Archives for April 2015

One in the Holy Spirit, Pentecost (B) – 2015

May 24, 2015

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

There’s no better time to celebrate the diversity of the Kingdom of God than on the Day of Pentecost. Separately, our differences are too diverse to list, but put together, our individual uniqueness creates a beautiful kaleidoscope we call the Body of Christ.

Sadly, today we see people and nations torn apart by racism, religious chauvinism, man-made borders and cultural bigotry. We have become a culture of us-versus-them, where the “other” is to be feared and never trusted. This is not a new occurrence, but one would have hoped that humanity would have learned from its past mistakes and recurrent genocides over the ages; however, here we are in the 21st century, repeating history again with chilling efficiency and cruelty.

Pentecost is a reminder that God’s Holy Spirit is given freely to all people with no respect for race, culture, socioeconomic standing, gender or any other distinguishing mark used by people to differentiate one person from another. In God we are one.

On the Day of Pentecost, reported in the Book of Acts, people gathered in Jerusalem from all corners of the Roman Empire. They represented competing economic interests, diverse cultures, a myriad of languages and different religious traditions. Nevertheless, God’s grace was given freely to all who heard the message preached by St. Peter, and thousands converted to Christ. These aliens who converged on Jerusalem returned to their homes and spread the message of Christ, and the church began to spread like a wildfire engulfing dry brush.

From its inception, the church was a diverse group of people who hailed from a variety of cultures and languages. It was in the midst of this great diversity that God sent the Holy Spirit upon his church and started a movement that would change the history of the world forever.

The message of Christ hasn’t changed, but those who claim to be his followers have often failed miserably in living up to that message. The greatest temptation facing Christians isn’t necessarily losing their passion, but rather, losing sight of the fact that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female. In God’s kingdom there are no illegal aliens or undocumented workers. We who have died with Christ in baptism are resurrected to be a new people bound in love and service to one another.

The Holy Spirit is given freely, without respect for citizenship or socio-economic class, and God continues today to pour out his Spirit on all humanity.

The Holy Spirit works as a transformative agent in the lives of believers. Just as Jesus glorified humanity when he ascended to the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit restores our relationship with God.

In the fourth century, St. Basil wrote:

“Through the Holy Spirit we are restored to paradise, led back to the Kingdom of heaven, and adopted as children, given confidence to call God ‘Father’ and to share in Christ’s grace, called children of light and given a share in eternal glory.”

In order for this transformation to take place, we must be willing to die to ourselves and surrender ourselves to Christ and God’s will for our lives.

Jesus promised his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit whose fruits are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control. These fruits are the qualities of Jesus that the Holy Spirit develops in our lives as we grow in our faith. That’s who we are and who we are to become as Christians. The Holy Spirit transforms the believer into the image of Christ and obliges the Christian to share in the Church’s apostolic and missionary activity. Just as the disciples’ bold and fearless witness at Pentecost led to the conversion of more than 3,000 people, so too are we called to bear witness of God’s love for the world today. This love is freely given to all humanity.

The Holy Spirit compels us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. One way we do this is by reaching out to the unloved, the hard to love, and the rejected in our midst and loving them, emulating our Heavenly Father’s love for us who are called by His name.

An elderly man of some affluence once asked a pastor how he could possibly learn to serve the least in society. The pastor answered, “You will be able to serve others when you see the crucified Christ in every person you meet, regardless of their social standing.” That is a tall order to fulfill, but not an impossibility for those who allow the indwelling Holy Spirit to work in them.

Every time we who are baptized into the Body of Christ approach the Eucharistic table, we are reminded of God’s love for us. It is around the holy table gathered with our brothers and sisters in Christ that our Heavenly Father graciously accepts us as living members of his own Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, and feeds us with spiritual food in the blessed Sacrament.

Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we welcome new believers into the blessed family we call the Body of Christ. As they pass through the waters of baptism we are asked to do all in our power to support them in their life in Christ. All of us have an important role to play in their spiritual development. It is no small thing what we do around the baptismal font, since all of us take solemn vows for which God will hold us accountable.

