Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

YEAR B 2018 easter 5

Easter 5, 2018
Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:24-30
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

As you surely know by now, I used to play in a band for a living.  And in our band, whenever one of us would start explaining what a song means before playing the song, the other of us would point out:  If a band has to explain its songs before it plays them, the band should probably just write better songs.

And maybe you’ve seen something like this happening in your own life now and then.  You tell a group of people a really good story, and then someone in the group feels the need to explain why that was such a good story.  And you’re like, “Hey!  The story speaks for itself.  I don’t need you to come along and tell everybody why that was a good story!”

Well, that’s how the lessons are for this Sunday.  If I stand up here and tell you why the story about Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch is a good story, I honestly think it takes away from how great the story is.  Likewise, if I try to explain that the reading from First John is all about love and how God loved us first and that’s what makes us able to love one another and . . . Well, I think it would only be a distraction from the power of that little snippet of this letter.  It’s almost like, a better sermon would be to read that lesson again and then have us all just think about what a great little sermon that reading is.

And then, there’s this gospel reading.  You know, Jesus and the vines and the branches and all that.  Powerful imagery and--to be blunt--kind of obvious, right?  Branches can’t grow unless they’re connected to the vine.  Jesus is the vine.  Sooooo . . . Amen then.

My point is this:  over-explaining any of these three readings is not going to be helpful, and--in my own view--runs the risk of taking something away from them.  And so, this Sunday, I’m just going to offer a few observations about the lessons . . . Things that might not be obvious, but might be helpful to know.

In the first reading, from the book of Acts, the Ethiopian Eunuch has gone up to Jerusalem to worship, and is on his way back home.  Now, an Ethiopian Eunuch would not be allowed into the Temple to worship for two reasons:  He’s an Ethiopian and he’s a Eunuch.  A double outcast has gone up to worship anyway, even though he will be rejected from the assembly.  And, in the person of Philip--at the prompting of the Spirit--God comes to him anyway.  And in such a powerful way that he asks to be baptized that very day.  From absolute outcast to Christian disciple during one short chariot ride.  And all because the Spirit led Philip to the right place at the right time.  Philip’s will was aligned with the will of God.

In the second reading, from First John, it’s all just a riff on this idea:  God is love.  When we abide in God, we abide in love.  And abiding in love leads to all sorts of great things, like serving our neighbor, and finding that fear has been cast out.  The point is not that we love God, but that God loves us.  And the reason we love at all is because God first loved us.  Any good that we do is because of the love of God working in us.  The Spirit leads us, as the Spirit led Philip, and then God does what God does, because God is love.  You recall, any time we make a promise it is always accompanied by the phrase, “With God’s help.”  Apart from God we can do nothing, which leads us to the Gospel reading for today . . .

Jesus is the vine.  You are the branches.  This is a pretty obvious analogy, right?  I mean, if a branch gets cut off from the tree, it dies.  To stay alive it must stay connected to the tree.  And here’s a case where it’s important to look at the actual words as they’re recorded.  We lose something in English because we don’t have a way to make the word “you” into a plural.  Well, unless we’re from the south, in which case you’ve got “y’all” to work with.  The point is, what Jesus is saying here is “I am the vine, and you all are the branches.  You all remain in me and you all bear fruit.”

And why is that important?  Because it’s not about individuals remaining hooked into Jesus; it is about the community of believers remaining connected to Jesus.  Jesus says, “apart from me, you all can do nothing.”  Apart from Jesus, our parish can do nothing?  Well that’s not true, right?  If we didn’t have Jesus we could still gather in this space, and we could have festive dinners together, and we could even collect snacks for the Challenger baseball program.  We could still do good works without Jesus right?

Well, maybe what Jesus is saying is that those kinds of good works, that kind of fruit will be gathered up and thrown into the fire to be burned.  For us, those who have been cleansed by his words—as he says—the value of what we do comes from being connected to Jesus.  We could spend a whole bunch of time being busy and active and doing things, but if we’re not connected to Jesus, those things are pointless . . . They’ll be gathered up and burned.

