the title might suggest to some of you that I might be offering you a tasty tidbit of truth from Iggy Pop, The Godfather (or grandfather) of punk. I’m not. Now I do believe one of my favorite artists could shed some positive light on us, but I’m afraid I will have to keep his albums on the shelf while I bust out some real “old school” Iggy...St. Ignatius of Loyola who invites us to find God in all things. Sound familiar? And by all things he really means in every thing: be it a person, place,or well, thing!
a leader in the Jesuit movement, Ignatius knew that God was everywhere. As such he would incourage his fellow Jesuits to not place their focus on the lofty, abstract theology truths but instead meditate on the world and all the stuff that is happening in it.
if I am hearing his words correctly, I’d say our focus need not be on asking for grace but to focus our eyes on the grace that is all around us. God’s grace is everywhere because God is everywhere and in everything. “We live in a universe soaked in grace,” writes Greg Boyle. And God “invites us to savor it.”
What a wonderful way to approach everything in life; including the distortion heavy sonic sounds of Iggy Pop and the Stooges
It seems all too serendipitous that today, of all days, the lectionary would give us John’s magnificent letter. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called Children of God.”
This is a big sentence – a powerful, game-changer for anyone who takes these words to heart. Our creator, our redeemer and the giver of all of life’s blessings, has adopted us into this divine family.
And as God’s children, we receive an incredible inheritance…a gift above all gifts. We don’t need the right family name or have the right social status to benefit from this gift. And for some, that comes with a great sigh of relief.
As for me, I was born a Macdonald – the forth of four children who are all distinctively different. I can’t complain. Our parents were good to us and raised us well. And believe it or not, we all still love and support one another despite our differences or distance that separate us.
But I feel doubly blessed because I have also been adopted into my wife’s family. And I also had the privilege to learn from her dad, whose birthday was two days ago. There have been times that I’ve wondered if becoming a part of this family was more a curse than a blessing. But that’s another sermon, for another time and place.
I remember asking Vince for his blessing to marry Kathleen. He reached out his hand and said, “It would be an honor to call you my son.” Whenever I look back on that day, I can still see the sparkle in his eye and his smile, and I hear the Irish lilt in his voice. I’m not sure if God has an accent, but I imagine the same sparkle and smile when he claimed me and named me his own.
As we all know, families can be difficult and complex. Some of us are blood related. Others blend in. Then there are those who join through marriage, adoption, foster care, or simply having known a person all your life. But the bible tells us that there is another way.
Where family trees and genetic research fall short, God has redefined and reclassified us all – inviting us into a new kind of relationship, with a new birth certificate and a new name as well: child of God.
Whether you grew up rich or poor, had a stable home or moved between houses every other weekend, God has claimed you and named you.
Whether you know your biological dad or not, or still have no idea where your mom is after you stopped talking to her, God has claimed you and named you; even if no one else will.
Whether you’re the only child – or one-of-nine like Kathleen – God has made a place for you. It doesn’t matter if you are married with children, a single parent or have never known the excruciating pains of childbirth, we all share a commonality; each one of us knows what it’s like to be a child.
But do we know what it’s like to be a Child of God?
We don’t get to pick our family. But for some strange, God has decided to pick you and me to be in his. From the time of our conception to the passing of our final breath, God is with us, claiming us and naming us, and is never letting go of us!
In his book Barking at the Choir, Fr. Greg Boyle tells of an ex-gang member who, at the age of seven, watched his mom pack up a suitcase and walk out the door. He never saw her again. After surviving two years on the streets, he was picked up and put into the system. Not long after that a local gang adopted him as one of their own.
After serving time, the young man entered a work release program at Homeboy Industries; a place started by Boyle to help gang-members get a second chance. They too made him one of their own. Today he no longer identifies with abandonment or violence; but instead he sees himself as claimed and named: a child of God.
Every childhood is different. Yet every child is loved the same by God – our eternal parent, both creator and guardian.