Just as the Holy Spirit was poured out on peoples of every language at Pentecost, so the Holy Spirit today continues to draw people from every culture, language and ethnicity into the family we call the church catholic. Pentecost is an awe-inspiring day of joy and celebration on many levels. Through the Holy Spirit, we welcome strangers into our midst and become family, and we welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives and become transformed into the image of Christ.

May the gift of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost renew us today and stir up within us those spiritual gifts which God has so richly and freely given to us when we were baptized into Christ’s holy church.

 

— The Rev. Timothy G. Warren is a vocational deacon at Trinity Episcopal Church, Redlands, Calif. He is a 26-year retired Air Force veteran with more than 15 years’ experience as an educator in the private and public sector. Deacon Warren is the founder of Trinity Victorville Outreach, an emergent ministry that reaches out to at-risk young adults and families in the High Desert Region, Calif.

 

To Be One, 7 Easter (B) – 2015

May 17, 2015

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

“That they may be one.”

We might be tempted to say, “Who are you kidding, Jesus? It didn’t happen in your time, did you imagine it would ever happen in ours?”

But Jesus told his followers that they should be one in this world, in their culture and their time. It goes along with Jesus always reminding them that the Kingdom of Heaven is here – not something that will come in the next world. So, this may be one of the most puzzling verses in the gospels, and Jesus says it several times, in several different ways. He says it always as a very positive statement, not as a question, “Wouldn’t it be nice if they became one as you and I are one?” He says it as if he expects this to happen. He says it as if he thinks we understand what he’s talking about.

Either Jesus is wrong, or we’re wrong. Well, let’s take a vote on that!

How many of you think Jesus doesn’t quite understand the penchant for human beings to be divisive?

Now, how many of you think we may be misunderstanding what Jesus means when he calls us to unity?

It’s pretty much a guarantee that Jesus knows what he’s talking about. It’s probably our misunderstanding of “unity” and “respect” that is at stake here. We may not even understand truly what it means to “be one as Jesus and the Father are one.” It’s hard enough to understand the vagaries of human nature, as evident in our lack of understanding of people and cultures who are different from us. How can we ever understand the theological implications of the unity within the Trinity? And we are supposed to emulate that?

In a 1997 edition of the magazine Christian Century, the Rev. Dean Lueking wrote an article that put this conundrum very well:

“Nevertheless, that they may be one still haunts as well as inspires. It is wearisome, deadly wearisome, to endure church battles that split not once but repeatedly. The blight of triumphalism, of power games, and the obsession with always being right still throw up huge, offensive roadblocks against Jesus’ prayer. Such sin drags us back to the Upper Room, to dull disciples among whom we now sit, to the grief of our Lord over our tearing apart the seamless robe of unifying love in which he would wrap us.”

Lueking is focusing on the tearing apart from our own church battles. Jesus included not only those, but also the tearing apart of cultures, peoples, nations, every bit of our human existence. Oneness with God means being at one with all God’s gifts: cultures, peoples, nations, every bit of our human existence. To tear apart one bit of our gift is to put a tear in the beauty of oneness with God and oneness with each other.

If we begin just with our problems of division as churches, we see how quickly we destroy what we often hear called “unity within diversity.” In our churches today we speak often of the importance of working ecumenically – respecting differences in things such as theology, liturgy and tradition. But in some denominations, ecumenism means that we all hope those who are different will “come home,” so to speak, to rejoin our way of doing things so we can all be the same.

Being the same is not the basis of unity. Love is the basis of unity.

When St. Paul said there was no more male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free, he certainly didn’t mean that men and women morphed into some other form of human being or that Jews and Greeks would suddenly become one new nationality. He meant that each of us in our uniqueness would look with love on all the other precious creatures of God. He meant that we would see beauty in the gifts others have and join together to build the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps Jesus was praying that we would be able to worship God in many different ways, many different liturgies, and many different traditions – that our unity would be in the fact that we share our love and praise of God with others and invite them to seek our God with us.

