Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, April 28, 2024

YEAR B 2024 easter 5

Easter 5, 2024
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 we had a saying: If you have to explain your songs before you play them, you should probably just write better songs.  Truly great songs speak for themselves, and explaining them runs the risk of ruining them.

That’s kind of 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 the reading from First John 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.

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 . . . and then talk about y’all.

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.  An Ethiopian Eunuch would not be allowed into the Temple to worship for two reasons:  He’s 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 total 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 neighbors, 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.  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.  But 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.  And, come to think of it, let’s do that!  What Jesus is saying here is “I am the vine, and y’all are the branches.  Y’all remain in me and y’all bear fruit.”  

And why is that important?  Because it’s not about individuals having a personal relationship and being hooked into Jesus; it is about the community of believers remaining connected to Jesus.  Jesus says, “apart from me, y’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 food and donations for our neighbors in need.  We could still do good works without Jesus right?  The Rotary and the Elks and the Jaycees do that same kind of work, 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 together.  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 here is the plural—our old friend y’all.  Doing things on my own isn’t properly seeking the will of God, because it requires . . . y’all.

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 together, 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 strange, isn’t it?  Praying that the will of God would be done?  This is us, the “y’all,” asking together that God’s will would be done.  And that’s because we find God’s will in community.  With other people.  

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.  Sitting in his office.  And how 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 was the point of our meetings.  And that question was this:  How do I know if becoming a priest is God’s will?  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, and God’s will is revealed in other people.  If my will is the same as God’s will, then I want what God wants.  I go where God wants me to go.  I will be who God wants me to be.  And I can only know that in community.  You could say, God’s will is in The Y’all.

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.  

And that is always done together, in community, in the y’all.  We renew our baptismal covenant together.  We gather in worship together.  And the baptismal promises we make are together, with God’s help.

You could look at the Baptismal Covenant in your Prayer Book and see the responses, but the answer is always, “I will, with God’s help.”
With God’s help, you and I promise together to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.  Together we promise to persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.  
Together we promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.  Together we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Together we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Always together.  And together we abide in Jesus.  With God’s help.  We—together,  all y’all—have done and will keep doing amazing things, with God’s help.


Sunday, April 14, 2024

YEAR B 2024 easter 3

Easter 3, 2024
Acts 3:12-19
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48
Psalm 4

“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Okay, first thing we need to do today is look at the epistle reading from First John.  You’ll recall last week I pointed out the challenge of him saying he was writing these words so that you may not sin, while at the same time saying “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.”

And today we heard, “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.”  John says we abide in Jesus; John also says no one who sins abides in him; John also says, if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.  I’m as comfortable as the next priest with holding contradictions when it comes to our faith life.  But this section of First John the past two weeks makes no sense to me.  Point being, if you find it confusing, you are not alone.  I am right there with you.

Moving on.  “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”  This is a key part of the gospel reading we just heard.  While in their joy, they were disbelieving and still wondering.  Now first we need the context for this reading, because I'm afraid we got dropped off in the middle of a story.  In Luke’s gospel, we go from the empty tomb to the Road to Emmaus.   That’s when Jesus appears to the disciples, but they don’t recognize him as they walk together on the road.  It is only after they sit down to eat together that something changes:  “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight.”

Right after that, those disciples get up and rush back to Jerusalem, where they find the 11 disciples gathered in a room.  “Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”  This Road to Emmaus story is one of my favorite stories in all of scripture because of that very line: He had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.  Ahem.  [points to Altar]  Anyway, while they were recounting this amazing story to the disciples, that’s the moment when Jesus shows up in the room in this morning’s reading.  And “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”

But let’s back up again, to the empty tomb.  When the women get to the tomb, the stone is rolled away, and two men in dazzling white clothes appear beside them.  And they say, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to the hands of sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again.”  Remember how he told you.  And then the women remember, and they run to tell the disciples.  

And as Jesus is walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he says to them, “how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  Remember how he told you?  Remember what the prophets said?  He’s been telling them this would happen.  Over and over he’s been telling them.  They knew it was going to happen, and yet, while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.

