Lessons: Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10: 11-18
May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight Oh Lord my strength and my redeemer.
Today: is the fourth Sunday of Easter.
And the fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday.
This year, the images of sheep are everywhere:
We hear two of the most familiar and cherished pieces of scripture:
The 23rd Psalm, which states “The Lord is my shepherd.”
And the section from John’s gospel where Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.”
Over the centuries:
The image of Jesus as the good shepherd:
And of his followers as sheep has been very appealing.
The amount of stained glass, painting, music, and poetry that it has inspired is staggering.
And the number of sermons, articles, hymns, retreats and meditations are also beyond measure.
People cherish the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd:
About as much as they cherish the 23rd psalm.
Yet in all the words read and heard on the subject of the Good Shepherd and his sheep:
There’s one thing that no one talks about:
And it has to do with one simple question:
Why do shepherds have sheep in the first place?
Shepherds keep sheep for pretty much the same reasons that ranchers keep cows.
Being a shepherd and taking care of sheep:
And being a sheep and having a shepherd are:
Sooner or later:
Going to have something to do with wool and mutton.
With stripping, killing, selling, and eating.
There’s just no avoiding it.
And this little reality never shows up in the adorable stained glass windows or greeting cards.
One of the problems with the shepherd—sheep image,
Is that sheep have a reputation of being passive, stupid, unimaginative, and dull.
And if we are the sheep of God’s pasture,
Does that mean we are supposed to be like sheep?
Cute, but lazy and dumb:
Only able to let the shepherd take care of us, because there’s no way we could live on our own?
Is the whole point of the story that we aren’t worth very much:
Aren’t very capable?
First of all: shepherds don’t keep sheep as pets.
The sheep are useful, important, and necessary.
Because if the sheep don’t produce,
The shepherd is flat out of business.
Which brings us back to the wool and mutton.
The sheep provide something.
The sheep have something important to give.
This is the part of the Good Shepherd business that is about us:
It’s about our part of what’s going on with this familiar talk of green pastures and still waters:
We have something to give.
And not only that:
But God expects things of us.
And God also trusts us to carry it out.
Jesus isn’t going to leave us to the wolves, or only keep the most useful sheep.
Instead, God cares for us and has blessed us.
Laid down his life for us:
A freely given gift of love and continued care.
However, there ARE expectations:
There is the business of wool and mutton.
The care that God offers us is intended to lead to something:
Something real and substantial.
We are to produce,
To give back: from who we are:
The beloved sheep of God’s flock.
Of course, we don’t grow wool:
That’s not in our nature.
But it is in our nature to worship and to serve:
To reach out and to share:
To study and to pray:
To increase in holiness, and to tell the truth:
To seek justice.
It’s in our nature to choose to grow:
Even to the point of change, and transformation:
And to do this in community:
With the rest of the flock of sheep.
At the same time:
The image of being Christ’s sheep:
Also means that each and every one of us has purpose, and value, and worth:
That each is important.
Each and every one CAN contribute,
And is CALLED to contribute,
In one way or another, to the mission of the church.
You can’t be too young,
Or too old,
Or too sick,
Or too extraordinary,
Or too anything:
To avoid the reality of the wool and the mutton:
The gifts that we have to offer:
To the rest of the flock, and to the Good shepherd himself.
We are needed.
And without us:
Without any single one of us:
The mission and work of the Good shepherd and His Church are impoverished.
And when you matter:
Things are expected of you.
We aren’t pets kept for our owner’s amusement.
We aren’t dumb, lame, creatures that God oogles at condescendingly.
We are valuable assets that matter:
Having Much to offer:
And the proof:
Is that God Knows us:
Jesus, the Good shepherd says, “I know my own, and my own know me.”
He knows what we’re capable of:
He knows our gifts,
He knows our names:
And through our service in the world:
We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Lessons: Acts 3: 12-19, Psalm 4 vs 1-8, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24: 36b-48
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
On this third Sunday of Easter:
(It’s STILL easter!!!)
We continue to see the reality of the resurrection,
As Jesus once again appears to his disciples.
This time, we hear from Luke’s Gospel:
Luke reminds us of many of the same themes we’ve heard in the last few weeks.
As Jesus stands among his disciples:
He once again says, “Peace be with you.”
Yet the disciples:
Are once again startled and terrified:
Thinking that they saw a ghost.
It reminds us of the terrified women at the tomb:
Who left because they were afraid:
And even doubting Thomas, who just couldn’t believe that Jesus was physically resurrected:
That Jesus was not a Ghost:
But deeply alive, in a very physical form.
Today, Jesus says to his disciples:
“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”
“Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.”
“Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
It’s as if Jesus is saying: Touch me and see:
Shake my hand and discover that I am like you:
Although resurrected and transformed.
Jesus goes even one step further:
To prove that he is indeed alive:
He eats with them.
