his death we die, but in his resurrection we are raised, then the point is: In death there is new life. And with new life comes transformation.
And all of this comes to us through God’s grace. Forgiveness and the power to live a new life comes to us as a free gift of God. Therefore, in Christ we who are unrighteous in our thoughts, words, and deeds, become righteous.

II. LIVING BY FAITH
Once we recognize that we can’t earn God’s love and that our place at God’s table is a free gift, then we realize that there’s no room for boasting. There’s no place for self-righteousness. We are, by grace, made one in Christ. That understanding of grace frees us to serve. It means that we live our lives by faith.

Knowing that my time with you is short, I want to again remind you that God is calling you, like he’s calling me, to be part of God’s missional people. God is calling us to live by faith in the power of the Resurrection so that we might serve our community out of love and not duty. And then the question is: How do we do this?

To live by faith is to live by the Law of love, which means that we don’t give in to the temptation of self-righteousness. From there, we begin to look outward. It might start with a handshake, a hug, or maybe simply a word of welcome, but in doing so we follow Jesus’ example of putting others first. From there our service takes hold. , It might involve a prayer or a gift of money. It might involve standing up for the person living on the margins of society, by giving voice to their concerns, even if that means putting you at a disadvantage.
The story of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador aptly illustrates this point. Romero started out as a conservative Catholic bishop. He was friends with the elite, supported the status quo, and took little interest in the lives of ordinary Salvadorans. But, then in 1977, after the military rigged national elections and fired on a peaceful group of demonstrators, he began to have his doubts. When government-sponsored assassins murdered a priest who was working for justice, Romero had a conversion experience. He began to see the connection between the persecution of the church and the oppression of the people, the connections between the sufferings of the people and those of God in Christ. As a result, he decided that if he was going to live faithfully as a disciple of Jesus, he had to work to end injustice and oppression in his nation. Because of that conversion, government-sponsored assassins murdered him while he celebrated Mass in the cathedral. A true martyr, Romero took up the path of suffering, a path that Jesus himself trod.

Having been justified by God’s grace, we are empowered to live faithfully, and to live faithfully means living in such a way that God’s grace and love transform our world. El Salvador changed because of Romero’s witness. The same can be true for us. It likely doesn’t involve our death, but it does mean dying to self, so we can live for God by living for our neighbor.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 1, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Receiving the Reward

Matthew 10:40-42

If you’ve ever watched a Western movie, you’ve probably seen one of those reward posters that were prominent in the Old West.

"Wanted: Dead or Alive – Black Bart – Reward: $25,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction."

We tried something like that with Osama Bin Laden, but so far we haven’t had any takers, even though the reward is $25 million. Being married to a teacher, I know that elementary teachers also use a reward system to keep order. Cheryl uses tickets, and if you get enough tickets you get a prize of some sort. It seems to work pretty well for her. And of course, diplomacy is based in a reward system. You don’t get very far with diplomacy if all you have is a stick. Most diplomats find that the carrot works much better than the stick, and it’s a lot cheaper and safer in the long run – no messy wars to deal with.

When it comes to preaching, fire and brimstone is a bit like the carrot and the stick principle. If you turn to Jesus, you get a free pass to paradise. If you don’t – well, hope you like the heat! As you know, I’m not a fire and brimstone preacher. In fact, I don’t put that much emphasis on either the carrot or the stick. In my mind, faith is its own reward. But when Jesus talks about rewards I have to pay attention.

1. The Reward of Being Welcomed
In this passage from Matthew, the focus isn’t on the reward we receive, but is instead centered on the reward received by those who welcome us and our message. If you back up a few verses, you’ll discover that Jesus has sent out the twelve on a little mission trip. Before they go, he tells them that not everyone is going to welcome them and their message. In fact, some people might treat them badly. Remember, he says, if they oppose me, they’ll oppose you. And if you think your families will be different, it’s quite possible that they might decide to disown you and your message. Finally, in a very unpleasant passage, Jesus says to the disciples: "I have come not to bring peace, but the sword: (Mt. 10:34). That may not sound like the Jesus we know and love, but there it is.

