Archives for April 2008

Spirit of Truth, 6 Easter (A) – 2008

April 27, 2008

Acts 17:22-31Psalm 66:7-181 Peter 3:13-22John 14:15-21 

At first reading, the words of Jesus in this passage from John are not very inspiring. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” It is that little word “if.” From our grandparents down to our grandchildren, we have all lived with or kept company with people who talk as though their love for us was conditional. “If you loved me, you would …” Fill in the blank.

What is stunning about today’s gospel passage is that it seems to vary from the unconditional love Jesus has been demonstrating in every gospel reading we have had since Easter Sunday.

In John 20, to the brokenhearted Mary Magdalene, Jesus simply spoke her name.

In John’s “Shepherd Discourse,” like the sheep hearing his voice, Mary recognized him with joy.

When the disciples were hiding behind locked doors in fear, Jesus simply stood there among them, sorrowful that they were unable to trust the good news brought to them by the women that morning, but not wasting any time with recriminations or scenes of righteous indignation.

In the “Doubting Thomas” passage, Jesus never said anything along the lines of “If you’d really loved me you would know me without my having to get undressed and show you my scars.”

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus, in the guise of a stranger, patiently did what he had so often done with his friends and disciples while walking along the road: he talked to them about the meanings of scripture. Keeping his disguise, he deliberately recreated a very particular memory for them while they were at table together: he took, blessed, broke, and shared bread. Once they recognized him, Jesus did not stay around to say, “Well it took you long enough.” He discretely vanished, leaving them to rejoice with one another.

These post-Resurrection appearances strongly suggest that the risen Jesus loved his disciples unconditionally. Yet suddenly in today’s reading, going back to a time immediately before his arrest in Gethsemane, we have the big “if.” There may be absolute, unconditional love for us on God’s side of things, but on our side, Jesus poses a condition: if you love me, you will obey my commandments.

The clue, of course, lies not so much in the “if” but in that word “obey.” We need to decide precisely what commandments John wants us to understand at this point. Are we to understand the whole tradition of commandments, from Sinai on down, or are we to infer the new commandment that Jesus handing over to his friends in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another even as I have loved you”?

It may be, of course, that the distinction is beside the point. The Ten Commandments in the Sinai covenant tradition can be seen as a gift that describes a life for humans – individually and socially – that is consistent with the life God wants for us. Rather than assuming that Jesus requires a militaristic kind of obedience, we do better to think of God’s commandments, right from the start, guiding and guarding us in learning how to love him and each other. It is therefore not so much “if you love me, you will obey,” but “in loving me, you are obeying.”

When we follow this guide and guard, we are taking in the Spirit of Truth. This Spirit is what helps us to see and respond to God’s life in Christ in ourselves and each other. The reference to the Holy Spirit that Jesus is sending, of course, reminds us that Ascension is round the corner and Pentecost is looming. By assuring us of the continuity of God’s presence in our lives, Jesus is also assuring us of the ongoing availability of God’s absolute and unconditional love.

In the wonderful, treasured words of St. Paul, we may therefore be sure that nothing, “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come … will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.”

 

— The Rev. Angela V. Askew is priest-in-charge of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.

What is a home?, 5 Easter (A) – 2008

April 20, 2008

Acts 7:55-60Psalm 31:1-5, 15-161 Peter 2:2-10John 14:1-14

What is a home? When you think of the word or image or idea of a home, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of a building, made with wood and plaster, or brick and mortar. Perhaps you think of home as a shelter from the storm, a place of refuge. Perhaps when you hear the word “home,” you think more of the hopes and dreams of the people who inhabit a home. A place where people build and share a life together. A place where husbands and wives and families share the hopes and hurts, and the joys and sorrows of life. Perhaps when you hear the word “home” you think of a place of solace and comfort. A place where you feel safe and whole. What do you think of when you hear the word “home”?

Some say home is where the heart is. Others say home is where you hang your hat. Robert Frost once wrote, “Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Somehow, someway, home has a special place in the human heart. It seems as though we are all longing for a place to call home. Many of you probably know the traditional folk song entitled “I Want to Go Home.” If you’re familiar with the version by Van Morrison, you can hear the lyrics in his growling voice singing, “I want to go home. I feel so broke up, Lord, that I want to go home.” This is a song for every human heart. Whenever we feel lonely or abandoned, we want to go home. Whenever we are filled with doubt or despair, we want to go home. Whenever we feel cut loose or lost, we want to go home. “Lord, sometimes I feel so broke up, that I want to go home.”

