Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Easter A – April 16, 2017

[RCL] Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

We, the faithful in Christ, gather this morning, not just with our friends and families, but also with Christians around the world and across time, joyfully proclaiming what is perhaps the most ancient creed in Christendom: Christ is risen! For the next fifty days, this great and powerful Easter proclamation will mark our liturgy, define our purpose, and affirm our most deeply held belief.

Of course, proclaiming that joyful phrase today amidst the beautiful flowers, the gorgeous music, and in the company of those we love comes easily for most, if not all of us. And yet, for as much as we enjoy the more festive aspects of Easter, the truth is that these things, by themselves, don’t tell the whole story.

Along with praise-filled shouts of “Alleluia,” the whole story of Easter also includes shouts of war and hate; of fear and pain; of confusion and misunderstanding. In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom, and in the shadow of war and violence that plague our streets and our planet, these emotions are viscerally familiar to all of us. And although we may lose sight of it here this morning, these emotions also filled the hearts of the faithful on that first Easter morning.

The Gospel of John sets the scene: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed.” Then, John tells us, she ran to share the news with the others. And while John doesn’t tell us this part himself, when people get news, they don’t typically run unless it’s really good news or really bad news!

Mary, it seems fair to say, is distraught—shocked that the body of her beloved Lord isn’t in the tomb where he had been laid just three days ago. When she reaches the other disciples with the news, they take off running as well, reaching the tomb only to confirm what Mary had told them. They depart, their hopes dashed; their Easter alleluias muted.

This is where Easter ended: The disciples returned home—confused, saddened, and unsure of what would happen next. John tells us that they “as yet…did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”

And who could blame them really? They had put so much trust in Jesus, only to have it squashed by powers and principalities. What were they to do now? Where would they go? Who would they believe in next?  These were the questions that raced through the disciples’ minds as they came to grips with their grief and disappointment.

But Mary wasn’t ready to let go just yet.

Mary stays behind, weeping while she examines the emptiness of the tomb, making sure that no detail or clue goes unseen or unexamined—desperately searching for some shred of evidence; grasping for even the faintest possibility.

Just then, she sees two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying. They ask her why she is weeping and she says, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

We can hear the weight of grief in her voice. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all had similar moments to the one Mary is experiencing. Moments when we’ve found ourselves desperately searching for God, only to be met with emptiness and sadness. Have you ever come to church, yearning for the peace and comfort of the sacraments, only to find that God doesn’t seem to be there? Has your prayer life ever felt dry and fallow? Have you ever found yourself wondering whether church itself might be futile?

In moments like these, we find ourselves in a kind of spiritual mourning, wondering where Jesus has gone, and why he seems to have been taken away. St. John of the Cross called these moments the “Dark Night of the Soul”—when prayer, sacrament, and community no longer bring comfort, and the transcendence of God’s presence seems to have evaporated.[1]

There is a well-meaning tendency among many Christians—especially those who have never wrestled deeply with their faith—to liken these moments to a kind of spiritual weakness. “If you only prayed a little harder or believed a little deeper or trusted a little more, then everything would be okay,” they tell us. We needn’t look much further than the shelves of our local bookstore for a seemingly endless litany of books offering prescriptions that promise to fix our spiritual life.

But as the Trappist monk and priest Thomas Keating reminds us, “The spiritual journey is not a career or a success story. It is a series of humiliations of the false self that become more and more profound. These make room inside of us for the Holy Spirit to come in and heal.”[2]

In other words, we can’t work our way into God’s good graces because God doesn’t deal in performance evaluations and goals and targets. God doesn’t show up on our time or in a manner of our choosing; and our relationship with God cannot be converted into a checklist or a “how to” guidebook.

This is the lesson that Mary learned on that first Easter, and it’s the one that God is still trying to teach us 2,000 years later. In the midst of her desperate search for clues about what might have happened to Jesus’ body, a man walks by and asks Mary why she is so distraught. And desperately hoping that he would know something she didn’t, she says, “If you know where he is—if you’ve taken him somewhere else—just tell me where and I will take him myself.” If you will just tell me what to do or where to go, I’ll do it! It’s as if she’s saying, “Give me a target! Give me a goal! What are the five simple steps that I need to accomplish?”

And that’s when it happens: Jesus calls her by name! “Mary!” And when she hears it, she is overcome! She cries out, “Rabbouni! Teacher!”

With these words, Mary experiences the very first Easter moment! She realizes that Christ’s difficult and at times unbelievable teachings are true—that what he promised at the Last Supper has come to pass!

Mary’s witness to the first Easter is about far more than beautiful worship and festive celebrations. Mary brings us face to face with the depths of our humanity. Her witness is a mosaic of the human experience—grief and joy; uncertainty and affirmation; depression and determination. This is the true witness of Easter!

Even in the depths of our despair and grief, when things just seem to keep piling up with no end in sight, and even when we just don’t know if we believe it anymore, the God made known to us in Jesus Christ has a way of showing up where we least expect him!

But if we’re not careful, we’ll close the book as if the story ends right here. Mary recognizes the Resurrected Lord and everyone lives happily ever after. But this isn’t the end of the story. In fact, if we keep reading, we realize that Easter isn’t a story at all! It’s a commissioning!

Once Mary recognizes Jesus, he says to her, “…Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” The moment that Mary leaves the garden, the Good News of Easter gets loose and begins to transform the world! Mary bears witness to the fact that, even in the face of death itself, God will have the last word!

