Sermon for the Easter Vigil

Comment

Sermon for the Easter Vigil

The Rev’d Matthew Larsen
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
The Great Vigil & First Mass of Easter
April 15, 2017


Christos anesti! Christus surrexit! Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Easter is about God overturning and exceeding human expectations.

I grew up a poor pastor’s kid, living in a small, old rental house in a rural town 40 miles north of Dallas. My dad started a company to make some extra money and, after a few years, his company had him traveling overseas for long stretches of time. To my childhood memory, he would be gone for three or four months at a time. One trip took him to Australia and every time he called home he would tell us he was bringing home a very special gift for us. We waited for what felt like weeks and months for dad to come home, but also for that special gift. When he finally returned, after the hugs and kisses, we said, “Where’s the special gift?” He grinned with pride, went to his bag, and pulled out a handcrafted, beautifully painted, aboriginal boomerang.

Our little house was literally right across the street from a power plant. Heading north from the power plant was a field about 150 yards wide and extending for miles, carrying the power lines to the whole city. Countless hours of baseball and football were practiced there. We all grabbed the boomerang and scurried over the field to try it out. We read the instructions carefully and gave it a throw. Up it went into the air. After about 20 yards, it began to turn. It was working! It turned and turned some more. Then it was coming right back to us. It was happening. It was really “boomeranging.” It flew exactly toward us, sailed right over our heads, over the tall brick and barred wire fence of the power plant——never / to be seen / again. So much for that gift. The excitement of the real, working boomerang was exceeded only by the utter disappointment of its loss.

Having gone through the Holy Week liturgies, I imagine that first followers of Jesus must have also known the feeling of a swell of once-in-a-lifetime excitement smash against a wall of disappointment. “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel!” But there his body—and our hopes and dreams—lay lifeless in a cold, dark tomb.

But—Easter is about God overturning and exceeding human expectations.

As they arrive at the tomb to tend to the broken and battered body of Jesus, an earthquake, flashes of light as white a lightning. Enough to make tough Roman soldiers duck and run for cover. Then an angel appears to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

Easter is about God overturning and joyously exceeding human expectations. Do you know where that boomerang of blessed memory would be, if it had never lost in the power plant? Almost certainly it would be in a box in an attic or some storage unit in the suburbs of Dallas right now. But do you know almost every time my whole family gets together we tell the story of dad schlepping this boomerang around the globe only to have it lost after just one fateful throw? We tell the story and our hearts fill with joy. We smile from ear to ear. We reenact it. We laugh, almost until we cry. We thought we were given a boomerang, but really we were given a story.

What the women at the tomb expected was gone. Instead they are given a story of good news. Jesus has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. This is my message for you.

This week my five-year-old son asked me, “Dada, why do we celebrate Easter?” I thought: a perfect, textbook teachable moment. “Well, son, Easter is about celebrating and participating in God’s resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s people, and the whole world. When Jesus was resurrected, love wins over hate, hope wins over sadness, sin was defeated, death was destroyed, and God’s new life breaks down every wall!” He looked right at me, paused for a minute, and said, “Yeah … but we do Easter for Easter egg hunts.”

In the liturgies of Holy Week, we don’t just “go through the motions.” We reenact and participate in the passion and resurrection of Christ. And as we do, it is not just that we interpret the mighty acts of God, but also that they interpret us. How we respond to them interprets us.

We enter the dark tomb this evening, our expectations are overturned, and we receive a message of life, love, and hope winning the greatest battle over death, hate, and despair. God loves to give good gifts to God’s children. God offers resurrection. What will you leave this place with tonight? The message that on this holy night the foundations of the earth shook, hell was harrowed, Christ is raised, and God has the victory over death.

That relationship that seems irreparably broken—resurrection! That person you can’t forgive—resurrection! That dream that’s shipwrecked against the rocks—resurrection! The innocent dead in Syria—resurrection! The hate that produced the Orlando shooting, the Charleston massacre—resurrection! The hopelessness and rage of hearing of yet another police officer beat or kill a young black male for walking across the street wrongly—resurrection! The desperation of applying for job after job after job, longing for work—resurrection!

Easter is about God challenging, overturning, and joyously exceeding human expectations. Resurrection is about taking all the world’s hate, fear, despair, all the scars, and not erasing them, pretending they don’t exist, but redeeming them, making them miraculously more beautiful than if we’d never left the garden at all. About taking the best that we believe we deserve to hope for, and to replacing it with exceedingly more than we could ever even ask or imagine.

Whatever you entered this holy place with, however you came. Hear this good news: Christ is risen! Noli timere. Don’t be afraid.  I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified, with expectations of loss, death, discouragement. Jesus is not here; for he has been raised, just as he promised. Come, see the place where he lay. And after you see it, believe in the God’s good news. ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee, going ahead of you to New Haven, to New York, to Washington, to Syria, to Russia, to Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, to Pulse nightclub, and even to your house, and to you very heart; there if you seek him, you will see him.’ This is my message for you. Amen.

Comment

Sermon for Good Friday

Comment

Sermon for Good Friday

The Rev’d Kathryn Greene-McCreight
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Good Friday
April 14, 2017


“Be not far from me for trouble is near and there is none to help.” (Ps 22:11)

How can I preach to you on a day when there are no words to be spoken?  How can anyone speak of hope on a day where it looks to be crushed? How can we even think to bring to words any Good News on this day where the flame of love seems to have been snuffed out?

Job brings to words even this kind of silence demanded at suffering. As his friends try to offer vain words of comfort, he responds: “Look at me and shut up.” (Job 21:5). So we must look at the man on the cross, and we must shut our mouths.  But only for so long.

Because there are indeed words. In the beginning, the Word called creation into being: “God said ‘Let there be light’. And there was light.” God did that by the Word.  The Gospel according to John also goes back to that place in the story: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”…  Jesus is that speech who by his own Word creates in the beginning.

And even in the beginning of this Word-creation, we find Jesus’ cross.  In the Garden of Eden, you will remember, there are many trees.  But the most important are mentioned by name: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The latter one we know all too well.  This is the tree of which Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat. They disobey God, eat, and bring upon themselves God’s curse. 