And then here comes the amazing part . . . The tricky part . . . The part that makes us go, “What?”

Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  It’s tempting to take this to mean, If I remain in Jesus, and I ask for a new bicycle, I will get one tomorrow.  If you abide in me, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  Okay, I wish to win the lottery this afternoon so that I can give all the money to St. Timothy’s Church so we can fix up our building and start new programs so that we can continue to abide in you.  In Jesus name, Amen.

Seems like a slam-dunk, doesn’t it?  Something we want for all the right reasons, rooted in the continued abiding in Jesus?  But what’s missing from this is seeking the will of God.  If we want to do the will of God, we will inevitably run into this nagging question:  What is the will of God?  Every week (and hopefully more often than that), we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.”  Why are we praying for God’s will to be done?  That’s kind of silly isn’t it?  Praying that the will of God would be done?

I want to tell you a little story . . . And don’t you dare try to explain what it means when I’m done, because it’s a good story, understand?  Way back before I ever went to seminary, the first step in that process was to go meet with my Rector a few times.  Just the two of us.  And I hated those meetings!  He asked very hard questions, and he never told me whether I was answering correctly.  But one question came up over and over, because it really was the point of our meetings.  And that question was this:  How do I know if becoming a priest is God’s will for me?  How can I be sure?

The answer—simple, and yet as profound as can be—is this: If my will is aligned with God’s will, then I want what God wants.  When my will is also God’s will, then I want what God wants.  I will go where God wants me to go.  I will be who God wants me to be.

If we abide in Jesus, we will want what God wants.  Or, as Jesus says, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”  Staying connected to Jesus is the key.  Abiding in Jesus leads us to want what God wants.  And so, you’re asking, how do we abide in Jesus?  The answer is, I will with God’s help.  In the promises we make at Baptism, it is spelled out for us.  You could turn to page 304 in your Prayer Book and look up your responses, if you like, but your answer is always the same: “I will, with God’s help.”  Let’s try . . .

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? 
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
And so I ask you . . .
Will you abide in Jesus?

Amen.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

YEAR B 2018 easter 4

Easter 4, 2018
Acts 4:5-12
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18
Psalm 23

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, today is the fourth Sunday of Easter.  And, as happens every year, that means that today is also often called, “Good Shepherd Sunday.”  The reason for that is probably obvious, based on these readings.  Every year in our three-year cycle, we come to this Fourth Sunday of Easter and we get Psalm 23 (you know, The Lord is my Shepherd), and then a Gospel reading from John, where Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd.  The Gospel text is different in each of the three years, but the metaphor holds, and the Psalm remains the same (if I may paraphrase Led Zeppelin).

The easy parts of today’s readings are the shepherd parts.  And by that I mean, Psalm 23 is relatively straightforward, right?  And then in the Gospel text, Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd, and then makes a few comparisons between the Good Shepherd and the hired hand.  The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, whereas the hired hand runs away at the first sign of trouble because, well, he’s just a hired hand.  Making minimum wage or whatever.  So he values his own survival above that of the flock.  And we get that: he’s not ready to die for a bunch of sheep that aren’t even his.  However, as sheep, we’d prefer to have the Good Shepherd watching over us, right?  It’s comforting.  Like Psalm 23.  Comforting.

So now let’s leave behind the comforting parts of today’s lessons and move on to the other parts.  The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, just sort of starts in the middle of a story.  To set the scene, a man who cannot walk asks the disciples for money.  Then Peter quotes that familiar Sunday School song and says, “Silver and gold have I none;, but such as I have give I thee:  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”  And the man does!  And the people are amazed.  Then the Sadducees and temple guard see the disciples explaining that it was by the power of the resurrection of Jesus that the man was healed, and they throw them in jail.

Time for an aside:  As you may remember, the Sadducees are the religious sect who do not believe in the resurrection of anyone.  That is, they believed that when you die, you are dead.  Period.  So, what the disciples are telling the people threatens everything they believe in.  Because not only are the disciples claiming that Jesus rose from the dead, but they’re also saying that by the power of his resurrection, this man was healed!  So, clearly, they have them thrown in jail until they can sort it out.  And when Peter and John are called to explain themselves to the religious leaders, that’s where our reading picks up.