Through her first Easter witness, Mary teaches us that grief and joy, uncertainty and affirmation, desperation and determination, are all inescapable parts of our humanity. She teaches us that our lives of faith aren’t about success or opportunities for advancement; rather, they are holy mysteries that will surprise, unsettle, and transform us. But most important of all, she teaches us that in the resurrection of our Lord Christ, we know that love, hope, and peace will ultimately prevail!

And so, in this Eastertide, may we proclaim that Christ is risen, not simply in church, but also in the world around us. May we proclaim it, not simply with our lips, but also with our hands and hearts. And as we live into the joy and promise of Easter, may we go forth into the world, looking for the Resurrected Christ in places we may not expect.

May we search for Christ amidst those who are cast down and rejected; among those who have nobody to care for them; and in the company of those who have never known the loving embrace of friendship. The world needs this now, perhaps more than ever before. But most of all, may we not simply proclaim the Good News, may we also believe it so that the whole world may see Christ in their midst and proclaim, “The Lord is risen indeed!”

Alleluia!

Written by the Rev. Marshall A. Jolly, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton, North Carolina. He studied at Transylvania University (BA, American Studies) and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (MDiv & Certificate in Anglican Studies). His published works include essays on Christian social engagement, theology in the public square, and preaching, appearing most recently in the Journal of Appalachian Studies and the Anglican Theological Review. He is the editor of Modern Metanoia, a preaching resource authored by Millennials, and enjoys exploring the nearby Appalachian foothills with his wife Elizabeth.

[1] See TJ Tetzlaff’s essay for Easter Day (Year C), entitled, “The Unlikely Evangelist” in Modern Metanoia 14 March 2016, http://modernmetanoia.org/2016/03/14/easter-day-c-the-unlikely-evangelist/

[2] Thomas Keating, The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation (New York: Paulist Press, 1999), 38.

Download the sermon for Easter.

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.

Hope for the Future, Ascension Day (C) – 2016

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

It’s a tragic thing to witness someone who does not have hope or dreams for the future. Part of our human nature is to envision a better tomorrow and strive for new accomplishments and realities. When this part of our nature dies, the whole person eventually gives up and dies. Many times our deepest desires are birthed in our most primal need for family, love, acceptance, and self-realization. When dreams and hopes are not fulfilled as we envisioned, we may face a crisis of faith as we struggle to make sense of the harsh reality of life. Jesus’ disciples lived in a time of repressed hopes and dreams that were squelched by foreign powers and internal competing political and religious factions. Their religious leaders did little to help keep hope alive, but rather burdened the people with endless rules and regulations that were impossible to fulfill.

Israel existed as a vassal state under the control of other nations for much of its long and checkered history. First it was the Assyrians and Babylonians, and then the Persians followed by the Macedonians, and finally the Romans. After centuries of rebellion and armed struggle to gain their freedom, the people of Israel held on tightly to the hope of reestablishing the Davidic line on the throne in Jerusalem. When Jesus appeared on the scene, the disciples were well steeped in this nationalistic dream. Just before Jesus ascended into Heaven the disciples asked, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

It is apparent that they were still looking at the events that transpired over the previous three years through earthly eyes. They were holding tightly onto the hope that Israel would be delivered from Roman hegemony and Jesus would become their king despite his assertion that his kingdom was not of this world. It is difficult to let go of dreams we’ve held on to for so long, especially dreams that give us the strength to endure hardships and injustice.

The disciples were members of a subjugated people, living under Roman law, and members of a despised race. It’s understandable that they held on tightly to the hope of a better life, one where they could reach their fullest potential and be able to live their lives as a free people. What they failed to see, however, was that Christ promised this very thing, but not in the manner in which they had dreamed. They were not yet able to let go of their national dream and open themselves to receiving the greater blessing that God had in store for them.

They were not able to envision the impact they would have on the Roman Empire and the world at large. Their view of life was still shaped by their limited vision that was focused on statehood and local politics. Little did they know that in just a few decades Rome would completely destroy Jerusalem, their temple, and their way of life. But out of the smoldering embers would rise a Church, one that transcended ethnic and political barriers, one in which Christ predicted that even the Gates of Hell could not prevail.

Like the disciples, we too seek a life where we can achieve our fullest potential and feel as if we have a purpose for living and make a difference, that our existence has some deeper meaning than just getting by until we finally die. For many of us, we have a deep desire to be needed and wanted by others. We may long to make an impact on those around us and be remembered as someone whose life was not lived in vain. Our view of life is often shaped by our own limited vision we have of life and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We may define ourselves by what others say or do to us.

Sometimes we live our lives as a subjugated people, ones who are enslaved by our fears, doubts, feelings of inferiority, and our seemingly unmet need to love and be loved. We hold tightly onto things and people that we believe will bring us wholeness and happiness. The tighter we hold, however, the emptier we feel.

Eventually we give in and negotiate a truce with that which makes us miserable, much like the leaders of Israel did with the Romans. Or, we get angry and rebel against what is taking away life’s joy and impeding our goals and we find ourselves constantly at war with others and ourselves. This was the plight of the zealots of Jesus’ day. Either way, we miss the point of Jesus’ purpose, just as the disciples did when he spoke to them prior to his ascension.

