Apr 252016
 

Sermon for Sunday April 24 2016 the Fifth Sunday of Easter

 

“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.” Jesus, John 13:35

 

In this short verse Jesus says “Love one another” three times.  It is his last evening with his band of friends, and so time is short – he has to get across to them one final time before the crucifixion the core of his legacy to them – and that core is love.  He qualifies this repetition of “Love one another” by saying that it is his new commandment to them; and by saying he wants them to love one another just as he has loved them; and he lastly wants them to do so as a witness to the world, to show that they are his disciples.  But if they forget all those qualifications, at least they will remember that he said this three times, “Love one another… love one another…  have love for one another!”

In commenting on this Gospel passage in The Women’s Bible Commentary, Gail O’Day writes that while this commandment seems simple, Jesus must have known that “there are many circumstances in which it is easier to love one’s enemies than it is to love those with whom one lives, works, and worships day after day.” (p.302)   So this is a simple but not easy commandment that we keep imperfectly.  Yet Jesus must also have known that even our imperfect efforts at loving one another as sisters and brothers in his name will give off a light and a glow that will attract others to his way.  Our love for one another is a potent manifestation of the risen Christ alive and among us.

Our first lesson for today from the Acts of the Apostles, which chronicles the life of the early church in the days following Christ’s resurrection – gives us a marvelous example of this sort of love in action among those original disciples.  Here in Acts we read about a confrontation between Peter and the leaders of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem.  The Jerusalem followers’ understanding of Jesus was deeply rooted in their Jewish faith and practice, and Peter was very much one of them. But word had gotten to the Jerusalem followers, that while on a visit to the city of Joppa, Peter had eaten dinner in the house of a Gentile.  Given the strict dietary laws of the Jews, these fellow followers of Christ were astonished and confronted Peter on his return to Jerusalem.

Peter’s response to their strong questioning of his actions is a wonderful illustration of living out the new commandment to “love one another”. Peter is non-argumentative.  He does not enter into a debate and does not quote scripture in his defense. As Acts puts it, “Peter began to explain it to them, step by step.” (Acts 11:4).  Peter built a bridge to his critics by sharing his personal experience of God’s Spirit moving among the Gentiles.  His conversion through this experience is strong and his telling of the story of it opens the hearts of the other Jerusalem followers to this new avenue of God’s grace at work in the world.  With open hearts the first followers of Jesus were able to let the Spirit lead them to share the power of resurrection with Gentiles - people they would not likely have reached out to so easily without the Spirit’s prompting.  But it was only through having love and respect for one another - even in a difficult and potentially contentious conversation that they were able to be open to that prompting together!

The same has been true for the church in every age and place since.  As I said in my sermon last Sunday, I feel the Spirit of God moving us to think, pray and discuss together how it is that we can shape our live as a church, in all its facets to reach more people with the power of healing and resurrection that we find in Christ Jesus.  This is work of the church which is unending – in fact the church will only die if it stops seeking to open itself wider to the world in Christ’s name in each time and place – in each generation.  We will be engaging in this sort of prayerful vision building over the coming months, and so I encourage us to take Peter as our mentor – to speak with conviction about our God inspired vision and to listen closely to those of others that we might weave a vision for our congregations that will bring others to join us in this life changing enterprise we call faith in Christ.

And aren’t we are so much stronger, wiser and able to share the power of resurrection woven together in the mystical body of Christ than we are able to do separately?  That said, our loving of each other is often not easy.  When in disagreement we may not think very loving thoughts about one another – but as my 12 step sponsor says, you are not responsible for your first thought, but you are responsible for your second thought.  So we might have to work ourselves toward loving thought and action at times.  And if we act on a first, unloving thought, we might have to circle back and make amends, and together practice that radical forgiveness that Jesus has shown us. None of this is simple, and often it is championed by dominant messages of our culture which scream at us about winning at any cost.

But as difficult and uncomfortable as having love for one another might be at times, it is a powerful witness to the One who loved us first.  And that is a major theme of the theme of the Gospel of John.  Again, Gail O’Day, in The Women’s Bible Commentary writes this:

“The language of Love [in John’s Gospel] is a different ethical language from the language found in the Synoptic Gospels [of Matthew, Mark and Luke].  It is a language for fullness rather than of emptying.  One will give one’s life for one’s friends as an act of love[15:3], not as an act of self-denial and sacrifice as it is understood in the Synoptic Gospels [e.g., Mark 8:34].  In John, one gives out of the abundance of one’s love, not out of denial of one’s self.”(p.302)

 

So try as we can we cannot of our own power manufacture this sort of authentic love for one another.  Rather we must first experience God’s outlandish love for us in Christ and then let that love flow into our thoughts and out into the world through our words and actions.  Disclaimer: a life time of practice is ahead of anyone who attempts this!  But that should not deter us, for through even our half- baked efforts God can work amazing wonders and can reach others through our strivings toward loving witness to Christ.

