Archives for May 2017

Preparing for Eternal Glory, Third Sunday after Pentecost (A) – June 25, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 21:8-21, Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39

In today’s gospel, Jesus instructs his apostles about the cost of discipleship. Christianity just is not an easy life, he seems to say. In fact, you may be handed over to councils who will flog you, dragged before governors and kings, betrayed by your family, and hated by all because of the very name of Jesus.

Who wants that, we wonder? Seriously, what kind of Sunday message is it to hear “children will rise against parents and have them put to death”?

Now that Jesus has their attention—and ours—he goes on to say some things that have more comfort value. Do not fear death, for the forces of evil may kill the mortal body but they cannot kill the soul.

And that beautiful, poetic image: the sparrow, worth half a cent, is cared for and loved by God. Every sparrow. And every hair on your head.

In this bizarrely contrasting narrative, Jesus lays out two fundamental principles of Christianity: First, we are not spared from suffering, and, second, when we suffer God suffers along with us. Let’s examine those two basic tenets of the Christian life, shall we?

First, suffering: we may not be flogged before governors or hated by everyone—but we do struggle, right? We contract diseases, grieve the death of loved ones, lose jobs, and undergo a myriad of nasty experiences—some trivial, and some catastrophic.

And part of what Jesus seems to be saying in this passage—in his own exaggerated manner of polemical hyperbole—is that we will most probably continue to suffer. The Christian life is not a magic fix to the woes of this mortal life.

If it were, we would not have the manifestation of any evil or hate in the world. Instead, everything would just be lovely.]

Imagine: No mass murder of Coptic Christian children in Egypt. No Manchester bombing. No killings in Paris, Ferguson, Orlando, Boston, Charleston, or Newtown.

And as beautiful a picture as that might be, it is a picture of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, what we hope and pray for, what Jesus came to earth to proclaim was coming, and—let’s face it—what is not yet here.

So how are we to live in this world where hate and violence are so rampant?

We need the help of God.

And that’s the second point: our God is with us. “He shall be called Emmanuel, God with us”—remember that from Christmas? The promise made by Jesus is that we are not alone in our struggles. God is here, to comfort us, to help us through the difficult times, to show us the way when we don’t know where to turn, to help us when we cannot help ourselves—and certainly to rejoice with us in good times.

We will sometimes suffer in this mortal life, but God is with us—to comfort and guide us.

Perhaps we might think of these two things when we consider the many current controversies that we seem to be entwined in—in the church, in our nation, maybe even in our families and communities.

Voices on both sides of every issue want resolution—they want to be out of the struggle. And they seek to do this by legislative action, human edict, and having one winner—all based on contradictory interpretations of the same text or tenet.

But could it be that no less than our Lord and Savior, that God-made-human, Jesus Christ is calling us not to make an end to our struggle, but to be in the midst of it?

And could it be that, once we accept our place in the very midst of it, the Holy Spirit could show us the way forward?

That’s, at least, how Jesus seems to imagine it. Oh, we all have opinions of our own—make no mistake about that. But we must be interested in opposing views—hearing them and respecting them. We must not dare to presume that our view is the right view—or the only view.

Time was when we Episcopalians lived like that. We were respectful and polite. We listened to each other. Sure, we didn’t agree on every issue, but we agreed to continue in conversation.

Nowadays, we in the church sometimes take ourselves too seriously. We imagine and presume that our debates and legislative actions will somehow bring about—or perhaps even prevent—the salvation of the world.

It’s really odd, when you think about it. God-fearing people of every political stripe and theological persuasion—faithful, caring, loving people—presume to know the mind of God, in painful detail and with absolute certainty. Or, worse yet, they have decided to take over sovereignty from God.

This is not our calling as Christian people, dear friends. Oh, we will have struggles and issues—every age has its own set of these. And the God-made-human we worship calls us to be in the midst of the struggles of this world.

In our struggles, we are called not to engage in a fight to the finish, in which one group winds up the victorious insiders and other the dejected outsiders. But to proclaim to everyone on God’s green earth that God is here, in the midst of us. And to share with every human being—our fellow pilgrims on the journey—the love that we have known in Christ Jesus.

Because every human heart has the capacity to love and the capacity to hate.

So, what helps keep us on the path of righteousness? What will help tip the balance for good over evil? What can we do to overcome the negative instincts we all have to some extent?

Listen for the still, small voice of God.

The God who was with the infant Isaac, who grew into a great patriarch for God’s chosen people.