Sometimes when we lose the object of our affection we see that which is greater and more meaningful. It’s a painful process, but one in which we can gain great insight, blessing, and peace. We are asked to let go of those things we hold dear to our heart and love deeply, as well as those things that hold us captive and slowly extinguish our hopes and dreams, and ascend with Christ to that place where we are glorified with him. Christ’s ascension is a reminder of the Kingdom of God within our hearts, and of the ever-present Spirit of God, watching over and protecting us as we spread the light of Jesus’ truth throughout the world. Jesus completed His earthly mission of bringing salvation to all people and was physically lifted up from this world into Heaven. The meaning and the fullness of Christ’s Resurrection is given in the Ascension. Having completed His mission in this world as the Savior, He returned to the God in heaven and raised earth to heaven with him!

Jesus glorified humanity when He returned to God and reunited us with God. Jesus took on our human nature and then deified this human nature by taking his body to heaven and giving it a place of honor at the right hand of God. With Christ, human nature also ascends and consummates the union of God and human. He took with him all of humanity’s weaknesses and frailties – our fear, insecurity, feeling of rejection, hurts, anger, disappointments, despair, doubt, pettiness, resentment, bitterness – and transformed us into his image. Christ’s redemptive ministry was not complete until he returned to God in bodily form. By doing so, he made a way for all of humanity to experience God’s healing both in spirit and body.

The angel asked the disciples why they were looking into the sky where Jesus had just ascended. We often find ourselves doing the same thing even today. We look heavenward for answers, but the answers we look for are found right here. They are in front of us and in our hearts where God dwells. The answers are found in the people whom God brings into our lives, and they are revealed in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Christ’s redemptive work on the cross was completed when he ascended into Heaven. There he intercedes for us in bodily form as we go about his business here on Earth. We have been redeemed, not only in our spirits but also in the flesh through Christ’s ascension.

Paul writes that the suffering of this present time is not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. Mortal flesh has been glorified in Christ, and along with that our dreams and hopes have also been sanctified. Go and live life to its fullest, don’t lose hope, keep on dreaming, live righteously and fight for righteous causes, and love lavishly. Amen.

Download the sermon for Ascension Day C.

Written by The Reverend Deacon Timothy G. Warren

The Rev. Deacon Timothy G. Warren is the founder and pastor of St. Francis, an emergent outreach ministry in California’s High Desert Region, and founder/president of Lifeskills Development, a newly formed nonprofit dedicated to providing assistance to at-risk young adults.

 

Look to the Lord, Easter 6 (C) – 2016

[RCL] Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9; Psalm 67

There is something perplexing and difficult at the heart of the Christian faith. This perplexing something is the central value of the Kingdom of God; the primary, identifying characteristic of the Christian Church at its best and the clearest picture we have of our relationship with Jesus and his relationship with us.

At the same time, this perplexing and difficult something at the heart of our faith is both the best description we have been given of who God is and the clearest command our Lord gives to us. It’s a quality or a type of relationship, and it’s proclaimed as the greatest, strongest, and most persistent gift we are given.

It’s what the Gospel today talks about. The English word is “love” and that’s really a shame. The early church was smarter than we are. The early church knew that this difficult and perplexing quality of relationship was a new thing, its own thing, revealed by Jesus and in Jesus. So, when the early church talked about this new thing, it pretty much invented a new word. The church took a seldom used, vague and antiquated Greek term and used it to describe what it was talking about. The Greek word, we all know, is Agape.

The advantage of doing this was that every time the Church used this word, people would know exactly what was being talked about—they would know that what was meant was the command of Christ, the life of God, the goal of the Christian and the greatest power in creation. It meant that, and nothing else. There was really no other meaning for Agape. This was real handy; it avoided confusion. Also, by doing this, nobody thought they knew what the word meant until they learned it from the Lord and through the Church.

We haven’t been that smart. We took that precise and specific Greek word “Agape”, and we ended up translating it as one of the most vague, most misused and abused words in the English language. We call it “love”, a word with a jillion meanings. So, most of the time when we hear the word “love” used in the Bible we think we know what it means. But we almost certainly don’t. Instead, we’re probably confusing agape with one of those jillion other things that the word “love” means in English.

So we hear Jesus saying, “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father” and we actually think we understand what Jesus is talking about. After all, we love our new car; and we love chocolate; and we love our spouses and our kids; we love to go fishing; Romeo loved Juliet; and – judging from bumper stickers – we love every conceivable breed of dog and cat – and many cities. Or at least we “heart” them, which I guess means love. And none of that has any real connection to what John is talking about when he says that God is Love, or with what Jesus is commanding us to do when he commands us to love him or one another. When we love in any of those other ways we are not keeping the Lord’s commandment, we are not imitating the nature of God.

The word is a problem. The King James Version of the Bible generally used “charity” instead, which has some advantages – at least it’s not erotic and it’s clearly voluntary. No one comes home from a long weekend and says, “I’m so happy, I just fell in charity with Elbert.” But, for better or worse, “charity” got taken over by other non-profits and really doesn’t work these days. We’re stuck with “love,” but I wish we weren’t.

All of this is to say that when we hear the word “love” used by and about Jesus Christ, God, and the Christian community, we cannot automatically assume we know what it means. Certainly, when we talk to non-Christians about love, we can safely assume that they do not know what it means. Ordinary English usage seldom gives us even a hint of what the Bible is talking about. Yet this peculiar difficult and perplexing thing is both the purpose of our lives and the way to that purpose.