I want to end with by reading an excerpt of a story that we will be reading and discussing during our Adult Forum next Sunday.  It comes from the book My Neighbor’s Faith: Stories foe Interreligious Encounter, Growth and Transformation, (Edited by Jennifer Howe Peace, Or Rose and Gregory Mobley).   It is a story written by Rita Nakashima Brock about her life of faith. She was born in Japan to Japanese parents and her early spiritual life was shaped by the Buddhist and Shinto religions.  After her mother remarried an American Army Medic, they soon moved to the US where during her middle and high school years the family lived on various army basses and Rita became acquainted with Christianity as represented by a number of different protestant Army Chaplains. In candor she writes:

“I found it strange and dull, and I associated it with the anti-Japanese hostility I experienced from classmates.”

 

In her early adulthood her perceptions of Christianity changed when she met another young woman who became a close friend. This young woman was the daughter of a fundamentalist Baptist minister.  Brock writes that unlike the Christians she had encountered earlier:

“…they eschewed the solemn piety of the chaplains I had known.  Instead they enjoyed life with open-hearted joy grounded in the unshakeable confidence in the love of God.  Fundamentalist faith was never a good fit for me, but that did not seem to matter.”

 

They genuinely loved her anyway and matter what.  It is clear from the way she writes about their relationship that this family was significant and transformative to her life.  Through their loving witness she found a connection and relationship with God in Christ that looked very different from theirs.  But their love for each other transcended their differences.  Years into her adulthood, in her final conversation with the father of this family she affirms the powerful witness of Christ’s love that he had been to her.  Brock writes that she told him:

“When I was a member of your church, you gave me a solid grounding in faith.  I am glad you were the one to baptize me.  I want you to know that you led me to confidence in my relationship to God.  I trust that relationship and always will.  And I’ll see you in heaven.”

 

 

May the love that we have for each other in this congregation be as strong a witness to Christ Jesus.  In his name and for his sake.  Amen+

 

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 Sermon for Sunday April 24 2016 The Fifth Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Mon, 25-Apr-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday April 24 2016 The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Apr 252016
 

Sermon for Sunday April 17 2016 The Fourth Sunday of Easter

At a meeting of people from all the Episcopal parishes in our area this past January, we saw a trailer to a current film titled, When God Left the Building which tells the story of a church which is struggling to survive.  I was shocked by a statistic I heard in the trailer.  The statistic is this: that in the US, across all denominations,  each year 4000 churches close their doors and cease to exist as worshiping and serving communities.  I felt the pain of that statistic keenly because that very week I had attended the closing of my home parish, St. Andrew’s, in Poughkeepsie, NY – the church that birthed me into the life of faith and nurtured me through my formative years.  My heart broke to think that experience will be replicated 3999 times more this year across the US.

As I read our Acts of the Apostles lesson for today, I was struck by the figure of Tabitha, and how she speaks to me about these closing churches.  We are told that Tabitha was “devoted to good works and acts of charity” and at the same time, “she became ill and died.”  These words echo for me the reality of my home parish, and so many churches we may know.  Churches that have long been centers of good works and charity within their communities, and yet over time things can go really wrong and with dwindling congregations and rising expenses, the day comes when the church doors close, and are not opened again.

As with any such loss, significant grief is felt by those whose lives have been touched by these once strong but now dying faith communities. My family and I are grieving for St. Andrew’s. As with Tabitha’s death, many gathered to mourn. The service of de-consecration of St. Andrew’s, Poughkeepsie in January drew over a hundred people to the sanctuary where for the last number of years only 10-20 people attended regularly on Sundays.  The service included prayers of thanks for the life of the parish, and testimonials of the ways in which the parish had significantly impacted the lives of so many.

As with our passage from Acts – when Tabitha dies, those who mourn for her take action.  They send two men to make the plea to Peter “Please come to us without delay.”  And Peter goes.  He goes to the mourning community and through prayer and deep faith, Tabitha is raised up to new life again.  So was the case with St. Andrew’s. The vestry called in the Bishop – the lead apostle of their diocese.  Through prayerful conversation it was determined that the parish would cease to be in the form that it had been for over 150 years.  It would close but, in its closing, it would also rise.   Preaching at the de-consecration service, Bishop Andy Dietsche he assured those present that even as St. Andrew’s ceased to exist as a parish in that building, the financial resources that remained from the endowment and the sale of the building would bring new resurrection life in other forms elsewhere in the Diocese through the Diocesan mission strategy program.  And the last I knew it was hoped that the building will be transformed into a public library – a wonderful repurposing of that sacred place.  And the bishop reminded us that beyond the tangible assets of the parish the spiritual assets of the parish are abundant – all those lives shaped and formed in Christ through all those years – living on in the world as daily witnesses to God in Christ.  Indeed, Tabitha rises!