The God who keeps watch over our lives, as the Psalmist tells us.

The God who will reunite us all in a resurrection like his, as we read in the letter to the Romans.

And the God-made-human who came to earth to proclaim that love is stronger than death.

For nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered. These spiritual truths will be revealed to all in God’s good time.

What you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops:

  • Jesus Christ is risen from the dead,
  • the kingdom of God has come very near us, and
  • when we suffer—and we will—we have the church, the Christian community where we “bear one another’s burdens,” as St. Paul said (Galatians 6:2).

And, again from Paul, “this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

In this Christian life, we are not spared from suffering, but when we suffer, God suffers along with us. And this suffering helps prepare us for eternal glory.

The Rev. Barrie Bates has served Anglican and Lutheran congregations in California, New York, and New Jersey over the past 20+ years. He holds a Ph.D. in liturgical studies, and memberships in the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, the Sons of the American Revolution, and the Screen Actors’ Guild. Other than ordained ministry, his interests include opera, fine dining, and boating.

 

Download the sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Beneath the Trees, Second Sunday after Pentecost (A) – June 18, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7); Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

Where do you go to encounter God? Do you have a favorite place for divine inspiration? Some of you will instinctually think of going to church. Another way to phrase the question is, “Where do you go when you really need to think and make a decision?” Perhaps some of you embrace nature by going to the park. Others prefer being by a body of water such as a pond, lake, river, or ocean.

Abraham sits by the oaks of Mamre when the Lord appears to him in Genesis 18:1. We do not know why he sat under the trees, but perhaps he needed to think about and heal from the covenant he made with God at the end of chapter 17. Abraham encounters God and receives a divine message under these oak trees.

Trees have been and continue to be important in Christians’ worship and spiritual lives. Some enslaved African Americans in the 1800s met to worship God under a canopy of trees commonly called brush arbors or hush harbors.[1] The faithful practiced Christianity in this holy and hidden manner. Many historically African American churches today trace their founding to believers gathering to worship God under these brush arbors. Today in Ethiopia, some Orthodox Christians worship God within “church forests.” Churches or monasteries sit in the center of a forest that ranges in size from five to a thousand acres. The clergy and laity believe the tree canopy shading them prevents prayers from being lost to the sky. Some of these churches are more than 1,500 years old. [2]

Abraham’s encounter with three visitors changed his life and life of his wife, Sarah. Both Abraham and Sarah show hospitality, inviting these unexpected guests to rest and eat under the oaks of Mamre. One of the visitors speaks to Abraham, saying,  “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:10). Sarah laughs when she hears this as she stands inside the tent. Scripture continues, “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son’” (Genesis 18:13-14). Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 when their first child together, Isaac, entered the world. Nothing was too wonderful for the Lord when Abraham and Sarah received the manifestation of God’s promise. Abraham and Sarah had a religious and life changing experience connected firmly with the oak tree canopied landscape that sustained them.[3]

American theologian the Rev. Frederick Buechner wrote in his book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[4] The Ethiopian church forests I mentioned earlier are examples of Buechner’s quote. Deforestation impacts the environment in many areas of the world, including Ethiopia. Church forests provide important ecosystem services to local people, including fresh water, pollinators, honey, and shade—and they also carry spiritual significance. Natural scientists across the world are partnering with Ethiopian clergy to help preserve these forests.  Locals often clear the forests for agriculture, timber, and firewood, and to use wood to repair church structures.[5] Scientists, clergy, and the laity are working together to make a difference. They are teaching Sunday School children culturally sensitive solutions to help reverse deforestation which will completely deplete these forests in a decade if the current rate continues. This is the place where their deep gladness for God meets the world’s deep need.

Churches in the United States are meeting one of the world’s deep needs by assessing their impact on the local environment. Recycling programs, energy audits, water conservation efforts, and energy consumption reduction are helping congregations decrease any negative impacts on land, water, and air. One midwestern Episcopal Cathedral has a rain garden at the center of a labyrinth. A rain garden collects rainwater runoff from parking lots and roofs, preventing water carrying pollutants from flowing into streams and rivers. A labyrinth is a meditation tool used by Christians as a walking prayer to receive insight and open us to God.[6]

This world needs more people of faith thinking about the human impact on the world. It is unimaginable to think of not having nature to enjoy and make alive our connection with God. Each of us can do something.

Let us pray.

Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

[1] https://www.ohio.edu/infocus/hushharbors/ Accessed May 21, 2017.

