May 242017
 

 

          This Gospel passage begins with Jesus showing such gentleness thoughtfulness and kindness to his beloved friends, which is a theme that fits so beautifully with our national observance today of Mother’s Day. The context here is their last night together before the crucifixion. At supper Jesus has washed their feet, and then mystically given them his very self in bread and wine.  He has predicted denial by Peter, chief among them, and Judas has already slipped away from them to betray their whereabouts to the authorities. So he knows their heads and hearts are reeling as they begin to take in what he has seen coming for a while.  And he reaches out to them with compassion and tender care – “Do not let your hearts be troubled”- or another translation of the Greek is, “Do not let your hearts be anguished.”

          But he does not cradle them with those words of comfort for long.  He is aware of the urgency of time and he moves on to give them the provisions they will need to understand and survive the events that are bearing down upon them.  He is going, but he will be back.  If they feel lost and off track they should remember he himself is their way, their truth, their, and their life, and he will guide them into the presence of God. 

“No one comes to the Father except through me” He tells them.  This is a statement that has troubled many of us.  But it is important to remember context here.  Jesus is talking to his closest friends about how they will reach the Father.  To use this as a proof text to claim that no other religion besides Christianity is valid is a gross misuse of this statement.  In his beautiful commentary on this passage, Jean Vanier, theologian and founder of the L’Arche communities writes:

“In all cultures, and at all times, people heard in some way the voice of God…Maybe some could not name God, but they sought the light of truth and the origin of all things.  The word of God was the light for many people.  When the word became flesh, Jesus brought to fulfillment all these different paths to God.  He does not destroy them: the Word is in each of these paths.”

(Jean Vanier, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, p.256)

Seen in this way, this statement by Jesus that he is the way, the truth and the life is an inclusive affirmation rather than an exclusive line in the sand.

And then Jesus moves on to remind his disciples that they already know the Father because they know Jesus.  He is telling them that there won’t be some new reality they will be experiencing in the Father’s full presence at the end of their earthly journey.  Rather it will just be more so there – more so of what they have experienced in relationship with Jesus, here in this world.  Way back in chapter 1 of John we were told that the word and the Father have always been one and the word came into the world to reveal the Father’s compassion and forgiveness.  Indeed that has been the underlying theme of this whole Gospel and now Jesus reasserts this theme again in his last moments with his friends. 

Building on this theme he takes the next step telling them that when they have faith in what he has revealed of God, they will continue the works that he has done and do even greater works.  Now this reference to “greater works” is not a reference to their works being more spectacular.  Rather it is a reference to the fact that freed from his earthly life, Jesus, alive again through his disciples, will be able to be present in many times and places.  Again I quote Jean Vanier who writes:

“His disciples will continue his mission and his works… to give life, eternal life and to reveal the face and heart of God to people. It is to be the presence of God in the world anywhere there is an absence of God.”

 This week I also read a meditation in the book Jesus Calling, which I think also has something to say about this idea of Jesus disciples “greater works.  The meditation writer hears the voice of Jesus saying:

“Learn to relate to others through My Love rather than yours.  Your human love is ever so limited, full of flaws and manipulation.  My loving Presence, which always enfolds you, is available to bless others as well as you.  Instead of trying harder to help people through your own paltry supplies, become aware of my unlimited supply which is accessible to you continually.  Let my Love envelop your outreach to other people

Many or My precious children have fallen prey to burnout.  A better description of their condition might be ‘drainout’ Countless interactions with needy people have drained them, without their conscious awareness.  You are among these weary ones, who are like wounded soldiers needing R&R.  Take time to rest in the Love-Light of My Presence.  I will gradually restore to you the energy you have lost. ”

(Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, p.139)

This resonates so beautifully with what Jesus is promising to his followers that last night, when he speaks about their greater works, which are only possible through the ongoing loving relationship with him in God known as prayer. And Jesus drives that point home then in the climax of this Gospel passage where he makes this commitment to his followers:

“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

As a pastor, I have experienced how this statement from Jesus is one of the most difficult for us to comprehend.  At first hearing it can seem so over the top – like a divine blank check.  And, most of us have had the experience of praying to Jesus specifically and ardently for something and not having our prayers answered directly in the way we anticipated. So what are we to make of this?

          The phrase “in my name” which Jesus repeats twice in this statement, is of absolute importance when seeking to understand this commitment Jesus is making to his followers.  To ask something in Jesus’ name does not just mean directing it to him.  Rather asking something in his name is to ask something that is in accordance with the heart of his cause which, as he says in this statement, is to glorify the Father.   So let’s hear that statement of commitment from him again:

“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

So this is a qualified commitment.  We are not just to pray for anything we want, but rather our prayers must be in line with Jesus cause – to glorify the Father.  When we pray in that way he says, he will be working in concert with us.