So, I focus my sermon this way today, because I heard the Holy Spirit calling me to do so.  And I feel that same Spirit urging me to ask this question out loud among us: Given these realities, what are we to do, in churches that are still very much alive, yet which feel the stresses and strains of the changing culture and our place in it? What are we to do? As I have wrestled on that question recently I have come to the conclusion that one thing we cannot do is look the other way and think this could never happen to us.  The statistics show otherwise, and I suspect that leaders of many a church that is now closed probably thought the same thing once upon a time – That could never happen to us.  So we must firmly reject the option of looking the other way.

Instead I want to call you to join me in taking seriously the 5th verse of our psalm for today – the beloved 23rd.  It reads:

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;

*you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.

This verse says to me that we must affirm that part of our life with God entails letting God seat us at the table with troubling parts of life, where we must face them and look them in the eye as best we can.  And this news and statistic about our sister Tabitha parishes is just that – a real and troubling part of life.  But the promise that we must not miss comes in the second half of this verse and in the next verse.  This psalm proclaims that the valley of the shadow of death, and dinner with those who trouble of us not-withstanding, our good shepherd will never leave us!  Indeed our good shepherd will anoint us, fill our cup to overflowing, and will bring up the rear of his flock with goodness and mercy throughout our life, until we reach the glories of the life here after in God’s full presence – which our passage from Revelation gives us some wonderfully potent images of.

So it is with confidence in the protection of the Good Shepherd that we can look on the death of our sisters Tabitha with the eyes of our faith wide open.  Death may come to scores of churches each year, but even in those moments, God has set about raising up the church in a new way.

Which makes me want to ask the question again for us to think and mediate on: What are we to do, in churches that are still very much alive, yet which feel the stresses and strains of the changing culture and our place in it?  The one word answer is Change!  Did I see some of you wince?  I confess I wince internally!  If there is something we know well how to do, it is to do things the way we have always done them.  But my friends, the evidence shows that will not be enough.  We must continue to do some things the way we have done them in the past it is true!  For instance we must gather around this table, and share in Christ’s presence in bread and wine; we must read from scripture and wrestle with how it applies to our lives today and share those realities with the larger world; we must come together to draw on God’s boundless forgiveness and strength; we must seek to serve in the name of Christ and share his love with abandon – those things are central to our identity as Christians.  But then – then my friends we must get creative and put some energy into figuring out how we can innovate and shape of our worship, our fellowship, our formation programs and ministries of service and love to make them accessible to more people in this time and place, at this point in our culture?  It seems to me that is where the change needs to come.  Not at the core of our faith commitment, but the way we live it out as church- the body of Christ here and now.

All the reading that I have been doing about moving the church toward this sort of change speaks about the importance of ordained and lay  leadership casting a well-articulated and passionate vision for the congregation.  As we are in our 4th year of our 5 year strategic plan it seems right that these questions of change and how to live our faith forward in an ever changing context should come up.  I have ideas that I have begun sharing with the Executive Committee and Vestry about channeling some of our energy toward change and new initiatives.  I am eager to hear what you all have to say – what the shepherd’s voice might be speaking to you for the benefit of our congregation in the vital work of serving the world in Christ’s name. At annual meeting we began some of this work together.  Let’s continue it through conversations among ourselves so that we can catch this vision together.

Much more on this to come, but for now I will end by showing you this – it is one of 23 pew torches that we have inherited from St. Andrew’s, Poughkeepsie.  They will replace the white metal ones that for years have adorned this sanctuary for the Christmas season, but which have become a bit worse for the wear.  May this torch and the other 22 that came with it serve as reminders that though a sister parish has died, she is risen among us and we continue to bear light in remembrance of her.  May her spirit be part of what impels us into the grace filled changes that will strengthen our common witness to Christ and his love in this day and age.

In his name.  Amen+

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday April 17 2016 The Fourth Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Mon, 25-Apr-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday April 17 2016 The Fourth Sunday of Easter
Apr 252016
 

 

 

Here’s an entry from the early church personnel files:

Position to be filled: Model Missionary to the Gentiles

Appointee: Saul, a.k.a., Paul

Previous Experience: Hunter of Christians

Personal attributes: Tenacious; Well-connected.

 

Michelangelo’s painting of Saint Paul’s conversion offers a startling sight. Above is Christ, looming in the clouds, while Saul lies on the ground with his arms raised as if shielding himself. Of course, the painting shouldn’t surprise us. This meeting of the risen Christ with Saul the persecutor is not some sweet “how I found Jesus” story. The picture shows it well. Jesus has found Saul and Saul has been blinded and knocked to the ground.