[2] http://magazine.africageographic.com/weekly/issue-43/ethiopias-church-forests/#sthash.nRGaU73U.dpuf Accessed May 21, 2017

[3] Excursus: Abraham. Harrelson, Walter. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Abingdon Press, 2003, p. 56.

[4] Buechner, Frederick. Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC Collins, 1973 p. 95.

[5] http://magazine.africageographic.com/weekly/issue-43/ethiopias-church-forests/ Accessed May 21, 2017.

[6] http://www.cathedralchurchofstpaul.org/features/labyrinth-rain-garden/ Accessed May 21, 2017.

 

The Reverend Jemonde Taylor is the eleventh rector of Saint Ambrose Episcopal Church, Raleigh, N.C. Jemonde serves the Diocese of North Carolina by co-chairing the Nominating Committee for the XII Bishop Diocesan. He has served as a member of Diocesan Council and on the Disciple Board. Jemonde is a board member of the Gathering of Leaders, an Episcopal organization that assists in the empowerment, support, and development of church leaders. He is a consultant to the Office of Black Ministries of The Episcopal Church. Prior to serving Saint Ambrose, Jemonde was priest missioner at Saint Michael and All Angels Church, Dallas, Texas, as part of the Lilly Program. Jemonde studies the spirituality, worship, and history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and leads pilgrimages to Ethiopia for Epiphany.

 

Download the sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost.

The Mystery of the Trinity, Trinity Sunday (A) – June 11, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Today, on Trinity Sunday, we enter the Divine Dance, a dance that pulls us inside the circle of love that is our Triune God. This beautiful metaphor is being used by Father Richard Rohr to interpret the Holy Trinity not just to Christians, but to all believers. In his new book, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, he writes that in the past,

“In our attempts to explain the Trinitarian Mystery we overemphasized the individual qualities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but not so much the relationships between them. That is where all the power is! That is where all the meaning is!” Please note the word relationship in this Divine Dance and imagine not the classic dances of the forties and fifties when dancing meant two people responding to music together, nor the dance of the young today who seem to be dancing with their own selves, but the traditional folk dances of the Middle East— holding hands and moving in a circle.

Another image, a metaphor that Father Richard borrows from St. Bonaventure, is that of the water wheel. The wheel, carrying three buckets, fills and empties, fills and empties unto eternity. There is the constant emptying of the God-self and the constant filling up, world without end, Amen.

The gift of Father Richard Rohr is that he has become so popular through his writings and speeches that he appeals to all religions and even to atheists. His other gift is his insistence that because of the tremendous advances in scientific thinking in our times, science is agreeing with religion, with the reality of our interconnectedness with the universe. So, surprisingly, this mystery of the Trinity that many preachers dread to approach on this given Sunday is becoming less daunting, much popular, and it is making sense.

The Unity in the Trinity explained in a popular book is not something new, however. The brilliant Anglican writer Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a small, tightly packed treatise on the Trinity in 1941, in the midst of the war that was devastating her native England and the rest of Europe. She had become famous and popular as a mystery writer, but her great passion and the focus of her extraordinary mind were meant for theology. And on this, she studied and wrote in a dizzying diversity until her early death in 1957. Her book on the Trinitarian nature of God and of humanity is called The Mind of the Maker and was praised as the best exposition of the Trinity by no less a writer than C.S. Lewis. The book is short but dense, exploring a number of difficult subjects. She makes it clear that the Doctrine of the Trinity is neither obscure nor impossible to comprehend since our own natures, made in the image of God, is also trinitarian. This is what the first chapter of Genesis says:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. . .

So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

In The Mind of the Maker, Sayers explains that “in our image” refers to the creativity that exists in God-in-three, a creativity which was also given to humanity. She writes that everything begins with the Idea which finds its reality, its incarnation, in Energy, and is disseminated through Power. In theological language, God the Father is the Idea, Christ is the Energy or Activity, and the Holy Spirit is Power. This is also the way human beings think and create. They have an idea, which becomes real only through implementation, and is disseminated through interaction, as someone else put it. The analogy Sayers uses throughout is that of the creation of a book, since that is what she knew best. The writer has an idea for a novel, but if it stays in the mind it has no reality. In the process of writing the idea becomes enfleshed; it is now energy; and then when the book is read by others, it has power.