This kind of love is hard when we put barriers in place to make sure those who join our particular brand of religion, so to speak, all behave just as we do. These barriers can be like the unspoken rules about who is of the right social class to join us, or as obvious as ignoring those of a different race or culture.

To the division we find in church, we must add the divisions we find in many other places of our lives. Watch any news program today and we find ourselves immersed in the evils of war, poverty, fanaticism and greed. We’re becoming used to seeing horrific killings brought right into our living rooms from across the world. How do we feel when we see this? Are we horrified enough to go right to prayer, not only for those being killed, but for those doing the killing? Or do we immediately lump those doing evil with every other member of their tradition? Do we pray that those doing evil will somehow be guided toward repentance? Do we do pray enough for each other when much smaller aggravations happen in our church lives?

The love that exists among the Trinity is not a stagnant, complacent love. It’s a love that not only draws the Trinity into one, but also burns outward to include all creation. Jesus offers this love to be our reservoir of strength and truth, that sacred place where we gain the words and guidance we need as we build God’s kingdom here on earth.

If we take Jesus’ words seriously, we’ll hear that the same vibrant, outpouring love that is God, is there for us. All we need to do is believe it and then let it guide our words and actions.

Who knows? One of us might be called to do something public – to write, to join an activist group, to lead others in helping those less fortunate, to get involved in challenging harmful political issues. Others of us will lead by our prayers and our lives lived through love.

We can do this if we are willing to be transformed by God’s grace. Transformation also comes through the love of the Trinity for us. Next Sunday, Paul reminds the Romans that the Spirit prays for us in sighs too deep for words. There is a well of strength for us who work in the world that will never go dry. Imagine how we would live if we really believed and acted on the fact that God’s Spirit prays for and through us even when we have no energy or understanding ourselves. There could be no greater gift.

Then the following week, on Trinity Sunday, Paul tells us that we are adopted children of God and heirs with Jesus. We will also read that wonderful imagery of Isaiah where the angel touches his mouth with the burning coal and he steps forth when God calls, answering, “Here am I: send me!”

All this is our heritage. These gifts are ours if we only believe it and open our hearts and minds to God’s guidance and strength. It’s pretty powerful stuff, all these things we learn in scripture, and it’s not just words of history or good thoughts. Jesus is the manifestation of God that we may see and touch the One who loves us.

We are called to love. In our baptism we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. We promise to make the Good News known to all. And we begin all this by sharing the breaking of the bread, given for all without exception.

– The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is vicar of Petrockstowe in the Torridge Team, Diocese of Exeter, North Devon, England, and is the publisher of Tuesday Morning, a quarterly journal focused on lectionary-based preaching and ministry.

Moving toward Christian unity, Ascension Day (A,B,C) – 2015

May 14, 2015

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

“Lord, is it time?” How many questions like that do we ask on our journey in faith?

In today’s reading from the Book of Acts, while the apostles were still looking for deliverance from political domination and oppression, they asked, “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” It is a question many believers ask today.

Jesus’ answer is simply to say we are asking the wrong question. It is not for us to know the time, nor whether God favors Israel and will restore it to its former glory. Rather, we are to be witnesses to all that Jesus has done, including fulfilling the Law and the prophets by his suffering and death.

The Ascension makes Jesus a universal figure, drawing us all to him, and sending us to be witnesses of the Good News. There is no time to ponder; now is the time to act – together.

Recently, a small town found itself in the midst of a struggle over religion – not unusual for small towns. The struggle had to do with who were the real Christians. One group organized a Jesus parade for the day before Easter. The organizers were mostly made up of folks from the more conservative and evangelical churches. When the mainline church groups went to register, they were told they couldn’t participate because their sign that proclaimed diversity and inclusiveness in Jesus was “too controversial.” So the mainline churches stayed away.

While nobody wanted a religious war, there did seem to be a line drawn between those who interpret scripture with proof text methods and those who interpret it in context. Those on the sidelines took some pleasure in the divide.