Saul who was used to being in a position of authority and control is suddenly brought to a state of utter disorientation and dependency. Up to this point in the book of Acts Saul has been where the action against the followers of Jesus has been taking place-holding coats at Steven stoning, or getting letters to carry out persecutions, then following through with deadly consequences. Now the man of action can do nothing. He is utterly helpless. If there’s any way out of this mess, it is beyond him. Saul needs divine help.

So how does that divine help come? By calling an old enemy to heal Saul. That old enemy is Ananias. What would that be like? Imagine you were sitting in the dentist’s office. You have one of those killer toothaches and something must be done about it.  The hygienist is as helpful as can be politely helping you into the chair and then leaving you lying there listening to soft music playing over the office speakers as you wait for the dentist. But then, just when you’re getting comfortable with the idea of having your tender tooth worked on, the dentist walks in. To your surprise, it’s someone you knew from junior high school – it is that person you and your friends teased mercilessly. Wouldn’t you know it? Just at the moment that you’re most vulnerable and in pain, the person sent to heal you, may still be nursing an old grudge. As much as you look forward to the relief from the toothache, this is decidedly not good news. Saul would understand. There he was, blind, hungry and thirsty, with no choice but to await God’s instruction.  Then God calls an old enemy to heal him.

 

Of course Ananias doesn’t like God’s idea either. Saul was notorious for his actions against Jesus’ followers. Ananias even mentions Saul’s reputation in his response to what the Lord asks of him.  He says, Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.”  Indeed what is ironic was ironic to Saul is truly tragic for Ananias who senses real bona fide risk in what is being asked of him.

But Christ is adamant, telling Ananias “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and the kings and the children of Israel; for I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” And having heard this, Ananias goes and does what he says he didn’t want to do. Why? Maybe the key to the second half of the Lord’s announcement: “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for my name…” If the Lord commission to Saul is a commission to serve and to enter into the community of the suffering, that’s a vocation that Ananias understands. And he goes to Saul, and Saul is blessed and changed through the touch of an old enemy.

Here’s another entry from the early church personnel files:

Position: Shepherd of Jesus Sheep and Lambs

Appointee: Simon Peter

Previous Experience: Fisherman

Personal Attributes: Talkative, Enthusiastic, Occasional Cowardice

 

Peter was having a hard time living with himself. All those days and months with Jesus, his heart had burned with love and respect he had never felt for anyone else. Then that fateful night when that they took him. That night full of shouts, recriminations and false charges. That terrifying night when his heart went cold with fear. Who did he think he was? He was just a fisherman. Then came the questions, “Didn’t we see you with him?” “Aren’t you one of his followers?” “Aren’t you from Galilee?” “No! No! No!” came his three denials.

His coldness of heart gave way to the aching of his heart.  For three days he and the others were enveloped by grief.  Then came the strange news and suddenly he was among them again. The aching heart gave way to deep shame. Even in the relief and joy of seeing Jesus alive again he could not look him in the eye. He was haunted by the memory of how he had shrunk from standing by Jesus in his hour of need. How could Jesus ever trust him again? How could he ever trust himself?

The only thing Peter could figure to do was to bow out gracefully.  He knew he could fish, and could scrape out a living that way.  Better to let others, braver and more faithful, take the lead for Jesus. As he stripped down for the hard labor in the boat he felt the glimmer of hope that he might be able to work off the shame and guilt. But there was no success that night his – hands were clumsy with the nets and his timing was off. He was all off balance.

Near daybreak he spotted it, a flicker of flame on the beach. Then that familiar voice calling his name, and before he knew it he was over the side and into deep waters again, swimming for his life, reaching toward the One his heart was burning for once more.

Interestingly in the conversation that ensued over the breakfast of roasted fish and bread Jesus gives Peter a threefold chance to undo his three full denial of him. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me” in the original Greek there are several words for love, and here in this first question Jesus uses the word agape. A rough translation is “Peter do you belong to my fellowship and will you commune with me?” Peter answers “Lord you know I love you”, but in this answer Peter uses the Greek word Philios, that is, “Lord you know that I love you like a brother.” Jesus tries again using the word agape with the sense “will you be in relationship with me in a way that goes beyond anything you’ve known before?” In his response Peter to this second question he again uses the word Philios, indicating that he will keep Jesus as a brother.

Peter’s first two answers show that he simply does not have what Jesus is asking for right now. Right now the best Peter will promise Jesus is that he will love Jesus in a close fraternal bond. And Jesus, ever willing to meet us where we are in our faith, decides this is enough for now.  In his third try he uses the Greek Philios, as Peter has been doing, “Peter do you love me as a brother” to which Peter answers “Yes lord you know that I do”.  Later after Pentecost Peter may be able to make a different commitment but for now, Jesus asked him to love and nurture the people of the Way.