All of creation was in the mind of God but it became real when “in the beginning God created. . .”  St. John, in the prologue to his gospel tells us that “In the beginning was the Word.” Notice that in the Old Testament lesson, in the beautiful creation story, words became important. The phrases, “God said” or “God called,” meaning “named,” occur fifteen times in the chapter. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The only continuity between God and God’s work is the Word.” So the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the eternal Christ who was with God from the beginning. Because of love, the Eternal, at one specific spec of time—thirty-three years—in a specific place—Palestine—became as one of us and lived among us as Jesus of Nazareth. The mind reels then kneels and offers thanks.

The dramatic beauty of the Creation story as found in the fist chapter of Genesis and the first four verses of chapter two continues in the Psalm appointed for today. This is a Psalm that should be memorized. How many of us who did so as children pause before a sunset, or a clear moonlit night to cry out in awe,

“Oh, Lord, our Lord,

How excellent is your Name in all the earth! . . .

When I consider the heavens, the work of your hands,

The moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

What is man that you should be mindful of him?

The son of man that you should seek him out?

You have made him a little lower than the angels. . .”

Of course, women are included in this wonder but language had and has its limitations. What matters is that the One who was with God from the beginning of creation, the One who participated in the glorious act of creation is the One who took on our flesh and lived among us. This is the gift that also revealed the character of God as Father to us. But even that was not enough. When the hour came for the Incarnate one to leave the human flesh and return to the Father, he gave us the gift of the Paraclete, of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Breath of God as the Greek language calls the third person of the Trinity.

On this day, let us lose our apprehension in trying to understand the Trinity or to explain it in Athanasian terms to others. Let us rejoice in the most loving promise given to us as we read in today’s Gospel lesson:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Let us then rejoice and take comfort in these last words of Jesus: “I am with you always.”

Katerina Whitley, a writer, biblical storyteller and retreat leader lives in Boone, NC.

www.katerinawhitley.net

Download the sermon for Trinity Sunday.

Come Holy Spirit: Saying Yes, Pentecost (A) – June 4, 2017

[RCL]: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35,37; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

The disciples were afraid! Their world had come to an abrupt end on a Friday afternoon as their teacher, leader, and friend had died in shame outside the city walls. There was no good news as they scattered from the city in search of safety, security, and something that resembled sanity. The preaching and teaching, traveling and telling seemed for nothing. The miraculous healings and even the raising of Lazarus were distant memories. The peaceful kingdom Jesus preached now lay in ruin, like his body on the cross. The blessing of the poor, the meek, the persecuted, the mournful felt like empty words. The disciples were heartbroken.

But some of their number, following the lead of Mary of Magdala, had gone to the tomb when others couldn’t muster the courage to even venture into the garden. The pain of loss was too new. The longing for the past, the good times, offered little comfort. But Mary had brought strange news: Jesus is alive! That cannot be. We saw the soldiers, the slow agonizing march through the city, the nails, and the cries. The news couldn’t possibly be true. The disciples were confused. They gathered together behind locked doors to comfort each other, to connect with the familiar, to feel safe. Safety in numbers behind locked doors. The world, the pain, the fear all safely kept at bay on the other side of a lock.

The locks, no matter how carefully crafted, cannot keep resurrection out. Even in this room flooded with memory and saturated with grief, resurrection seeps in.  “Peace be with you.” Jesus stands in their midst. Flesh and blood and body. Resurrected. Their fear turned to excitement, the locks forgotten because the one lost is alive with the scars to prove it. Look. Touch. It is really Jesus. Hope lives.

No matter how carefully barred, not even locked doors can keep the risen Jesus, the Anointed One, out. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The voice is familiar but it resounds with urgency and love. In that moment their lives are transformed. They can no longer hide behind doors frozen by fear, seeking to keep the world out. Jesus is alive, out there, out in the world, hidden in the guise of those in need. Come Holy Spirit.

On Easter evening, the disciples once more gather to find comfort in the familiar. Jesus is ascended. After the walk to Emmaus and breakfast on the shore, his work is now done. Once more, in a house behind closed doors, they gather. A violent wind engulfs the house, filling every corner and crevice.  Tongues of flame hover above their heads and unstop their tongues. Out into the world, out from the house, out from behind the doors, out to tell Good News to every nation, tribe, language, and people. Full of new wine? No, filled with God’s renewing Spirit. As Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit had come.

On Pentecost, we gather like the disciples behind closed doors. We come with hopes and fears, with doubts and certainties, with pain and joy looking to be transformed, to be resurrected, to be made new. We offer a simple prayer. A prayer that the followers of Jesus have whispered and sung, have shouted and signed: Come Holy Spirit. It is a plea, a prayer to be once more filled with the breath of God that called creation into being, to be replenished to enter the wilderness of doubt and uncertainty.