The universal ascended Lord confronts both of these groups of Christians to come together, challenging us to move away from the things that separate us and move toward the things that unite us.

Throughout the Book of Acts the apostles face difficulties, including their own divisions over how to interpret and share the Good News. The author of Acts doesn’t gloss over these sharp differences, but in the end shows how the unity of the gospel can be found when we allow ourselves to be drawn to the ascended Jesus rather than claiming the way we know him is the only way. As Peter learns after the Resurrection, God shows no partiality.

In today’s reading from Ephesians, the Apostle Paul prays that “the Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give [us] a spirit of wisdom and revelation as [we] come to know him.” In a time when our loyalties are challenged and divided by legislation, politics and religion, it is good to remember that the ascended Jesus prays for us and offers us wisdom and revelation, free from our own prejudices and fears, unbound so we can witness freely to all about the Good News of the gospel.

During these great 50 days between Easter and Pentecost, there is time to reflect on the universal ascended Lord and the gospel message. It will not be the same message in every place or every context, but it will be the Good News that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

As we prepare for the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, keep in mind that we all share the Good News. How we express it depends on the time and the place.

Regard the ascended Lord as empowering. Our divisions in the Christian community disempower us. Jesus’ work is to redeem messes, personal and public. While we have a large responsibility in that work, we are never alone. The ascended Jesus prays for us, sends us the power of the Spirit, and guides us to do that work.

So ask Jesus to guide your thinking and actions in ways that bring about unity and overcome division. Ask Jesus to unburden your heart and mind of prejudice and hurtful thoughts that encourage separation among believers. Ask the ascended Lord to empower you to be a disciple, a candle of light in the darkness of division. Then wait for your orders.

The apostles depended on the risen and ascended Jesus to sustain them in very difficult circumstances. He promised them he would be with them, always. We inherit their difficulties and their promise. Most of all, we live in the light of the ascended Lord who sends us the Holy Spirit and will one day make us one.

 

— Ben Helmer is a retired priest living in Holiday Island, Ark. He has been affiliated with diverse small congregations for over 40 years.

Love one another, 6 Easter (B) – 2015

May 10, 2015

Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

The 15th chapter of John’s gospel is filled with love. These few verses appointed for today form the first part of the three dimensions of a Christian’s life, and all three are centered in love. It’s a remarkable section in a profound and moving chapter. The word “love,” both as noun and verb, is repeated nine times in only eight verses. There is no way one can escape the theme of this chapter.

Something both beautiful and heartbreaking unfolds here. Christ lays his heart bare to his friends and disciples. “I have chosen you,” he tells them, “you didn’t choose me,” and he repeats, “I have loved you.”

But he makes it clear that this relationship is not just two-sided. The source of all this love is God the Father. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” These are powerful words, and when one truly hears them, they can force the soul to kneel before her maker.

And then Jesus uses that enduring metaphor: abide in my love. Stay, remain within it, live in my love. The verb, meno in Greek, “abide” in English, has a continuing connotation. This is not a short-lived experience; this is for life. “Abide in my love.”

Such a powerful state of being does not happen in isolation, or simply as an act of the will. It is very closely related with a requirement that Jesus makes into a condition for love. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”

And here’s the rub. Without keeping God’s commandments, we cannot have love and we cannot remain in this love. Keeping God’s commandments presupposes obedience, and this is something our culture rejects. Obedience is not what Americans admire. Obedience is for the weak, not the strong. Knowing how we react to obedience, Jesus keeps referring to himself. His life was one of total obedience to the Father. And no one who knows the story can ever call Jesus weak.

Jesus obeyed. He kept in constant connection with his father through prayer, through loving communion. Even when he was abandoned in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, he remained in obedience to the will of the Father. The cup was not taken away; it was drunk to the bitter dregs. And still he obeyed, because he knew that, despite everything, the Father loved him.

What is the commandment that we must obey in order to abide in the love of Christ? Jesus now directs us from himself and through himself to others: to love one another. All the ritual and sacrifices of animals and strict adherence to the minutia of the Law are as nothing; what matters is how we treat one another. The writer of the First Epistle of John testifies to this also: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” It is circular.