Listen: There is only one way to learn what the Christian faith is talking about when it talks about love. There is only one way to discover which of all the different experiences we have are really experiences of love in this sense. There is only one way to know what we are commanded to do when we are commanded by our Lord to love God and one another. Only one.

We can learn of love – Christian love, agape – only from Jesus Christ. Period. It’s only from knowing him: from knowing what he said and what he did, who he was and who he is, that we can know what love is. Until we realize this we will always miss the point. The call to love is a call to Jesus: to know him, to live his life, and to walk his path. The Bible, theologians, living examples, saints and other greats of the faith, these can help, but only if we know Jesus first. You see, the truth of the matter is that there is no single, precise, definition of Christian love, of agape. There is, instead, a person, Jesus of Nazareth, who lives it and who shows us what it is and who gives it to us that we may show and give that same love to the world.

Last week we heard Jesus say, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” So says the Lord to the Church. What does this love mean, what does it look like? To discover this, we have to look to Jesus. And when we do that, the first thing we see is that it has nothing to do with how we feel inside; it’s about how we choose to act; it’s about what we do. So, we know that, in part, love looks like turning one cheek when the other has been hurt; it looks like going two miles when one mile is unfairly asked; it looks like offering prayers in response to insults.

We know that it looks like a father welcoming home a son who was lost; like paying a full day’s wage to a worker who showed up an hour before quitting time—and it looks like rejoicing in each of these. It looks like losing your life in the hope of finding it; and it looks like obedience to a God who will tell us neither the specifics of our task nor the consequences of our faithfulness.

It looks like all of that, and much, much more. But really, finally, and at its clearest, it looks like this. It looks like a cross—it looks like the cross. This is what we Christians really mean when we talk about love. And if we ever mean anything else, then we most certainly mean something less—and we are unfaithful to our Lord, and we mock his commandment. This cross (without the pretty symbols) is what it means for God to love us; this is what it means for us to love one another. You won’t find this on bumper stickers, in cheap novels, or in plain brown envelopes. But it can be found.

That’s really the central thing I have to say about love. We must constantly be reminded of this, lest we confuse our Lord with either Pollyanna or Hugh Hefner, and thus reduce our faith to another cheap route to self-delusion or to empty self-gratification.

So, to find out what John means when he says that God is love, or to discover what it looks like to love one another as Jesus has loved us, we do not look deep within our selves, we do not look around us, or at our families, or at our society or at the natural world. Instead, we look to the Lord, and to his life—to all of his life. There we will find, in all its depth and simplicity, what we Christians really mean when we talk about love. And there we will find life.

Download the sermon for Easter 6C.

Written by The Reverend James Liggett

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.

By This Everyone Will Know That You Are My Disciples, Easter 5 (C) -2016

[RCL] Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord from the heavens! Praise the Lord from the earth! Let us praise the name of the Lord, for God’s name only is exalted, God’s splendor is over earth and heaven. Amen.

Today’s readings situate the early church within the Jewish culture of first century Judea. The passage from the Acts of the Apostles depicts Jesus’ early followers as observant Jews and the beginnings of the Church as rooted within Judaism struggling to define what this new way of life means for them.

The writer of the Revelation to John is also situated within the Jewish tradition and in these writings; we have an example of Christian visionary literature built on the foundations of Jewish apocalypses. A revelation or apocalypse is generally a first-person narrative in which the writer relates one or more visions about the future and/or the heavenly world. The image of the divine throne and the precise layout of the heavenly city contain echoes of Ezekiel 1 and Ezekiel 40 – 42, while the new heaven and a new earth and the absence of weeping and crying are echoes of Isaiah 65. Indeed even the reference to the holy city Jerusalem supports an essentially Jewish frame of reference. The text as a whole is a glorious act of worship, telling a story of God’s enduring presence in the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. The vision ends on a note of hope and faith.

In today’s gospel, Jesus announces his impending death to his disciples and offers comfort and instructions for how they should behave when he is gone. John the Evangelist takes pains throughout his gospel to distinguish the Jewish followers of Jesus from “the Jews,” those who have not accepted Jesus as the Son of God and path to salvation. “You will look for me,” Jesus says to the disciples, possibly to tell them of new ways in which they will find him after his departure. New ways such as what Peter discovered when he went to the Gentile household of Cornelius. Jesus emphasizes how his followers are to behave when he is gone in the famous words of John 13:34-35 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”

These instructions form the basis of pastoral care and service in Christian life and community, from the time of the earliest Christians forward. Jesuit professor Bruce Morrill, in his book Divine Worship and Human Healing: Liturgical Theology at the Margins of Life and Death, writes:

“What distinguished the followers of Jesus and successive generations of Christians was their outreach to the poor and sick, the practical love they demonstrated in openly forming fellowship groups (local churches) that actively reached out in service to the poor, the hungry, and the sick.”

An element of early Christian practice that impressed pagan observers was their shunning of social boundaries in caring for the sick and needy in times of trouble.

These early Christians were called to follow Jesus’ instructions: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

In fact, according to Rodney Stark, author of The Rise of Christianity and an authority on the sociology of religion, poor Christians in the ancient world were healthier and happier than their poor pagan neighbors. Christians cared for one another. They took up collections to support their elders and orphaned children. They offered each other simple nursing care in epidemics. They offered strong community in chaotic times. Stark writes in Christian History Magazine:

“To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity and hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate fellowship. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family.”