Boyle writes, “Like a caring parent, God receives our childlike painting of a tree –which is usually an unrecognizable mess – and he delights in it.” God doesn’t correct us or send us away until we’re better at finger painting…God simply delights in our presence. And loves us in all our messiness.
Being in God’s family we receive more than just new self-worth. We also receive the same Spirit and the same access to God that Jesus had. We are given the same power to forgive and the same freedom to love. The Bible says we’ll be like him – that when we’re one with Christ, we become right with God. John writes, “Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.”
Named. Claim. And made the same as Jesus, a child of the living God. How difficult can that be? As Kathleen says, “Adulting is hard!” But the bible tells us we should be more like children and less like grown ups. I coach PE at my kid’s school and I’d argue that children work and play together better than most adults do.
They’re better able to embody a newness of life and the spirit of freedom that often fades with maturity. They accept mystery but constantly seek answers to so many questions. More importantly, children are also more willing to be loved, and they tend to gravitate towards good relationships where that love can thrive.
A family is supposed to be such a place, but for too many people family life is more hellish than heavenly. The more sin and pain we experience in our lifetime, the more likely we are to deny God’s love for us. Yet it’s in that pain we need God the most.
Adulting is hard because most of us trust our painful experiences more than we trust the promises of God. We put more faith in the sorry facts of our broken lives than we do in the One who heals us and remakes us new again.
Scripture teaches us that sin blinds us of the truth that God’s grace and love is grater than anything we can do on our own. And as much as we seek to be in a loving relationship, we still runaway from our heavenly home.
“The truth is: God is too good to be true. And whenever we humans bump into something too good to be true, we decide it isn’t truth.”
But here’s what I believe, and I hope that you will etch it into your heart: God chooses to be in a relationship with you. God wants you so badly that he sent his own Son to open up a way for you to thrive in Divine love, and inherit all the treasures of heaven.
Because of the faith and sacrifice of God’s beloved child, we have been claimed, named and made the same as Jesus himself; who is One with God our eternal parent – a loving father; a nurturing mother; our divine creator all in one.
So basically Dad, it’s impossible to get you anything for your birthday because in Christ Jesus, God has given you, and the entire world, the greatest birthday gift anyone could ever receive: being one with God.
Works CitedBartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008. pp. 418-423.Boyle, Gregory. Barking at the Choir: The Power of Radical Kindship. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017. p. 22
”If you can’t honor the Divine Indwelling—the presence of the Holy Spirit—within yourself, how could you see it in anybody else? All awareness, enlightenment, aliveness, and transformation begins with recognizing that your own eternal DNA is divine and unearned; only then are you ready to see it everywhere else too.”
The Spirit of God is clearly democratic, unmerited, and inclusive. It is the “foundation for human dignity and flourishing that is inherent, universal, and indestructible by any evaluation of race, religion, gender, sexuality, nationality, class, education, physical ability, or IQ.”
Luke’s story of Pentecost emphasizes that people from all over the world heard the preaching in their own languages (Acts 2). And Paul proclaims, “One and the same Spirit was given to us all to drink!” (1 Corinthians 12:13). “You, all of you, are sons and daughters of God, now clothed in Christ, where there is no distinction between male or female, Greek or Jew, slave or free, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).
Paul makes bold declarations that ought to speak to the divisiveness within our country, communities, and our own hearts. Our want and desire to be better isn’t a bad thing when it is line with God’s will. But when it is separated from God, our desire and our will shall only keep the other in our crosshairs. We must always strive to see The Divine in every body so that we can better see the Indwelling beauty that God placed in us. Rohr writes, “No longer was the human body a cheap thing, degraded by slavery and abuse. He called men to care for their bodies. And helped women understand that the human body has dignity, so you have a right to demand and give respect to it. Because of this understanding, a woman could claim her own dignity and refuse to give her body away to every man who wanted it.”
What was true then is still true today.
“The old world is forever gone and a new world of universal human dignity is grounded in our objective and universal Christ identity.” Perhaps this is why the Gospel message and Christianity spread so quickly. Could the present #MeToo movement be awakening a similar revolution?