The curse is not just spiritual, it is also physical, because these two always go together. The curse brings our first parents to break out in sweat as they farm.  Even that rich soil yields nothing but thorns and thistles.  They grieve in bearing and raising the next generation. They return to the soil from which they were created: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The curse of our first parents is on us as well.  This is a real curse, a power that enslaves us.  And yet even that enslavement is preceded by God’s word of promise, by grace.

We may remember the second tree that brings death, but we usually overlook the first tree: the tree of life.  We must not.  The tree which we choose for our own destruction is preceded in the story by this tree of life.  Even from the beginning of creation, God’s grace floods our disobedience, our choice to flee from God’s presence. As at the beginning, so at the end: grace is even in Jesus’ suffering, and so also in ours.

At Jesus’ crucifixion, the soldiers twist together a crown of thorns and grind it into his scalp. Hail King of the Jews. The thorns on the head of the Man of Sorrows loose us from our bondage to the thorns of our curse in Eden.

Jesus’s cross is the tree of life. This is the tree we yearn for. The tree of life in the middle of the garden is in the very presence of God.  Its fruit is sweet, is offered freely, and for all.  It gives health and wholeness.  The tree of life is the center of creation.  It is the cross,  the very embrace of God.

So, there are indeed words today.  Paul talks about preaching the word of the cross. The word about the cross.  The word from the cross.  The word on the cross.  From the cross, the Holy Trinity itself preaches the Word of reconciliation, mercy, and peace.

As many of you know, in November of 1940, England’s city of Coventry was flattened by the Luftwaffe of the 3rd Reich.  Its jewel cathedral was destroyed. The day after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen into the shape of a cross. The Provost of the Cathedral, walking through the rubble, traced in ash with his finger the words “Father, Forgive”.  A local priest made a cross of three of the medieval nails he found in the ruins. The New Cathedral was rebuilt near the Old Cathedral, not on top of its rubble, not in defiance but as a sign of hope. Their Litany of Reconciliation is prayed in the Old Cathedral every Friday at noon. The Coventry ministry of Peace and Reconciliation has reached around the globe, and its symbol is the cross of nails.

Listen again to those words traced in the ruins the day after the bombing: “Father, forgive.” We hear Jesus say from his own cross: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  But in Coventry, the prayer is: “Father, forgive…” That is our prayer. Father, forgive, that we might forgive each other. “Do you not know that when you hate your enemy you hate your own brother?”

The Word of forgiveness from the cross is God’s relinquishment of all that would bar us from the Holy Presence.  For us, forgiveness is a prayer of release of all within us that blocks us from loving God and loving neighbor.  Forgiveness is difficult, but not an impossible act, summoned as though by gritting our teeth and moving forward.  Forgiveness is first a prayer, and then an act.  Forgiveness cultivates in us practices like gratitude, generosity, fearlessness, hope. From our hearts, with our hands, in our lives.  

Coventry, Charleston, Alexandria, all of Syria… When we hate those whom we think to be our enemies, we are hating our brother.  This is what grieves the man of sorrows.  Father, forgive.  Amen.

Comment

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Comment

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

The Rev’d Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 2, 2017

When I was a freshman in college, my choir took a trip to France.  We toured and sang mostly in and around Paris, Normandy, and Brittany.  It was a great time away, a great time for music making, and a great time for seeing places I’d only read about and seen in books before.  I particularly remember one striking scene—and I wish I could remember where it is—but all I can remember is the snapshot visual, the image planted in my mind, of a chapel just outside a medieval parish church, a tiny place, maybe a chantry of sorts, with a few seats and a small altar—dark and closed in and still, with walls of thick plaster, once white, stained by centuries of candle soot and incense, dirt from the nearby fields, and the oily grime of human hands and bodies that had brushed along the wall.  What struck me about the place most, though, was that, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realized that the altar itself and the wall behind it was made entirely of human bones—skulls laid in a pattern interlaced with what must have been thigh bones or other quite large bones, all stacked and plastered together—hundreds upon hundreds of human remains stacked there in the little chapel turned ossuary, a visual history of the lives that had passed before, the souls that had inhabited that place—that had gone on but were yet gathered still around the altar, the place where the body of Christ gathered together in worship to remember the dead—and to be the living. 

My immediate thought as a young person encountering these stacks of dry bones was, “Wow, this is really creepy.”  I wasn’t used to seeing that much death around me.  But as my eyes grew acclimated to the darkness and I began to discern familiar shapes, like the altar, I realized that this chapel, this altar, this assembly of dry bones, was actually a place of great hope.  The mass would have been said for centuries in that place, with those thousands of bodies gathered round—the souls of the faithful departed gathered round with all the angels and saints, along with the living—infants and older folks, priests and people—all to celebrate the presence of Christ that transcends time and place, that conquers death and gives us life.  Those bones weren’t symbols of death. They were markers of hope. They pointed towards resurrection.

Sometimes I think of that altar when I remember the strange story we hear today in Ezekiel, the valley of the dry bones.  God shows Ezekiel a vision of a valley full of dry bones and asks, “Mortal, can these bones live?”  Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, you know.”  The Lord says, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD” (Ezekiel 31:1-4). That line has been immortalized in the song by James Weldon Johnson and his brother John Rosamund Johnson even for folks who don’t know the Ezekiel passage.  Those dry bones that hear the word of the LORD are knit back together, the knee bone connected to the thigh bone, thigh bone connected to the hip bone and so on—and clothed with sinews and flesh and skin, and breath is breathed into them as at the first of creation, and they stand, living bodies, enfleshed and alive, there before God and the prophet.  This image of revivification, this re-enfleshment, is a vision of hope for the exiles in Babylon:  this is Ezekiel laying out his mandate from God to give hope to his exiled people.  “’Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD:  I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.”  (Ezekiel 37.12) [1] 

On this fifth Sunday in Lent, we acknowledge in the collect that only God can “bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners.”  Part of our Lenten practice is self-examination; an acknowledgement of our sinfulness—maybe even an accounting of our sins—and a pledge of amendment of life; of repentance; of change.  Some of us will make a Lenten confession.  Some of us will work to make changes in our lives.  And some of us may despair; we may look on the dry bones of our lives and think, What a mess. There’s no way my life can be different.  There’s no hope for change, for anything different.  I’m trapped here by this thing that’s wrong—this thing that I’ve done—this circumstance of my life.