This past Monday, April 8th we had an eclipse around here.  Perhaps you heard about it.  Hopefully you were able to see it, because it was amazing!  We’d been hearing it was going to happen for months.  For years in fact.  Here comes the eclipse.  Here’s how it happens.  Here’s how big the sun is relative to the moon.  Here’s what will be amazing about it.  Here are some tricks you can do with a colander, or by wearing red and green.  We knew all about it, we knew precisely when it would happen, as it had been foretold by the . . . scientists.  And yet . . .

While in out joy we were disbelieving and still wondering.  Everyone I’ve talked to who experienced the full eclipse has said they knew it would be awesome, but they didn’t know it would be that awesome!  We knew it would happen, we believed it would take place, but while in our joy we were disbelieving and still wondering.  We all understand the science, but it is still somehow an impenetrable mystery.

Jesus told them over and over that he would be handed over to people who would kill him, and then rise from the grave on the third day.  They heard him say it, many times.  And then when he shows up, well . . . While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.  But maybe after Monday’s eclipse I kind of understand them a little more.  

Because the eclipse was awesome and scary, and beautiful and terrifying, and understandable and mysterious, and light and dark, and every other contradiction you can think of.  Joy, disbelief, wonder.  While in their joy the disciples were disbelieving and still wondering.  

And Jesus.  Still.  Shows.  Up.  

You notice that Jesus did not require their understanding to show up?  He didn’t need their belief, or their faith, or their personal commitment, or even their memory of the words he had already told them.  Just like the first step in experiencing the eclipse is for it to happen, so the first step in a life of faith in the risen Lord is for him to show up.

You and I have doubts, in the midst of our joy.  And Jesus still shows up.  You and I have trouble believing that a person can actually rise from the dead and eat a piece of fish.  And Jesus still shows up.  You and I do not fully understand what happens with the bread and wine on that Altar.  And Jesus still shows up.  While we are in our joy, we are disbelieving and still wondering.  And Jesus still shows up.

Listen again to the collect for this day:
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

YEAR B 2024 easter 2

Easter 2, 2024
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.

Taken together, these lessons could be called, “Aspiration vs. Everything Else.”  With the subheading: Shouldn’t we at least try?  But first off, we should talk about the Path of Totality!  There’s going to be a big event tomorrow afternoon with a full solar eclipse over our heads . . . if we can see it.  There are those who say, unless I can see the moon blocking out the sun, and endanger my eyes by staring at the sun for a half hour, then I will not believe.  

If you’re unfortunate enough to have spent any time on Twitter lately, you know that there is already talk of conspiracy theories, and false flag operations, and chem-trails regarding the eclipse.  And there are definitely people saying, if I don’t see it, it didn’t happen.  But other people have traveled across the globe for the chance to experience this event.  Some have the aspiration to experience it, and some have the aspiration to be taken away by the rapture that it supposedly foretells.  But, bottom line, even if it’s a cloudy day tomorrow, shouldn’t we at least try to see it?

Which brings us to the reading from Acts.  You know, the radical leftist Marxist utopia of the early church.  How did that reading make you feel?  Uneasy?  Scared?  Skeptical?  Dismissive?  It sure sounds a lot different from the church we know today, doesn’t it?  But I should tip my hand and tell you that in the very next chapter of Acts, Ananias and his wife Sapphira sell some land and give just some of the money to the apostles.  And you know what happens to Ananias?  He falls down dead, that’s what!  This early Christian utopia falls apart one verse after the reading we heard.  It is aspirational, but not practical.  They kind of overshot the goal of living in community here.  But it also raises that same question, shouldn’t we at least try?

And then the reading from First John.  “If we say that we have fellowship with God while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true.”  And, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  Fair enough, writer of First John.  But then we also get, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”  Huh?  You just said if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, but then you say you’re writing to us so that we may not sin?  What gives?  Well, in this case, living a sinless life is aspirational, but with a safety valve.  Like, John is giving us this information so that there is a possibility that we might not sin, but when we inevitably do, we have an advocate.  The idea that we might not sin is aspirational.  And raises that same question, shouldn’t we at least try?