The problem for me with this is that I am not always sure what is or is not in accordance with Jesus cause of glorifying the Father.  I can think of a good many times when I have prayed ardently for something to come to pass, believing that it is in line with Jesus cause, convinced that what I am asking is the right thing for the good of many,  and it has not been granted.  Then later, with hindsight, I recognize that what I had so longed for and prayed for would not have been the best thing.

So, this tells me I have to accept that often I don’t and probably can’t know what the right thing to pray for is.  So, that takes some pressure off – I don’t have to figure out what should happen, that is God’s job.  When I have surrendered to that, what I glimpse though this passage is the amazing truth that nothing that can further God’s most gracious purposes is too big for Christ to do for us.  That is why I spend more of my prayer time these days praying for the,”knowledge of God’s will for me, and the power to carry that out” as step eleven of the 12 steps so wisely puts it.  It is not that I don’t ever pray for specific things to come to pass – I do.  But I do so not confident in my perception, but rather confident that if what I am praying for is in line with God’s most loving purposes, they will come to pass in God’s good time and ways. 

And in those times when the things I pray for don’t come to pass in the ways I want or expect, I have the example of Jesus himself,  in the garden, praying that the cup of suffering might pass him by if it be the Father’s will.  There he prays for one kind of salvation, only to have something even more wondrous worked out through him. That example leads me more and more I trust that the energy of my prayers is never wasted.  The love and trust that is the life blood of prayer connects me more deeply to God every time I pray.  And that connection is what allows me to go on through whatever lies ahead, tethered securely to God, come what may. 

          And today our lesson from the book of Acts gives us a fast forward ability, to move from the anguished and frightened circle around the table with Jesus, to see a second generation disciple as a bold and living example of what Jesus is promising here.  It is not an easy story – it is the story of a man, filled with faith and the Holy Spirit who is killed for just those reasons – for giving voice to his Spirit-filled vision of God.  But as he dies he is not abandoned.  The Father and the Son are close at hand, and he is blessed with a vision of that larger reality and with the ability to extend the works and cause of Jesus with his dying breath.  Closely echoing Jesus’ words from the cross, “Father, do not hold this sin against them.”

          Stephen’s is an extreme example of the life of faith to which we are each called.  May the greater works of Christ our Lord continue to abound among and through us.  In Christ’s name.  Amen+

Share
May 232017
 

AUDIO SERMON

Sermon for Sunday, May 21, 2017 – The Sixth Sunday of Easter

 

Speak to our hearts and strengthen our will O God so we may love and serve you today and always.  Amen  

I have always thought Paul’s missionary journeys, recorded in Acts, read like one of the old Mission Impossible TV shows.  On the second of his three missionary journeys, the one we hear about today, he has been detoured by the Holy Spirit from going any further into the places he had planned to visit in Asia.  Instead he returns to the Middle East, and places located primarily in the region along the Northern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea….getting into all kinds of difficulty along the way.  He finally gets to Philippi, today’s Greece, where he converts Lydia and her household but he also angered others, so much that he is pursued by a mob of angry townspeople who beat him and put him in prison.  After a series of mishaps, he eventually manages to get out of prison (with a little bit of help from an earthquake) and leaves town. He dashes through the cities like Amphipolis and Apollonia, preaching as he goes and arrives in Thessalonica, where once again he is attacked by angry mobs, so he fleas to the next place, Berea, where he should be safe, but the Thessalonians pursue him there — so he fleas to Athens – where we hear about him in today’s Epistle. Paul anticipated only staying in Athens for a short time…just until Silas and Timothy, who he had left back in Berea with the angry mob, could join him. Then he planned that they could all get back on the road and resume their missionary journey together. 

Going to Athens is one of the few times Paul goes somewhere not because one of the nasant churches is in some type of trouble and not because he is planning to evangelize in a new city or region.  He can relax and take in the sites of the city, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the graceful pillars of the beautiful buildings.  As is his way, however, he can’t help but preach the word of God’s love and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ’s redeeming salvation.  However, as is often not the case, in Athens he finds an audience that is eager to listen to him! They actually ask him to tell them about this new, to them, God, he speaks of.  They are, after all, philosophers in the beautiful city of Athens, the home of Plato, Aristotle, Euripides and so many more. The Athenians love to spend their time in the pursuit of new knowledge — and Paul’s teaching about Christ’s resurrection is new information they are keen to hear about.  They want to know what these things Paul is saying – mean.