Obedience to God’s commandments bears fruit. The first fruit of abiding in love is that we have joy. The joy of knowing we are loved by God in Christ – not some easily earned emotion, but a state of being. Joy comes from the conviction that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

“And I have appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last,” Jesus tells his disciples. A few year later, Paul will list the fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians. These are the conclusions of a man who had suffered immeasurably because of his love for Christ. And yet because he knew that he was one with Christ, abiding in his love, the fruits that resulted are these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Such attributes are not earned, they are not taught; they spring from abiding in Christ’s love – otherwise, a man who had suffered so unjustly would have been filled with bitterness. But Paul was not.

The verses we are studying today, focused as they are on love and obedience to God’s commandments are not meant only for the disciples, for those who were Jesus’ friends. They are meant for us also. We have not been left out in the cold. The great Epiphany came to Peter during his visit to the gentiles of Caesarea, in the house of Cornelius. After Peter preached a sermon on the meaning of the Good News, the Holy Spirit visited all those who were present, not just the Jews but also the gentiles. They were astounded, the writer tells us, that the Holy Spirit descended on them also.

And Peter had the good sense to realize that the love of Christ is for all. “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?” he asked himself. Peter, in the Acts of the Apostles, has matured tremendously and has learned to obey. In this instance, in the house of Cornelius, he obeyed the Holy Spirit, understood about the all-embracing love of Christ, and he, in turn, embraced the others, the gentiles. The early Christians were known for loving one another. We are called to do the same.

 

— Katerina Whitley is an author and retreat leader. She lives and writes in Louisville, Ky.

Christian love, 5 Easter (B) – 2015

May 3, 2015

Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

The word on the street is that love is easy. We just do it. We talk about chemistry, and indeed, the scientists tell us that chemistry has something to do with physical attraction. However, we know that love goes further than physical attraction. We love our parents and our children. We love our friends. There’s a whole neglected tradition of love between friends that has nothing to do with physical attraction. If we think about it, physical attraction does not necessarily have anything to do with love.

Tomorrow is the feast of Monnica, the mother of Augustine of Hippo, the great scholar, writer, preacher. We know from Augustine’s autobiography what a pivotal role she played in his path to Christianity. Augustine must have driven his mother to distraction as he went off on tangents, had a liaison with a woman out of wedlock who bore him a son, and then, just as he set off for North Africa to begin his career as a bishop, she died. The love she had for her son was a suffering love. And therein lies our problem. Love for us is all bound up with bliss and happiness. The very idea that love includes suffering seems repugnant. Surely if suffering intrudes on love, something is wrong. Embracing suffering seems deviant: a form of masochism. Yes, love may bring us suffering, but that means, we think, that something tragic has occurred.

To our minds, loving and liking are allies. We don’t tend to like someone whose behavior offends us, or at least if that person persists in doing things that annoy us. In short, love, we think, has something to do with affinity.

Many parishes pride themselves on being very loving. When the parish is in search, it assures prospective rectors that everyone loves everyone. Just try being someone who has braved coming through those red doors, found a vacant pew, tried to negotiate the liturgy and then found his or her way to coffee hour. The visitor then sees love in action. Groups of people form impenetrable circles. Each group is made up of people long accepted in the circle, bound by an affinity made up of shared backgrounds, longevity, perhaps political beliefs and shared interests. Even if the visitor manages to gain entrance, the subjects discussed involve an element of shared experience foreign to the visitor. Love turns out to mean an easy acceptance of people we know well.

In today’s lessons we meet an uncomfortably different form of love. The lesson from Acts recounts a meeting between Philip, the Jewish convert, a deacon, with the non-Jewish Ethiopian court official. Immediately, the two men are divided by race, religion and social class. Yet Philip is instructed “by the Spirit” to approach the Ethiopian. The Eunuch is reading Isaiah, one of the passages the new Christians identified as prophecy about Jesus:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

Philip has the difficult task of explaining that the crucifixion, where Jesus was killed like an animal sacrifice, was the most sublime offering of love. How on earth was he going to do that?