These early Christians were called to follow Jesus’ instructions: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Can we say the same today, of our churches, in our cities? Are we taking care of one another? Offering charity and hope? Providing fellowship to newcomers, strangers, orphans and widows?

The beautiful language of the King James version of today’s passage from Revelation contains the words: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.” How can the promises of Revelation be applied in a pastoral context? How can we aid and comfort one another? Certainly, we can’t take away all sorrows, old age, chronic pain, death. We are unlikely to alter the path of armies or the destruction of natural disasters. Can we bring a note of hope and faith in the midst of pain, chaos, despair? Can we reach out to victims of destruction and exile?

Certainly what we can do is reach out to our neighbors, remembering that the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles as well as the circumcised. We can love another. We can assure one another that we are all integral parts of a living community, a community both within and without our church walls. By worshipping together, praising God as our Jewish and early Christian forebears did, we join in community and are strengthened in faith as we are soaked in trust and love for one another. In liturgical worship, gathered in Christ’s name, we form the basis for worshipping God in ethical service. These manifestations of God’s glory are distinct yet vitally related works of the same Holy Spirit. Our liturgical worship is both an end and a means. Our communities can stand as a witness to our neighbors of our spiritual commitment and joyful determination to love and serve. We are sent out by the Holy Spirit to love one another, to pastor to one another, to reach out to those whom we may serve, in ways great and small.

As the body of Christ here and now, we are called to follow Jesus’ instructions: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Go in Peace. Remember the Poor.

Amen.

Download the sermon for Easter 5C.

Written by Susan Butterworth
Susan Butterworth is a Master of Divinity candidate at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her area of special competency is Anglican, Global, Ecumenical and Interfaith Studies. She is currently an intern with the Lutheran Episcopal Ministry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is in the process of writing a thesis and planned book on the anti-apartheid work of the Anglican dean of Johannesburg Cathedral, Gonville ffrench-Beytagh. 

The Good Shepherd, Easter 4 (C) – 2016

[RCL] Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Today many churches will celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, especially those parishes and congregations that have “Good Shepherd” in their titles. “The Good Shepherd” is a title that Jesus used for himself in a famous section of the Gospel of John in which he declares, “I am the Good Shepherd.” The passage is so meaningful for the Christian understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth is that parts of it are appointed for this Sunday in all three years of the Church’s lectionary.

The background and implications of Jesus’ claim to be the Good Shepherd make it particularly consequential. Throughout the Old Testament—but with special pointedness in the prophetic books—the kings and other rulers of Israel and Judah are called shepherds. This designation makes sense because kings and rulers were entrusted with looking out for the welfare of God’s people. They were responsible for defending them from attack, for administering justice, for taking care of the poor and needy, and for making provisions for the worship of the Lord.

As the Hebrew prophets make clear, however, the rulers of Israel and Judah failed on every count. They “fed themselves and not the flock,” and they had “scattered the sheep of the Lord’s flock”. They proclaimed the hope that the Lord would intervene on behalf of the people, God would be their true Shepherd. God spoke to Ezekiel promising:

“I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”

Throughout the Psalms the Lord is presented as the Shepherd of Israel and the one who guides the people like a flock. The best-known example of the Bible’s shepherd-imagery for God is the psalm appointed for today, Psalm 23. Many Christians know its words by heart:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.”

In rich symbolism, the psalm movingly depicts God as the true king of Israel and shepherd of God’s people. God gives them everything they need, and nothing is missing from God’s generous provisions. Sustenance, refreshment, beauty, and safety are all to be found among the Lord’s gifts for God’s people. The Lord’s strength defends them from their oppressors and saves them from dangers the way a shepherd protects their sheep from wolves, bears, and lions:

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

God’s people rejoice, surrounded by the abundance of God’s love forever:

“Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

This understanding of God as the Shepherd of Israel forms the backdrop for Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of John.

Jesus begins what is known as the Good Shepherd discourse by describing the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd: God knows them by name, and they recognize God’s voice. The relationship is direct and personal. God is not some far-off deity who is uninterested in God’s people. God loves them and calls them by name.

Like the Old Testament prophets Jesus contrasts the Lord’s care for people with the failure of the Jewish leaders who came before him. He exposes them as false shepherds. Instead of caring for the flock of God they were thieves and robbers from whom the sheep needed protection. Jesus insists that the false shepherds only came “to kill, to rob, and to destroy” but that he came to save the sheep and to give them “abundant life”. Jesus teaches that as Israel’s true Shepherd, the long-awaited Messiah, he knows us, loves us, and provides for us with the same knowledge, love, and care that God, Israel’s Lord, offers to God’s people. He even promises us the gift of eternal life.

By laying claim to the role of the Good Shepherd, Jesus is claiming for himself a position reserved for God alone as becomes evident from the section of the Gospel we hear in today’s readings. The crowd demands that Jesus answer them clearly whether or not he is the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus further angers them by telling them that they really ought to have discovered that for themselves when they had heard him teaching and when he had done might signs before their eyes, but they had not listened or seen because they were not God’s sheep. He appears to rile them even more by pressing the question further. He declares, “The Father and I are one.” It was a remarkable statement, and it provoked a dramatic response—the crowd took stones in order to kill Jesus!