And the chief priest asks Peter and John, "By what power or by what name did you do this?”  Let me remind you, there was a guy who was lame from birth, and who spent every day begging for help, and now he is walking and leaping and praising God.  And the chief priest wants to know where they got their authority to heal the man.  And then I love how snarky Peter’s response begins:  “If we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed . . .”  And then he says, “this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”  And then—I think as a dig to the Sadducees—he adds, “whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”  It is by the power of the resurrection that healing happens at all.  Ever.

The ultimate example of God’s healing is in bringing Jesus back to life.  Just think about that.  When Jesus heals someone’s arm, or cures blindness, or anything else, we could think of that as a hint, a teaser if you will, of the ultimate healing:  which is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.  Any other healing is only possible because of that victory over death.  And we can tie any reconciliation, any forgiveness, any new beginning to this same world-changing event.  The resurrection of Jesus is the heart of our faith.  Any power we have to do good, to help those in need, to heal a broken world, it all derives from the power of the resurrection working within us.

Like the disciples, you and I could say, “If we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed . . . this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”  Though we could shorten it I bet.  Something more like, “By God’s grace” would do.  Not by our good morals or personal awesomeness or generosity or anything else.  Any good we do is possible only because of the power of the resurrection of Jesus.

The second reading we heard today, from the first letter of John, he writes, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us.”  I used to think this sentence meant, “This is how we know that Jesus loves us, because he laid down his life for us.”  But I have come to see that’s not what it means.  “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us.”  It means, this is how we know what love is, you see?  Or put another way, we did not know what love was until we saw Jesus lay down his life for us.  And, therefore, the sentence continues:  “We ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”

But we have to be careful not to forget what we just learned from the book of Acts.  It is not Jesus’ dying that heals; it is his resurrection that heals.  From the Gospel lesson today, Jesus says “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.”  The resurrection of Jesus is what brings healing.  And because his victory over death is also our victory over death, we can lay down our lives for others, knowing that the healing power of God will raise us back up.  We can take the risk because we know the healing power of God, because of the resurrection of Jesus.

Now, let’s go to the thing that might have caught your attention most this morning:  Jesus said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”  If you’re a Mormon, this sentence means that Jesus had to come to North America to convert the Nephite and Lamanite civilizations.  For the rest of us, sure, we might picture people living in other countries, or on other planets, or whatever.  In some sense, it doesn’t really matter what specific people Jesus is talking about here.  What matters is this . . .

The flock is not complete.  There are other sheep.  Jesus isn’t done yet, because everyone’s not here yet.  And this continues in our own day.  Sometimes we give it the scary name “evangelism,” but it is really just a matter of continuing to gather the sheep together, wherever they may be found, so there will be one flock, one shepherd, under the leadership of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  The one in whose name all healing is done.  The one whose Spirit inspires us to do great things in his name.  The one who leads us beside still waters, and comforts our souls.

As Peter said to the crowd:  “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”  May God give us the grace to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and to follow wherever he may lead us.

Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

YEAR B 2018 easter 3

Easter 3, 2018
Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So this gospel we just heard . . . You know, where Jesus shows up and asks for some fish?  It’s a very strange story isn’t it?  You can’t tell from that little section, but it comes hot on the heels of what we call “The Road to Emmaus.”  That was the time two disciples were walking on the road, and Jesus shows up, but they don’t know it’s him.  And then he starts explaining the scriptures to them, and breaks bread with them, they recognize him, and he disappears.  Remember that story?  Well that story leads us to this one.  Those same two disciples hurry back to tell the others, and then today we heard . . .While the disciples were telling how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus himself stood among them.