Sharing food together, he proves his new resurrected reality:
And also reminds the disciples of the importance of sharing meals:
The importance of relationship with one another:
In joy, disbelieving, wonder, and even a bit of terror:
Still together, eating.
And this story reminds us:
Of why we gather together here:
To share a meal with one another:
To pray with each other:
To be in relationship with God and each other:
To celebrate the risen, resurrected, and transform Christ:
As we too enter into our own transformations.
Jesus is NOT dead:
But truly alive:
We see him in the story today, eating, and speaking:
Living and sharing:
And ultimately understanding, and listening to the disciple’s bits of fear and disbelief.
Jesus IS alive.
He is with us in our own eating together:
In the breaking of the bread.
He is present in our prayers:
And he hears us.
That what we say in our prayers matters:
It means something:
Our prayers are HEARD by the living God.
So we should take our prayers pretty seriously.
I love the psalm for today:
Psalm 4: which says, “Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause.
“You set me free when I am hard pressed; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.”
And a few verses later: “when I call upon the Lord, he will hear me.”
This Easter season, we celebrate that Jesus is alive.
Jesus is alive and he hears us.
And so our prayers, are not empty and meaningless words:
And we shouldn’t say them out of obligation:
But instead out of the deepest longings of our hearts.
Our prayers bring us closer to the risen Christ,
The God who is Alive:
As he listens to our longings, our worries, and our joys.
Just like the disciples who “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”
Our prayers can express our wonders, our disbeliefs, our struggles, and our hopes.
And as we express those emotions:
our relationship with the Risen Christ grows stronger:
And our relationships with each other, here and throughout the world deepen.
We are blessed in the Episcopal Church:
To have a deep tradition of liturgical prayer:
Using some of the same prayers that are prayed all across the world:
And have been prayed throughout the centuries:
Connecting us to those we’ve never met,
And to those saints who lived long before us.
Through these long spoken words,
We are connected to one another as God’s children.
And also united to the Risen Christ who always listens,
Who always speaks peace,
And who shares with us in the breaking of the bread.
This tradition of long said prayers,
Is indeed one of the beauties of the Episcopal Church.
But it’s also important, that we carve out some space:
For us to speak our own prayers:
In our own words:
From our own hearts.
Because if we REALLY believe that Christ is alive:
If we REALLY believe that the Living God hears our prayers:
Then we should REALLY pray our prayers:
Our common prayers throughout the world and the centuries,
As well as OUR prayers:
OUR OWN prayers of hope, longing, fear, disbelief, and joy.
And this is ONE reason why I fell in love with St John’s church.
Because you all know how to pray:
Because you believe in the power of prayer.
It makes me think of the part of our church service called the “prayers of the people.”
There is, after all, a reason why they are called, “The prayers of the people”
Because they are to be our prayers:
Our own prayers for each other, for the world, and our relationship to the Living God.
The Prayers of the people in our prayer book,
Come in a number of different forms.
Few people know, however,
That these forms were put in the prayer book to be an example:
An example for congregations to sometimes write their own.
Bishop Jeffery Rowthorn, who was a part of the small group who revised the prayer book in 1979 once said:
And I myself heard him say this, in a seminary class:
“If we would have known: that congregations would only use the forms in the prayer book, we never would have put them in there.”
The hope was that the prayers of the people, would actually come from the people:
Not from a group of bishops and liturgists, sitting in a room together in 1979.
The hope was that the prayers of the people would come from YOU:
The children of God:
The people of God.
The hope was that the people’s relationships with the living God would be strengthened,
That they would be transformed with the risen Christ,
As they used their own words to pray their own longings,
In the Sunday church service when they break bread together.
So during the prayers of the people:
Offer your own prayers!
Bring them to this community, and to God!
Pray your own words:
From your own heart:
Silently, or aloud:
God will hear them.
And know that whether you pray in joy,
Christ is INDEED ALIVE.
And he hears us.
Today's sermon will be posted later this evening. Thanks for your patience.
Acts 4:32-35, 1 John 1:1-22, John 20: 19-31
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
The Famous “Doubting Thomas.”
One of my favorite Characters in the Bible.
We read this story every year, during the Easter Season.
At the beginning of the story, Thomas hasn’t seen Jesus yet.
And the news of Jesus’ resurrection seems too good to be true.
And poor Thomas, gets all the heat for this:
Getting the nickname “Doubting Thomas.”
But that’s kind of ridiculous:
Because Thomas isn’t the only one.
We saw just last week:
On Easter Sunday:
That the women ran away from the tomb:
Without even telling the other disciples:
Because they were afraid.
It just seemed too good to be true.
When the women, and Thomas couldn’t SEE the ACTUAL Risen Christ:
When they couldn’t touch Jesus’ PHYSICAL body:
They had difficulty understanding:
Difficulty believing the whole truth:
The awesome, and unreal reality of God.