Mary and Martha must have felt trapped, as though their lives had hit a dead end.  Their brother Lazarus was dead.  They didn’t see any hope for anything different.  We can sense the grief, the fear, perhaps even the anger in Martha’s voice as she goes out to meet Jesus—“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  (John 11.21)  In the verses that follow these, we learn of Mary’s grief, of her tears, her despair, as she kneels and weeps at the feet of Jesus.  Martha, ever the practical one, even points out to Jesus that the body has been dead for enough days that it should be decomposing.  “Lord, there is a stench…” our translation reads.  The Authorized version proclaims, “Lord … he stinketh.”  (11.39)

Martha, your brother will rise again, Jesus has told her.  I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day, Lord, Martha says.

But Jesus continues, in those words we heard at the beginning of the liturgy, and again in the gospel reading:  “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (11.25-26)  And we learn that this is not some future promise, but an assurance of how the world can be, here and now.  Not hopelessness, but life, here and now.

And Jesus, the resurrection and the life, stands at the grave of his friend Lazarus and calls, “Lazarus, come out!”  (11.43)  Lazarus comes forth in his wrappings from the tomb, and Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  (11.44)  Unbind him.  Let him go.  The Greek text is Lusate aphete upageinlusate from luo, to release or unbind—aphete from aphiemi—to send away, to allow, to permit—and finally, upagein from upago, to depart.  Release, unbind, go on your way.  This middle word—aphete—is really quite striking.  Here with Lazarus it describes a freeing from graveclothes—a sending away from death and into life, a loosening of all that binds him and a return to freedom, to relationship, to life itself. 

When Jesus’s disciples ask him how to pray, he teaches them, using the prayer that we have come to call the Lord’s prayer.  In the Eucharist we will say together those words, praying together  that God would“forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  (Matt 6.12)  Forgive. It’s the same word as the word in our passage from John—aphiemi.    Allow, permit, send forth from, free from, forgive.  Lazarus is unbound from his graveclothes, unbound from death.  Jesus teaches us to ask to be forgiven—unbound from the things that hold us back from relationship with God—from loving relationship with one another.  Jesus frees us.  Jesus forgives us.  Jesus invites us into wholeness and reconciliation. 

Aphete.  We, too, are forgiven, freed.  We are sent away from the graveclothes, the the brokenness that binds us, the things that separate us from God and one another—the fear, the anger, the anxiety, the greed —all washed away in the waters of baptism, all unbound in Christ’s call to us.  We are freed, forgiven, and sent forth—re-made, renewed, restored in Christ—shown how to love by God’s own self-revealing love, Jesus, the messiah, the Christ—and sent out of the grave of sin into the fullness of life in Christ.

 “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Do you believe this, Martha?  Jesus asks.  Do you believe this, brothers and sisters?

For when we believe, we are loosed from the graveclothes of sin and brokenness; and we can hold fast to that promise of release, of sending, of forgiveness.  We can hold fast to the promise of the resurrection, because Jesus who revealed God God’s own self to us, who died on the cross, who was buried in the tomb, has also risen, and abides with us through the gift of his Holy Spirit. 

Because of God’s love, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are changed—we are loosed and sent forth—we are forgiven, healed, and reconciled with God.

Those bones are dry and dead, scattered about on the dusty earth, and they are knit back together by the Word of the Lord, enfleshed, restored, full of life.  Lazarus is wrapped  in the graveclothes of death, but  Jesus calls out, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  Lazarus is unbound and sent forth into life, a loosening of all that binds him and a return to freedom, to relationship, to life itself.

We, brothers and sisters, are unbound and let go—released from our sins, forgiven, restored, renewed.  Our graveclothes are stripped away so that we can see honestly the brokenness of the world, of ourselves, the painful separation within the heart of God—and, then, by God’s grace, new life is breathed into our bones and sinews and flesh—remade, reoriented, towards God’s purposes, God’s truth, God’s love.

This week of Lent and the Holy Week that follows, I invite you to look for the bones around us: stacked up like that ossuary, the bodies of Christ—the body of Christ around the altar—or even like the valley of the dry bones, just waiting for God’s healing breath.  And rather than finding despair in that valley, I invite you to call out to God.  To allow his healing breath to strip away any illusion or falseness—and to unbind you and set you free, send you out, renewed, remade, and restored, into the light of Easter wholeness—into the light of his Love.

[1] Portions of this homily were adapted from a sermon preached at Grace Church in New York on April 6, 2014.

Comment

Learning to See

Comment

Learning to See

The Rev’d Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Fourth Sunday in Lent: Laetare (Year A)
March 26, 2017

I have a confession to make.  When I’m tired, when I just want to unwind, relax, and not think very hard, I like to watch comedies.  Just plain, slapstick, easy joking, non-thinking comedies.  A professor at the divinity school once told my class that we should have something light to read—a vampire novel or something—between theological tomes.  Well, comedies are my vampire novel.  And one of my favorite comic actors is Ben Stiller.  

If you like Ben Stiller, maybe you’ve seen the film “Zoolander,” a lighthearted mashup of a spoof on the fashion world and a spy thriller.   The title character, Eric Zoolander, is a fashion model who has made a career out of various signature “looks,” or facial expressions.  “Blue Steel” is his newest “look,” but the joke is that all of his looks are exactly the same.  Zoolander, with his runway couture and studied expressions, moves through life easily, without much thought for anything but his good looks, until he is wrapped up in an incident of international intrigue, a la “The Manchurian Candidate,” and a rival model has to save him from assassinating a visiting dignitary.  One of the funny lines in the movie is also a prescient one; Zoolander says, “I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to life than being really, really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is.”

By the end of the film Derek Zoolander is inching only slightly closer to figuring out what’s more to life.  But maybe you, like Derek, have a feeling that being really, really, ridiculously good looking is actually quite a useful thing.