And the next line is?  “They were startled and terrified.”  Well, duh!  Scared half to death is probably more like it.  Have you ever had that experience where you’re talking about somebody and they’re suddenly standing next to you?  I just mentioned this in a sermon a couple months ago, in fact.  What do we say when someone we were talking about shows up?  We say “speak of the devil,” right?  In it’s full form, the saying is “speak of the devil and he doth appear.”  That phrase only goes back to the 1600’s in English, but there is some local variation of it all over the world.  And I bet there was a similar phrase back in Jesus’ day.  We need a saying like that because we get so freaked out when somebody is suddenly standing there, as we were just talking about them.  Saying, “speak of the devil” puts a happy little twist on a creepy moment, right?  Maybe lessens our paranoia a bit too.

So, now, ramp it up and imagine the person you were speaking of not only suddenly shows up, but was also dead the last time you looked.  The disciples are talking about Jesus, and he is suddenly standing there, saying “Peace be with you.”  Obviously, they think he’s a ghost, right?  Some kind of supernatural spirit kind of thing.  Speak of the Jesus, and he doth appear.  And then, as we heard, “They were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.”  And I think we’d be on exactly the same page with them.

And then Jesus starts into this logical proof thing with them.  First, he reminds them that ghosts do not have flesh and bones, as he plainly does.  They’re starting to come around, and he asks if they have anything to eat.  They bring him some fish, and he eats it, and . . . Okay . . . So he’s not a ghost.  But that doesn’t explain how he suddenly is standing in the room.  To the disciples, their friend Jesus has been betrayed, killed, and buried.  Even if this Jesus is not a ghost, it doesn’t explain what he’s doing talking to them over a plate of fish.  Speak of the Jesus, and he doth appear.

And here’s why it’s so confusing to them, and why they are still disbelieving and wondering ashe’s talking to them:  They do not understand who Jesus is.  They know it’s Jesus they’re talking to, sure.  But they don’t know who he is.  They get the idea that he’s not a ghost, and that he is indeed their friend Jesus, and that he’s somehow back from the dead, but they do not understand why he’s standing there with them.  Beyond, you know, speak of the Jesus and he doth appear.

And then Jesus begins to make the connections for them.  He says, "When I was with you, I told you that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled."  Then . . . Well, the phrase used here is, “He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”  It’s hard to know what that means, to be honest, and it always makes me think of some kind of Jedi mind trick, which doesn’t help matters.  So, what does this mean, “He opened their minds?”  Well, we don’t know; so we have to take it at face value.  Somehow Jesus made them understand the scriptures in a way that they hadn’t before, right?  Somehow they now make a connection between their friend Jesus and the Messiah of the scriptures.

And putting it like that makes it sound like it’s no big deal.  It’s just a little mental leap in some sense, especially after your friend who was in a tomb yesterday has suddenly shown up in the room with you.  I mean, after that drama, a little Bible study doesn’t seem like a very important matter in the scheme of things.  So, yeah, speak of the Jesus, and he doth appear.  But why is that?

See, the “why” is the important question here.  Why does Jesus show up in the room with them?  Think about that question.  Does Jesus appear to prove his awesome powers of resurrection?  Does he show up to make his friends think he’s all cool and spiritual?  Or, put it in a different way:  If the disciples had turned to Jesus and asked, “Why are you here?” what do you think he would have told them?  Why have you come to us, Jesus?

And Jesus answers:  The Messiah is to suffer and to rise on the third day.  And they’re saying, right.  Got it.  And he continues, “and repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”  And they think, okay, but what’s that got to do with you and us?  And Jesus finishes, “You are witnesses of these things.”

These things have come true right in front of your eyes.  Jesus is telling them:  He is the Messiah!  They are witnesses of the scriptures being fulfilled, the very scriptures that tell us the Messiah has come.  Speak of the Jesus, and the Messiah appears!

You see, the point here is not the sort of supernatural post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his friends.  The point here, at least in this little passage, is that Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus is the one they have been waiting for their whole lives.  Their parents’, and grandparents’, and great grandparents’ whole lives for that matter.  Why is Jesus there with them?  To announce the good news that the Messiah has come, and repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.

In his name, did you notice that?  In the name of Jesus, repentance and forgiveness are proclaimed.  Speak of the Jesus . . . And forgiveness appears.