There appeared to be no two ways about it: Either Jesus was correct, and he was the Good Shepherd being opposed by some outsider sheep, or he was a blasphemer who deserved the harshest punishment. The crowd’s violent reaction further illustrates the importance of the question that faces every person: Who is this Jesus? Is he a blasphemer, or is he who he says he is? Is this Jesus the Christ? Is he the Good Shepherd?

In his book Mere Christianity, Anglican layman and theologian C.S. Lewis suggested that one might ask if perhaps Jesus was simply a lunatic, but that no one who listened to Jesus’ message about the care and the loving protection of God could seriously argue that Jesus was a madman. Therefore, instead of simply dismissing what Jesus says, we must take his claims seriously.

Many who first heard Jesus’ claims to be one with God demanded evidence, signs that would demonstrate the truth of what he said. They wanted proof. Jesus gave them an answer when declared, “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my own, and my own know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep… No one takes it from me; but I lay it down of my own accord, and I have power to take it up again.” The proof that Jesus gives that he is the Good Shepherd is his loving self-sacrifice for the people of God and the power of his resurrection. Put another way, Good Friday and Easter Morning are the proof that Jesus of Nazareth is who he says he is.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we ought to celebrate God’s great love as it is revealed in Jesus Christ’s total gift of himself on our behalf. He is the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep and took it up again, and it is he who has given us the abundance of eternal life. As Christians we receive this gift as we hear Jesus’ voice calling us each by name and as we trust him with our whole life in the knowledge that commended to the Savior’s keeping we shall never ripped away from God’s love. Amen.

Download the sermon for Easter 4C.

Written by The Reverend Dr. John J. Lynch

The Rev. Dr. John J. Lynch is the rector of Christ the King Episcopal Church in Yorktown, Virginia, having previously served in the Diocese of Honduras. He is also the Province III Chaplain to the Order of the Daughters of the King. In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, Father Lynch writes and publishes the Spanish-language blog “El Cura de Dos Mundos”.  

Jesus Will Meet Us, Easter 3 (C) – 2016

[RCL] Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19; Psalm 30

John’s Gospel ends with four appearances that the resurrected Jesus makes to different groups of disciples: four scenes of Christ revealed alive, four assurances that death could never contain the life that Jesus lived and lives. First, on Easter Day, we heard how Mary encountered Jesus in the garden outside the tomb, and mistook him for the gardener, before God’s light flooded in and she saw him revealed as her teacher. Last Sunday, we heard of two encounters with Jesus: late on Easter Day, Jesus appears to the disciples in the house where they had been staying — only Thomas is missing and does not believe. So Jesus returns again the following week, and this time Thomas is there, and sees with his own eyes, and confesses his belief. And Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed me because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

These appearances take place in Jerusalem, in the days just after Jesus’ execution. The terror of the preceding week has dissipated, but Jesus’ disciples are still filled with fear, not quite sure how to go on. They don’t know what’s coming next. John does a masterful job showing that fear transforms into joy. First Mary stands outside the tomb, weeping because Jesus is dead. And in the next moment she stands there weeping because he is alive. This whole section, John chapter 20, is imbued with a heavenly light. Think about how your memories of deep despair and deep joy seem more intense: your wedding day, or the funeral of a loved one. The picture you keep in your mind is brighter, more colorful, more deeply ingrained.

But then life goes on, and many ordinary days follow. So it is with the fourth and final appearance that John records, in chapter 21. Some time has passed — John doesn’t say how much. But the disciples have left Jerusalem and returned to their home in Galilee, back to the safety of the countryside and away from those terrible forces that Jesus confronted in the city: the chief priests and Pharisees in the temple, and of course the Roman governor and his soldiers.  Jesus’ loyal followers are home, but you get the sense that they don’t quite know what to do with themselves or what to make of those strange appearances that happened just after Jesus’ death.

Peter decides to go fishing, and several of the others decide to go out on the boat with him. They don’t have any luck, but the next morning, as they are coming back to shore, they find a man standing there who tells them to cast the net again, to the right side of the boat this time — and of course, the man is Jesus, and of course, they haul in so many fish that the net is nearly torn.  And Jesus invites them to sit down on the beach, around the fire he has made, to break bread with him once more: from the last supper to the first breakfast, if you will.

This is the last appearance of the risen Jesus that John records. But this is not Jesus’ last appearance. Look with the eyes of faith, and we begin to see Jesus in the oddest places: on the seashore, in the garden, on the street corner. Sometimes Jesus is hungry and cold and asking us for money. And other times he is inviting us to sit down for an unexpected meal. But always, always, Jesus is challenging us to live lives of kindness and compassion, of sharing and generosity, of justice-making and peace.  In a word, the abundant life that Jesus has brought us is a life of love: it comes from love and is intended to bring more love into the world.

The English language has a poverty of words for love. We have to modify love with other words if we want to try and be precise about what we’re talking about: we talk about “romantic” love, “familial” love, “brotherly” love, and so on. Greek does a better job of this, as we can see in the conversation that Jesus has with Peter after they finish breakfast.  Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”  And Peter answers him, “Well Lord, of course, you know I love you.” But Jesus doesn’t seem satisfied with this answer, so he asks Peter again, and Peter again gives the same answer.  In fact, this exchange happens three times.

Now why would Jesus ask Peter this question three times? It turns out, in the original Greek, Jesus and Peter are using completely different words for love. What Jesus actually asks Peter is: do you agape me?  And Peter answers: yes Lord, you know that I philia you.

