WORSHIP ON SUNDAY, MAY 26: we will celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday!  We give thanks for the many ways God is in relationship to us, even when the math doesn’t make sense. Join us at 10:00 in our physical sanctuary at 300 Shunpike Road or in our digital sanctuary for worship: https://www.youtube.com/live/0b-_6Ywt6n8?si=-wv7dfeyQ1kqSVIF

WORSHIP ON SUNDAY, JUNE 2: we will worship on the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (the time after Pentecost)! We will celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Baptism for Evy Maren Green, daughter of Nate and Rosemary Green and sister to Frankie. We will also hear about the sabbath – and why Jesus kept getting in trouble for doing things on the sabbath. Join us at 10:00 in our physical sanctuary at 300 Shunpike Road or in our digital sanctuary for worship: https://www.youtube.com/live/32G0JU3X4a0?si=RG2cpGeV6QsuhWNe

Sermons

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May 19, 2024

You’ve heard me talk before about my days as a high school English teacher in South Carolina.  Many of my students were active in their various faith communities.  I taught Muslims and Jews and Mormons and Christians of all kinds.  They knew that I went to church, not because I made a big deal about it, but because it sometimes came up in conversation or in the writing that we did together.

I don’t remember what I was so frustrated about on one particular day, but it was evident to the students.  Teachers try very hard to maintain their composure.  If one class makes you angry for whatever reason, you try not to take it out on the next class.  That’s not fair.  But on the day that I’m remembering, I was clearly not doing a good job hiding my exasperation.

Sensing my frustration, a 10th-grader named Katrina looked at me and said: “I will pray for you, Ms. Compton.”  I said: “I will take those prayers, Katrina.  Thank you.”  And I immediately felt better, more grounded.

I also felt a little uneasy.  I didn’t want my students to be worried about me.  I was their teacher.  I was supposed to worry about them, to support them, to encourage them, and, yes, to forgive them when they had provoked me.

It is hard sometimes to be the recipient of care, isn’t it?  We’re often OK offering care to others, taking care of other people in ways both tangible and intangible.  But to be on the receiving end?  That can make us squirm.

In today’s gospel we hear Jesus praying for his disciples in a continuation of that Farewell Discourse we heard a part of last week.  It’s still the night that Jesus will be arrested.  He will be crucified soon.  He has shared a meal with them and washed their feet and given them some final words of wisdom.  And now he turns his attention to God.  Jesus offers a beautiful prayer on behalf of his disciples, these friends and followers who will soon be left grieving his absence and struggling to carry on his ministry.

Who is it that you would pray for in your final hours?  If you knew that the end of your life was drawing near, what would you lift up to God?  Whose well-being would you entrust to God’s care before departing this world?

Jesus prays a long prayer.  We only heard a piece of it this morning.  And he does it within earshot of his disciples, so imagine them listening in as he prays about them.

In the prayer Jesus repeatedly acknowledges what the disciples have received from God through him.  Jesus says: “They know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you.”

So the disciples have received from Jesus the words and the wisdom and the faith that have revealed Jesus as the messiah, the Son of God, the One who would save them.

And what does Jesus pray for

He prays for their protection.  He keeps talking about protecting them from the world.  In the Gospel of John the Greek word for “world” is kosmos, and it means those political and religious powers that create hatred and division.  Jesus is talking about the powers and principalities that will put him to death – and will continue to be a threat to his followers. 

He knows the disciples will continue to live and serve and teach and heal and preach in the midst of a world that will come after them for showing love and compassion.  They will be at risk for being people of peace in a world of war.  They will be threatened for standing up to the powerful on behalf of the vulnerable.  “I have given them your word,” Jesus prays, “and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”

On this Mother’s Day I think about all the prayers that mothers have uttered over the centuries as their children ventured off into the world – when kids take their first steps, when they start kindergarten, when they head to college, when they get their first jobs, when they fall in love, when their hearts are broken.  Whether kids succeed or fail in any given moment, those prayers remain – for protection, for resilience, for joy.  It is a terrifying and vulnerable thing to watch someone you love do hard things without you right there to guide every decision.  And yet we do it because that’s what allows them to grow into who they are.