The point of this chapter is to remind us that not everyone is open to the message of Jesus, but those who are open will be rewarded and blessed. And when we’re welcomed, Jesus says that he’s welcomed, and if he’s welcomed then the one who sent him is welcomed. This seems to be another way of saying, we are the body of Christ, and where we’re present, he is present, and where he is present, God is present. Those who receive us receive God. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a very big responsibility.

2. The Reward of Being a Welcoming People

Everything I read these days suggests that while people are seeking spiritual guidance and comfort, they’re not looking to the church for answers. They’re open, but they’re not finding answers in the traditional places – like the church. The situation is a bit different than the one Jesus’ earliest disciples faced, at least that’s true here in America. It’s not that there’s opposition, it’s just that many people don’t trust us to be good messengers.

So, in many ways the shoe is on the other foot. If our community is going to be blessed by a relationship with the God of Jesus, then we must offer a welcome to those who are seeking God. But like those earliest disciples we must leave the comfort of our church walls if we’re going to share the message of Jesus with the world. Our message should be one of grace, mercy, love, and justice, but the question is: what does the world see in us that in welcoming us they might welcome the message of Jesus?
As I thought about this passage, I thought about our list of core values. At the very top of that list is the word welcome. When we developed that list, we committed ourselves to being a people who welcome others into our midst. For the past several years, we’ve been learning what it means to put out the welcome mat. Indeed, this is a process that never ends, because the questions and issues facing our world are ever changing. Besides, too often we talk about the principle of welcome in very abstract ways. It’s easy to say: Everyone is welcome. But is that true? Remember what James has to say about making distinctions between rich and poor.

So, what if someone comes to us speaking a language other than English, how will we welcome that person? Or, what if it’s someone of a race or culture that’s different from the majority? In fact, What if their theology is a bit different from ours? Then there’s the matter of sexual orientation. If that’s not enough, we have to deal with generational differences.
When I was a teenager, my mother didn’t always like my music, and I must confess that I don’t always like Brett’s music. That’s just the way it is. But music isn’t the only barrier. In someways there’s even a language barrier. Even if we all speak English, the dialect may be different. Words will mean different things – you know, bad may be good, or not. When we talk across generational lines, things often get lost in translation.
Being a welcoming congregation isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. As I get ready to leave you, I have great confidence that you will continue to grow in your ability and willingness to welcome everyone who comes your way. Not only that, but I believe you’re willing and able to go beyond the walls and share this word of welcome. And as you do this, there is a great reward.
The key to being a welcoming congregation is keeping ones ears and eyes open for the seekers in our midst. There are great numbers of people who desperately want to find answers to their spiritual questions. Just a few weeks back, I was watching Desperate Housewives with Cheryl, and in this particular episode one of the characters, who is representative of that growing community of nonreligious people, goes to church and stands up during the sermon and asks her questions. It’s quite out of the ordinary, but the point is well taken. Why can’t we have a conversation about the important questions that are on our hearts and minds – even if that means disrupting the monologue that is a sermon?

Our calling from God is this: Welcome the stranger into your midst, so that together you may find the answers to the questions of the hour. In this there is great reward.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church
Lompoc, CA
May 25, 2008
2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Give Me a Witness

Matthew 28:16-20

I love Homer Simpson. He is the proverbial couch potato. He’s content with his lot in life, goes to church, but doesn’t take it too seriously, in fact, he’s more at home at Moe’s Bar or in front of the TV than anywhere else. Instead of taking on life, Homer let’s life come to him. He may enjoy watching an action flick or a football game, but he has no interest in getting in on the action. Yes, I like Homer Simpson. I could even enjoy being Homer Simpson. Whether Cheryl would like being Marge Simpson – blue hair and all – is another question.
Knowing Homer Simpson as well as I do, I think he’d be a bit uncomfortable listening to this morning’s text. It has too many active verbs. For those of you who are grammar afficionados, you know that good writing requires active verbs. While that may be true, Homer Simpson likes a more passive style, and so he might not like the Great Commission with all of its active verbs. It’s too action oriented and not the kind of religion that appeals to a couch potato.