Agape and philia. Jesus wants agape: the kind of love that is life-transforming, wholly consuming, that means commitment beyond feelings. Agape is the self-giving love that sacrifices its own needs for the good of others. The kind of love that God has for us, in other words.  This is the love Jesus showed us on the cross, and Jesus is asking for this kind of love in return.

But all Peter can offer is philia: I have affection for you, Lord. I like you, well enough. That’s what philia is — more like, than love.

We shouldn’t be too hard on Peter though. Perhaps he was just trying to be honest about the kind of love he was capable of giving Jesus in return.  Peter saw Jesus’ brutal execution with his own eyes, so he is well aware of what can result from too much agape love. Letting go of yourself for the good of the other is not an easy calling.

A remarkable and beautiful thing happens at the end of this exchange though: the first two times Jesus asks the question, he says, “Do you agape me?” And Peter answers, “Lord, I philia you.” But the third time Jesus asks, he changes the question and uses philia instead of agape, the same word for love that Peter had been using all along.

Peter is hurt, perhaps because he feels embarrassed by Jesus’ lowered expectations. But in reality, he has no need for embarrassment: the point is that Jesus loves us enough to meet us where we are. If all we can offer is philia, then Jesus will meet us there, and keep walking with us. Jesus knows that the agape love with which God holds together the universe is more than enough to go around: it can make up for our deficiencies in love. And as we walk with Jesus and our hearts grow more open, God’s agape love will come pouring in, until we are so full that it begins to flow through us and out into the world.  This is the abundant life that Jesus wants for us: will we follow him into it?

Amen.

Download the sermon for Easter 3C.

Written by the Reverend Jason Cox

The Rev. Jason Cox has served as associate rector for Youth Ministries at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., since 2011. Prior to working at St. Columba’s, he directed the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, a year-long service and discernment program for young adults, in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Before ordination, he served as an intern in the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, working with homeless clients in a transitional housing facility on L.A.’s skid row.

My Lord and My God, Easter 2 (C) – 2016

[RCL] Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150

Doubt is a complicated matter. It can indicate a critical mind, one that asks questions, and never takes things at face value. The opposite is a gullible mind: one that is the delight of unscrupulous sales persons, dangerous politicians, and many televangelists.

There’s another type of doubt, one driven by deep emotion, an emotion stimulated by loss. It’s a form of despair, a despair that clings to loss and refuses to believe that there is any future other than one described by that which is lost. Life will never be the same again. Friends assure us that we will get over our loss of a job, an ambition, our loss of a relationship or the death of a dear one but we don’t want to hear it. We can’t believe it. Saint Thomas’s doubt is of this second type.

Instead of becoming the patron saint of those who never take things at face value, Thomas might well be the hero of people who are never on time. For some reason he missed the earliest encounters with the Risen Lord. About his statement: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  We will get to that in a moment.

Thomas first makes an entrance in Saint Johns Gospel shortly after Lazarus rises from the dead. He tells Jesus that all the disciples will go with him to die. Later, when Jesus tells them that he is going away to prepare a place for his followers, Thomas assumes that Jesus is talking about some geographical destination and says that he doesn’t know where Jesus is going or the way there.

He must have found a safe place to hide in his grief and despair after the crucifixion because he missed the first encounters in the garden, on the road to Emmaus, and in the first of the two encounters in the upper room.

We really don’t know enough about Thomas to assess his character, let alone to accuse him of being a habitual doubter. He’s Jewish. He’s a twin but we don’t know who his twin was. He’s devoted enough to Jesus to at least contemplate dying for him. He doesn’t want to be separated from his Lord. He wants to know where Jesus is going and how to get to him. And for all that, Thomas isn’t there for Jesus when he is arrested, tried, and put to death. He runs away.

After the crucifixion, as he hides in the city, he must be a bundle of fear, grief and guilt. There are few human emotions so devastating. To then discover that his friends, equally guilty, equally grieving, had been visited by Jesus and given authority to heal the very emotions with which he suffered was more than he could absorb or manage. Filled with shame he blurts out: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Thomas won’t believe it for himself. He certainly won’t believe it from the mouths of his friends, who have been empowered to restore relationships: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas still hangs around, even though he is convinced that nothing can ever get better for him, that he deserves nothing better. The next week Jesus appears again, says Shalom, and immediately invites Thomas to touch his wounds. Like a dam bursting, Thomas’s fear, grief, shame, and hopelessness floods out and he collapses in adoration. “My Lord and my God”.

The writer of John’s Gospel, perhaps the Beloved Disciple perhaps not, concludes the story by telling us why he selected this one from among all the incidents he could have recounted. He writes: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

In one way or another we all stumble into life moments when we are seized by fear, remorse, grief, and loss. Our lack of belief that things can get better isn’t atheism or agnosticism, but rather a deeply personal conviction that we are the exception, the one left out. We may even believe that the Christian community is empowered reconcile, restore and forgive and that priests and bishops are chosen agents of reconciliation. There’s a much-neglected service of reconciliation in the prayer book. Yet we still exclude ourselves as if clinging to remorse rather than the life we deserve.

I wonder whether “John” points us deeper in that direction, that “Way, Truth and Life”? Is there significance in the gap of a week between encounters, one that the first Christians would have grasped? Is this a seven-day gap between Lord’s Days? As we do, the Early Christians offered the Shalom, the Peace, before the Eucharist, during which Jesus comes among us and invites us to explore his wounds. As we touch him, he enters us and, by faith, we let loose everything that has obscured his presence. He offers new life when we couldn’t believe one possible, and we drop to our knees and murmur: “My Lord and my God”.