I remember reading almost two decades ago, during George W. Bush’s successful campaign for the presidency, an article in the New Yorker on polling and research into how people pick their candidates.  The details are lost on me at this point, but the gist of it was that a staggeringly low percentage of voters pick candidates based on issues.  A much higher percentage of folks pick candidates based on how they look.  “He looks honest.”  “She looks evil.”  “I just have a good feeling that he would be the kind of President I want in office.” These are the sorts of feelings-based responses we might hear in an election.  And online dating apps are largely dependent on visual appeal alone.  Tinder, one dating app, asks users to view photographs of potential dates—and to swipe right if the person is, well, interesting to date, or left if the user isn’t interested—all based only on visual appeal.  Here’s a photo—swipe right, swipe left.  In sixty years, children will be asking their grandparents, “Grandpa, how’d you meet Grandma?”  And the response will come, “Well, dear, I swiped right.”

Samuel is responding to visual cues—to appearance—in the first reading we hear today.  Just for context, let’s remember that Samuel has already anointed Saul as Israel’s king, and that didn’t go so well. Saul has disobeyed God, and God has told Samuel to name another king.  And so Samuel goes under the cover of making a sacrifice to Bethlehem to see Jesse, whose son God says is the one to name king. 

And what happens next is like a soap opera. It’s like Tinder for the 8th C BC.  There Jesse’s sons are, coming to the sacrifice, and Samuel is looking to see who the contender is.  Who will date Israel.  First comes Eliab, and he’s so tall and really really really ridiculously goodlooking, and Samuel swipes right!  “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD,” Samuel says.  (1 Sam 6)  And God just rolls God’s eyes and says, Samuel, it’s not about how he looks!  “For the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”  (7b)  I love that line.  That’s what Derek Zoolander is looking for—the meaning to life that’s more than just outward appearance, that’s more than just how things look on the outside.  And God’s given this great lesson to Samuel, and so poor Eliab is rejected—let’s don’t feel too bad for him, after all, he is ridiculously good looking, he’ll be fine.  But he’s not the next king. 

And so the parade continues.  And Samuel swipes left.  And left again. And again.  And again.  Nope, the LORD hasn’t chosen this one.  All the way through all seven of Jesse’s sons.  But wait!  It turns out there’s an eighth son, the youngest, and he’s out in the fields with the sheep.  And so they send for him.  And here comes David.  And we know that it’s David who will be chosen, because, after all, he’s the last son.  There are no more.  But still, we’re waiting there on the edge of our seats, and here he comes, and what is it that we hear next?  Remember, mortals look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.  And Samuel looks on David’s heart and discerns he will be a great king, right?  No.  Nope.  That’s not it at all.  Samuel looks at David and thinks, Wow.  He’s really really really ridiculously goodlooking. “Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” (12a)  And God rolls God’s eyes and says, Yes, Samuel.  This is he.  Get on with it and anoint him. And Samuel does it.

Maybe I’m being too hard on Samuel; maybe I am expecting too much. He sees as mortals see.  And somehow, mostly, the will of God gets done.  But Samuel sees just like David, just like you and I, just like the world.  He sees what’s on the outside.  That echoing pronouncement, God’s reminder of how God sees the heart, not the outside, is followed by that howling tear in the text pronouncing David even better looking than Eliab.  How can we get free of our sight?  How can we learn to see differently?

It’s happening again in the gospel lesson.  No one but the man born blind from birth seems to be able to see clearly.  The blind man really cannot see physical faces.  He can’t see anything visually, he can’t process light shining on his retina and traveling through his optic nerve to the brain. That’s not how he sees.  But he’s the ONLY character in the story who really sees, who really understands, who really comprehends, what’s going on. 

Look again at the structure of the gospel story.  We have the character of the man born blind.  Jesus’s disciples think that his blindness is related to sin—that the man himself has sinned, or that his parents have sinned.  It’s a common thought in the ancient world and maybe even ours—conventional wisdom, if you will—that the difference, the affliction, as those around him see it—is related to some act, some sin, on the part of the person or his parents.  But Jesus sees differently—Jesus sees clearly—he knows that the man’s difference is not a punishment or a consequence of sin—it’s just the way he was born.  And he gives sight to the blind man to reveal God’s work, to show God’s creating power.

And the man comes back, no longer blind.  But his neighbors no longer recognize him.  “’Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’  He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’”  (John 9.9) How frustrating it is for this man, to return to his community, to the people whom he has known for his entire life—the people that have known him—and they don’t recognize him any longer.  He’s no longer an outsider, marginalized by what they see as his disability.  He’s the same person.  But they still won’t listen to him.  He’s still marginalized.  “I am he!” he cries.  No, it’s not the same man.  It’s just someone like him, they say.  They can’t see him.

All they’ve been able to see is what they perceive as his disability.  They’ve seen him as a blind man, as a beggar.  They’ve failed to really see him as a person.  And when these details are changed, they can’t even recognize him as the same person.

And so they bring him to the Pharisees, the scholars of the law.  And (in the portion of the gospel we don’t read today) instead of seeing the miraculous nature of his healing, the Pharisees become concerned about the manner of the healing—that it was done on the Sabbath.  The man born blind can see more clearly than they; he makes the argument that, while the Pharisees think Jesus is sinning by healing him on the Sabbath, that the miracle of his sight is enough to demonstrate that Jesus is revealing the works of God—that Jesus is acting within God’s will, expressing God’s desire.  “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing,” the man says.  (33)  And the Pharisees, in their spiritual blindness, drive him out.  They cannot see the man for who he is.  They cannot see him as Jesus sees him.  They cannot see the very work of God in their midst.

Seeing is a real problem for us—for our culture, our society.  What are the things we can see clearly?  What are the things we value?  Too often it’s the outward appearance, the trappings of wealth, the systems we’ve grown used to, the economic values of the market—over and above the value of people, the love of God, the flourishing of all.

As I’ve mentioned before a group of us are reading Archbishop Justin Welby’s book Dethroning Mammon: Making Money Serve Grace as part of our Lenten practice.  The book is a reflection on what we value—on aligning our own values with those of the kingdom of God.  One of the phrases the Archbishop uses is about seeing:  “What we see we value.”  What the world teaches us to look at, how we learn to understand what we see, creates value for us.  And what the Archbishop is suggesting is that we learn to see differently.  That we learn to look at the things Jesus loves.  That we learn to value what Jesus values.