An acquaintance I met once at a party, when she found out I was a priest, told me that she had never read the Bible because she was afraid that she would not measure up to all the perfect people she had heard lived under the cover. Obviously those who had told her about our Holy Scriptures hadn’t read them very closely themselves. If there’s anything we should take away from the stories of Peter and Paul it is this job advertisement:

Position: Disciple of Jesus

Appointee: you, me, any who are interested

Previous Experience: doesn’t matter – all gifts will be used

Let us go into the world and publish this advertisement widely. Tell out the love that transforms enemies into friends, and offers forgiveness that releases us from shame and guilt. Then come on back next Sunday with those who want to know more, that we might share our sacramental breakfast together with our Lord. In Christ name. Amen +

 

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 Sermon for April 10, 2016 The Third Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Mon, 25-Apr-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for April 10, 2016 The Third Sunday of Easter
Apr 062016
 

Sermon for Sunday April 3 2016 The Second Sunday of Easter

Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills, O God, that we may serve you today and always.   Amen.

At the end of this month seven of our young parishioners will have the opportunity to be confirmed by Bishop Gayle Harris at Trinity Church, Copley, in Boston.  I expect it will be a glorious service full of joy and beauty and I hope many of us can attend and be a part of this special time with them and with their families and friends.

The Episcopal Church believes that confirmation is the liturgical rite in which we express a mature commitment to Christ, in fact, it is part of our Catechism.  A young person once said to me, “it’s a really big deal”, and she was right — it is really a big deal. It’s the confirmand’s public affirmation of the baptismal vows that were made on her or his behalf by parents and Godparents when the confirmand was too young to make them – just as the Godparents and parents of little Waylon, who many of us met Easter morning, will be doing on his behalf in just a few minutes.  Baptism was the first step on the spiritual journey for our confirmands – it was when they were sealed by the Holy Spirit, marked as Christ’s own forever. Isn’t that wonderful – to be Christ’s own forever?

And these 7 young people are going to be acknowledging, through their confirmation, that they have arrived at another point in their spiritual journey. A point where they can, for themselves, commit to a life in Christ — a point on the journey where they attest that they have received the necessary instruction in the Christian Faith that they need, and that they have reached a point where they are ready, to affirm their belief of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord – publically and of their own will.

And, I suspect that the spiritual journey they have been making since their baptism to get to this point wasn’t always easy – I bet some of the roads on the journey had frost heaves, and bumps, some twists and turns and that maybe there were even a few flat tires on the way.  Because some of what they, and we, are asked to believe, asked to put our faith in, is pretty astounding — some of it can seem pretty far-fetched and at times hard to believe. And often, the message each of us hears from the Bible can be very different or even the opposite, depending on the perspective of the speaker, or the experiences of the listener. It can be very hard, very confusing, frustrating and not easy at times. Sometimes the questions we have can be so numerous, or the clarity around their answers so murky, that it can make us question our beliefs, shake the faith that we once thought was rock-solid.

One of the things Episcopalians say is that we like to think about what we do and why we do it — which is not to imply that other religions denominations don’t like to think about and understand things, but we Episcopalians seem to enjoy questioning almost everything. We take ideas apart and put them back together so that we can feel really secure about why we do what we do and why we believe in what we believe — what our faith is about and what that faith means to us — individually and collectively as a church. And, we have methods to do that, processes in place, that as a church body we use to pull our ideas apart and put them back together.

In fact, one of our most renowned theologians, Thomas Hooker, gave us a framework to use in order to do just that.  Hooker was a Church of England priest who lived in the mid-1500s. He is credited with the development of an approach Anglicans use to test, or determine, the soundness of what we believe. This approach has helped establish the foundations of our faith.  It is the Anglican concept called the three legged stool. Each leg of the stool represents a different type of knowledge to employ when determining the strength and truth of a belief. One leg encourages us to look for the truth through Scripture – God’s word found in the Bible. The second leg says to consult tradition – that is all of the understandings of the past 2000 years of historically tested and trusted norms of the church.  The third leg is that of reason…and by that Hooker means using the evidence of the current scientific understanding, current philosophical argument and contemporary thought. This third leg also includes the use of our individual and the church’s current experience, which is another way of describing the work of the Holy Spirit — to hear what the Spirit is saying to us in today’s world. And then we are invited to combine what we find, using all of the information from each leg of the stool, so that the stool is firmly planted on the ground and not topsy-turvey. And our faith is strengthened.

 

As members of God’s Kingdom we do this examination of her faith, this questioning and re-questioning. as a body at our general and diocesan conventions, and we discern our beliefs more locally through our deaneries and through our vestries. We use our canons, a type of ecclesiastical law; to guide us. We probe the church’s ethical reasons, question how the institutional church make statements of faith and of governing.  We encourage people to stop and think and to question their own faith and personal spirituality and spiritual practices – to keep growing and being strengthened as a family, congregation and the community.