We whisper, we sing, we shout, we pray, we proclaim, “Come Holy Spirit.”

But do we really want the Holy Spirit to come among us? Jesus, after his Baptism, found himself driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. The wilderness, where things happen, where we are forced to face ourselves laid bare. Do we really want to be filled with that Spirit? The Holy Spirit makes things happen, compels us out into the world to find Jesus present in our sisters and brothers. She opens our eyes to more clearly see Jesus in those we would rather keep at arm’s length, the ones we are more comfortable serving from a distance, from behind the security of locked doors and the safety of a checkbook.

Do we really want to be so filled with the Holy Spirit?

Like the disciples, we the church can sometimes crave the safety of locked doors, locked hearts, and locked minds. Behind locked doors, we can find comfort in the familiar, but if we truly seek to follow Jesus, we know that no locked doors will keep him from appearing in our midst and compelling us out in the world. “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these,” are words of promise if we are open the moving of the Spirit in our lives, in our church, in our world. “Come Holy Spirit.”

Our prayer on this day is a dangerous prayer because it means that we must be open and vulnerable, willing to be challenged and changed so that we can seek and find Jesus in the ones we serve. “Come Holy Spirit” means that we must become open to the transforming power of God in our lives. It means that we will find ourselves standing with those on the margins, on the edges, on the outs.

Our simple prayer, “Come Holy Spirit,” is the first step towards saying “yes” to God’s desire in our life of faith. We are called, with the Spirit’s help, to say yes to God!

The question for us is can we say yes to God at work? Can we say yes to stepping out from behind our closed doors and into the deep waters of loving our neighbors? Can we say yes to allowing the locked doors of our hearts and minds to be opened again and again and again?

Edwina Gateley sums up our longing to say yes to God in her poem Called to say yes.

We are called to say yes
So that rich and poor embrace
And become equal in their poverty
Through the silent tears that fall.

We are called to say yes
That the whisper of our God
Might be heard through our sirens
And the screams of our bombs.

We are called to say yes
To a God who still holds fast
To the vision of the Kingdom
For a trembling world of pain.

We are called to say yes
To this God who reaches out
And asks us to share
His crazy dream of love.

God’s crazy dream of love is our crazy dream of love. We are called to say “yes” to allow the Spirit of the Living God to fall afresh on us and unlock the doors that keep us from loving our neighbors. God’s crazy dream of love calls us to stand with and work for the homeless, the working poor, the outcast, the refugee, the persecuted, the put-down and the putout. Our sisters and brothers, Jesus in disguise, can no longer be simply petitions in our prayers but persons deserving of dignity, justice, and love.

Come Holy Spirit. Yes! Come Holy Spirit. Yes! Come Holy Spirit. Yes! Amen.

The Rev. Deon Johnson has served as Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brighton, MI, for the last eleven years. A Liturgical Consultant, Deon specializes in helping communities revision their worship spaces to better reflect both their needs and the theology of welcome found in the Eucharist. In his spare time, Deon enjoys working on websites and is an avid photographer.

 

Download the sermon for Pentecost.

Prayer is the Answer to Jesus’ Prayer, Easter 7 (A) – May 28, 2017

[RCL] Acts 1:6-14; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36

Jesus prayed. The Gospels reveal that prayer remained the constant refrain of Jesus’ life. Jesus prays frequently and fervently. Why would he of all people need to pray? First, Jesus was God made man, and so he had emptied himself to become human and some things were no longer possible for Jesus. For example, if he were in Galilee, he would not also be in Jerusalem. Jesus was bound by time and space. Secondly, Jesus had also always been connected to the Father and the Holy Spirit in ways that are mysterious to us. They are one and yet three. If that is difficult to get your mind around, that is fine. After all, a God you can fully comprehend isn’t much of a deity. But we see that Jesus prayed as a part of this ongoing relationship within the Trinity. Finally, Jesus prayed to be an example to his followers. We see this most fully on the night before he died. All of the Gospels tell of Jesus praying fervently that night. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we hear only that Jesus prayed for the cup to pass from him. He did not want to die, but even so, Jesus submitted himself to God’s will.