Paul has seen the many altars in Athens that have been erected to various gods and has seen the idols of even more gods that the people there worship.  He knows that the Athenians are polytheistic, that they believe in many different gods, in fact, I read an estimate that there were up to 30,000 gods being worshiped in Athens at the time Paul was there – the commentator said, somewhat sarcastically, that it was easier to find a god than it was to find a man in Athens. But Paul is pretty astute and deduced that the many gods and idols present throughout the city, and significantly the presence of one altar to the unknown god, signals that they are hedging their bets, if you will. Paul realizes that they are still searching for profound meaning in their faith, that they know something is missing.  And that awareness, coupled with the Athenian’s desire to comprehend what Paul is talking about, indicates to him that the Athenians are ready to hear about the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  So he teaches, explains and explores with them – and as it says later in Acts “some of them joined him and became believers”.

It can be somewhat easy to scoff at the Athenians and their worship of many gods and of their seemingly endless searching. But I think that there are many people today who feel as if something is missing in their lives, at least some of the time, if not all of the time. Many are searching to finds ways of finding meaning in this time of uncertainty in our nation, ways to deal with the resulting emotions of fear or anxiety, the lack of trust, the sadness, how to find meaning in the chaos.  So we search, and often end up creating idols, in a misguided effort to fill what is missing – trying to find that meaning. Some folks try to find meaning in things like their possessions or jobs. We can be pretty good at creating and worshiping our own false gods …. and still some of us seem never to be satisfied. What is it we are searching for, what are we pursuing, where is the meaning?

 

When we dissect this morning’s Gospel a bit, we can find the meaning the Athenians were searching for; we can find the meaning that so many today long for. I want to tell you that it took me a while to understand how this Gospel shows us that.  In this, part of Jesus’s Farewell Discourse during the Last Supper, he tells the disciples that he, the physical presence in this world of God’s love, is leaving. He says, “In a little while you will no longer see me.” Jesus tells his disciples that he will ask God to send The Advocate, who will guide, counsel, comfort and love the world’s people.

But at first reading, the beginning of this Gospel can sound as if Jesus is telling us that we will only receive the Advocate by keeping his commandments — that we must earn the Advocate.  It reads: Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate.  And then at the end of the Gospel it can seem that Jesus is saying if you don’t keep his commandments you don’t love him and that if you don’t love him, God will not love you.

But note, there is a period between those two first sentences at the beginning of the reading, not a comma.  There is no — Do this and Then I will do that. If the reading is heard as if there were a comma rather than a period, it could seem that there is a quid pro quo……..but even then it would require that we take this reading be taken out of the larger Gospel context, the whole of the Gospels, because we have been told by Jesus over and over again that God has already given us God’s love to us through God’s grace.

What Jesus is telling us in this Gospel is that we should keep his commandments because we love him, that if we love him we will want to keep his commandments – the keeping of the commandments is the outcome of God’s love for us, not the cause of it.  It is through God’s grace that we have already been given that great gift of unconditional love that we don’t deserve and can’t earn.  

Further, it is through our relationship based on the love of the Trinity, that we love each other.  It is through that relationship that Jesus continued to reveal himself after he was gone because the Advocate is with us as part of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth — another gift from God.  That Spirit of Truth that we can cling to in this uncertain, scary time. Jesus promised his disciples, and therefore us, that The Advocate will show and guide the way. In just a few minutes we will call upon that Advocate, The Spirit, to be present at the Eucharist – in our relationship with God the Creator, God the Redeemer and God the Advocate, as bread and wine.  

What is it we are searching for, what are we pursuing, where is the meaning?  How does this Gospel answer those questions the Athenians asked and that so many still ask at times? It is the love from God, made manifest in Jesus Christ and continued through the gift of the Advocate. It is love that is the grounding, the purpose, the end result, the meaning that can be found through the searching. It is love made manifest in Christ, and then continued through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. It is that from which we can derive the meaning that satisfies us, that fills what was missing. The recognition of that relationship, the joy and sustenance derived from that relationship, is what the Athenians were searching for, what some of them found when they were striving to understand what the message of Paul’s words meant. 

And as Marcus Borg, the contemporary writer and theologian, reminds us in today’s world, “God loves us already and has from our very beginning. The Christian life is not about believing or doing what we need to believe or do so that we can be saved. Rather, it’s about seeing what is already true: that God loves us already and then our beginning to live in that relationship. It is about becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God.”, and I would add also with each other through the help and with the love of The Spirit of Truth. 