We’re not very good at seeing.  Samuel can’t seem to see past the outward appearance of Jesse’s sons.  Many of the people of Bethlehem can’t seem to recognize the man born blind after he’s been healed.  The Pharisees can’t see the great gift that is Jesus’s healing—they fail to recognize the presence of God—because it doesn’t LOOK to them like what they’re expecting.  It doesn’t fit the rules as they understand them.  They don’t recognize God working in and amongst their community, their faith, themselves.

Part of the Christian project is learning to see.  Learning to see God’s hand at work in the world, to see God’s presence in our lives, to give thanks, to rejoice.  And part of the project is learning to see differently.  To see God’s presence in the lives of those around us—even in unexpected places.  We value what we see.  It’s a powerful counter narrative—to love the things that God loves, rather than the outward appearance, the values that the world embraces. 

The man born blind has the greater sight.  When Jesus goes back—remember, he’s not seen Jesus—Jesus put the mud on his eyes and sent him to wash it off…  When the man is driven out, and Jesus goes back to find him, he asks, “‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him.” (9.35-38)

Out of this experience of Jesus’s great love, his transforming power—the transforming power of God—the man comes to know Jesus—to know and believe even before he has seen him.  Can we do the same?  Can we, in the presence of Christ made known in this sacrament at the altar, come to know and experience Jesus, to discern the presence of Christ moving in our lives, in the world around us, in the lives of others whom we meet?  I invite you this week as part of your Lenten practice to look for Jesus.  In the people you meet.  In the most unlikely places.  To look for God showing up and moving in the world around us.  And then to tell that story—that counter narrative.  Let’s learn to see differently—and show that great love we’ve seen to the whole world.

Comment

Seeing Differently

Comment

Seeing Differently

The Rev’d Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Second Sunday in Lent (Year A)
March 12, 2017

I wonder how you’re doing on your Lenten journey.  How your fast is coming, or the thing that you decided to take on instead of giving up something—how’s that going?  Several friends this week have mentioned to me that they’ve just not done as well as they’d hoped.  That the plan to give up wine at dinner was over by Thursday.  That the intention to hit the gym each morning was, well, not happening each morning.  That chocolate seemed just too irresistible to keep from having just one little bite.

I don’t want to make light of Lenten fasts.  They are important ways that the Church keeps a holy Lent—that we keep turning our attention towards God.  Fasting—or even taking on a new discipline—can help us become more aware of how we’re relating to the world, to God, to one another; it can help us repent—change—be the people God has created us to be.  And that’s a good thing.  If your Lenten fast is going well, keep it up. 

But a Lenten fast can also be used as a way for us to try and grab control of our own salvation.  If I can just get this fasting thing down right, God will be pleased with me, and I’ll be a better person, a better Christian.  I’ll finally get it right!   Have you ever had any of those feelings?

Today in our gospel reading we hear the story of Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish people, a Pharisee, a scholar of the law.  He comes to Jesus secretly, under cover of night even, to talk with him.  Is Nicodemus testing Jesus?  Investigating him?  Is he flattering him when he says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” (John 3.2b)  Or is he truly interested in learning what Jesus is there to teach?  It seems as though he’s being earnest, because he makes a fundamental mistake—he misunderstands what Jesus is telling him.

Jesus replies, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (3.3)  What I grew up hearing, though, and what is probably what you remember hearing, is a bit different.  The Authorized version renders Jesus’s response to Nicodemus like this: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (3.3) 

There it is, that phrase “born again.” 

When I hear that phrase used in our popular understanding of Christianity, I think of “born again Christians.”  Folks who have had a life-changing encounter with the living God.  People that can point to a mountaintop experience, often an emotional encounter, something like Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus where he was struck down by the blinding light of God’s presence—where he was changed.  Something maybe like John Wesley’s experience at Aldersgate, when he felt his heart strangely warmed.  A particular moment that folks can point to and say, there it is.  On this date I encountered the living God.  I was born again.  I became a Christian.

In divinity school I was in a class with a broad range of students from Catholic and evangelical traditions.  A guest lecturer, a Roman Catholic nun, was telling us about her experiences in the base communities in Latin America and her work there with liberation theology.   As she was telling us her story, as she invited questions, a young woman, a classmate, raised her hand and asked, “But Sister, when did you become a Christian?  When were you born again?”

The nun smiled and replied, very seriously, “Well, I suppose I’ve always been a Christian.  I was born to Christian parents.  I was baptized as an infant.  I have always been part of the Church, the body of Christ.”

It was as though they were speaking two different languages—the two languages of the Church, catholic and reformed, two different traditions, talking about the same thing.  The young woman wanted to know when the nun had found Jesus; but the nun had never lost Jesus!  She’d always walked with him.

This idea of being born again can be used to draw lines, to exclude, to determine who’s a good Christian, who’s really Christian, and who’s just culturally identifying, walking alongside, talking the talk.  Who’s in and who’s out.  Who’s saved, and who’s not.

If the idea of being “born again” seems strange to you, take heart, for it seems strange to Nicodemus as well, and trying to understand what Jesus means, he presses the question.  How can anyone be born a second time?  Nicodemus recognizes the linguistic turn in Jesus’s speech; the Greek word anothen can be translated as again, from the beginning, or, in the sense that the NRSV uses, from above, from on high, from heaven.[1]  The sense that Jesus is trying to impart, and that Jesus clarifies, is that Nicodemus must be reborn from God.  That Nicodemus must re-orient his world view towards the kingdom of God.  He must learn to see differently, to be born of water and the spirit.

This Lent a group of us are reading Archbishop Justin Welby’s book Dethroning Mammon: Making Money Serve Grace (London: Bloomsbury, 2016).  The book is about how we distinguish between the kingdom of God, the values of Jesus, and the priorities and organization of the world—mammon.  In short, who is it that we look to rule the world—is it money, economic systems, the flow of goods and services?  Or is the love of Jesus the first organizing principle?  Is it the love of God, revealed in Christ, that rules our lives, and the way we behave in the world?