Jesus shows up to the disciples to tell them that he is the Messiah.  And to remind them that forgiveness will be proclaimed in his name.  Why is he there in the room with them?  To tell them that the wait is over.  To tell them that they are witnesses.  To send them out with this good news of salvation, and restoration, and hope.

And what does this have to do with us, is the next question, right?  Since we’re speaking of the disciples, should we expect them to doth appear?  Well, let’s consider the overall arc of this gospel reading today.  The disciples are afraid.  Jesus joins them in a meal.  He opens their minds to the truth of the scriptures, and he sends them out as witnesses to God’s forgiveness.

It almost seems like a fair description of what we do on Sundays, doesn’t it?  We leave our crazy lives for an hour on a Sunday, and we gather in our little room, not really expecting Jesus to be showing up.  And then we find ourselves talking about Jesus and . . . Well, speak of the Jesus, and here he is!  Joining us in a meal of bread and wine, speaking to us through the scriptures, in the presence of our friends and neighbors.  And, sending us out to be witnesses that Jesus is the Messiah, proclaiming forgiveness in his name.

Jesus is risen; Jesus is the Messiah; and you are witnesses to these things.  Now it is your turn to go and announce forgiveness in his name.

Amen

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Mary Regula, 11/29/26-4/5/18

For Mary Regula
Isaiah 25:6-9
Revelation 21:2-7
John 6:37-40

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We gather together on this day to commend Mary into the care of God’s loving arms.  There will come another day when we will gather to celebrate Mary’s remarkable life and incredible accomplishments.  Today, we have met in this holy place to be reminded of her deep and abiding faith in God, and—more importantly—to be reminded of God’s unfailing love for Mary.  There are three things I want to share with you this morning.

First, a greeting.  I did not know Mary for very long, in the scheme of things.  But every time I visited her, starting two years ago, right up until the time she stopped speaking, she would always take my hand, look me in the eye, and ask, “From whence have you come?”  The best name I have for this is, “Regal Curiosity.”  From whence have you come?  I always wanted to say, “from hither and yon, M’lady.”  But I always answered truthfully:  From St. Timothy’s Church.  And every time I gave that answer, Mary’s eyes would light up.  She knew the place well, and even as her memory slipped away, she still recognized the name, and she would smile at the memory.

Second, a poem.  The very first time I visited Mary and Ralph at the farm in 2016, I sat down with them to chat and to bring them the Sacrament.  Several times during that first conversation, Mary quoted from a Robert Browning poem.  She wanted to be sure I understood how important it was to her.  And she would stop the conversation, and look me in the eye and quote two lines:  “Grow old along with me.  The best is yet to be.”  She was so insistent about this, that I looked up the poem as soon as I had time.

It’s a l-o-n-g poem, but Mary knew the best part, which is the first stanza:  “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, 'A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”  Mary and Ralph lived together fearlessly, embracing a full life, trusting God, seeing all.  A whole life together as God hoped, and they lived all of it.

Third, the Sacrament.  From my very first visit, after Mary took the bread—the body of Christ—she would weep.  Uncontrollable tears streaming down her cheeks.  Every time.  These were sacred, holy moments, and no one dared speak until Mary would open her eyes again.  Taking Communion was a transcendent experience for Mary, and I was honored and humbled to be the one who was blessed to bring it to her, over those few short months.  If I ever doubted whether Jesus was truly present in the Sacrament, a short drive down to Navarre would set me straight.

The greeting, the poem, and the Sacrament.  These are the three things I will always remember about Mary.  And you could give these things different names: people, abundant life, and Jesus.  These are the three things that Mary was passionate about, and—it’s no coincidence—these are the same things that God is most passionate about: people, abundant life, and Jesus.  Mary lived a life attuned to God’s will.  She cared about people, she wanted people to live the fullest life possible, and she knew that, somehow, Jesus came to her in the sacrament.

Mary’s life was an inspiration yes.  But her faith in God is what made it so.  Jesus said:  “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.”  Mary surely has come to Jesus.  And if Jesus asks her, “From whence have you come?”  She can say with confidence, “From a life well-lived, and people well-loved:  a life well-pleasing to God.”