Martha reminded us last week that sometimes in our darkest moments of desolation we can only go on because others hold us in their faith – that sometimes we live on what she called, borrowed faith, trusting that our faith would come in the future.  I was reminded by that of what a very, very wise women once told me about a time in her life when she was no longer sure of her faith. She said she went to church because she needed to know that people throughout the Anglican Communion were saying the words of our liturgy, words she couldn’t say with conviction at that particular time because her faith had been shaken – but knowing that others could say the words from our Book of Common Prayer was important for her and she needed to hear them.

I read somewhere that doubt rarely undermines faith the way that certainty does. It really had an impact on me – let me say that again….Doubt rarely undermines faith the way that certainty does. These are not simplistic issues we are dealing with and it can be critically important to wrestle with them in the contemporary world. We want people to question and we want people to know that it is OK to do that.  Some might say that to encourage the examination of one’s faith and to take an  approach like Hookers — using knowledge learned from scripture, tradition and reason, to examine our truths and determine – our faith, is being pragmatic, taking a realistic and practical approach. In a sermon that our retired Bishop Suffragan, Bud Cederhom gave once, he said that the disciple Thomas, from our Gospel reading this morning, was the first Christian pragmatist.

Now poor Thomas, forever referred to as Doubting Thomas, had a bit of trouble with this belief thing. Perhaps many of us knew the story of Thomas before hearing it in this morning’s Gospel reading.  In fact, we often use his name whenever we want to get the idea of someone’s disbelief, suspicion or doubt about something across. “Ohhhhh, she’s such a doubting Thomas!!” and we often mean to be a tad derogatory.

We shouldn’t be too surprised to know that Thomas doubted.  Thomas was after all, the disciple who shortly after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in Bethany and told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for his followers, said to Jesus, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, so just how do you expect us to find our way there?” Even then he was the one doubting, questioning.

But when we stop and think about this morning’s Gospel, the story is really much bigger than being just about Thomas’s doubt.  It is also about his faith — about his finding his faith, as part of his spiritual journey. After all, we don’t know how all of the disciples reacted to hearing the news from Mary Magdalen that she had seen and talked with Jesus.  The scripture is silent on that point, but as Martha reminded us last week, Peter went home still uncertain of the resurrection, even after seeing the empty tomb. By the time the disciples see Thomas, they have had the benefit of seeing and talking with the risen Christ. Thomas didn’t have the experience of Mary Magdalene or the experience of the other disciples – so he questioned and tested. And we tend to vilify him for that. Who knows what the other disciples would have said and thought if the positions had been reversed….if they had been the ones to hear about Jesus’s resurrection from Thomas — without having seen the risen Christ for themselves?

Is it any wonder it was difficult for Thomas to come to grips immediately when hearing about this resurrection news…is it any wonder that he had doubts? When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus was still flesh and blood, but according to the disciples, Jesus wasn’t totally flesh and blood, he just appeared inside the locked room — and he wasn’t a spirit or ghost, floating through the air – he had substance and could be touched. Nothing in Thomas’s experience prepared him to hear his friends say that they have seen and spoken with the person whom he knows has been crucified — he doesn’t believe at first.  He wants proof before he puts his faith in the validity of this new thing, this news of resurrection from the dead!

But Thomas does find his faith….he does.  And Thomas goes on to spread the Good News of the resurrection. He takes the message of that faith and he goes on to profess his belief and to spread the word  across much of his world — from today’s Iraq all the way across the sub-continent to the distant shores of faraway  India – where it is believed he is killed for his belief and faith.

Thomas had the benefit of seeing Jesus, the benefit of being invited by Jesus to touch his hands and his side.  So how do we know, which leg of the stool do we use, have we used to find our faith and hold onto our beliefs? The truth is that for many pf is faith is something that must be lived before it can be believed and even so it is often only through God’s grace that we can be liberated from our doubts. Some of us will always be Thomases by nature; what matters is how we respond to the answers that we’re given when we question.

And just as Thomas went forth in peace and with faith to spread the Good News and to do God’s work, so we pray during the post communion prayer:  Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord.”  Soon 7 more of us will join in praying that prayer with intention and in thanksgiving having publicly accepted and proclaimed their faith ….

And that my brothers and sisters in Christ, is as my young friend told me, A Really, Really Big Deal.              Thanks be to God.        Amen

 

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday April 3, 2016 The Second Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Wed, 6-Apr-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday April 3, 2016 The Second Sunday of Easter
Apr 062016
 

Sermon For Easter Day March 27 2016

 

Imagine their hushed voices echoing in the emptiness of the tomb and their confusion in the half darkness.  What was going on here?  Had the humiliation of crucifixion not been enough?  Did they have to heap further contempt upon him by robbing his grave, and doing who knows what with his body?  The emptiness of the tomb was like salt in the wound that had been gashed in their hearts in the few days previous.  The experience of deepening desolation was the beginning of Easter for them.