God’s Reality is so UNREAL to us:
That we crave the physical proof:
Something to see, something to touch, and smell.
With the women and the tomb, and with “doubting Thomas,”
We also want the proof: want something to touch:
So that we can really know.
This is why Thomas is refreshing.
Because we understand this need for proof.
And we have some proof of our own.
Even though the physical Risen Jesus doesn’t open our locked doors and literally speak to us.
But it is no mistake:
That after Jesus is resurrected:
And after he ascends to heaven:
The Church becomes Christ’s PHSYICAL body:
The people of God become the proof.
We become the proof of Jesus’ resurrection.
This is not a merely “spiritual thing”
An adorable, sweet, image for us to hold to:
A REAL physical body of Christ:
It’s who we are.
There’s a part of our highly rational human minds,
And a part of our modern day mindset:
That urges us to separate physical reality, from the “spiritual”
As if the “Spiritual”: The stuff of belief:
The stuff of religion and church:
Aren’t physical realities.
But they are.
Spiritual reality CAN be physical.
It HAS to be physical:
Because God: became a human person:
A Living, human, physical body.
This is why, In today’s Gospel Story:
When the disciples are in the house:
With the doors locked:
Jesus enters, and he BREATHES on them.
He BREATHES on them.
This is REAL.
Breath is REAL:
That it is BREATH that keeps our physical bodies alive.
We feel breath in our souls and our bodies:
And when Jesus: Breathes his breath into us:
It transforms both our SOULS and our BODIES.
Jesus’ Physical breath:
Makes us the physical body of Christ.
A body shared:
A body transformed:
A physical body broken.
We’re not in it alone.
And it’s not just “spiritual” or “other worldly.”
All of the readings today are about bodies:
Physical bodies that are united as the body of Christ:
Physical bodies that share in the responsibility:
Of being community:
Of being the body:
And of reminding each other of the Good News of God in Christ:
The Good News of the resurrection.
The collect for the day speaks of being reborn in the fellowship of Christ’s body.
The first lesson talks about how members of this new physical body:
Are of one heart and one soul:
Giving testimony to the resurrection.
The Psalm today:
Says “Oh, how good and pleasant it is: when brethren live together in unity.”
The Second lesson proclaims that these things were written so that “our joy may be complete”
So that the body may share with one another:
Tell one another:
And remind one another of the joy:
when we have a Thomas moment of doubt:
Or a fearful moment at the tomb:
We are the physical body:
Holding each other up.
And in the Gospel reading itself:
John states that “These things are written: so that you may come to believe.”
He shares the Good News with the Body:
The physical body of Christ.
And every Sunday, we gather together:
In fellowship with one another:
As the body of Christ:
To read, hear, and share the good News:
And to break the bread.
The bread and the wine: Like Jesus’ breath:
Are not merely spiritual.
They’re real and physical.
We can see the bread and the wine:
We can feel it, and touch it:
We can smell it and taste it.
It’s as real as real can be.
And it too, is Christ’s body Transformed:
Which in turn transforms us into the physical body of Christ.
This body of the Church: is filled with Joy:
And it’s also wounded:
As wounded and broken as Christ’s own body.
Yet This is what it means to be Church.
This is what it means to be the physical body of Christ in this world:
Where we can bring our joy:
And also our wounds.
We can bring our doubts like Thomas.
And our fears like the women at the tomb.
We may still have our scars with us:
Just as Christ bore the scars of the cross:
The scars and wounds that Thomas longed to touch.
But as the physical body of Christ:
Together in communion:
Those scars are transformed, no longer causing pain:
Bringing us closer to one another:
In a real physical body: united to each other.
Like Doubting Thomas,
Like the fearful women at the tomb:
And like Christ himself:
Our own wounds are real and physical,
Yet together, we need not be ashamed to show them:
Just as Christ himself bore them.
This physical body of Christ:
In which we are a part:
allows us to show our wounds,
And receive the ministry of Christ:
Coming among us,
Breathing upon us:
And sending us out of the assembly to live and share:
As the physical body of Christ in the world.
The Good News of the resurrection:
And of the incarnation of Christ in the first place:
Is that Jesus has been like us.
He knows both the beauties and the limitations of our human senses.
Notice: that Jesus already knew that Thomas was skeptical.
Jesus speaks to Thomas first:
Knowing that Thomas had that human need to physically touch him:
In order to know that he was indeed raised from the dead.
And Jesus knows:
That we need each other.
Not just in the “spiritual” sense:
But also in a very physical sense:
So that together: We might also believe.
To be Christ to one another:
To remind one another,
Share with one another:
Reveal our wounds to one another:
And be the body in the world.
Easter reminds us that Jesus’ broken body is indeed transformed.