To begin with, Philip has to remember that the love he has for God, is a love that acknowledges that God loves him so much that his own follies, mistakes, unkindnesses and cruelty don’t stop God piercing through into the depth of who Philip really is. Philip knows that, as the writer of the First Epistle John will write later, loving God and being loved by God demands that we love others. Philip also knows that the only hope he has to get through the barrier of differentness is to claim what happened to him when he was baptized. In baptism he was grafted into Jesus, the true vine. Jesus’ love alone enables Philip to love the Ethiopian enough to share what he has come to know, what has enabled him to become a disciple. And now that loving discipleship is going to bear fruit as he leads the Ethiopian to a pool and there to be baptized, adopted, grafted, welcomed into the Kingdom. The Queen of Ethiopia’s servant is to become the servant of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

We were once given that priceless gift when those who loved us brought us to baptism. Did they also know that we were being invited into living suffering, costly love? Do we accept that we are being drawn toward the sacrifice of true love? In our natural selves, we run from relationships that turn into hurt for us. We may even physically recoil from such pain, the opposite of physical attraction. That is why we hold our hands out today for Bread and Wine, for Christ Himself. He alone can give us the strength to overcome that which separates us from that person who needs to be baptized, or needs to revisit his or her baptism, that person whose lifestyle, habits, opinions are so different from our own offends us, make us want to walk away. Believe it or not, by being Christians we accept that our vocation in life is to bear fruit – the fruit of love – and to make disciples.

As we read in today’s epistle:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is a retired priest and a missioner in the Diocese of Springfield.

Wool and mutton, 4 Easter (B) – 2015

April 26, 2015

Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday, and there are always sheep everywhere you look. This year they’re especially thick – we hear two of the most familiar and cherished portions of scripture – the 23rd Psalm and the section from John’s gospel where Jesus says “I am the good shepherd.”

Over the centuries, this image of Jesus as the good shepherd and his followers as sheep has been, for whatever reasons, terribly appealing. The amount of stained glass, painting, music and poetry that it has inspired is truly staggering, and the number of sermons, articles, hymns, retreats and meditations devoted to it is doubtless vast beyond measure. So, it’s with great trepidation that any preacher wanders into this particular pasture and tackles these particular critters. You need to watch where you step.

Still, in all the words read and heard on the subject of the Good Shepherd and his sheep, there is one thing about all this that no ones talks about. It has to do with the simple question of “Why in the world do shepherds have sheep in the first place?”

Ever thought about that?

Shepherds probably keep sheep for pretty much the same reasons that ranchers keep cows, farmers keep cotton, and the Colonel keeps chickens.

Being a shepherd and taking care of sheep, and being a sheep and having a shepherd, are, sooner or later, going to have something to do with wool and with mutton. There’s just no avoiding it. And this little reality never shows up in the stained-glass windows or in the cutesy paraphrases of the 23rd Psalm on chintzy greeting cards. But keep these two things in mind: wool and mutton.

In a sense, this is rather encouraging. After all, one of the problems with this shepherd-and-sheep business – as popular as it is – is that sheep have a reputation as being passive, stupid, unimaginative, docile and dull. So if we are the sheep of our Lord’s pasture, does that then mean we are supposed to be like sheep: just hanging around, occasionally getting lost, not doing much, looking cute and being taken care of because there is absolutely no way we could survive for 15 minutes on our own? Is the whole point of the story that we aren’t worth very much, and that we aren’t very capable?

No. Remember, shepherds don’t generally keep sheep as pets – they aren’t all that much fun to have around. Instead, there are reasons for the whole enterprise, and expectations for all concerned. The sheep are useful, they are important, indeed they are necessary. If the sheep don’t produce, the shepherd is flat out of business. Which brings us back to wool and mutton. This is the piece of the Good Shepherd business that is about us; it’s about our part of what’s going on with this familiar and comfortable talk about green pastures and still waters. The Lord expects things of us, and if we don’t come through, well, there are no contingency plans.