“To feel at home.” It’s a lovely phrase. It also expresses the deepest longings of the human heart. St. Augustine gave famous expression to this longing when he wrote of God, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Somehow our restless hearts are always looking for a place to rest, a place to find true and abiding peace, a place to call home. Maybe we feel like if we only had the perfect job in the perfect community, then finally we wouldn’t feel so restless. Maybe we feel like if we could meet that perfect someone, that perfect spouse or partner, then finally we would be ready to settle down. Maybe we feel like if we can just get the kids through high school then, finally we can rest.

And yet, and yet, even when we land our dream job, and find our soulmate, and raise our children, somehow the human heart is still restless, still looking for a place to find true and genuine peace. Somehow, we are all still longing for a place to truly call our home.

“Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

“Lord, sometimes I feel so broke up, that I want to go home.”

It seems like so much of our human experience can be summed up in these two phrases. In the good times and the bad times, we are all longing for a place called home.

In our gospel lesson for today, we hear words that speak directly to the longing of the human heart for a home. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may also be.”

This comes from a section of John’s gospel called Jesus’ “Farewell Address.” In it, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time when he will no longer be with them in the flesh. They must have been brokenhearted. But Jesus assures them that even though their relationship is changing, it is not ending. Even though he will no longer be with them in the flesh, they will remain connected. Jesus is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house, where they will remain united to him forever, “so that where I am, there you may be also.” Our true home is with God, and Jesus, who comes from their very bosom of God, is preparing a place for his disciples in God’s home, in God’s heart. Our true home, ultimately, is not a place, but a relationship, a relationship in the very heart of God, made possible by Christ, eternal in the heavens. Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.

Here’s the surprise. Even though the fullness of this relationship remains in our future, even now we can know the reality of this relationship. Even now we can experience a foretaste of this eternal home. When we do the works that Christ commands us to do, when we love one another as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, then God’s love will dwell in us, then God’s love will make a home in us. When the brokenhearted are comforted, then God will make a home with us. When people lay down their lives for one another, then God will make a home with us. When all of God’s children are invited to God’s table to share in his body and blood, then God will make a home with us.

In her memoir, “Traveling Mercies,” Anne Lamott writes about why she stays so close to her church. She says, “I think we missed church ten times in twelve years. Sam would be snuggled in people’s arms in the earlier shots, shyly trying to wriggle free of hugs in the later ones.” She tells of their pastor Veronica who sings to them from the pulpit and who tells them stories of when she was a child. In one story she tells about a time when she was 7 years old and her best friend got lost. “The little girl ran up and down the streets of the big town where they lived, but she couldn’t find a single landmark. She was frightened. Finally a policeman stopped to help her. He put her in the passenger seat of his car, and they drove around until she finally saw her church. She pointed it out to the policeman, and then she told him firmly, ‘You can let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here.'”

Lamott writes, “And that is why I have stayed so close to mine – because no matter how bad I am feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened, when I see the faces of the people at my church, when I hear their tawny voices, I can always find my way home.”

“Lord, sometimes I feel so broke up, that I want to go home.”

“Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

 

— The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano is the associate rector of St. Anne’s Parish in Annapolis, Md., and co-author of “A Man, A Woman, A Word of Love” (Wipf & Stock, 2012).

God wants us to experience an abundance, 4 Easter (A) – 2008

April 13, 2008

Acts 2:42-47Psalm 231 Peter 2:19-25John 10:1-10

This Fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. In all three lectionary years – A, B, and C – we read the Good Shepherd monologue from the tenth chapter of John. It is a complicated passage, in that Jesus identifies himself as being the Good Shepherd, the Gatekeeper, and even the Gate to the sheep-fold.

And it would be the assertion of this gospel that Jesus was the logos or “God’s word” made flesh to dwell among us; and so it could be argued, and indeed should be, that Jesus knew as much about being one of the sheep of God’s pasture as anyone among us.

Understanding this passage is made even more difficult by chopping the tenth chapter of John into three pieces, to be read on three different years.