Amen.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

YEAR B 2018 easter 2

Easter 2, 2018
Acts 4:32-35
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31
Psalm 133

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I remember hearing a comedian talking about the secret language of teenage girls.  Like, they sort of know that by doubling a word you can change it’s meaning.  His example was, one girl can say “I love him.”  And the other girl can say, “Well, yeah, but do you love him love him?”  And the first girl would say, “Oh no!  I don’t love him love him!  I just love him.”  And they would both understand exactly what they meant.

But that’s not really an exclusive thing with teenage girls.  We all do it.  You know, playing checkers is fun, but playing checkers isn’t fun fun.  You might say, “I like that guy’s preaching, but I don’t like it like it.”  We repeat things in order to say we really mean it.  Or, really really mean it.

So, in the first reading today, from the book of Acts, we heard a brief description of how the first church was organized.  Since it’s such a short reading, I’ll go ahead and read the whole thing again:  Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

As Christians, and as members of St. Timothy’s, we embrace that idea.  Sort of.  We understand the need to share with others, and this is definitely the most generous parish I’ve ever seen.  So yeah, the idea of sharing everything with everyone, we like it.  But don’t get me wrong, we don’t like it like it, right?  I mean, it makes us a little uncomfortable to follow that example too closely.  It’s just not how we live.  We’re all for sharing, as long as it doesn’t mean, you know, sharing sharing.

Remember last Sunday?  You know Easter?  Mary Magdalene tells the disciples that Jesus’ body is missing, and they run toward the tomb.  John gets there first, Simon Peter follows him, and goes into the tomb.  Then we heard, He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.  He saw and believed . . . what?  Isn’t that strange?  He sees that Jesus is risen, but he doesn’t see him see him, right?  Sure, we heard he believes, but does he, you know, believe believe?

And after that, the men went home, as you remember.  And Mary Magdalene stuck around.  Jesus came to her, and although she sees him, she doesn’t recognize him.  Then Jesus says her name, Mary, and she actually sees Jesus.  She sees him sees him.  Then she runs to tell the disciples the good news, and that’s where we left off last week.  She tells them, “I have seen the Lord!”  Lights fade.  The very next verse is the start of today’s Gospel . . . “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week . . .”

The disciples are hiding in a locked room, for fear of the religious leaders.  And “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’."  Nothing.  They see him, but we don’t hear how they react to first seeing him.  Then we heard, “After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”  When he first says, “peace be with you,” they see him, sure.  But after he shows them his hands and his side, that is when they see him see him.  Now they know it is Jesus.

Then, as we heard, the disciples tell Thomas that they have seen Jesus.  Like, seen him seen him.  And Thomas says, what?  "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  Thomas might believe, but he can’t believe believe unless he has the same experience as the other disciples.  Remember, the others didn’t know it was Jesus until he showed them his hands and his side.  They were in the same boat as Thomas, it’s just that Thomas has the ability to think it through in advance, and say aloud what he is thinking.

So, then, it’s a week later, the next Sunday, and they’re all hiding in the locked room again, and again Jesus comes and stands among them and says, “Peace be with you.”  Then he says to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas responds, "My Lord and my God!”  Again, Thomas sort of believes, but it is not until he sees the hands and feet of Jesus that he believes believes.  For all the disciples, hiding in the locked room, the thing that seals the deal is seeing the scars on Jesus’ body.  Why is that?  Well, I have several thoughts on that.  Here’s one . . .

When Jesus goes into the tomb, his wounds were only a few hours old.  And you don’t need to know much about medicine to know wounds like the ones Jesus suffered do not heal in three days, and they certainly don’t begin to scar over when a person is no longer living.  BUT, a completely fresh and new and unscarred Jesus is a replacement Jesus, not a resurrected Jesus.  The scars are crucial to the disciples’ truly believing, because in the scars they know it’s truly Jesus.  The same Lord and God that Thomas praises.  They might believe it’s Jesus, but after seeing the scars they believe believe!

