Trevor's mom suffered a lot in her life, but she showed him how her suffering produced endurance and her endurance produced character and her character produced hope and hope did not disappoint her because the love of God had been poured into her heart through the Holy Spirit that was given to her. We don't have to be "born a crime" to know that suffering can be a gift, but each and every one of us is going to have to unwrap it for ourselves.
By using such ordinary things to talk about something that is quite extraordinary, Jesus shows us how absolutely anything can point us to heaven. All we have to do is look at it in the right way. Jesus uses images that were familiar with the people of his time. But not many of us are farmers anymore. Not many of us bake our own bread or catch our own fish. We need some new metaphors, and so over the years, this pastor has tried to preach some new parables.
The resurrection of Christ is the climax of the story of our bodies, but not the end of it. By resurrecting the body of Jesus, God made clear that God loves our bodies enough to resurrect them, too. That was the message that Paul was trying to preach, but he had a little trouble getting that idea across to the Greeks. They didn't have the Books of Moses. They had Plato and Socrates. They didn't think much of physical bodies. They called them cesspools of lust, prisons of pain and dungeons of decay. They didn't believe that God had ever created them or that God would ever want to save them. The Greeks yearned to live in a disembodied, purely spiritual world, and so they waited for death when they would be released from their bodies. You might think this is a very old-fashioned way of looking at things, but I'll have you know this way of thinking is still going strong today.
I want to be clear. We don't confess our sins because we want to feel bad about ourselves. We can do that easily enough without confessing to anything. We confess our sins because when we finally stop denying the truth and living the lie, we're going to feel much better about ourselves. The Gospel is good news because God's forgiveness sets us free to be ourselves. It is very possible to be a happy sinner, because only sinners get a Savior.
But what we can't get from a self-help book or a weekend seminar or a long silent retreat is the messy, noisy, life-saving grace of community. At its best, the communion of saints is a community of mutual support and accountability. We need the communion of saints to support us in our search for God and to hold us to a higher standard as we try to live for God. You see, we can’t be saints in single file. We can’t be holy on our own. Wesley said that “Christianity is essentially a social religion” and “to turn it into a solitary one is to destroy it.” [“Sermon on the Mount IV”] Me-Myself-and I is a pretty sorry substitute for the communion of saints.
In 1984, Leontine Kelly served this Conference as the first African American woman bishop in any major Christian denomination. Last year, our own Karen Oliveto, was elected as our denomination's first openly lesbian bishop. And on Friday night, we ordained our denomination's very first Fijian elder. The President of Fiji was there, along with the Queen of Tonga. I couldn't help but think about how much poorer the Body of Christ would be without all our diversity. And so it is beyond me how any church or group within the church thinks that it can be the whole Body of Christ all by itself. Only together can we Christians love God with enough heart, enough mind, enough spirit and enough strength to be Christ for the world. The Church is either catholic or it is pathetic.
In Ezekiel's vision is our lesson. At some point in our adulthood we are going to come to a place where we are the dry bones left on the battlefields of life. Some of us will have no sinew, no flesh, and our skin will have been stripped away. And even for those of us who will appear to be perfectly healthy, there will still be no breath in us. The new life that Jesus promises us and the Spirit gives to us, will come, but it can be a slow process. Yet it isn't all that complicated. In fact, it's as easy as breathing. So listen to your meditation teacher: Focus on your breath. For when we focus on our breath, we become more aware of the one thing that is even closer to us than breathing. We become more aware of and we begin to sink deeper into the presence of God.
The Apostles' Creed is one early summary of the faith. It talks about believing in the Father and the Son and the Spirit. But there is no explanation of how that equals believing in one God. The Nicene Creed is later and longer, but no more helpful. The truth is that fancy theological formulations don't do much for us. If we really wanted to define the Trinity, we would need a very simple, very universal and very precise kind of language. And there is no language more precise, more universal, more fundamental than math.
Well, my friends, fifty years after the Summer of Love, hate is on the rise again. We are living in a world of hurt. We are living under a regime of fear and intimidation. Peace and justice, compassion and mercy, truth and integrity, humility and decency—so many of our values are taking a beating; so many of our hopes seem to be receding. It's a good thing that Godspell came back to Broadway a few years ago and Superstar is going live on NBC for Easter 2018. But we have a dire need to dream some new dreams, see some new visions, find a new language and write some new songs to teach a new generation about the radical love of Jesus.
God is even more awesome and unpredictable than Everest is. No matter how many times we've been up to the summit, God cannot ever be conquered or tamed. God will always be a test, a life or death proposition. God will always require the most of us and, even if we can get to the top of that mountain, will leave us breathless every time.