As much as I may admire Homer, this sermon isn’t for him. Therefore, I’m going to focus on five very active verbs that define the mission of the church – Go, Make, Baptize, Teach, and Remember.

1. Go
Jesus said to the disciples as they gathered on a Galilean hillside: "Go into all the world." In saying this to them, he made it clear that the church’s ministry takes place outside the church’s walls. Remember, he once told the disciples not to put their light under a bushel. When Lesslie Newbigin returned to England after serving the church in India for decades, he was disturbed at finding a church that had lost its sense of purpose. He found a church hiding behind its walls and making no impact on its community. In books and speeches he challenged the church in England and in America to reclaim its calling to be a missionary people. He reminded us that we are all called to be missionaries –whether we minister in far away lands or here at home.

This word – go – reminds us that we are called to be a missional church. We are called by God to proclaim and to live the good news of God’s kingdom in our community. As we take up this mission, we bring to the world a message of hope, of healing, and of justice. (See Lesslie Newbingin, The Open Secret, Revised Edition, Eerdmans, 1995.)

2. Make/Create (Disciples)

The second word is Make. Because we have been created in the image of the Creator, we share in God’s work of creation. Part of that work of creation is creating disciples. As we go into the world and invite the world to share in the reign of God, they become disciples.

3. Baptize.
When Jesus sent us into the world to make disciples, he also told us to mark these Disciples in baptism. Baptism is a rite of initiation. It places the mark of the Spirit on those who hear the call to follow Jesus and share in the reign of God. There are very few places in the New Testament where we can find a Trinitarian formula, but in this passage we are told to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As we baptize in this holy name, God claims them as his own.

Because this formula has become the standard one, wherever we go in the world, our baptism stands as a sign that we are all part of one body. Because God has claimed us as his own, the things that divide us become less important. Having been marked by the Spirit, we are empowered and sent out to share in God’s mission of redemption and transformation. It doesn’t matter what language we speak, the color of our skin, the customs of our communities, having been baptized we are now one body in Christ called to do the work of God in the world.

4. Teach
There is one final task. It’s not enough to go into the world, make disciples, and then baptize them. We must also pass on to these new disciples the teachings of Jesus. If God is going to bring reconciliation and redemption and justice to our world, the world must hear the teachings of Jesus so that they can know the ways of God. We can accomplish this calling both by our words and by our deeds. The way we live as a community of faith is just as important as the words we say. Of course, if words aren’t enough, then deeds alone aren’t enough. We need both word and deed to teach the faith.

The words give our faith substance, our deeds tell the world that we believe what we teach. We may not have a creed, but we have the scriptures, and in those scriptures we find words that define how we are to live before God and with each other. Our task and our calling is this: Jesus is sending us into the world to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them the things of God.

5. Remember

Finally, Jesus tells the disciples to remember. If the first four words define our calling, this last word reminds us that we don’t go out alone. No matter where we go, Jesus promises to go with us — even to the ends of the earth.

If we are to remember that Jesus is always with us, three is no better place for this to happen than at the Lord’s Table. In the words of institution, we hear Jesus say to us: "Do this in remembrance of me." As we share in the bread and the cup, we are reminded that the one who died on the cross rose on the third day and stands with us as we go out into the world and proclaim the redemptive love of God. If Baptism brings us into the community, the Lord’s Supper nourishes this missional faith.
Unlike Homer Simpson, I’m ready for a faith that’s full of active verbs. That’s because, like a book full of passive verbs, a passive church gets boring rather quickly. But a church defined by active verbs is a church full of excitement and purpose.
I may be leaving you very soon, but I want to say, that you’re about to head out on a grand new adventure. When your new pastor comes, that person will help you hear and embrace this call to be a missional people. Together you will go into the world, make disciples, baptize them, teach them, and you will always remember that Jesus is with you – until the end! If you will embrace this calling, then you will participate in God’s redemptive reign.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disicples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
Trinity Sunday
May 18, 2008