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

Share
May 092017
 

AUDIO SERMON

Sermon for Sunday, May 7 the Fourth Sunday of Easter

 

 

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

One of my fondest memories is that of my Grandmother and her sisters teaching me and my cousins when we were very young children the 23rd psalm. I think many of us learned the 23rd psalm as small children and have gone on to teach it to those in the next generation. It is among the most well-known pieces of scripture we have. I have heard it said that one reason for the appeal of the image of the Good Shepherd lasting across the centuries is that it is an image of a wonderful relationship: a vulnerable little lamb embraced in the arms of a loving shepherd. In the psalm, we read of green grasses, calm peaceful waters….but it is the image of the loving Shepherd that makes those valleys safe and life-giving.  Even people who would not identify themselves as religious or even spiritual, turn to it, almost automatically, when in crisis….. It is an image of that protective, loving relationship with Jesus Christ that we often recognize and experience at times of need in our lives.

Frequently in Morning Prayer there is no sermon.  And the three readings this Sunday could certainly stand alone, especially the 23rd psalm and today’s reading from John: the Good Shepherd Discourse. So this morning I would like to do something that is a little bit different and briefly focus on two women, Monnica, and Julian of Norwich. Two women whose lives embrace and demonstrate the meaning of these readings. Both these women have feast days in our faith and I think it is no accident that their feast days are appointed by the Episcopal Church to be celebrated the week before this Sunday, back on May 4th for Monnica, and Julian’s the week after this Sunday, tomorrow, on May 8th.  As sheep of the flock, the relationship with God and with those in their lives that these women lived, have done much over the centuries to spread God’s word and share Jesus’s mission. You can find more out about these two women (and the other Saints of our faith) in the Episcopal publications called Lesser Feast and Fasts or in the newer, updated version, renamed Clouds of Witnesses. I would encourage you to take a look at them.

Monnica was born around 331 in North Africa. She was the mother of St. Augustine and is credited with his, and her husband’s, conversion to Christianity, which she had struggled to accomplish over many, many years.  According to St. Augustine, while they were travelling in foreign counties, she fell desperately ill and after experiencing visions of her death, he thought she might fear being buried in a foreign land. She replied: “Nothing is far from God, and I need have no fear that he will not know where to find me, when he comes to raise me to life at the end of the world.”

The collect appointed for her feast day reads: O Lord, through spiritual discipline you strengthened your servant Monnica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we pray, and use us in accordance with your will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. I love that line:  even our own kindred…It always give me pause.

Dame Julian was born about 1342 and is known as one of the church’s great mystics. At age 30 she became extremely ill and was given last rites. On the seventh day of her illness she had fifteen visions of the Passion.  After recovering her health, she became a recluse, called an anchoress because she was walled into a small dwelling attached to the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, England. The outside wall has a small window in it where she frequently was visited for counsel and spiritual advice by clergy and lay, including the famous mystic Margery Kempe. If any of you have been to the charming little city of Norwich you probably have seen it. I remember being amazed at how small the room was when I saw it. Perhaps you are familiar with her work, The Revelations of Divine Love?  One of her best known quotes from which many have taken comfort and support is: “but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’  It is a quote that she said she received directly from Christ during one of her visions.  

The collect appointed for Dame Julian’s feast day reads: Lord God, in your compassion you granted to the Lady Julian many revelations of your nurturing and sustaining love: Move our hearts, like hers to seek you above all things, for in giving us yourself you give us all; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

As Augustine’s mother, Monnica and as Julian of Norwich demonstrated by the way they lived their lives, and as the Good Shepard Discourse in this morning’s Gospel reading teaches us, The Good Shepherd invites us to extend the loving embrace of Jesus Christ to everyone — believers and non-believers. Monnica and Julian knew that when they heard The Shepherd call them by name. They knew that their lives were not just about focusing on their personal, exclusive relationship with Jesus Christ.  They knew it was also about evangelism: sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.  We know that that ought to be a natural part of our own life of faith, that it is also our mission to share the Good News and to grow the Kingdom of God through our words and through our actions as followers of The Shepherd in the world today.

May we remember Monnica and Julian as two whose lives were beacons of God’s eternal and all-embracing love. Two women who turned to the Shepherd’s all-embracing love when they found themselves in the valley of the shadow of death, two women who found The Shepherd’s comfort and protection and two women who dwelt in the house of the Lord their life long. 