We have to be careful here, and keep things straight. The point is not that there’s some fine print on Jesus’ promise to be the Good Shepherd, or that he’s only a good shepherd for the most useful of the sheep. Jesus isn’t going to leave us to the wolves or turn us into dog food – or whatever it is you do with worthless sheep – if we don’t produce. The Lord cares for us and has blessed us. He has laid down his life for us. That sacrifice, that love, that continued care, these are simply gifts. They are given without condition and without exception. We don’t try to do stuff in the hope that God will be nicer to us or love us more. There is no “more.”

Nonetheless, there are expectations – there is the business of wool and mutton. The care that the Lord offers us is intended to lead to something, something real and substantial.

We are to produce, to give back, from who we are – from what we can do, from what our situation in life is, from our various skills, abilities, resources and gifts.

We don’t grow wool, that’s not of our nature. But it is of our nature to worship and to serve; to reach out and to share; to study and to pray; to increase in holiness and to tell the truth; to seek for justice and to be willing to sacrifice. It is of our nature to choose to grow, in a disciplined and steady way, into the fullness of the stature of the person of Christ – and to do this in community, and with integrity. This is expected of us. Now, this isn’t about church work – Sunday morning and committee stuff – although that can be part of it. Instead, this is about the work of the church, which is much larger and a whole lot more interesting.

And that costs, it can cost a lot. Once more, remember the wool and the mutton.

At the same time, don’t forget that this also means that each and every one of the sheep has purpose and value and worth, and that each is important. Each and every one of us can contribute, and is called to contribute, in one way or another, to the mission of the church. You can’t be too young or too old or too new or too sick or too ordinary or too uneducated, or too ornery, or too busy, or too anything to avoid the reality of wool and mutton.

We are needed; and without us, without any single one of us, the mission and work of the Lord and his church are impoverished. We matter, and things are expected of us. We aren’t pets, kept for our owner’s amusement. We are valuable assets.

One of the many truths of the biblical story that our culture is eager to forget is that there is no such thing as being chosen for privilege. We are not chosen, picked out, protected by our Good Shepherd for the sake of our own comfort, convenience, personal needs or ease of life. Nobody in the Bible is chosen for this sort of stuff. Instead, God’s care and protection are always given that we might be better equipped for service. It always means that something special, something more, is expected.To be sure, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, he pays the price, and protects us and cares for us. That’s the way it is. But there is more to it than this. We are valuable, and important; and we have an essential role to play in all of this. There is the business of wool, and of mutton.

 

— The Rev. James Liggett has recently retired as rector of St. Nicholas’ Episcopal Church in Midland, Texas. He is a native of Kansas and a graduate of the University of Houston and the Episcopal Divinity School. He has served parishes in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma.

Jesus is hungry, 3 Easter (B) – 2015

April 19, 2015

Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

So there is Jesus standing among his closest friends, the disciples. That is meant to represent us. He says, “Shalom!” Loosely translated, that comes across as, “Peace be with you.” This is unfortunately an inadequate attempt to put shalom into English.

Shalom means much more than “peace.” Or “peace” means much more than what we think it means. Since shalom means to convey that all is well with the world, all is just, all is fair, all is the way God means it to be, it ultimately means something more like, “What are you doing to make the world look more like God’s world than Caesar’s world?” With “Caesar” standing in for whatever the principalities and powers look like in a given era – empires, rulers, governments, multi-national corporations, markets, organized religion and the like.

Appropriately the disciples are startled – the dead one is on the loose. And terrified – because, holy moly, here he is! And he still has shalom on his mind. Always has, always will, always does.

Jesus then asks the disciples, “Why are you frightened?”

Could it be because the last time we saw you, you were dead, hanging on a Roman cross, soldiers all around, angry people all around, and, well, as far as we knew, dead is dead?

Well, he seems to say, that is true enough. Here, look at the wounds – see my hands, see my feet.