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Mother's Day Proclamation

Today is Mother's Day -- and Pentecost Sunday. It is a day to honor mothers but it is also a day to pause and consider a different way of living on the Earth. Below is Julia Ward Howe's "A Mother's Day Proclamation," a proclamation that calls on the women of the world to join together and bring peace.


Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.
"Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Let's Hear it for the Prophets

Numbers 11:24-30

It’s not often that we celebrate Mother’s Day and Pentecost on the same day, and when it does preachers get put in a difficult situation. You could try to mix them together in a sermon, and I’m sure that mothers can be prophets, but it’s still hard to put them together. As you can see from the sermon title, I’ve decided to focus on Pentecost – sorry Mom!

I have a question for you: Moses says he wishes everyone was a prophet, so are you ready to be a prophet? When you hear that question you may be wondering what a prophet does, or you have an idea and it doesn’t sound very promising.

I expect the image most people have is a strange looking guy with a long scraggly beard. He stands on street corners yelling at people who walk by, wearing rough burlap robes and a sandwich board that boldly declares: REPENT, THE END IS NEAR! If that’s your picture of a typical prophet, I doubt you’d be interested in the job.
It’s true that biblical prophets could be a bit strange. Think of John the Baptist or maybe Jeremiah. They definitely weren’t beloved figures. Frederick Buechner puts it this way:

The one whom in their unfathomable audacity the prophets claimed to speak for was the Lord and Creator of the universe. There is no evidence to suggest that anyone ever asked a prophet home for supper more than once.1

But, even if prophets seemed a bit odd or even mad, the prophet’s message really was one of love, it’s just that it was what we tend to call tough love. Buechner goes on to say:

[A] prophet’s quarrel with the world is deep-down a lover’s quarrel. If they didn’t love the world, they probably wouldn’t bother to tell it that it’s going to Hell. They’d just let it go. Their quarrel is God’s quarrel.2

I doubt that this helps, but if we take to heart these words of Moses and the words of Acts 2, it’s something we must wrestle with.

While we didn’t read Acts 2 this morning, that story can help us understand what Moses had in mind. As Luke tells it, on the Day of Pentecost, a small group of Jesus’ followers gathered in the Upper Room, unsure about their future. As they sat there, the Spirit fell and empowered them to declare the good news of God’s kingdom.
And as Peter interpreted the event, he told the gathering crowd in the square below that this was what the prophet Joel had in mind when he said that in the last days the Spirit would fall on male and female, young and old, and that the people of God would dream dreams and prophesy. In other words, the Spirit had made them all prophets, just as Moses had hoped. This is also the message of Pentecost for us. It doesn’t mean that we have to grow scraggly beards, wear burlap sacks, and carry sandwich boards, which should come as a relief to you – especially the scraggly beard part if you’re a mother – but it does seem to mean that we’re called to declare God’s message of love with the world.

I. SHARING THE LOAD

This morning’s text deals with a common dilemma of ministry. Moses had been called to lead his people, but he quickly discovered that the job was too big for him. You can tell how frustrated he was by what he said to God:

If this is the way you're going to treat me, just kill me now and end my miserable life! (Numbers 11:15).

Now that’s frustration – but, instead of sending lightening bolts, God gave Moses an idea. Why don’t you share the load? Then, God tells Moses to choose 70 leaders and take them to the Tabernacle. When they got to the tent, God took a portion of the spirit from Moses and distributed this power to the 70 elders, and they began to prophesy. In other words, they’d be called on to share the load.