I am certain that all of us, except perhaps some of the very young, can identify with that moment.  At one point or another, each human life brushes up against desolation.  And if it is not on a personal level, it is on a communal level, as we have experienced in this past week, as people in Brussels had terror rain down on them as they were going about their daily business, and their lives and the lives of those close to them will never be the same again.  One way or another, at one time or another, desolation is part of the emotional landscape of each human life.

And then a flare goes up. Some crazy coming together of events that some may call coincidence, and we perceive an echo of hope rising within us.  Hope for even the smallest promise of light for the future.  For the women in the tomb that morning the flare of hope came in the form of two men in dazzling white who spoke to them.  They asked the desolate women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? And the go on to say, “He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how he told you, while he was still Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

          Remember how he told you… Remember… These blessed messengers knew what is most needed in the tomb of desolation – memory of what had already been said.  Those words call out of these grief stricken and terrified women a memory.  A memory that contained in it all that they needed to understand the emptiness of the tomb in which they stood.  Remember how he told you… Jesus had laid it out for them.  He had told them all about the resurrection as they sat on the hillsides and walked the roads from village to village with him.  They had not fully comprehended him then, but he had planted the seed of resurrection in their minds and hearts and with the reminder of these celestial messengers it was now coming to full bloom.

That moment must have been like the moment when you put on a pair of new glasses and can suddenly see with clarity.  Or like the moment in learning a foreign language when you finally recognize words for what they mean without having to translate through your first language.  The nightmare of desolation gave way when they were reminded of what they already had been told.  Suddenly the language of resurrection was no longer foreign to them.  In that moment they came to understand that the grave robber had been none other than God and that Jesus was again among the living.  Instantly their memory led them to see that the tomb was not empty at all – it was full of resurrection light.

When have such moments happened for you?  They are the fingerprints of Christ Jesus on your life!  He is risen and among us.  Sometimes when we are in the darkest moments of desolation we can only go on because others around us believe and hope, and share their faith with us.  Sometimes we live on borrowed faith, trusting that the moment of revelation is out there in the future for us, we know not when.  The faith of a community, buoying us along at those times is a gift of the resurrection also.  Christ’s fingerprints are there too.

However and wherever we meet the risen Christ in our lives, he comes to us not just for our comfort and our good.  Each time he comes he gives the gift of knowledge of his resurrection that it may be shared with others.  Sometimes words about resurrection tumble out of us like a water fall, as we overflow with enthusiasm for the life altering experience of Christ in our life.  At other times words just can’t capture what we have experienced, but the way we live and move speaks about resurrection just the same.

Both seem to have been true for the women that first Easter morning.  WE are told in Luke’s Gospel that they left the tomb and went to tell the other disciples.  But when they had spoken, their words seemed an idle tale to their brethren, and they were not believed.  There was no evidence – no proof.  They did not bring the risen Jesus with them.

But something about them was different. Something had changed them there at the tomb and Peter had to find out what it was.  He ran to the tomb to see and there he found emptiness.  There was no celestial greeting for this apostle who is remembered as the rock of the church – he finds just the empty grave clothes.  The man who would later so boldly proclaim Christ as risen – as we heard him do in our second lesson from the book of Acts – this man who would become the first Bishop of Rome – this man did not readily recognize resurrection at the empty tomb that morning.  His time had not yet come.  We are told that he went home amazed.  The Greek word that we translate as “amazed” indicates uncertainty.  Peter went home that day still uncertain.  So his later prominence in the early church did not derive from his quickness in coming to accept the resurrection.  It came rather because God loved him and chose him.  This should be a comfort to many of us who wrestle with our own uncertainty.

And that is the way it is with the mysterious workings of God.  And those mysterious workings of God are what we proclaim!  We proclaim God’s audacious and absurd choices and utterly incomprehensible promises resulting in the resurrection of Christ from the dead!  That is what the pages of scripture are bursting with, and that is what we proclaim – with no proof in hand, other than our lives, transformed by our relationship with our living Lord.  And proclaiming that truth – that he is alive among us – we are amazed time and again and brought to deepened faith by the new life continually breaking out among us.

If you are new here, or if you just attend worship with us now and again, on behalf of our whole congregation, I invite you to keep coming back.  We welcome you to be involved in our parish life and ministry.  We would love to share with you the faith that transforms our desolation to hope.  We would love to puzzle out our uncertainties together.  I have faith that it was the risen Christ that brought us each through the door this morning, and I have faith he wants to be known among us here in an ongoing way.  May we take the good news out with us this morning and may we come back time and again to be strengthened together by his grace.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!  Amen+

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 Sermon for Easter Day March 27, 2016  Posted by on Wed, 6-Apr-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Easter Day March 27, 2016
Apr 062016
 

 

Sermon for Good Friday March 25 2016

This past month I have been re-reading Martin Smith’s moving book of Lenten Meditations, A Season for the Spirit, as it was chosen to be read by my Daughters of Abraham book group.  I am so pleased that my Jewish and Muslim sisters in that group have read this book, because Smith’s theology and wisdom is to me so life giving – such a positive representation of our Christian faith.