Jesus (and today’s revolts against an antiquated and divisive power structure) had the power turned the world upside down. He did so by first looking from the inside out. And loving what he saw. When we can see and love and accept what God sees, loves and accepts in our self then #WeToo ought to see through God’s eyes; loving and accepting one another.
What was true then is still true today.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis,
“God is a verb called ‘relate’ more than a noun called ‘monarch’.”
Jesus’ ministry always connect people together; people loving people, people healing people, forgiving people, serving people, surrendering to people, crying and sharing with people. His work, his way of life and livelihood, was always bridging the gulf between us and God, as well as with one another.
When you see life being created between people and within people too, you see God. - Richard Rohr
Thomas Merton once wrote, “We gain nothing by sailing to the moon if we cannot cross the gulf that separates us from ourselves.”
We have become more divided than ever. This isn’t just true about politics or community or family and friends, but also within ourselves. We often find ourselves torn between what we want to do and what we ought to do.
We are given freedom and choice. This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that we are able to participate in our own wellbeing and growth. But a curse in that it stops us from participating in others. We have to make a conscious choice and effort to help one another. Too often this seems too difficult for us to “want” to do. It’s easier to stand on one side and allow others to stand on their side.
Jesus, in essence, also calls us to choose a side. God’s side or not God’s side. Do what is right and righteous, or do what we want to do.
As a man who was a great proponent of the contemplative life, Merton understood the difficulty of looking within ourselves to find the truth. Yet he also knew that in doing so, in making the effort to do the hard work, truth would be revealed. And where there is truth there is no division. No gulf of guilt or bitterness or hatred that separates us from ourselves or one another.
Jesus’ ministry was one of reconciliation, one that began in the heart and moved outward in community. Through forgiveness and kindness, He brought heaven and earth together again. The moon and the sea, the sun and the plants, the people and their God...all one again. No longer does sin or death, or our own stubbornness or opinions need to separate us.
As Paul writes, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. ... nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
If love happens in one place, it can happen everywhere. If you are truly capable of loving one person, you are capable of loving more than one, and eventually even your enemy, and finally all. Love is one piece. - Richard Rohr
I’m watching the news. The report says the president of the United States is becoming more agitated and isolated. And people close to him say that it’s affecting his mood. Well, “DUH!” He is not built for isolation. No human being is.
It’s not good for anyone to be isolated or go at it alone. Just watch the hit movie Castaway to see what I mean. We need others, even if they can make us crazy sometimes.
Adam had Eve. Jesus had the Twelve. Mary had Martha. Rowen had Martin. Dr. Jekyll had Mr. Hyde. And if of course my wife has me. We were not designed to be alone. Not as people or countries.
On the practical side individuals need one another to to accomplish stuff. For example an inventor needs widgets which requires a widget maker. The widget maker needs a driver to distribute the widgets. And the driver needs an infrastructure built and so on...
Countries need each other too for the same reasons. Economy and stability rely on individuals coming together for a greater or even common good. This is not about political or national isolationism but about a common community for us all to thrive in. However, I feel isolationism has its limits and breaking point too.
Community is a core message in the Bible. Richard Rohr writes, “ The gospel cannot happen in your head alone,” because life is all about relationship. We all need at least one place in our life to share love outside of our selves.
“Is there at least one place in your life we are giving and receiving love?” Rohr asks. It could be in your home, at your work, in a a class or a social club you belong to. That place is your community. That is the place you are able to experience the meaning of life: love. Technology and social media can be a means for people to withdraw from community but one could argue an online community is better than none at all.
After all, Rohr points out, “If love happens in one place, iit can happen everywhere. If you are truly capable of loving one person, you are capable of loving more than one, and eventually even your enemy, and finally all. Love is one piece.”
Such love or community begins with each one of us recognizing that we are loved. God began by loving us, and come to be with us so we could learn how to love and be with one another. But it’s up to us to pay that gift forward; teaching others to do the same by the example we set.
The love of God is everywhere. But you first have to go out there if you wish to find it.