If that is not all confusing enough – Shepherd, Gatekeeper, Gate, Sheep, and being chopped up over three years – try this out for size: one commentator wrote that this passage “is theological, Christological, soteriological, eschatological, ecclesiological and ethical.”

Yikes! Does anyone among us really, truly want to unpack that sentence?

To make matters even more confusing, when the Bible uses the term “shepherd,” it not only refers to spiritual leadership, but it often has political meaning as well. The political leaders of Israel and the rulers of occupying nations, such as Babylon, Greece, and Rome, are often castigated for being wicked and bad shepherds. Or by our Lord’s own words, they are identified as “thieves and bandits.” As much as we might like to pretend our Lord Jesus was meek and mild, lying in a manger all 30 years of his life, he really did have some rather startling political things to say and do in his latter years along the way to the cross, the grave, and the resurrection.

Yet, is it a stretch of anyone’s imagination that some political leaders come only to steal, kill, and destroy?

Finally, as the passage is edited these days, we miss one crucial assertion of Jesus in verse 15: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.” The church is always haunted by the notion that perhaps one can be of God and not be of the church. But long before there was a church, Jesus makes it clear that all of God’s children, all of God’s sheep, all of God’s critters, are not all of one flock.

That verse, which was not included in today’s reading, may be the most important one for us to reflect upon, and embody, and make our own: God has other sheep and will and does provide for them as God does and will provide for us. In fact, until we can really embrace that singular notion, it strikes me as impossible for us to claim what is at the heart of this gospel – that Jesus comes so that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

Now all of this is not some sort of marketing scheme to suggest that if we pray and pray and pray we will get everything we want. Because it turns out that Jesus, and God, and the Holy Spirit all agree that we should, in fact, learn to live with just what we need. What we want and what we need are two entirely different realms of abundance. Until we get that straight, we will read and re-read our first lesson from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles and be eternally baffled.

In the second chapter of Acts, the early believers devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers. We read that they had all things – not some things, not a lot of things, but ALL things – in common. We read that all things would be redistributed to any as had need. They spent much time together and in the Temple. And day by day, God added to their numbers.

Why did people flock to this early church community? Just look at them. They shared everything with one another, including the most valuable commodity of all: time. “They spent much time together.” Isn’t it amazing? We find it nearly impossible to find the time to spend an hour or two once a week with one another, whereas they spent “much time together.”

There are two things to consider in this. First, we tend to say to ourselves, “Things were much simpler back then.” I think not. Consider that if you spent much time with other Christians, the good and civilized people of the Roman Empire would hunt you down, lock you up, and send you to the lions or gladiators to toy with. Also, anyone who has lived with just five or ten people who hold all things in common can tell you that it is no simple matter to sort out people’s needs and share the goods and possessions accordingly.

The second thing we need to think about is that the abundance promised consisted primarily of time shared with others, not an abundance of things. As Jesus asserts time and time again, spending all our time on the acquisition, accumulation, and consumption of things leaves precious little time for fellowship, relationships, and community. The world of acquisition, accumulation, and consumption is a lonely life, an isolated life, where one spends a lot of time building and filling barns – and now self-storage lockers – with more and more stuff. There is no time for fellowship, relationships, and community in such a scheme, let alone time to make room for the Lord to “add to our number” those who are being saved.

God sent Jesus to help us to understand all of this. God sent Jesus to deliver this “news.” God sent Jesus to call into community people who want to live this way. People who want to know God’s love and care for them in this way.

We all want to be those people who “come in and go out.” We all want to experience that kind of freedom. We all want to experience the kind of care and protection described by Jesus and by Luke in the Book of Acts. Jesus is the one who promises this kind of protection to all who desire to be a part of his flock.

It hinges on our stewardship of time, and especially our observance of Sabbath time. We are to become those people who “spend much time with one another in the Temple.” We are to become the kind of people who read the Bible, take communion, and pray together – not alone, not by ourselves, but in community, fellowship, and in relationship with God in Christ and in relationship to one another.

The good news, sisters and brothers, is that our God wants us to experience an abundance of all of that really matters. Our God wants to take care of all of our needs. Our God has supplied us with a particular care for all of our needs by the giving and sharing of our gifts in community. When people see us living in this way, the Lord will indeed add to our number day by day.

