Being God’s Glory, Easter 7 (C) – 2016

[RCL] Acts 16:16-34; Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21; John 17:20-26; Psalm 97

Imagine thousands of people dressed in white clothes for the Feast of the Epiphany singing, praying, and waiting with anticipation outside a church near the Red Sea in Ethiopia. The faithful sway side-to-side singing praises to God in thanksgiving for Jesus Christ. There are shouts of jubilation when the bishop exits the cathedral holding a replica stone tablet of the Ten Commandments taken from the cathedral’s altar. Those gathered exhibit ecstatic exuberance because the bishop carries the Ten Commandments stone tablet that consecrates the cathedral into the crowd of people, and in doing so consecrates and makes the people holy. It is a symbol of God’s presence and glory dwelling with the people.

Raymond Brown in his book, The Gospel According to John, reminds us that the ark is an important biblical symbol. Those sealed inside Noah’s Ark survived the flood. The Hebrew people journeyed to the Promised Land following the Ark of the Covenant, holding the Ten Commandments written on stone tablets. Early Christian writers referred to Jesus as the Tabernacle or Ark of God since Jesus embodied God’s glory.[1]

Jesus prays to God in John 17:22, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.” The recognition of God’s glory occurs early in scripture. For the Hebrew people, God’s glory was the visible manifestation of God’s acts of power.[2] The people saw the invisible God in God’s visible actions: parting of the Red Sea; crumbling the walls of Jericho; building Solomon’s Temple.[3] Jesus is the embodiment of divine glory. God becomes visible in Jesus Christ and his followers see his acts of power. The disciples witness God’s chief act of power in resurrecting Jesus from the dead.

Today is the Sunday after Ascension Thursday and the last Sunday before Pentecost. Jesus leaves the disciples to return to God on Ascension Day. The disciples wait for Jesus to send the promised Holy Spirit who is the manifestation of God’s glory. Waiting for the Holy Spirit gives Jesus’ followers the opportunity to reflect on “seeing his glory.” Jesus prays in John 17:24 that his followers see his glory. To see Jesus’ glory, his acts of power, goes beyond observing his ministry. “To see” in this sense means to contemplate on, to look deeper.[4] Perhaps the disciples asked themselves if others would see in them the same glory the disciples saw in Jesus.

Do people in the world look at the Church, the Ark of Salvation, and see the glory or the deeds of power God gives us? Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry was dynamic, expressive of love and expressed in love.[5] The Holy Spirit brings the indwelling of that love to those who follow Jesus. God calls us to share Christ’s love with the world. 

A visible example of God’s love is a Diocese of North Carolina ministry, A Moveable Feast: Food for the Body; Food for the Soul. This ministry happens in and around a 28-foot mobile “food truck” covered in neon dry erase marker graffiti. The food truck contains a prayer chapel and a small kitchen for heating chili or warming beverages. Guests use markers to write prayers and blessings on the inside walls and on the food truck’s exterior. A Moveable Feast drifts and zooms around the diocese as a ministry to young adult communities sometimes ignored by traditional campus ministries—community college students, young adults in rural areas, and those transitioning directly from high school to the workforce. The food truck is not a permanent fixture. Staff members and volunteers work to engage young adults, helping build relationships with local Episcopal churches to help minister to and support young adults through their experience of the food truck. When the food truck leaves, the Episcopal presence remains. This truck offers food for the soul. [6]

The Moveable Feast is an example of modern day disciples embracing the glory and the works of power, Jesus gives his followers. Connecting young adults with churches models Jesus by engaging the world to make a difference. Holy food for holy people is a part of our Eucharistic prayer, with the clergy presenting the consecrated bread and wine to the congregation before the invitation to receive communion. Can we as followers of Jesus Christ be God’s visible glory in the world through our words and actions? The Body and Blood of Christ transform us. God’s glory dwells with us. Be a holy presence in the world. Jesus did not ascend to leave us alone. The Holy Spirit will come and guide us.

Download the sermon for Easter 7C.

Written by The Reverend Jemonde Taylor

The Reverend Jemonde Taylor is the eleventh rector of Saint Ambrose Episcopal Church, Raleigh, NC. Jemonde serves the Diocese of NC by being co-chair of the Nominating Committee for the XII Bishop Diocesan. He also served as a member of Diocesan Council. 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, TX as a part of the Lilly Program. Jemonde studies the spirituality, worship, and history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and leads pilgrimages to Ethiopia for Epiphany.


[1] Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 29 of The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1980), 779.

[2] Ibid. , 503.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. , 502.

[5] Ibid. , 776.

[6] “Caitlyn Darnell and A Movable Feast Win Special UTO 125th Anniversary Grant.” The Episcopal Diocese of NC. July 2015. Web. 25 April 2016.