The first thing that the Archbishop says is that we must learn to see differently.  That we value what it is we see, so we must begin to see the world differently—through the eyes of Jesus.  He gives as an example Lazarus.  Mary and Martha are busy hosting parties; they are productive.  But we don’t know anything about Lazarus—what is his worth?  What can he produce?  Taking a page from Jean Varnier’s L’Arche communities, communities where people with and without disabilities live side by side in community and companionship, Welby wonders if perhaps Lazarus was different in some way—whether he had a disability—and if that might account for why we don’t hear much of his story in the gospels—why we don’t hear about his value to the community he inhabits.  But he has value to Jesus, who sees differently.  And whatever Lazarus’s story, Jesus raises him from the dead.  Jesus sees him, wants to be in relationship with him, and brings him back from death into life, community, and relationship. 

Welby invites us to see differently—to see as Jesus sees.  To take the risk on valuing even what the world doesn’t value.  To believe that there is more than the world offers.  To believe that, in truth, God so desires to be with us that he sends his own son to save the whole world.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (3.16-17)

Welby invites us to see differently. To see through the eyes of Jesus.  Jesus invites Nicodemus to see differently.  Not to be born for a second time, which Nicodemus realizes is physically impossible, but to die to sin and self, just as we do in our baptism, and to rise to new life—to live as God teaches us to live—in the hope of new life, complete love, abundance, and joy.  Nicodemus, you must be born from above, Jesus tells him.  You must be born by water and the spirit.  You must see the world differently—through the eyes of God’s great love.

John Wesley knew that way of seeing.  Not just intellectually.  He had a moment when he felt it, in his very being, there at Aldersgate, when his heart was strangely warmed.  While in a bible study hearing Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans, Wesley writes that “while [the speaker] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”[2]

It was that realization for Wesley that warmed his heart:  that “…God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3.16-17) 

That’s what Jesus is inviting Nicodemus to see.  His new life, his being born from above, is to see with those eyes that see differently—that see that the greatest gift, the greatest thing of value, is God’s own love.  That God has given God’s very self to secure that relationship.  To draw us to him. 

And when we realize the value that we have to God, when we realize how God values us, we can begin to value the world around us differently.  To love one another as he loves us.

That’s the work we’re called to do this Lent.  Our fasting, our prayer, our study of scripture—our taking on and our giving up—all of these things we do so that we cansee more clearly.  So that we can see the world through God’s eyes.  So that we can see one another through Jesus’s eyes of mercy and love.  So that we can see ourselves as loved and redeemed.

That’s what it is to be born from above.  To see the world differently.  My friends in Christ, I pray that, this Lent, we may be born of water and the spirit—born from above.  That we may see differently.  I pray for us a holy Lent.

 

 

 

[1] Jerome Neyrey, SJ, in notes for vv 3-5 in the gospel of John, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV with Apocrypha, 4th ed, Michael Coogan, ed.  Oxford:  OUP 2010, p NT 1886.

[2] Entry for May 25, Journal of John Wesley, ed. Percy Livingstone Parker.  Chicago:  Moody, 1951.  Online at https://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/journal.i.html (accessed 3/11/17).

Comment

Get up – and do not be afraid!

Comment

Get up – and do not be afraid!

I don’t know about you, but for me, this week has been such a welcome relief from the cold of winter.  And I am plenty glad to see the snow cover go.  We never had a snow cover in the South when I was a child, so it’s something that’s taken some getting used to—and I’m not opposed to it—I quite like it some winters—but this year I was glad to see it go.  Even though we know more cold is in store, things are beginning to bud here, bulbs poking up through the ground—evidence that spring may indeed be around the corner.

Comment

Salt and Light

Comment

Salt and Light

The Rev’d Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A)
February 5, 2017

‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.  (Matthew 5.13)

What do you think of when you think of salt?  I generally always think of those old blue boxes with the girl with the umbrella on them—the Morton salt box—“When it rains, it pours,” the marketing slogan said, in a reference, I suppose, to how the salt was non-caking—how it would pour even in humid climates.  That was a useful thing in the South where I grew up; my grandmother would put rice grains in her salt shaker to try to keep the salt from caking.  Maybe she hadn’t found Morton’s, or maybe even its anti-caking properties couldn’t stand up to the high humidity of South Georgia.  The issues of clumping notwithstanding, salt is something of a commodity in my mind, right along with sugar and flour, fairly inexpensive at the local market.  I’ve had a box of sea salt now in my cabinet for at least ten years; it’s survived at least four moves and is still a quarter full.  I’m not hanging onto it because I think it’s particularly valuable.  I’ve just been sparing on the salt usage—and I don’t want to waste it, so I haven’t thrown it out.  It’s just as good now as it was then.  And Morton’s advertising notwithstanding, it’s not clumped a bit as far as I can tell.  I haven’t thought a bit about it as a valuable thing to hold onto.

That’s not how the ancient world would have viewed salt, though, is it?  Salt would have been extraordinarily valuable.  I use salt occasionally to bring out the flavor of a vegetable that I’m cooking, or even some meat, but before refrigeration, not that long ago, salt would have been a mainstay of preserving food.  Think of salted, dried fish; bacon and ham; and even corned beef.  The salt serves to dry out the food and prevent the growth of bacteria that would spoil it.  Today we can put fresh foods into the refrigerator or the freezer, but even a hundred years ago salt still would have been an important method of food preservation, as it was in Jesus’s day.   

This value that salt has for preservation made it important to local economies, then.  Salt could be traded—first  mined from underground deposits or collected from evaporative techniques—and then transported along trade routes to cities to be sold in markets.  The production of salt—and even more its trading—became important economic activities in the ancient world.  If you’ve ever been to Salzburg in Austria, the birthplace of Mozart, you’ll have seen the medieval fort and castle built on a ridge high above the town—Hohensalzburg—evidence of the importance of the salt trade to this region—and to the fortunes of the Archbishops of Salzburg. 

So one thing that Jesus is saying about the salt—and about us—is that it’s valuable.  We are valuable.  “You are the salt of the earth.” You are valuable to God—we are valuable to God.  Not like those little packets of salt that come in your take out meal—or like the salt canister in your cupboard—but like something rare that has to be mined from the earth, or distilled from the sea—that has to be carried over long distances.  You are rare, you are valuable. You are the salt of the earth.