Thanks be to God, Amen

Share
 Sermon for Sunday, May 7, 2017 – The Fourth Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Tue, 9-May-17 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, May 7, 2017 – The Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 022017
 

AUDIO SERMON

Sermon for Sunday, April 30, 2017-The Third Sunday of Easter

Speak to our hearts and strengthen our will O God so we may love and serve you today and always.   Amen

The seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus isn’t all that great a distance. It certainly was not an unusual distance for people to travel during Jesus’ time.  But, oh what a lot happened on that short walk to our two travelers from this morning’s Gospel. 

Imagine how Cleopas and his unnamed companion must have felt as they walked home, back to Emmaus, from Jerusalem. Likely they were puzzled, depressed, and despondent, maybe even feeling betrayed and angry. They must have been at least a little afraid…  after all Jesus, the person they thought was the Messiah, the one they expected to save them, the one they had been waiting for — was dead — he was going to redeem Israel, they had thought. But no, he was crucified for being a threat to those in power and now those who followed him also could be seen as a threat to the established authority.  Imagine the turmoil they must have been in … and in addition to all of those emotions what must they have thought and felt after hearing that Jesus’s tomb was empty and that the women who had found the tomb empty had been told by angles that Jesus was actually alive!  Yes, they must have been an emotional mess.

I imagine we’ve all been there at some point in our lives.  Found ourselves confused, angry or disappointed and sad – maybe even a total emotional mess. We all have our own journey and I suspect have found ourselves on our own road to Emmaus at some point.   Seven miles may not be a huge distance but it can be a huge expanse when we think we are alone and we can’t find our way out of the mess. That road can stretch on for what seems like forever to an horizon we don’t think we will ever reach.

Scholars have determined that there are, or I should say were, several villages named Emmaus in the first century, but the same road led to them all ….. and that road from Jerusalem to Emmaus is still there today, albeit now a modern highway.  It is a pretty desolate road, desert on either side with the occasional new illegal Israeli settlement interspersed, but mostly it is just a ribbon of road running through the desert. I remember thinking that it was sort of boring when I traveled down it in our tour bus….. It is a road worthy of matching the feelings of hopelessness and aloneness our two walkers must have been experiencing when they were walking in bewilderment and mourning Jesus’ death when they are joined suddenly by another….  And then they were not alone.               They would never be alone again. 

They did not recognize Jesus when he joins them on the road. We don’t know whybut for whatever reason, they didn’t.  However, by the end of their meal they had recognized Jesus. I find the end of this Gospel, the part where we are told the two turn around after dinner and return to Jerusalem to tell others of their encounter with the risen Jesus, wonderfully reassuring.  Right away they return to the community they had just left …. they have to share the good news…to affirm their stories with their friends in their community.  Can’t you hear them saying, “He has not left us alone.  He has risen indeed.”

You know there is a reason we all come together on Sundays — as a community—to hold and support each other with God’s love, in good and sad times — as part of the body of Christ — as Christ’s own.  We journey together in this realm, on this pilgrimage of faith to reach our destination in Christ. This Gospel story moves from two despondent travelers walking alone, to their return with fire in their hearts, to be a part of creating the beginning of the Christian community. 

And isn’t that just what we do when we read scripture together or when we hold each other in prayer and in love, and, when as a body, we take communion together?  And isn’t that what we are doing today, when we welcome new members into the faith through the sacrament of baptism, as they begin their Christian journey?  Today we will celebrate, I hope with fire in our hearts, 7 new Christians in their new birth in the Kingdom of God, as part of the body of Christ, which is the Church….

In just a few minutes we will all, as a community, promise to support these children in their life in Christ.  I hope these kids never feel disoriented, afraid, or think they are alone … that they are never so overwhelmed that they can’t recognized that they are not alone……. But I hope if that day does happen, we will remember that we make promises today to help them. I hope we remember that even though they are beloved children of God, they undoubtedly will have moments when they find themselves on their own road to Emmaus and they will need others to hold them and remind them that they are not alone.  We are there. As the body of Christ, the church is here. But most of all we need to help them know and believe that, as our two travelers discovered in today’s Gospel and as we read at the close of Matthew, and throughout our Gospels, Jesus is there and has promised that he will be with us always – to the end of time. No matter what. 

Even when we think we will never see the light again, through our baptisms we are children of the light. And our journeys, even when those journeys include time spent traveling on our own Emmaus road, just as those early disciples in Emmaus and Jerusalem experienced the presence of the Risen Christ, so we recognize that through his Holy Spirit, he stands among us today. For we are Easter people and the love of Christ will lead us to each other and to God. 

Thanks be to God.

 

 

Share
 Sermon for Sunday, April 30, 2017 – The Third Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Tue, 2-May-17 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, April 30, 2017 – The Third Sunday of Easter