An in-between place, 7 Easter (C) – 2013

May 12, 2013

Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

The Seventh Sunday of Easter always seems to be a sort of in-between place; the Feast of the Ascension was celebrated just a few days ago, and Pentecost is still another week off. Like the disciples, we seem to stand metaphorically staring into the heavens, awaiting the next chapter of our story to unfold.

The lessons for the day appear to have run out of resurrection appearances, and instead we get a delightfully odd grouping of texts, ranging from the curious tales of Paul and Silas in Philippi involving a slave-girl “who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortunetelling,” an earthquake, and prisoners who do not escape; to the Apocalyptic visions of St. John the Divine; with a prayer from Jesus for all disciples in all times everywhere.

The Bible’s apocalyptic literature always strikes modern and even post-modern ears as strange. Interpreted literally, it has been used as the foundation of strange, scary and even dangerous Christian cult and fringe groups, many of whom like the Millerites of the 19th century, predict when the world will end and the day of the Lord begin. So we tend to shy away from these rich metaphorical verses, divorcing ourselves from the comfort and assurance they mean to offer people who live in frightening and uncertain times.

And who among us would deny that the times have become all too often frightening and uncertain? Spontaneous and even planned disasters and tragedies of horrific proportions seem to mar the landscape of our common life with greater frequency and untold damage to our individual and collective psyche. I am reminded of standing in one of Israel’s ancient cities looking down on the ruins of a Dionysian temple that had been toppled like so many pick-up sticks, massive columns scattered all about, by an ancient earthquake, and wondering out loud what sort of impression that must have made on the ancient inhabitants; what must have seemed like a structure that should last for centuries was scattered in pieces in just a few moments of earth-shaking horror.

This is something like we see in our portion from the Acts of the Apostles today. The slave girl with powers of divination is announcing to all who will listen that Paul and Silas are “slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” We are told that this annoys Paul, despite the fact that this is exactly what they are in Philippi to do! Perhaps Paul feels he does not need the services of a public relations campaign. At any rate, he performs an exorcism that silences the girl and frees her from demonic possession. Her owners realize they are going to lose a sure source of income, and have Paul and Silas imprisoned. Leave it to people to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time. The woman is restored to wholeness, free to live a life of freedom from slavery to her owners and the demon, and all anyone cares about is money. With stories like this in the New Testament canon, one wonders how it is that Christian charlatans throughout the ages justify taking money for performing exorcisms under revival tents or on television.

Despite being jailed, Paul and Silas pray and sing hymns into the night, when all of a sudden an earthquake opens the prison doors. The jailer is about to take his own life, believing the prisoners must have all fled, when Paul stops him from harming himself, saying, “Look! We are all still here!” Suddenly the horror of the earthquake gives way to the miracle that these Christians are truly out to save him, and before you know it, the jailer and his family are added to the thousands recorded in the Book of Acts that turn to Jesus.

In John’s gospel today, Jesus is praying. It is Maundy Thursday, the night before his execution. He knows he has been betrayed. He knows he faces capital punishment at the hands of the Roman Empire. Yet, thinking not at all about what lies ahead of him, he takes time out to pray for his disciples. And not just his disciples, but as he says, “also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. … So that they may be one, as we are one.”

That is, he is looking far, far ahead. He is praying for us. He is praying for you and for me, and for all Christians everywhere.

Do we ever stop to consider just how disappointed he must be? We see his last act of devotion is directed to us so that we might be one, united with him, in him, with Jesus and the Father, as one people, one body, through one baptism. And here we are, nearly 2,000 years later, at a time in history when our profligate misuse of God’s creation is eliminating one species of creature daily, while at the same time we further splinter the body of Christ into more and more denominations and groups.

How is it that we conspire to contribute to the body of evidence that prayer is utterly ineffective by spending so much time, energy and resources – yes, money – asserting that our puny little corner of Christianity is the “true church”? People must say to themselves, “Why can’t these Christians spend more time trying to live into their Lord’s prayer for unity with one another, themselves and with God?” To borrow from Joe Hickerson and Peter Seeger, “When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?”

Which brings us to today’s reading from Revelation, the last book in the Bible. The final words of Holy Scripture are “Come, Lord Jesus!” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift come. Come, Lord Jesus!

Are we among those who hear? Are we thirsty enough to come? Are we willing to let “anyone who wishes” to take the water of life as a gift? How long can we pretend to hold people – faithful, seeking people – at arm’s length with all sorts of conditions, rules, rituals and behaviors, from the waters of life? Are we to be gatekeepers or those people who open the floodgates of God’s unconditional love and mercy?