That value is intrinsic.  That value has to do with being made in God’s image.  With being redeemed by Jesus Christ in his birth, his death, and his resurrection.  That value has to do with being sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.  We belong to God in Christ—and we find our worth, and our value, there, at the foot of the cross.  We are God’s.

But that intrinsic value can be eroded, our gospel reading seems to say.

“But if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” Jesus asks.  Now, we know that salt is a mineral—actually a compound—sodium chloride.  But the salt you might dig up from a mine or take from the ocean has other things in it, too—other things than the sodium and chloride that give it flavor, that affect its taste.  If salt is stored somewhere wet, the salt itself, the sodium chloride, can leech away, leaving the other minerals behind, substances that don’t have the flavor-enhancing characteristics of the salt, that don’t have the preservative properties—that don’t have the value of the salt.  The goodness of the salt—the bits you want—have washed away.

Last Sunday we heard the beatitudes—the part of the sermon on the mount, Jesus’s own preaching, that reminds us “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted...  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…”  Those teachings of Jesus that give us a view of the kingdom of God, the values of the very heart of God.   Mother Kathryn told us that the beatitudes themselves are embodied in Jesus—that he is a living beatitude.  That vision found in Christ gives us a hope for what the world can look like when we live according to the reign of God. When we love God and one another as God has loved us.

We are the salt of the earth.  But if salt has lost its saltiness, how can it be restored?  If we aren’t living into this vision of the kingdom of God, not just in the future, but here and now, how can we be the people that God has made us to be?  We can’t just sit around on the shelf like the Morton’s salt canister!  We have to actively DO the thing that God has made us to do—to BE the people God has made us to be.  God calls us to action—to doing—to being.  Let’s not lose our saltiness, Jesus seems to be saying.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter the Rev’d Mpho Tutu van Furth have written a book entitled Made for Goodness.  The Tutus’ premise is that God has made us for goodness—to live in the realm of the possibility of the kingdom of God—to live as though that kingdom has come—to love like Jesus in the world around us.  Anything that is NOT goodness is not us—is not what God has made us to be.  Anything that is NOT goodness is not salt—it’s just the detritus that collects when the salt washes away.

So what does that look like, to BE salt?  To let your light shine, as the gospel says?  “You are the light of the world…  Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in Heaven.”   And I want to be clear—being salt, letting your light shine—those aren’t ways to earn grace, to earn salvation—they’re just being who it is God has made us to be.  Anything else is, well, putting our light under a bushel basket, Jesus tells us!

So how do we shine?  How do we keep our saltiness?  How do we live differently, live as Christians, as the body of Christ, in this world?

Maybe out of our abundance we give something to others.  Sure, it makes sense for self-preservation to hold onto everything we have, to build up walls for our protection, to close ourselves off when we’re afraid—but in Jesus we already have everything we need.  We are salt.  We are light.  What if we share some of that with the world?  A little light, a little salt, goes a long way.  

Today we’ll go down to the green and share the word of God, share the Eucharist, share a sandwich with the community that gathers there each Sunday afternoon.  You’re invited.  Come make a sandwich.  Come share in the fellowship, in the thanksgiving that is Christ’s body and blood, with the body of Christ.  Come share some salt and light.

Maybe out of the great love we’ve been given we share some to turn the other cheek, as Jesus says, even in the face of great wickedness.  I’m reminded of how stunning it was when last year, when parishioners at Bethel AME Church in Charleston were slaughtered by a white supremacist, that their relatives and brothers and sisters in Christ called out to spare the murderer the death penalty.  They called out for forgiveness.  They asked God’s mercy on the killer.  Even in the face of that great evil they were able to live by the love of Christ that they knew so well.  They were salt and light.

Rosa Parks, who was born 104 years ago yesterday, was salt and light.  As Mtr Kathryn referenced Dr King last week, Ms Parks exercised creative maladjustment when she refused to obey an unjust law.  She gave catalyst and courage to the Montgomery bus boycotts—she threw her salt into the game and enlivened the discourse on race and human rights in our nation and the world.  And that was no accident, right?  It took work and planning—and a whole lot of people working together—and a whole lot of the Holy Spirit moving—but Ms Parks was willing to be the salt in that mix—to be the salt, to shine her light for God. 

There’s a whole lot of light, a whole lot of saltiness in the body of Christ.  It doesn’t take only the extraordinary acts of heroism like those of the Charleston martyrs, or of Rosa Parks, though they can be examples for us, and the salt they’ve shared has enlivened the world.  But it also takes ordinary acts of Christian courage.  A word here, a sandwich there.   Little bits of salt that help the dough rise.  Little places of light that come together to share the blazing glory that is the light of Christ.

My friends, we are made for goodness.  Be salt in this world.  Be light in the darkness.  Be the love of God that you share with everyone you meet.

 

 

Comment

Jesus, Beatitudes, and Us

Comment

Jesus, Beatitudes, and Us

I want to try to focus on three things today.

1. What the beatitudes are not.
2. What the beatitudes are.
3. What Jesus as beatitudes means for our “creative maladjustment”

FIRST:

What the beatitudes are not: As I read this passage, the beatitudes are not concepts, ideas, plans for self-improvement. They are not suggestions, commandments, goals. They are not protocols for entering the Kingdom of God, they are not a manifesto for changing the world, they are not prescriptions on how to polish our halos. No, they are not primarily about us. In reality they are primarily about Jesus. They bear his identity. And that is true of all Scripture.

Comment

We Belong to Christ

Comment

We Belong to Christ

The Rev’d Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Third Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A)
January 22, 2017

What a weekend this has been. On Friday we celebrated the inauguration of our 45th President, and hundreds of thousands of people watched at the Capitol, on television, and online. Saturday hundreds of thousands of women along with allies took to the streets of cities across the world to advocate for women’s rights—human rights for all people—and in protest of the election of our 45th President. 

In the media it seems as though we are a country divided—of people who have supported the election of President Trump and who find hope in his message of populism, of promised jobs, of a future that puts America first—and of people who feel left behind, marginalized, by the President’s rhetoric around minorities, his remarks about women, and his disdain for a social safety net that provides for care for the poorest among us. 