And then we come to our gospel reading, from John’s gospel.  You’ll recall, the disciples are cowering in fear and doubt in a locked room, and Jesus appears to them and says . . . Peace be with you.  They rejoiced when they saw it was Jesus.  But there is no indication in the text that anything changed for them.  They just . . . rejoiced.  Because the next week, they are cowering in fear and doubt in a locked room, again.  But when they tell Thomas about their experience, he says, “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.”  

I think we automatically hear this as defiance.  Like Thomas is saying, “I am choosing not to believe,” rather than, “I am unable to believe.”  Personally, I take it more as a confessed inability.  That is, Thomas sure would like to believe.  But he knows himself; he knows his weaknesses; and he knows that he needs to have the experience himself because—let’s face it—this story he was just told is hard to believe!  Thomas aspires to believe; but he cannot.  His belief is aspirational, but needs the experience.  What does he need in order to believe?

Jesus.  He needs Jesus.  And the next week?  Jesus shows up, and again says . . . Peace be with you.  And then he gives Thomas exactly what Thomas needs.    “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Does Jesus throw Thomas out for his lack of faith?  Or turn his back to Thomas for not believing the incredible story about his appearance?  Of course not.  And, perhaps more importantly, he does not require anything of Thomas.  He doesn’t say, “I told you so;”  he doesn’t call him Doubting Thomas.  No, Jesus meets Thomas right where he is and says, “Stop doubting and believe.”  But that’s just our bad translation getting in the way.  Because what Jesus says is, “Do not be faithless, but be faith-filled.”

And just like that, Jesus speaks the faithfulness of Thomas into existence, because the next thing we see is his profound confession of faith:  My Lord and my God!  Jesus tells Thomas that he is filled with faith, and he is.  Thomas does not set out to acquire this faith.  He does nothing apart from hear the words of Jesus, and he goes from being faithless to being faith-filled.  Jesus speaks, and it is so.  And not in a half-hearted way, either.  Thomas hears these words, and immediately proclaims Jesus as his Lord and God.  Didn’t see that coming, right?

Which brings us to the overarching lesson for you and me from these texts.  The aspirational side of our life of faith together.  Those first disciples aspired to live in a world where no one was hungry, where no one went without.  And with what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, we can see that world is not possible.  Because some people are going to end up dead!  But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

And in the reading from first John, we heard that if we say we have no sin the truth is not in us, but he’s telling us that so that we may not sin, which we will certainly do, as he just told us.  To be without sin is aspirational, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

And with the story of Thomas, we can hear that he truly wants to believe, but he knows himself well enough to know that he is unable to believe without the physical proof in front of him.  His desire for faith is aspirational, but he needs Jesus to give him that faith.

All of which leads me to the Baptismal Covenant, which we just renewed at the Easter Vigil.  After the part that sort of reworks the Apostles Creed, we come to the outlandish promises that we can never keep, but which we say anyway.  Together we promise to

Continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the Prayers.
To persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.
To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
To strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Every time we attend a Baptism, and several other times throughout the year, we make those impossible, beautiful, lofty, aspirational claims . . . and they come with a safety valve: the phrase, with God’s help.  That’s what gives us the gumption to make these promises together.  With.  God’s. Help.  All these promises are indeed possible, with God’s help.

Thomas freely admitted that he could not believe without Jesus, without God’s help.  And Jesus shows up, and Thomas says, "My Lord and my God!”  He’s the only disciple who makes this profession of faith.  The one we often call Doubting Thomas turns out to be the most faith-filled disciple, with God’s help.

Lots of things in this life are aspirational rather than practical, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  And with God’s help, we might find we actually can do the impossible.  To paraphrase from the Rite of Ordination, May the Lord who has given us the will to do these things give us the grace and power to perform them.  With God’s help.