In our Gospel reading, we get a deeper glimpse into Jesus’ prayer that evening. In chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, which we read part of this morning, Jesus prays. Our reading starts, “Jesus looked up to heaven and said…”

Those words matter, as they tell the reader that what follows is a prayer. The prayer is not written to us. Jesus is talking with God the Father. John gives us not just the content of the prayer, but also the character of Jesus in writing down this prayer for us. Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” In John’s Gospel, the word glory points to the cross. It is in his faithfulness unto death that Jesus glorified God.

In Jesus’ words in this prayer, we learn that Jesus values those who believe in him as a cherished gift from God. And in the final lines of our reading this morning, Jesus prayed, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Jesus wanted those who follow him to be protected, not from bodily harm, but from falling away from the faith. And most of all he wanted us to be one as he and the Father are one. This could reduce the prayer to a plea for Christian unity, but that is not all that is going on here. Yes, Jesus would pray for those who follow him to be one in a way that makes unity among Christian denominations an important goal. But here, Jesus is praying for our protection, and for that to happen, he calls us to be drawn into the relationship of love that is the very Trinity. Jesus and the Father are one in a way that goes beyond simple agreement, like, or love. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one at their essence through relationship. Jesus prays for that sort of deeper relationship for us. This is Jesus’ prayer before dying; his dying wish is for those who know him to be drawn into an abiding connection to him and his Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus had already demonstrated what an abiding connection to God looks like. Throughout his life, he had taken regular times for prayer both public and private—both liturgical prayers of synagogue and Temple worship and spontaneous prayers offered on various occasions. Jesus maintained his connection to God in good times and bad, in times of triumph, and in the agony of the cross.

With only a few years in which to change the world forever, Jesus should have been a workaholic. Yes, he was faulted for breaking the Sabbath to heal and for letting his disciples pick grain to eat. But instead of being a workaholic, Jesus enabled others to minister as well.

We find in the Gospel what Jesus prayed, but we should also notice that Jesus prayed. His life is soon to end. He is in the last hours with his disciples. Rather than fitting in an all-night cram session to get the last bit of theological information into his disciples’ heads, Jesus pauses and prays. If you ever wonder what would Jesus do, the primary answer is that Jesus would pray. How much more should we first and foremost pray in all the chances and changes that life sends our way?

God will honor the arrow prayers you shoot heavenward in times of need, but you will find yourself more fully connected to God if you set aside routine times to pray. The pattern for The Episcopal Church is found in the brief Morning and Evening Prayer liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer, and even in the one-page devotions tucked into the Prayer Book. Making daily times for these prayers will not earn God’s favor; you already have been given that grace freely. Instead, the daily times of prayer will ground your day in connection to the Holy Trinity.

This was Jesus’ will for you. Jesus wanted you to find and nurture that deep, abiding connection to God. Jesus wanted it so much that he prayed for you to get that sort of relationship and then he trusted his Father in heaven to enable it to happen. Your answer to Jesus’ prayer is found when you make time to pray and so grow closer to the God who knows you fully and loves you completely.

Amen.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia. He is also a member of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church and serves on the Advisory Group on Church Planting.

 

Download the sermon for Easter 7(A).

The Right Things at the Right Time, Ascension Day – May 25, 2017

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

Crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. All in a little over forty days.

From sadness to guilt, to hopelessness, to fear, to doubt, to hopefulness, the feelings of the disciples have been a roller coaster.

Jesus has told the disciples that he had to suffer, but would be raised in three days. Did they believe him? No! Peter even rebuked Jesus, saying that this could not happen, leading to Jesus calling him Satan. Then Jesus was arrested. And then Jesus was crucified. In three days, the stone was removed, and the tomb was empty. Angels and even Jesus himself appeared to tell his followers that he was raised, and still they doubted! He had to show up inside locked doors, on the road to Emmaus walking with some disciples, and by the beach to cook breakfast with them, just to convince them that he was raised.

Now, forty days after his resurrection, once again, Jesus recapped what he had told the disciples before: that he is to fulfill the Scriptures.

“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

 The disciples had not been able to understand what the life and ministry of Jesus were about while he was with them before, so Jesus told them one last time while he was still among them. He commissioned the disciples to proclaim “repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations,” and that they should begin this proclamation in Jerusalem.

In today’s Gospel lesson, the author talks about Jesus being “carried up into heaven.” The disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

In the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, the Book of Acts, the author elaborates on the reactions of the apostles: “When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?’”

Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? Yes, their rabbi is really gone! These disciples are at a loss again. God is showing steadfast love, sending these two messengers to remind them not just to stand and look up, but to look around, look ahead, and look toward the work they must do. They must proclaim “repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations.” They must be witnesses to what just happened. And they must not worry; they will receive the Holy Spirit to carry out the mission. Jesus has promised to send the Paraclete, the advocate in his absence, the power from on high. Jesus has told them to stay in Jerusalem to wait for it.

Going through something traumatic, it is easy to dwell on the past or fantasize about the future, but it is not easy to stay in the present. However, the present is exactly where Jesus wants the disciples to be.

Now the disciples should realize they are not only followers anymore, but also leaders. They cannot only stand there, looking up toward heaven. Rather, they need to follow Jesus’ commission, and they need to get into action. Nevertheless, before their action, before the Holy Spirit is bestowed on them, they need to reflect, to pray, and to bless God.

The verses after today’s reading from the Book of Acts tell us that, “When [the disciples] had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying . . . All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers” (Acts 1:13a, 14).

Finally, the disciples’ minds are opened to understand the Scriptures and the purpose of Jesus’ teaching. The disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:53). As we read in the Letter to the Ephesians, “With the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”

From then on, the disciples of Jesus set up the Church and proclaimed the repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus to all nations. That is how we have had the Good News passed to us.

They have set a great example for us, the later followers. When we are at a loss, before we carry out our call, we need to pray and bless God, being in the very presence of God.

In our divided world, things seem to have changed for the worse. Life seems to be upside-down, with racial tension, terrorist attacks, chaos in the Middle East, and so much more. We may be like the disciples, with the tendency to look upward and not see the present, our call. But no, we must stay in the present, grounding ourselves in Jesus the Christ to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in his name, and bearing witness to the grace of God.

We have been celebrating the joy of Jesus’ resurrection, looking forward to being in God’s kingdom in the future. But it is not for us to know when or how. The Eastertide is about to end. We know in order to get to Easter, we had to go through Good Friday. Now, with the hope of that blessed day, we are not afraid of suffering. The time to get in action is here. It is not an easy task, but we will not be alone; the Holy Spirit will be with us. Stay tuned and stay in the presence of God. Amen.

 

The Rev. Dr. Ada Wong Nagata is Priest-in-Charge and Director of Ah Foo Jubilee Community Center at Church of Our Savior, Manhattan, a bilingual congregation speaking English and Cantonese in Chinatown. She is a board member of Li Tim-Oi Center, a Chinese Ministry Center of The Episcopal Church based in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and Honorary Canon of the Cathedral Center of St. Paul, also in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Ada earned her Doctor of Ministry from Episcopal Divinity School in 2015. She served as Convener of the Chinese Convocation of Episcopal Asiamerican Ministries (EAM) from 2009 to 2016. She loves hiking and meditative walking. 

Download the sermon for Ascension Day.

 

Being a Witness for the God We Know, Easter 6 (A) – May 21, 2017

[RCL] Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

The Book of Acts is filled with miracles, visions, and dreams, and in it, the author, Luke, helps us establish the identity of God and shows how the Gospel of Jesus Christ was spread to every corner of the world.

In addition to teaching about the identity of God, Luke has much to say about the power of the grace of God and the initiatives God takes in forming witnesses for mission. Luke penned for us a road map to being a witness for the God we know.

The second part of the Book of Acts focuses on the story of Paul. And that is where we find ourselves on this Sixth Sunday of Easter. Paul said to the people of Athens, “I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him– though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:22b-28a).

We are familiar with Paul; he is known for his eloquent speeches and great witness to Christ, and there is much we can learn from him. Following his conversion experience, he became one of the greatest teachers ever, one of the greatest evangelists ever. Paul’s view of the spiritual life can serve as a foundation for a contemporary evangelical spirituality.

Paul knew God. Paul was in right relationship with God. And when you are in right relationship with someone, you want to defend them at all costs. That is what Paul is doing in Athens. He realizes that the Athenians do not know much about anything because they do not know the first thing about the God he serves.

And he goes on to do something very important that we in the modern Church can recognize, understand, and appreciate. Even though he was deeply distressed by all the idols of the city, he did not get up on that large rock and point his finger at the people of Athens, telling them that they would go straight to hell because of their idol worship and their non-Christian ways of living. Rather, he speaks to their culture, through their culture, in a way that acknowledged their worthiness as children of God. He was a true witness of the God he served.

Paul begins to tell them about this unknown God that they already are trying to worship. Note that Paul does not condemn the Athenians for who they are; nor does he begin with what separates them, but with what they have in common. Remember that the next time you are a witness to the God you know.