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the Diocese of Maryland girls’ boarding school, where he teaches World Religions and American History. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.

Therefore let us keep the feast, 3 Easter (A) – 2008

April 6, 2008

Acts 2:14a,36-41Psalm 116:1-3, 10-171 Peter 1:17-23Luke 24:13-35

“He took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.”

Meals and food play an important part in the tradition of post-Resurrection stories – or narratives – found in the gospels.

In one such narrative, for instance, Jesus suddenly appears among the disciples as they are huddled together in Jerusalem. After showing them the wounds on his hands and feet, he abruptly asks them, “Have you anything here to eat?” The disciples, no doubt dumbfounded that he could be thinking of food at a moment like this, give him “a piece of broiled fish” and watch him eat. In the Gospel of John, on the other hand, Jesus himself prepares a breakfast of fish and bread on the shore as he awaits the disciples’ return from fishing. “Come and have breakfast,” he calls out nonchalantly. For someone so recently dead, our Lord certainly seems to have a healthy appetite.

Of course, the point of the stories is not his physical hunger but the reality of his Resurrection. It is really him, the evangelists are telling us – not just a ghost or a vision. He can relax and eat with his disciples just as he did before his death. No doubt about it: this is Jesus – the same one who taught and preached the kingdom not so long ago; the same one who cured the sick and raised the dead as he journeyed across the countryside. After all, ghosts do not get hungry. Apparitions do not need nourishment. “Touch me and see,” says Jesus, “for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

In today’s gospel account, two disciples make their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, passing the time and “talking with each other about all” that has happened, including the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. They are joined on their journey by a seemingly out-of-touch stranger, and they begin to recount to him “the things about Jesus of Nazareth who was a prophet mighty in deed and word.” But it is only later in the day at supper – in the blessing and breaking of bread – that their eyes are opened to this stranger, and they finally recognize in him the Jesus of whom they have been speaking. Then, at the moment of recognition, Jesus disappears from their sight, and the newly energized disciples hasten from their table back to Jerusalem proclaiming, “The Lord has risen indeed.”

These post-Resurrection meals of Jesus and his disciples hearken us back to the final meal our Lord shares with the disciples before his death – the Last Supper – in which he gives them, and us, his body and blood as a living token of his abiding presence for all time. In a very real sense, the bread and wine of the Last Supper prefigure Christ’s resurrected life among us. The Eucharist still today brings us together with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and allows us to experience the mystical reality of the Resurrection in the simple sharing of a meal. Our earthly eyes are given a glimpse, however fleeting, of the great reality to come – the reality of resurrected life without end. And so we proclaim, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

In the Eucharist, what has been is fused with what will be. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just history. It is not just some arcane mystery of faith to which we as Christians must give our assent. It is attested and experienced anew in each Eucharist we share. So it should not surprise us that our Lord would have supped with his disciples and broken bread with them in the days following his death and Resurrection. He continues to feed us still. He shares a meal with us today as an assurance of our portion in his risen life. It is in the Eucharist that we come to know the risen Christ most abundantly.

Medieval theologians make a fine science of explaining the presence of Christ upon the altar in the Eucharist and using complicated philosophical terms such as substance, accident, and transubstantiation to explicate the inexplicable – all in an attempt to capture and codify this deepest of mysteries at the center of our life in Christ. Many later scholars reject their conjectures as so much pedantry. But there can be no mistaking the near-universal belief among Christians of all ages that Christ is somehow alive and well and with us still in the food and drink we share in communion with each other and with him.

And this is exactly the same as saying “Christ is risen.” In other words, if you seek the resurrected Lord, you need look no further than the altar table. Christ is present among us in this time and place – whether it be a festive Eucharist in a grand cathedral or a quiet early morning communion in a humble country parish. He is taken and recognized “in the breaking of the bread” in Holy Communion, but he is never consumed, never used up. Like the manna of old that was found new and fresh each morning, Christ’s resurrected presence among us is made new every time we break bread together and share his life with others.

Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is currently chaplain of Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Budapest, Hungary, a ministry of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. Please visit and “like” Saint Margaret’s Facebook page at www.anglicanbudapest.com. Isten hozott!