So, upon examining his hands and feet, hands and feet that have had nails – spikes, really – driven through them, the disciples, we, are filled with joy tinged with disbelief. They still think it may be a ghost. But nevertheless, joy.

Then the real Jesus steps forward. “Have you anything to eat?” Didn’t he always say you have to come to God’s Kingdom like a child? And how many times a day do children look at their parents and say, “What’s to eat?”

Apparently, as it is in real life, so it is in the resurrection of the dead: We need something to eat, something to sustain us, something to nourish us. So does Jesus. He wants us to feed him.

So how are we to respond to his simple yet direct request? The disciples offer some broiled fish. There is evidence that in the early church, as it was with the feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000, there likely were bread-and-fish Eucharists. There are even illustrations of such on the walls of early catacombs. There are still places in Europe, I have been told, where the “Eucharist” is still a foot-washing ritual devoid of bread and wine as the fourth evangelist, John, depicts “the Last Supper.” That is, things are not always as they seem.

Jesus is hungry. He wants something to eat. They give him fish. He eats the fish. But perhaps we need to pay attention to what happens next. He “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” – that is what was referred to as The Law and the Prophets: Hebrew Scripture.

This suggests that perhaps his hunger is not for fish, not for bread, not for wine. Jesus is still hungry post-resurrection. He was hungry before the resurrection as well. We would do well to consider the source of his hunger before we are so quick to offer him something to satisfy his hunger. An in-depth understanding of Torah and the Prophets is to be the starting place.

Jesus was vexed with his contemporary religionists. He felt that the application of Torah, application of the Law and the Prophets, had gone off in direction not of God’s liking. Instead of bringing God’s people, all people, together, the administration, the understanding, of God’s 638 rules, beginning with the First Ten, was being used to separate people more than bring them together.

This vexation made Jesus hungry – hungry for freedom, shalom and justice for all people – not some people, not most people, not lots of people. All people.

Had he not made it clear that the hungry were to be fed? The naked clothed? The prisoner visited? The sick made well? The stranger, the resident alien as the Bible calls them, welcomed? The thirsty given something to assuage their thirst? Had he not self-identified with all these people, including lepers, women, orphans, children, servants, gentiles and Jews?

In a church that is increasingly consumed with power struggles within and without; a church looking for the next great Public Relations scheme to attract people; a church consumed with creating dividing lines between correct and incorrect “belief”; a church consumed with parking within the lines, a church consumed with chastising nuns who are devoting “too much time” to issues of social justice; a church that in 1215 under Pope Innocent III decreed that all Jews should wear a yellow patch of cloth sewn to their coats; a church consumed with just about anything but Shalom. Is it too difficult to see that Jesus, who promises to be present in the bread and the wine, Jesus who promises that he is the stranger, he is the prisoner, he is the leper, he is the beggar on the street, he is the prostitute, sinner, the woman who is bleeding to death, the mother or father begging for their child’s life, and a tax collector; a Jesus who endlessly teaches about our relationship to the land, the earth, in countless agricultural stories, parables and analogies; a Jesus who challenges every sovereign temporal and religious power – is it too difficult to see that having been raised from being three days dead and gone and now returned and back with us for all eternity, that this Jesus whom we are to proclaim in all that we do and all that we say wants something more than a piece of broiled fish when he asks, “Have you anything to eat?”

“Repentance,” says Jesus, “and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed…to all nations, all persons, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Are we really witnesses to these things? These things Jesus is hungry for? Jesus, says Luke, is hungry. The Risen Lord, blessed be his Name, is hungry! What in the world are we prepared to offer him? What in the world are we willing to give to him? How shall our witness satisfy his hunger?

Is it possible that his “Shalom” is not a greeting at all? Is it rather a request? An order? Is he asking for Shalom? Are we prepared to give him this Shalom he speaks of and died for? Or, are we still satisfied to just offer him a piece of broiled fish? Jesus is hungry. He wants us to be hungry too. How we respond will determine if His hunger is satisfied. We know what it will take. We have these Great Fifty days of Easter to begin!

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

— 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.