I’m at the gym. The place is crowded. Today more than it has been in weeks. There are various classes in session, each with their own music blasting. Right now I can count three different genres of music, each conflicting with the other. Latin hip-hop. Speed metal. And top 40 pop dance.
The noise is unwelcoming. And it’s so loud my headphones cannot keep it out or stop it from annoying me. Needless to say I am getting frustrated. And I have to find a way to deal with it.
There are times I don’t want to share space with people. I know that’s not the kindest thing I could say. I also know it flies in the face of everything I believe in or write about in this blog. So instead of closing my eyes and wishing everyone to disappear. I take the cake I was given and try to find a way to enjoy it.
I try to make a song out of all the songs. A workout mashup of sorts. Then I look at all the people squatting and lifting and moving up and down, dancing side to side and try to imagine what heaven’s dance floor must look like. It doesn’t make the noise bearable, but it does make me laugh. And it does keep me moving in the gym.
This is a good reminder that I do not own the gym or the world for that matter. I am just a participant. Willing. Grumbling. Gently. Finding my way with everyone else. And if these people weren’t here, who would I learn from? Who would be there to push me a little farther on the treadmill (a great metaphor for life, yes?). Where might I find joy or laughter? And more importantly who would be there to enjoy it with me?
“First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.” - Genesis 1:1-2 (MSG)
I know this is God’s world. It’s not mine. Or yours either. We were brought into it for a purpose. To be together, through all trials, noises and smells (another issue I have with gyms!). We were given space and time to work through this stuff together as well as individually. That’s one of the wonderful parts about being made in God’s image.
God is an infinite, supreme, singular deity but not alone. And neither are we. We are God nor are we like God, but a part of God’s DNA.
Being a part of God means we “are a part” of God, not “apart from” God. Me, you, and everyone else in this gym, this city, state, country, and world. Just as God puts up with me, so too am I called to put up with you and them. Noises and smells, et al.
It’s the best way to stay healthy, both spiritually and physically.
The great English author C.S. Lewis once said, “Christianity is a religion with both room and reason, for laughter as well as life.”
If we believe God gave us the gift of life, especially the resurrected Easter life, then it shouldn’t be too hard to believe that God also gave us laugher. I think Jesus might agree that we need more of it in the church.
After all, he said if we grown up’s want to get into heaven we need to be more like children who laugh an average of 300-400 times a day. Adults, on the other hand, produce a paltry 26 giggles or snorts at best. What’s wrong with us that we take life too seriously to enjoy it?
Not only is laughter free and fun, but it also releases endorphins that stimulate our blood to keep our hearts healthy; reducing stress, pain and conflict. It’s as if God gave us laughter as a gift for healing.
Look, I think God wants us to laugh and is joining in on the fun as we celebrate “Holy Humor Sunday” with churches across the country.
Long before there were old punk rock ministers holding internet services, the early church set aside the Sunday after Easter as a day to gather with the faith community to tell jokes and sing silly songs. It was designed to be a continuation of the joy and celebration of Easter – honoring the supreme joke God played on death.
Besides the health benefits, laughter is good for the church in that it has the power to draw people in and make everyone feel included. I can’t think of anything that unites us better than some good humor. Everyone know a good joke does not discriminate. A good religious joke welcomes all denominations: $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100.
There’s nothing like sharing a good laugh with someone to make you feel closer to them. When I was helping my mom set up her iPhone I actually L-O-L’d when I discovered her password was:
Mickey-Minnie-Pluto-Huey-Louie-Dewey-Donald-Goofy-Tallahassee. When I asked why she had such a long password, she said it was supposed to be least eight characters long and include one capital.
Of course, Holy Humor Sunday is not just about the cheap laugh or the poor pun. None of the silliness that we celebrate today would be possible without the seriousness of Easter and God’s great love for us that came into this world for our redemption.
The church needs to be a funny place It needs to be a sanctuary of laughter and where joy is freely shared – especially in times like ours where more people struggle for answers, to make sense out of where they are in their life.
Too many remain blind to the grace that is in right there in front of them because they continue to doubt the power of Easter and God’s love in their life. In light of John’s gospel this morning, I’m compelled to ask, “Can anything good come from doubt?”