And then Jesus says to Thomas, “you have believed because you have seen me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  Who are those people Jesus is talking about, the ones who are blessed?  Who are the ones who have not seen and yet have come to believe?  Well, I’m looking at some of them right now.  You would not be here this morning if you had not come to believe something.  And notice how passive that promise is?  Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who decide to believe.”  He doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who choose to believe.”  Nope.  He says, blessed are those “who come to believe.”  I hope you find that as comforting as I do: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

But, it raises the question: have we seen Jesus?  I mean, I think it’s pretty clear we haven’t seen him seen him.  But we have seen Jesus, yes.  We see him lifted up in the bread and wine, broken and poured out among the community of believers.  We have seen him in the hospitality offered to visitors who come through our doors.  We have seen him in the hands and feet of those who feed the poor, provide for the needy, pray for the sick, provide financial support for the parish, clean the building, sing in the choir, maintain the sacred vessels, and come to church on Sunday morning.

Jesus is here among us in this place, and you have seen him and heard him and touched him.  We may not see him see him, but we don’t have to.  Because we have the promise from Jesus that we are blessed, because we have come to believe, though we have not seen.

May God give us the faith to recognize the risen Lord among us, and to exclaim with Thomas, "My Lord and my God!"

Amen.
   

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Braden Ehmer, 8/17/93-3/29/18

For Braden Ehmer
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 46
Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 23
John 11:21-27

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I never met Braden.  But I can tell by watching you enter this room today that he was deeply loved, and will be fiercely missed.  We probably all feel the same way today.  We don’t want to be here to bury one so young.  This is not the way things are supposed to go.  And yet, we have to be here.  For one another, and to try to find a way to honor Braden’s life.  At times like this, we have no words.  And so we turn to God’s Word, and we focus on the promises God makes to all of us.

As we heard from Isaiah, God will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. 

And from the book of Revelation, They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. 

And, most importantly, from Jesus himself to Martha:  "Your brother will rise again."

We all struggle in life, through good and bad, because things do not always go as we intend.  Things don’t go as God intends either, because this world is not the way God wants it to be, intends for it to be.  Sometimes parents and grandparents outlive their children and grandchildren.  Sometimes brothers and sisters and cousins have to gather on a day like this and say goodbye to someone they love so dearly, long before they should have to.  And in the midst of that, Jesus says to us, your brother will rise again.  Your son will rise again.  Your friend will rise again.

We all struggle to believe in God sometimes.  But when we experience love, we experience God.  Because God is love.  The love you have for Braden and that Braden has for you is a gift from God.  Love does not die.  You love Braden forever, and he loves you forever.  Because of this, you will see him again one day.  I don’t know how or when—but I know that it is true.

This is our faith:  to believe that you will see Braden again.  Until that time, hold onto that hope.  The hope of Easter.  Remember Braden.  Live in the ways he has inspired you in your life.  None of us is perfect, but love is perfect.  Hold on to that love, hold onto each other, and hold onto the promise that your brother will rise again.

Amen


Sunday, April 1, 2018

YEAR B 2018 festival of easter

Festival of Easter, 2018
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
John 20:1-18

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Lord is Risen; The Lord is risen indeed.

Here we are:  Easter morning!  Finally, we can say that A word again!  Finally we can get back to having a festive worship space, with lilies and colors and chocolate waiting at home.  It’s taken us a long time to get here.  For some, it’s been forty days of going without something we gave up.  For others, it’s been forty days of not quite knowing why we give something up.  And every year I am reminded of this thought:  For some people, for those who have lost someone they love this past year, for those who mourn, this day can be frightening, actually.  Because for those who grieve, the phrase “He is risen,” is followed by the thought, “He’d better be.  He’d better be risen.”

The resurrection of Jesus is confusing, and complicated, and it’s hard to know how exactly we enter the story.  And this version of events we just heard, from John’s gospel, really shows the confusion of that day.  There are so many strange and unnecessary details in this narrative.  We don’t notice them, because they fly by so fast, and we want to get to the good part.  You know, the part where everything is going to be okay.  But it doesn’t just jump to the good part, does it?  No, first we have to have all that strangeness . . .