That’s something of what Jesus is thinking when he prays: “Protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one…that they have my joy made complete in themselves.”  That is what Jesus wants for those first disciples, and that is what Jesus wants for us – that we may find unity in our glorious diversity, and that our joy might be complete.

My friend and teacher Pádraig Ó Tuama summarizes what the disciples might have overheard in Jesus’ prayer:

In short it is: I love you, we are friends. I have done everything I can to protect you. But I am going now. But that which has protected me also protects you. Be made holy by truth. Go into the world — a world that may misunderstand or even reject you — with truth. I came with truth. You can too. 

Are we able to receive that prayer as well?  Are we willing to receive all that God has to offer – a reminder that we can’t go it alone, the gift of a community that is held together by God’s grace, a love beyond our deserving, a commitment to truth?

I think church is partially about helping us practice receiving.  We receive forgiveness.  We receive God’s word in scripture and in song.  We receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  We receive the joy of companionship on our faith journey.  We receive all of these things, and then we are sent out to share them with others.  To share forgiveness and wisdom and food and encouragement and love and laughter and protection and joy and prayer.

I discovered this week a prayer written by the Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.  In it he prays:

[God], you have loved us first.  Help us never to forget that You are love so that this sure conviction might triumph in our hearts over the seduction of the world, over the inquietude of the soul, over the anxiety for the future, over the fright of the past, over the distress of the moment. But grant also that this conviction might discipline our soul so that our heart might remain faithful and sincere in the love which we bear to all those whom You have commanded us to love as we love ourselves.

Amen and amen.

S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ

Sources:

https://www.spiritualityofconflict.com/readings/311/seventh-sunday-of-easter
https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/seventh-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-john-176-19-6
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March 3, 2024

I’ve said it several times lately: Bodies are weird.  They torment us with aches and pains of indeterminate origin.  We find ourselves playing whack-a-mole with tests and procedures and doctors’ appointments, taking care of one issue only to find that another springs up to challenge us.  But bodies are also wondrous.  They give birth and take walks and offer amazing hugs.  Bodies help us ride bicycles, play sports, sing beautiful music – or just sing in the shower.  There’s a reason we applaud when a baby takes those first few steps.  It is a marvel.  We watch for the first time as the baby discovers how to stumble through the world.  And then fall.  And maybe cry.  And then get back up again.

I often wonder what it was like for Jesus to be in a body.  To experience all of the joys and pains of being in a human body must surely have puzzled him at times.  But it doesn’t keep him from talking about bodies – specifically, as he does today, about his own body.  We’ll come back to that in a few minutes.

Let’s first get our bearings in today’s gospel.  This year we’ve been in the gospel of Mark up until this point, but this morning we shift to the Gospel of John for a few weeks.  We hear a story of Jesus coming into the temple in Jerusalem and doing some dramatic things.  Making a whip of cords.  Finding the people who sell things in the temple and driving them out.  And for an added flourish, he pours out their money and flips over their tables.  It’s quite a moment.

Some version of this story appears in all four gospels, so it was important to the people who eventually wrote down the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Curiously, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all put this story at the end of Jesus’ life, just after he’s ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey to the sound of “Hosannas!” and just before the events of his trial and crucifixion.  John, on the other hand, places this story in Chapter 2, near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, just after he’s turned water into wine at a wedding.  There’s something about this story that, for the author of John, points toward what Jesus will care about most in his ministry.

With the help of some scholarship by New Testament professor Amy-Jill Levine, I want to help us understand what the Temple was like.  It was enormous, for starters.  About the size of 12 soccer fields put end to end.  It had several layers. The inner sanctum was only for the high priest, who entered it on the Day of Atonement to ask forgiveness for himself and for the people.  There was also a Court of the Priests, the Court of Israel, the Court of the Women, and the Court of the Gentiles (or non-Jews), who were also welcome to worship in the Temple.

It was in that outer court, the Court of the Gentiles, that today’s gospel takes place.  It’s where the vendors sold their goods.  Most of the pilgrims who traveled from their hometowns to worship in the Temple, especially for the big days like Passover, needed to buy some animals when they got there.  Maybe they needed something for the sacrifice, like a pair of doves, or for the Passover meal, like a sheep.  It didn’t make sense for them to bring the animals from home over their long miles of travel and risk the animal flying or running away, getting stolen, or dying.  And hey, sometimes travelers get hungry on a road trip.