I once met a guy who caused me to question what I thought I knew to be true. His name was Joe. He introduced himself to me as “The only man in the world that everyone knows.”
When I asked him to prove it, he walked me around the party and everyone said, “Hey, Joe!” Obviously I wasn’t impressed because they all knew me too. So we left the party and walked about the town where everyone kept saying, “Joe! How ya doing?” The shopkeepers, the police, and firemen, and even the mayor at City Hall all greeted Joe by name. Yet I still wasn’t 100% convinced. So we drove to Sacramento where the governor came out to met us shouting, “Joe, what a pleasant surprise.”
From there we flew to Washington DC. A cabbie pulls up and says, “Hey, Joe get in.” Even when we walked into the Oval Office, the president even exclaimed, “Boy Joe, am I glad you came.” But I still had my doubts. There had to be at least one person who did not know this guy. I threw a hail Mary and off to Rome we flew.
It was there, in the Vatican, that Joe stopped me in front of St. Peter’s cathedral. “Here’s the deal,” he confessed, “in fifteen minutes the Pope is going to go out on that balcony and give a sermon. He doesn’t like having a lot of visitors before he leads service, so you need to stay out here. If he grants me a visitation, you’ll know.”
True enough, about fifteen minutes later the pope came out, waving to the crowd. I stood there in shock and disbelief, as the man standing next to me asks, “Hey mister, who’s that up there with Joe?”
Just as we are free to laugh, we are also free to question and doubt God’s love for us. I believe Thomas’ story exemplifies how doubt is good for our spiritual renewal in that it turns our focus inward where God dwells. Our questions and doubts help us find the answers we seek because it begins a dialogue between God and us. You could say our doubts bring us closer to God and closer to finding our true self.
And for some strange reason, the church would rather laugh at poor Thomas than learn from him – dubbing him the doubter because he declared, “Unless I see the nail holes and touch him myself, I will not believe.” I think this is unfair and not really funny at all.
I’m not so sure Thomas doubted God’s power of the resurrection. Instead I believe he merely desired the blessings that came from the empty tomb. If I were Thomas I too would want what the other Apostles received the week before. He noticed something had changed in them; there was a certain light in their being and joy in their hearts again. I imagine Thomas didn’t want to feel sad or lost or scared anymore.
Jesus heard his plea and came to him. He didn’t scold Thomas for doubting, but instead took his pain and fear, and gave them new life, new purpose and meaning. He breathed the Holy Spirit upon him so he could live out this gospel, the good news of God’s love, in the world.
In the midst of our fear, in the midst of our trepidation, confusion, grief and loneliness, Jesus comes to us – even when we lock ourselves away, or when we don’t expect him to show up.
Jesus came for you and me, and shows us his scars, so we might understand the truth of God’s love for us. He shows us how our painful wounds and scars we bare are made visible to us so that we can see how God resurrects our suffering and transforms it into the glory of God’s kingdom.
But best of all, he breathes within us the very breath of life – the Holy Spirit, the great witness of God’s biggest joke of all – the one God played on death so that we might enjoy the gift of real life; Oneness with our Creator.
Our laughing is God’s laughter. Our life is God’s joy.
And so, together with laughter and joy, our hearts gather freely to worship our Lord and Savior who is alive, and whose Spirit is among us today.
Which reminds me of a joke: What do they call pastors in Germany?
Why, German Shepherds, of course!
“As we look at the stars and let our minds wander into the many galaxies, we come to feel so small and insignificant that anything we do, say, or think seems completely useless.
“But if we look into our souls and let our minds wander into the endless galaxies of our interior lives, we become so tall and significant that everything we do, say, or think appears of great importance.
“We have to keep looking both ways to remain humble and confident, humorous and serious, playful and responsible. Yes, the human person is very small and very tall. It is the tension between the two that keeps us spiritually awake.”
Henri Nouwen, Bread For The Journey, 1996.
”If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is be present in the present...gratefully.”
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”