In the meditation for Maundy Thursday in that book, Martin Smith writes of the connection between what we observed in our worship last night, what we are observing today at the foot of the cross and what Easter will soon speak to us again. He writes:

“Only after the crucifixion and resurrection can the foot-washing be seen as a symbol interpreting in advance the outpouring of unconditional love on the Cross.  ‘Having loved his own who were in the world he loved them to the uttermost.’ The Son does a slave’s work at the dinner table, before dying a slave’s death to show the lengths to which God will go to reconcile us.“ (Martin Smith, A Season for the Spirit, p. 151)

 

So the cross is not about some debt for sin being paid on our behalf – that is a reductionist theology of the cross that makes me cringe whenever I hear it.  What happened with Jesus on the cross is so much deeper, so much broader than that.  In Jesus on the cross we find God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  We find God breaking the hold that human brokenness, sin and death have in this world.  And this is done, not through brute force, or some form of spiritual economics, but rather through Jesus fully identifying with us in our sin and brokenness by experiencing those realities too.

Again from Martin Smith these words:

“In his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus has bound himself to suffering, struggling humanity; but only in his death could he show us the magnitude of his identification with us in our alienation.  Only by dying numbered with the transgressors as a disgraced criminal on a slave’s cross could he show that his embrace of us had no limits and no exceptions.  He had to abandon in the end every shred of credibility as a holy wonder-worker… and publicly submit to torture which would lead him into the annihilating darkness of the godless.  ‘My God, my god, why hast thou forsaken me.’” (Ibid, p.155)

So Jesus on the cross is experiencing humanity’s ultimate separation from God, and by so doing is redeeming that separation.  Jesus then becomes our reconnection point with the divine heart of God.

The question is can we accept that?  Can we surrender our sense of being able to take care of things ourselves?  Can we let God do for us what we cannot do for ourselves in all those cross shaped parts of our lives?   Often our answers to these questions evolve slowly in us, over a number of years and in fits and starts of letting go.  Or sometimes it happens more dramatically, when we are taken down by some aspect of our brokenness in a way that leaves little room for anything but surrender.   Often our letting go and surrendering involves, loss, pain and sadness.  Yet, our prayerful trust and dependence on Christ means those things are not the end of the story.  Through Christ on the cross those difficult experiences of our lives can be intense points of connection to the divine heart. What we learn is that the things that we let go of and surrender to God in Christ, return to us redeemed in ways we could not have imagined.  Then we find sparks of hope in the midst of what first appeared as total darkness.  As one of the Eucharistic prayers we sometimes use from the Iona community puts it, we who have been so broken become, sign of hope … for we too hold a story of death and rising … of old and new …of offered life taken into the hands of God, who wastes nothing, and there we become more than enough.”

There we become more than enough bread for the life of the world.  But we do not do this by becoming super human. We do this rather by becoming more human, as Jesus did, by experiencing ourselves not as above others as super saviors of others, but rather as shoulder to shoulder with the whole of the human race. And we chiefly do this within the community of the church.  Together here is worship, study, prayer and service we experience being redeemed through Christ on the cross, and then our very lives become cross shaped, in that we are now called on to follow Christ – to identify with all of humanity, not just those we approve of.  Again in the wise words of Martin Smith:

“If ‘I’ and ‘them’ should give way to ‘we’, then a new self with a new centre would have to be found.  The Cross kills the old self which was based on the fiction that the others are guilty.

Taking up the Cross means leaving the company of the good for the company of the condemned… I take up the Cross and follow Jesus whenever I acknowledge my oneness with the guilty, whenever I stop pretending they are an alien class.  I put the Cross down and hide among the moral crowd whenever I gloat over the sins of others…  The extent to which I have taken up the Cross will be shown by the frequency and intensity of my prayers for sinners, enemies and the lost as my brothers and sisters, my own flesh.” (Ibid, pp.156-157)

 

In just a few minutes, brothers and sisters, here in the shadow of the Cross we will pray for the world.  As we do, let us find ourselves within those prayers, shoulder to shoulder with the sick, broken, scornful, violent, and depraved.  In these troubled times, I bid you, to pray especially intently for all who do violence in this world, knowing that if circumstances were different we could be capable of the same.  Let us pray in the spirit of Christ who in his hour of agony prayed for all of us, “”Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” And then let us commend it all to the amazing grace and all-encompassing love of God in Christ on the Cross.  In the power of his name.  Amen+

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 Sermon for Good Friday – March 25, 2016  Posted by on Wed, 6-Apr-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Good Friday – March 25, 2016