That’s an important message for us to hear. I know that this congregation has always understood ministry to be a shared vocation. I’m amazed out how much each of you does. But it doesn’t take much to become dependent on a pastor and expect the pastor to do the ministry of the church. The search committee will encounter candidates who are quite willing to do everything, who would be jealous of sharing the load. I expect they won’t recommend such a candidate. Still, it’s good to be reminded that ministry isn’t something just one person does or that any one person is irreplaceable. Moses learned that the hard way!

II. THE SPIRIT FOR EVERYONE
Now at first glance it would seem that Moses was simply sharing leadership with the 70 elders, but the story doesn’t end there. Even as the 70 Elders were in the Tabernacle receiving the Spirit, the Spirit was falling on two others back at the camp that Moses hadn’t selected. Yes, the Spirit also fell on two brothers named Eldad and Medad, and when they too began to prophesy, Joshua, Moses’ assistant, got a bit jealous for Moses. He told Moses he should make them stop. It was one thing for the 70 to share the ministry, but this seemed sort of indiscriminate. After all, they were operating outside the system. Surprisingly Moses declined to follow his aide’s suggestion. And told Joshua:

I wish the Lord would give his Spirit to all his people so everyone could be a prophet (vs. 29 CEV).

Well, that’s exactly what happened on the first Pentecost Sunday. Everyone, young and old, male and female, broke out in praise to God and declared God’s glory to the world. They all became prophets, and the good news is this - God has called each of us to be prophets as well.

Like I said earlier, I know some of you are leery about becoming a prophet. But don’t worry, you don’t have to become a fortune teller or shout from the street corners words of judgment. But, empowered by the Spirit we’re all called upon to proclaim God’s love of the world and speak out against injustice in our world. It can happen with words or without words, but what we say and how we act will declare the message of God to the world – and that’s what it means to be a prophet.
And so, on this Mother's Day/Pentecost Sunday, let us hear God’s call to be prophets. After all, the message of Pentecost is that we’re all prophets of God.
1. Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, (HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), 88-89.
2. Buechner, 91.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
Pentecost Sunday
May 11, 2008

Saturday, May 03, 2008

LORD BE GLORIFIED

John 17:1-11

We get anxious when change is at hand. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, change makes us nervous. And we’re getting ready for change, and I think we’re just a bit nervous. Although my future is somewhat clearer than yours, I share in your anxiety as we both head out in new directions.

It is in the midst of this anxiety that we come to hear Jesus praying in the garden. In John’s telling of Jesus’ final hours, we hear him pray for his community. It’s often called Jesus’ high priestly prayer, because he takes on the role of an intercessor with God, and in this role he asks God to see them through the difficult times ahead. But more importantly he prays that they might share in God’s glory, even as he has shared in God’s glory. He asks that they might experience the same intimacy with God that Jesus experienced. And in the midst of this prayer, Jesus brings up eternal life. To experience intimacy with God is to share in eternity with
God, so what does this mean?

I. SHARING IN ETERNAL LIFE

To understand what eternal life is, we must first understand what it’s not.

  • ETERNAL LIFE IS NOT:
Talking about eternal life doesn’t necessarily mean talking about heaven, especially the popular definition of heaven. When we talk about heaven, we usually think about some kind of earth-like paradise, where we get to enjoy a life of ease and pleasure. When we look at eternity in this way, it’s simply a future state of being. In this picture, eternity is about pearly gates, harp lessons, and maybe even small group discussions with St. Paul or Mother Teresa. In other words, it’s all about me. This idea might bring us some comfort, but it doesn’t have much effect on the way we live our lives in the present.
  • ETERNAL LIFE IS:
There’s another way of looking at eternity. It’s a kind of now/not yet promise. Even though we might not be experiencing a face-to-face relationship with God yet, we get a taste of that relationship now. Elijah only saw the "backside" of God, but it was enough to strengthen him in his calling.