But what is it that has Jesus so upset there in the outer court of the Temple?

First, let’s be clear about what Jesus isn’t doing.  He’s not saying that worshiping in the temple is bad.  He’s not rejecting the center of Jewish worship life.  He’s certainly not rejecting Judaism itself.  He says, according to John, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  There’s something about the commodification of this space that has gotten Jesus worked up.

Jesus might be alluding to the prophet Zechariah, who says that “every cooking pot in Jerusalem…shall be sacred to the Lord…so that all who sacrifice may come and use them [the cooking pots] to boil the flesh of the sacrifice.  And there shall no longer be traders [t-r-a-d-e-r-s] in the house of the Lord…on that day.” [14:21]

Jesus imagines a time when there won’t be a need for these salespeople in the temple because every household will be like a temple.  People’s homes will become sanctified in and of themselves, and the sacred space of the temple will be spread throughout the community.  The people listening to John’s gospel would know what it feels like to worship without a temple.  By the time John’s gospel is recorded, the temple is a pile of rubble, courtesy of the Roman Empire.  They know what it’s like to mourn for a place of worship and then to discover that new spaces can be sacred too.

It’s important that at this point in the story Jesus talks about a different kind of temple.  He talks about a temple being destroyed and then raised up in three days, which leaves his listeners understandably confused.  But he’s talking about the temple of his body.  He’s shifted into metaphor.  It’s another way of predicting that he will suffer and die and rise again – which is why we hear that his listeners remembered the metaphor only after the resurrection.  That’s when it would have made more sense to them, right?

The body of Jesus is a temple.  In the first chapter of John we hear Jesus described as the Word.  The Word became flesh and lived among us.  Or, more precisely according to the Greek, the Word became flesh and pitched a tent among us, tabernacled among us.

The love and mercy of God are not confined to any building – not a temple, not this sanctuary, not any building.  The love and mercy of God can be found wherever God’s people are.  And by showing up in a body, Jesus reminds us that all bodies are holy because each one is created in the image of God.  Each one is a dwelling place for God.

If the body of Jesus has become the New Temple, then we, the community that gathers in Jesus’ name, must make sure that the body of Christ here at Gloria Dei is a welcome place for all people.

That’s why we are doing the learning and the work of the Reconciling in Christ process – so we can be clear about our welcome for LGBTQIA+ people, all of whom are made in the image of God.  That’s why we work against the “isms” of the world, including racism, because people of color are made in the image of God, and no one has the right to desecrate the dignity of those in whom God dwells.  That’s why we put our bodies between the bullies and the people the bullies threaten.  And that’s why, as we’ll do today at Homeless Solutions and as we do each week through the Chatham Community Food Distribution, we put our bodies to work so that people will have enough to eat.

It’s also why we must be kind to our own bodies.  There will be a million people trying to sell you a million products to be thinner and glowier and stronger, but Jesus says, “Don’t make God’s creation a marketplace!  You are holy, and you are beautiful, just as you are.”

Bodies are weird, but they are also wonderful.  They are places where God lives in you and in every single person you will ever meet.

Cole Arthur Riley has a beautiful prayer that ends with these words, which I invite you to pray with me now:

Let us remember that our beauty is never dependent on anyone’s belief in it, including our own.  This flesh, this face is inherently sacred – its beauty cannot easily be undone.  Show us daily the miracle of these bodies that pump blood, shed tears, keep breathing.  Remind us that we are those whose flesh grows back, that we possess the mystery of regeneration within our bones.  Give us the courage to marvel, every mirror a portal to the awe we are worthy of. Amen.

S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ

Sources:

Entering the Passion of Jesus:  A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week by Amy-Jill Levine, Chapter 2, “The Temple: Risking Righteous Anger.”

Black Liturgies: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Staying Human by Cole Arthur Riley, Chapter 7, “Body.”

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Join the fun this summer as we experience the ride of a lifetime with God!

Rafters will explore how to serve God and God’s mission for their lives. Rolling River Rampage VBS is for children who will be 4 years old by October 1, 2018 with the oldest completing Grade 5 in June.

Monday through Thursday, July 16-19, 9:30 am – 12:15 pm

Click here for registration form:

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