If legend is true, St. Thomas obtained new life and took the message of reconciliation and forgiveness as far as India. His tomb, venerated by Christians and non-Christians alike is the heart of the Mar Thoma, Lord Thomas, Church with whom we enjoy communion.

Download the sermon for Easter 2C.

Written by The Reverend Anthony Clavier

The Reverend Anthony Clavier is the Vicar of St. Thomas’ Church, Glen Carbon, with St. Bartholomew’s, Granite City, Illinois.

Practice Resurrection, Easter (C) – 2016

[RCL] Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…things happen early in the morning. Mornings are mystical and sacred, the earth rises from its slumber to greet the coming day, but this morning did not feel mystical, this morning did not feel sacred. Mary Magdalene did not want to get out of bed but the orange glow in the east was spreading across the sky. The day’s doings were calling.

Sitting on her bed Mary said the customary prayer; “Blessed are you Lord God, Ruler of the Universe. I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.” (Modeh Ani, traditional Jewish first prayer of the day.) But the words didn’t offer the usual comfort. This morning the words were just words.

The last few days seemed a blur. The Passover meal, with its prayers and rituals, family and friends gathered to recite the ancient story, seemed so long ago. Jesus’ strange words that night as he passed the bread, “Do this in remembrance of me”, now made eerie sense. She didn’t really think it would happen. But he was gone. They had come for him. Right there in the garden. The garden where they often went to pray, to talk with Jesus. The garden that held so many happy memories, so many stories. Then he was gone.

She had followed the next day, in disbelief with the other women, as he made the slow agonizing walk to his death. Mary had stood there numb and in shock as they drove the nails, as he breathed his last. She had comforted his mother. The words didn’t come. The words couldn’t come. All she could do was hold on to his mother. She followed to the garden as they laid him in the tomb. He was dead. It was finished.

But the burial rites needed to be done. Sabbath meant they couldn’t do the customary anointing. But today, early on the first day of the week while it was still dark, she had a job to do. Mary dressed as if in a dream. This was not happening. She made her way down the street to the waiting women. With a silent nod they joined in slow procession to the garden, to the tomb. How were they going to move the stone?

The stone had been rolled away! It was empty! How could this be? What have they done? They have taken him. One final insult from the people who had robbed her of her friend, her teacher, her Rabbouni. They must have taken his body to deny him the proper burial. The stone was rolled away.

With tears trailing after her, Mary ran to Simon Peter. “They have taken him!” is all she could get out. Then the flood of tears came. They have taken him. Looking into the empty tomb with the stone rolled away someone was sitting there. “Why are you weeping?” “Don’t you understand? They have taken him!” A voice from behind her: “Woman! Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” That voice. It sounded familiar, but it couldn’t be. “They have taken him! Do you know where?”

“Mary!”

“Rabbouni?!”

That voice. The familiar voice of the impossible. How can this be? This is not possible. “Destroy this temple and in three days it will be rebuilt,” echoed in her head. He’s alive! Jesus is risen! “Go Mary. Tell the others.” New tears as she ran to tell the good news. “I have seen the Lord! I have seen the Lord!”

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, things happen.

Early on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene expected to find death but instead she found new life. We have stood in Mary Magdalene’s shoes. We know only too well what it means to expect death but find new life. We know what it feels like to follow on Good Friday only to be confronted with Easter Sunday. We have stood there peering into the empty tomb with the stone rolled away experiencing the impossible. The thing is, we don’t go looking for resurrection – resurrection finds us.

Jesus’ resurrection is about God loving us so much that God is willing to go to any length to find us in all the wrong places. Because like Mary, we go looking for God in the familiar, in the places we expect to find God. But in Jesus’ resurrection God finds us when we are down and out, when we are at the end of our rope, when all hope seems lost. God rolls back the stones that bind and confine us. God stands waiting with a familiar voice to call us to new life. Call us to “Go and tell.”

Resurrection has no meaning, no purpose, no place unless like Mary Magdalene we go and tell it! Resurrection has no meaning if we cannot share the Good News of Easter to a world living in Good Friday! Resurrection has no meaning unless we are willing to live as Easter people.

Go and tell of your life transformed by the one who healed the sick and cured the lame.

Go and tell of the one who blessed the broken and welcomed the outcast.

Go and tell that “Do this in remembrance of me” is real.

Go and tell that God has work for us to do in our neighborhoods and street corners.

Go and tell that God was there, God is here and God will be there!

Go and tell that God find us and loves us into redemption through Christ Jesus our Lord.

In truth resurrection isn’t an event it is an experience. We are called to go and tell not only with our lips but also with our lives. Go and tell of the resurrection power of God’s love and hope.

Wendell Berry in his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” puts it like this:

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

We need to practice being witnesses to resurrection in a world clinging to Good Friday!

This Easter, may you open your whole self — heart, soul, mind, and strength — to God’s inspiring call to new life and renewed love. May you feel God luring you, prompting you, goading you, cajoling you, calling you and encouraging you — each day and in each new present moment — to practice resurrection. “We have seen the Lord!” Alleluia! Amen.

Download the sermon for Easter C.

Written by The Reverend Deon K. Johnson

The Rev. Deon Johnson has served as Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brighton MI for the last nine 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.

 

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.