By sharing in God’s glory – which is in John’s mind the same as eternity – our lives are transformed. It may seem like we’re looking through a clouded window or through a veil, but this experience of God’s presence – which is eternity – empowers us as disciples of Jesus to take up the task of service to our neighbor. By sharing in that relationship – which is eternity – we participate in the reign of God – not just in the future, but now.

II. KNOWING GOD

There is another way of talking about this. What we’re talking about is knowing God. As you may have heard, in the Hebrew the word "to know" has more than one meaning. It can refer to intellectual knowledge, but it can also refer to intimacy between two people. And so to know God involves the mind, but it also involves the heart. But to know God in this way, in an intimate way, we must step outside our daily lives and see the big picture.

And the one who helps us do this, is Jesus. In his life and in words we are introduced to God’s view of the world. In this picture, we see Jesus standing in the Garden, the cross before him, and yet he is concerned about his people. He wants them to share in the glory that he has experienced. Indeed, his own experience reminds us that it’s often in the midst of tragedy or difficult situations, that we are able to draw close to God. It’s in these moments, when we’re most vulnerable, that we are most likely to open our lives up to God.

As I said, to know God involves more than a rational, intellectual, understanding of the idea of God. Information is important, because it gives substance to what we believe. But information isn’t enough. I can get to know Abraham Lincoln by reading about him, and that’s not the same thing as knowing Abraham Lincoln as a person. Indeed, I can say that the same is true of those people I’ve come to know via the internet. In a sense they are friends –we share conversation – but it’s not the same as sitting down and having a face-to-face, heart-to-heart conversation. We may not yet have that "face-to-face" conversation with God, but in a very real way we can know God intimately, as we share in God’s glory.

A good picture of what I mean can be found in Genesis 3. Remember the story of God walking in the Garden in the cool of the evening. God is looking for Adam and Eve. He wants to share in a conversation with them, but they’ve hidden from him. The rest of the biblical story is focused on the brokenness of that relationship, and God’s efforts to change this fact.

Even if we don’t take Genesis 3 literally, it reminds us that we can become so involved in "stuff" that we don’t spend time in the presence of God. I know this is true for me. I can easily amuse myself and not hear God calling my name. I appreciate the way Barbara Brown Taylor puts it. She writes that when God went looking in the Garden for the couple, calling out their names, they wouldn't come out. After that, she says, things were different. But:

God still loved human creatures best of all, but the attraction was not mutual. Birds were crazy about God, especially ruby-throated hummingbirds. Dolphins and raccoons could not get enough of him, but human beings had other things on their minds. They were busy learning how to make things, grow things, buy things, sell things, and the more they learned to do for themselves, the less they depended on God. Night after night he threw pebbles at their windows, inviting them to go for a walk with him, but they said they were sorry, they were busy.1

In this prayer for unity, Jesus prays that this relationship would be restored. In other words, he prayed that they would be share in the glories of eternity now.

As we begin our journey forward into the future, knowing that in just a matter of weeks we will go our own ways, we hear God calling out to us, inviting us to walk with him and to depend on him. We have to listen closely, because the voice doesn’t come from the whirlwind, but as Elijah discovered, it comes as the "still small voice" (1 Kings 19:17 KJV).

As we walk these final weeks together, it’s important that we listen for God’s voice. We can do this as we read Scripture, offer our prayers, share in corporate worship, and as we come to the Lord’s Table. We don’t participate in these spiritual practices in order to impress God; we share in them because in them, we make ourselves available to God.

John’s message to us is this: God has chosen Jesus to bring us back into intimate relationship. He brings us the words of life, and as we know him, we know God – not just intellectually but deeply and spiritually. Jesus points us in the right direction, and guides us in the way forward. Indeed, Jesus is tossing pebbles at our windows and knocking at our doors, inviting us to walk with him in the Garden once again.


1. Barbara Brown Taylor, Bread of Angels, (Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 1997), 32-33.


Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
7th Sunday of Easter
May 4, 2008