Are we really prepared to cry out with one voice, like John the Revelator, imploring Jesus to come?

The Seventh Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Year C poses some very serious questions to those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder that some congregations opt to celebrate the Ascension today rather than wrestle with all that today’s lessons have to challenge us with?

The Seventh Sunday of Easter offers us these odd stories in an attempt to shake us open, just as the earthquake opened the doors of the prison in Philippi, and loosed the chains on all those in the prison. The world is looking to us to live into our Lord’s most devout moment of prayer. The world looks to us to be unbound so that we might be those people who make the waters of life, the waters of God’s unconditional love and mercy, truly and honestly available to all persons.

Yet, we find it so hard to believe that we can do this.

It should be no wonder that the last words in the Bible are “Come, Lord Jesus!” If ever we need him to come into our lives, it is here and now, in this time and in this place.

The Good News is that he promises he is with us to the end of the age!

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

 

— 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 diocesan girls’ boarding school in the Diocese of Maryland, where he teaches World Religions and International Baccalaureate (IB) English. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.

God’s love is life itself, 7 Easter (C) – 2010

May 16, 2010

Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

There is a story or parable, variously ascribed to the wisdom traditions of Arab, Chinese, or rabbinic literature, which illustrates well “the changes and chances of this mortal life,” as the Book of Common Prayer describes the vicissitudes, the ups and downs, of this world.

According to most versions, the story – no doubt apocryphal – goes like this: A farmer had a fine stallion that one day escaped and ran off. The farmer’s neighbors commiserated with him. “What bad luck you have,” they said sadly. But the farmer responded, “Who really knows? It could be bad. But it could also be good.”

Sure enough, the very next day, the stallion returned followed by twelve wild and healthy young steeds. “How fortunate you are!” exclaimed the neighbors. “Who knows,” countered the farmer to his neighbors’ surprise, “if it is good fortune or not?”

Not long after, the farmer’s strapping son attempted to break one of the wild horses when he tumbled and shattered his leg. “How unlucky you are!” exclaimed the neighbors. The farmer shrugged his shoulders and asked again, “Who knows if it is bad luck or good?”

Later, the king’s soldiers arrived, recruiting young men for battle and war in far-off lands, but they quickly passed over the farmer’s son with the bad leg. “How very lucky you are,” said the amazed neighbors as the old man muttered once again, “Who knows? Maybe it is good, maybe it is bad.”

Good or bad? Who can say? Sometimes it depends on your perspective and your faith. Consider our first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles.

Coming across a slave girl with “a spirit of divination,” Paul frees her from her bondage “in the name of Jesus Christ.” But what is no doubt good fortune for the young girl is a financial disaster for her wily and rapacious owners, who have suddenly lost “their hope of making money” from her soothsaying. They see to it that Paul, along with his companion Silas, is thrown forthwith into prison – an unexpected and unfortunate turn of events for these intrepid disciples of the Lord, who now find themselves sequestered in “the innermost cell” of the prison with “their feet in stocks.”

An earthquake – then as now a terrible and unpredictable calamity – becomes the disciples’ unlikely means of escape and the return of their good fortune. But their impending flight from captivity, and that of the others imprisoned with them, brings their duteous jailor to the point of despair and suicide, until Paul swiftly intervenes and introduces him and his household to faith in “the Lord Jesus.” The warden “and his entire household” are then “baptized without delay,” and all rejoice in their newfound faith and the blessings it represents.

All in a day’s work, we might say, for Paul and Silas – disciples of profound faith and determination. What seems misfortune and adversity one minute is the very next minute revealed by the grace of God to be the means of deliverance and salvation not only for Paul and Silas but for those whom they encounter as well.

In some ways things have probably not changed that much in two thousand years for people of faith. Just as in the time of the Apostles, the vicissitudes of everyday life today are such that none of us can count on lasting good fortune – or thankfully, bad. Sometimes in the middle of things, we cannot even tell which is which. Our heads spin at the pace of change in our world, in our lives, and in our church. Who can say from one moment to the next what is good and what is bad? What is the Lord’s doing, and what is not?

Many folks, for instance, who just two or three short years ago were productively employed and enjoying the fruits of their labors, now find themselves unemployed and looking for work – in some cases even homeless – victims of forces beyond their easy control. Still, we know from experience that times of adversity are often also periods of great energy and creativity – for society as a whole and for us as individuals.

Most of us can probably tell of instances in our own lives when apparent hardship or tragedy brought in its wake opportunity and prospects we might never have otherwise experienced had it not been for what we at first mistook for unmitigated misfortune. Who can tell, really, what blessings may ensue from today’s hardships and perils?