Division extends to the relationship between the new administration and the press itself; on Saturday the biggest news story—getting as much airtime as the Women’s March, it seemed—was the press secretary Sean Spicer’s first press conference in which he chastised the press on its reporting about the number of people in attendance at the inauguration. CNN and other news outlets spent the rest of the afternoon refuting Spicer’s claims—showing photos of the inauguration compared to photographs of previous inaugurations. Comparisons and competing claims of Metro ridership, photographs, and claims from news agencies and the press office and the President himself differed widely, and the disagreement was contentious.

I left the day feeling as though we were divided as a nation, as a society—that allegiances were no longer to our common civic life together but to the President’s administration or to those who oppose it.

Even the church seemed to disagree; Franklin Graham told the President that the rain at the inauguration was a biblical sign of God’s blessing. The President told the CIA that it had stopped raining as he gave his address—and that was a sign of God’s blessing. The Southern Baptist preacher in the pulpit at St John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, preaching for a private service for the President before the inauguration, cited Nehemiah, saying, “You see, God is not against building walls!” Pope Francis, for another perspective, reminded Mr Trump of the importance of care for the poor, writing: “Under your leadership, may America’s stature continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door. “ And just a day later Episcopalians were marching in the streets of major cities, filling social media feeds with images of peaceful protest. 

The church at Corinth had some disagreements, too, about who they were following. Paul has heard that the growing Christian community at Corinth is full of people that identify with the person that taught them about the Christian faith, the person that baptized them. He hears that they are competing with one another, drawing lines, claiming allegiance to Peter, to Apollos, and even to Paul himself. 

Were their theological claims so very different? Maybe. Was it just allegiance to the person who first taught them about the Way of Jesus? Perhaps it’s that. But Paul calls them back to something else, away from the individual paths, the cliques, the factions that they’ve fallen into—calls them back to the unifying power of the cross of Christ.

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1.17-18).

The Corinthians were traders and merchants, wealthy and poor, from all over the Mediterranean region and even beyond—from all sorts of backgrounds and nationalities and belief systems. Many of them must have been Greeks and devoted to philosophical systems that prized wisdom. But here this story of a simple carpenter’s son from the backwater of Judea had come to them. And Paul, and Peter, and Apollos were telling them that this man, this human, was the revelation of God’s love—the very son of God—and that he’d been executed on the cross by the Roman government and yet rose and appeared to them again. That God’s love was sacrificial, self-offering, and couldn’t be put down by the powers of this world.

It must have sounded like a crazy story. And yet they’d believed. They’d committed to follow this Jesus. Could we blame them if they got a little off track, a little attached to the men who told them the story, the skill and wisdom they demonstrated? Don’t we in our own day get attached to the ways we hear the story of God? I follow Cranmer! I follow Calvin! I follow Francis! I follow the Episcopal Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Baptist Church, the Presbyterian!

And yet Paul calls us back, not to the lenses through which we follow Jesus, not to the permutations of the stories, our own understanding of the wisdom we’ve received—but to the simple, unvarnished truth of the cross—this foolish message of the Son of God who comes, who is killed, and who rises. Who brings us hope. Hope that no matter what death the world deals, we are bound up in the lifesaving death and resurrection of Jesus. That everything else is dependent on that love, on that life.

We belong to Jesus—to this saving story of resurrection.

This Sunday we are squarely between the feasts of the Confession of Saint Peter and the Conversion of Saint Paul, two men that are completely different and yet follow the cross of Christ, who shows others his saving love. Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah, the Son of the living God, and Jesus names him as the Rock, the one on which he will build his Church. And yet Peter denies knowing Jesus three times there in Jerusalem. After the resurrection, as recorded in the gospel of John, Jesus calls to Peter, asking three times, Peter, do you love me? Peter replies each time yes. Jesus commands him, “Feed my sheep.” And Jesus invites him, just as at the beginning, to come and follow him.

Paul, who had by the account in Acts, persecuted followers of Jesus, standing by even at the stoning of Saint Stephen, is struck blind on the road to Damascus, when Jesus appears to him. Paul is received by Annanias, who ministers to him, and Paul’s life is changed. He goes forth from that place to proclaim the love of Jesus with as much zeal as the first apostles—as one who has met Jesus, even after the resurrection, even as we meet him.

These are unlikely characters to spread the Gospel—a man who persecuted followers of Jesus. Another who denied Jesus. And yet here they are—the most prolific apostles and evangelists of the early Church. If God can use them, won’t God surely use us?

In the gospel today Jesus invites Peter and Andrew, James & John, to come and follow him—to come fish for people. 

Even as our civil society is fractured, can we follow Jesus—can we fish for one another, throw one another a line, to share his great love? 

The cross is the thing that unifies us as Christians—that great love of God in Christ. God can use Peter and Paul to share that love—those disparate souls with their massive faults—and God can use us. 

As you navigate the world this next week, this next month, these next years, remember the thing that we are called to proclaim—the thing that unifies us—the cross of Christ that is foolishness to the world, but that to us who are being saved is the power of God. 

Come and fish for people. Come and follow Jesus.

 

 

Comment

Hell

Comment

Hell

The streets and the airwaves alike are now full of the virtues and themes of the season: comfort and joy, warmth and goodness, peace and love, death and judgement, death and hell. Oh wait…

Some of you may recall that in fact it was traditional to preach the “Four Last things” - death, judgement, heaven, and hell - on the four Sundays of Advent, which means we would indeed be up the last, and worst, and above all least “Christmassy” of all theological topics imaginable. But what was the last time you heard a sermon about Hell in The Episcopal Church? Strap yourselves in.

Comment

Elves, Judgement, and Jesus

Comment

Elves, Judgement, and Jesus

What traditions do you have in your family?  What Advent traditions, or Christmas traditions?  Maybe you have a tree that you like to put up.  Or an Advent wreath.  Or an Advent calendar even.  I love Advent calendars—opening a little door each day of Advent, marking time moving towards Christmas.  As a child lots of those traditions were bound up around Santa Claus—waiting for presents.  How many more days till Christmas meant how many more days till presents

Comment