Paul knew God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He knew God as the One who keeps promises. He knew God as a God of a second chance, and a God that saves, a God that can convert. He knew God as a God of love. Paul told one group that God was a “living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea” (Acts 14:15), and he told the people of Athens that he was the One in whom we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Who do you know God as? Who do we know God as? We cannot tell of something or someone that we do not know. As Christians, we know God as a way-maker, as a provider, as the author of our books called Life. The God we know is fair and just, generous and good. Our God is a loving, healing God. A right-on-time God. The God we know is a forgiving, gracious God because heaven knows we do not get it right all the time. We know God as Redeemer, Reconciler, Restorer and Resurrector, just to name a few.

That is who we know God as. And the God we serve proves this over and over and over again. The God we serve places the right people in the right places to make things happen at the right time, giving us unmerited favor. And the God we serve makes a way when there seems to be no way.

Sadly, there are individuals who do not know this God. Painfully, the knowledge of the God we know is not everywhere you turn, because people do not really know who God is, and what God has done, and can do. God, for some, is only a God to question or blame or accuse or even curse when things go wrong. Many people believe that God is some sort of vengeful deity that must be appeased by good behavior, just in case! But that is not the God that Paul proclaimed.

As Paul tells us, there really is a God who loves everyone, especially you and me! And yes, our enemies as well. A God who came to serve us. Our God, who has given everyone life and being, and is interested in every little part of your life, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

God’s love, care, and identity have been made abundantly clear in the person and work of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. That God should be known by everyone!

And therein lies our responsibility as Christians. We must bear witness to the God we know. In the person and work of Jesus, all the doubts and fears and anxieties over the “unknown God” happily disappear. God is not a distant, uncaring God. God is a very close and personal God.

So who do you know God as? Who do we know God as? Do we live, move and have our being in God?! We cannot tell of something accurately if we do not know for ourselves, first-hand. You cannot give directions to a place if you do not know where it is. Similarly, we cannot share a God we do not know for ourselves with others, or people will get lost.

We are charged with being a witness for the God we know. We are charged with telling somebody about this God. Tell people about the love God has shown us in Jesus Christ. Our God should no longer be unknown. Our God is too good and too generous to remain that way.

God is the God who is known by loving-kindness to us, shown in the One who lived and died and rose again, so that we too might live with God. Each time we approach God’s altar, we are saying, “We believe. We believe in a God whose only begotten Son died for us all.” We are saying, “God, You are in me and I in You.”

But it does not stop there. When we make our way to God’s altar and ultimately out of the doors of the church, that is where the real work begins. We are all called to be witnesses to the God we know – and our lives, our beings, our very essence should always, always reflect that.

It is like the hymn writer penned, inspired by the Song of Mary, mother of Jesus,

“Tell out, my soul, the glories of God’s Word! Firm is God promise, and God’s mercy sure. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord to children’s children and for evermore!”

We have got work to do. Amen.

 

The Rev. Arlette D. Benoit Joseph is a graduate of General Theological Seminary in New York City where she earned her Masters in Divinity with a Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She served as seminarian at Trinity Wall Street and St. Ann’s Church for the Deaf during her time in New York City. Before seminary, Rev. Joseph worked as a Marketing Analyst for UPS Mail Innovations in Atlanta, Ga, where she managed Account Representatives and their Customer Care Department.

 She was ordained to the priesthood in June 2013 in the Diocese of Atlanta and now serves at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta, Ga., as Associate to the Rector. Rev. Joseph also serves as Campus Missioner for the Absalom Jones Center of the Atlanta University Center. She serves as a consultant to the The Episcopal Church’s Office of Black Ministries by planning the S.O.U.L (Spiritual Opportunity to Unity and Learn) Conferences for youth and young adults and works with a team of clergy and lay leaders to develop and promote The Rising Stars (RISE) Experience — an initiative aimed at countering the “School-to-Prison Pipeline,” where children are pushed out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

 She also serves on the Diocese of Atlanta’s Commission of Ministry, as the Youth Ministry Liaison for the Office of Youth Ministries of The Episcopal Church and as a boardmember for FORMA – a network of Christian Formation professionals. Rev. Joseph is passionate about Christian and Spiritual Formation and the spiritual and mental wellness of clergy.

Originally from the twin island Republic Trinidad and Tobago, Rev. Joseph enjoys Caribbean cuisine and outdoor activities with her husband.

 

Download the sermon for Easter 6 (A).