Perhaps there is wisdom after all in the attitude of resignation of the old farmer in the tale. Who can ever say for sure what is good luck or bad? Sometimes the wheel of fortune is more than just a game show on television. Yet Christians have more than quiet resignation to blind fate or destiny to fall back on. For, while acceptance of divine predestination has been an important element of some Christian traditions for centuries, it has never kept genuine people of faith from prayer, hope-filled trust in the Lord, and acts of mercy.

The words of the Book of Revelation – arguably one of the more weighty works of the New Testament – are as profound and rich today as they were the day they were written. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” proclaims the Christ of the ages in our second reading today, “the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Good fortune and bad may be part of our human vocabulary and experience, but they say little about the Lord’s all-encompassing and unending love and compassion, which forever transcend our limited human realm of change and chance.

There is nothing under the sun that is not part of God’s plan for us, God’s people. There is nothing that can keep us from God’s love. To know this brings more than abject resignation to fate, more even than quiet reassurance amid the “changes and chances of this mortal life.” To know Christ is beyond fortune or destiny. It is the Good News proclaimed by our Lord throughout the gospels. It is the fulfillment of his ardent prayer today in the Gospel of John, that we all “may become completely one” in him and the Father.

To know Christ and the Father’s love is life itself.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus is interim minister at the Episcopal Church in Almaden, in San Jose, Calif.

Unity, 7 Easter (C) – 2007

May 20, 2007

Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

The readings today are a good example of how amazing, wonderful, and alive the written word of the Holy Scripture is. Although it was recorded at a different time in a different place by people of a different culture, it is still relevant to our lives in the church and the world today. If you wonder if the church is relevant today, let me invite you to think about two things: unity as the glory of God, and unity as the hope for a Godly world.

In our first reading today, we hear how Paul and Silas free the enslaved spirit of a young girl, resulting in their own enslavement. They came to Philippi in Macedonia, a risk in itself, because the Scripture describes it as a Roman colony – not exactly friendly ground for followers of Christ. And even though Paul and Silas are Roman citizens, they allow the community in Philippi to make assumptions based on what they represent, not who they are. They allow themselves to be punished for giving freedom to a girl who is being used by her owners for financial gain. Theirs is an example of how unity in mission results in freedom.

It is ironic that Paul and Silas are then imprisoned for freeing the girl. Afterward, it is amazing that their actions – praying and singing for all to hear – move their jailers to set them free and join them as baptized members united in Christ. Interesting that slavery and imprisonment led to unity and enlarging the community of faith. They found unity in the midst of controversy.

Is it possible that we might find unity for the church and the world in the midst of our controversies? Is it possible that we might learn something from those we have been imprisoned or marginalized by our judgments, assumptions, and actions? Certainly, this is the hope of the resurrection and Christ incarnate. And it leads to the question, “What does it mean to be united?”

The unity that enlarges the kingdom of God is not meant to be a unity that makes us all the same. Unity is not meant to impose the “melting-pot” mentality that destroys cultural, theological, and social distinctions. Rather, the unity of God’s kingdom celebrates the diversity of God’s creation.

The unity of the gospel requires us to live into the diversity of God’s creation. It requires us to be reconciled with love and compassion to a higher purpose – one that results in unity.

Today’s gospel reading invites us into unity coming from being with God just as God is with us. This awareness of God in our lives and in all of creation, though understood in many ways by different cultures and religions, has one unifying product: shalom. As our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori describes it, shalom “has to do with the restoration of all creation to right relationship with God.”

God’s unity comes from relating to one another inclusively, affirming each person’s expression of God in them and God with them. It is God’s call and prayer for us all to unite in mission – to release those imprisoned by poverty; lack of education; gender inequality; environmental injustices; and lack of adequate health care.

The prayer that Jesus prays in the gospel is one of unity and witness to the love of God in the world: “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and they know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

When you read the Gospel of John in Greek, you realize how similar the words “one” and “in” are to each other, but more important is how repetitively they appear, making it almost impossible to miss the point. And just as in our reading from Revelation, it is God’s glory that comes through when we are united in God’s love.

It is love, the agape love of God, that when given away freely, draws us into a community, uniting us as one. This is the love that makes us a serving community united in one accord and mission. This is what showed through in Paul and Silas to the community in Philippi. This love is what shines through each of us as God’s children. Can you imagine how bright the beacon of that love is when we are all shining together – beaming with love through our actions – one in mission?

This is the unity Jesus prays for in our gospel today. This is God glorified in Revelation. This is the unity that celebrates the diversity of all creation.

Jesus said, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes, take the water of life as a gift.
The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen.
Come, Lord Jesus.

 

— The Rev. Debbie Royals, of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, is the regional missioner for Native Ministry Development in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Northern California, and is the Indigenous People’s Network Chair for Province VIII.