Think back to what you just heard . . . Why does John not get a name?  Why is he called the disciple whom Jesus loved?  Why does it matter that he outran Peter, but didn’t go into the tomb?  Why are we told that Peter got there second but went in first?  Why is the cloth that was wrapped around Jesus’ head rolled up and separate from the other cloths?  Why are we told that the other disciple saw and believed?  And why, on earth, do these two then simply “return to their homes?”  What’s so important back at their homes?  It’s not like there’s an Easter ham in the oven, right?

But Mary . . . Mary sticks around because she does not understand.  And the disciples go home . . . because they totally do not understand.  Then there’s all this continuing confusion . . .

Mary sees angels, but doesn’t say, “What are you guys doing there in the tomb?”  Instead, she just has a casual conversation about why she’s so upset.  Then she sees Jesus and thinks he’s a gardener and starts talking to him and pleading that if he would just show her where the body is she’ll pretend none of this ever happened and then . . . then . . . .

Then Jesus says her name.   “Mary.”

And suddenly it’s like that spot in the Wizard of Oz when the color comes in.  Jesus says her name, and it’s like she has been transported to another place, and she recognizes him.  Jesus says her name, and she knows everything is going to be okay.

And you know why she heard Jesus say her name?  Because she stuck around.  Peter and John both went home and are reading the paper or whatever.  But Mary stuck around, waiting for Jesus.  It’s tempting to turn this into a story about sticking around.  About trying to convince you that Jesus only shows up when you put yourself in a place where he can find you.

A preacher could easily twist this good news into bad news by saying that you need to come to church every week so that you can hear Jesus say your name.  And, sure, maybe there’s some kind of message in there about the need to stick around.  But that doesn’t preach, if you ask me.  Saying you are saved because you made the effort to show up leaves it all in your hands, and quite frankly, your hands aren’t strong enough to hold your salvation.  You’ve only got two hands, and there are going to be days when you can’t even hold a spoon, let alone something this important.

I think the more important message in this Gospel is this one:
Mary sticks around because she is devastated.  Maybe the reason Mary doesn’t run home like Peter and John is because Mary has nothing to run home to.  Maybe the point here is this:  Jesus shows up to the overwhelmed, to the grieving, to the ones who say, “He’d better be risen.”  The point is not that Mary stuck around.  The point is that Jesus shows up.  Jesus says her name.  Jesus comes to the devastated, upset, weeping, mourning, searching woman and calls her by her name: Mary.

This gospel story we heard is filled with confusing details, as you can see.  All that running and looking and leaving and weeping and angels and gardeners and lions and tigers and bears, oh my . . . What is the point of all that?  Well, I honestly can’t pretend to know, really.  (Maybe John got paid by the word.)  But maybe all that extra detail is just intentionally fuzzy background noise, so that the main message stands out in stark contrast.  With all that racing around and seemingly pointless extra stuff, it jumps out with simplicity and power when Jesus says the name of someone he loves:  Mary.

And that powerful moment is yours as well.  Because, God knows your name.   When you were baptized, you were baptized with a name.  The pastor or priest didn’t say, “We baptize this random infant in the vague name of some god out there in the cosmos.”  No, God called you by name in the waters of baptism, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  And that means something.  Because you were baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And when Jesus passes over from death into life, you and I go with him.

The reading we heard from Isaiah earlier this morning is packed with so many stunning promises, including this:  And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

And that leads us to this:  When the day comes that someone is mourning for each of us, when someone is grieving for us, when someone is saying back to the priest, “Jesus had better be risen,” that is when all this will become clear to each one of us.  Because in the confusion and chaos of death, one word will ring clear above all the background noise: and that word is your own name.  Jesus will call each of us by name to rise up and take the final steps of his journey, from despair into hope, from sin into righteousness, from death into life.

Because he lives, we shall live.  Jesus knows your name, whether or not you stick around, and that is what truly matters.

The Lord is Risen; The Lord is Risen indeed.

Amen