And transformed physically.
Transformed into our very selves:
Our very souls, and our very bodies.
Hardly perfect: with its wounded scars:
Yet literally carrying the physical breath of peace.
Acts 10:34 -43, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, John 20: 1-18
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight Oh Lord my strength and my redeemer.
“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” For they were afraid.
This is not really what we expect on Easter Sunday:
The day where we shout our “Alleluias!”
The day where we rejoice in Christ Rising from the dead.
We don’t expect the story to end so abruptly:
And we certainly don’t expect the story to end in fear.
And yet we DO expect to see Jesus ACTUALLY appearing:
Instead of this weird young guy: dressed in white.
This ending to the Easter story might make us a bit uncomfortable.
And maybe it should.
Because Resurrection isn’t all that comfortable.
It doesn’t really make sense.
And it didn’t make sense to the women who arrived at the tomb:
Early in the morning.
They were deeply grieved as the reality of Jesus’ death weighed on them.
They worried about how they would even get into the tomb:
To do the ordinary work of anointing Jesus’ body.
Things get real:
And at the same time: Absolutely UN-real.
The stone is already rolled away, the tomb already open.
And instead of a dead body, they find a young man in white.
Obviously, they were alarmed.
Everything about it is unexpected.
Where is Jesus?
Who rolled away the stone?
Who is this weird guy?
What is going on?
And then it gets even MORE unreal:
When this young person says that Jesus is not here.
He’s been raised.
And the women,
Shocked out of their minds,
Full of terror and amazement.
And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Who can blame them?
It’s actually kind of refreshing.
The story of these women allows us to stand in their place:
Even on this joyful day:
With our hopes,
As well as our doubts and our questions.
And that’s what I love about this Easter story:
So different from the others.
When Resurrection is announced to the women,
Their response is astonishment, fear, terror, and amazement.
It’s an honest and real response.
The “Alleluia” is not immediate for these women.
And that’s okay.
Because Christianity: at its very core, is located in the midst of pain, loss, and fear.
It’s a part of who we are.
It’s a part of moving about in this very human, very fragile world.
Mark, the Gospel writer, hits on this reality:
The reality of human pain, loss and fear:
And he locates that in the reality resurrection:
Because resurrection IS pretty freaky.
It goes against everything that we know about life, death, and the world.
And this is where the UNREAL of the resurrection story:
Is also humanly REAL:
The real, raw, humanity seen in these women:
Who are astonished, amazed and afraid.
And sometimes, we take this for granted.
Sometimes, the story of the resurrection seems so “normal” to us
That we are quick to jump to the Alleluia:
Without first being absolutely astonished:
Even to the point of fear.
Sometimes: We feel like we have to rush to the alleluia:
Because we think it’s what we’re supposed to do.
Or sometimes, the eggs, and the ducks, and the chicks and the bunnies:
Make us blind to the UNREAL REALITY of what is going on.
And we fail to recognize the complete awesomeness of this Easter day:
A day SO amazing:
That it sent witnesses away in fear.
A day SO filled with mystery:
SO REALLY UNREAL:
That humanity couldn’t comprehend.
A day SO incredible:
That the women said nothing to anyone.
Afraid to tell others.
Because it was just too astonishing.
Who would even believe them?
The fear of these women:
Reminds us that the good news of Christ’s resurrection is not simply reliable news:
To be taken for granted.
It is a truth so shocking that even the first people to hear it,
People who hear it on the spot where it happened,
Cannot imagine how to tell anyone else.
Mark ends his Gospel as he begins it:
The abrupt ending of fear, is a kind of opening:
An opening for the women at the tomb,
An opening for the disciples:
And an opening to all of us:
To continue the story:
The story of the “Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
This resurrection story:
With all of is human qualities of astonishment and fear:
Is an opening:
An invitation for us to tell the story:
The story of the God who BECAME The story.
The WORD made flesh.
Whose story is so incredible:
Whose Good news is so astonishing,
That we need to hear it again and again and again.
It’s why Christmas and Easter never get old.
The story is never boring.
The story is actually so astonishing,
That we need to hear it over and over.
And maybe every time we hear it,
We’ll have a little less fear:
And our Alleluia’s will get a little bit stronger.
And we’ll begin to understand a little bit more.
Mark is basically telling all of us:
Go back to the beginning,
And read again the story of Jesus:
The wonderful teacher and healer,
The one who IS the suffering,
But now IS life:
The victorious Messiah and Son of God.
Whether you’re in pain:
Or in fear:
Or in joyful exultation:
Hear the story again.
Tell the story again.
Become the story yourself.
It takes time:
Maybe even a whole lifetime:
Because we, like the women at the tomb,
Are often too afraid, or too astonished to tell it.
But as we continue:
With God’s help:
To proclaim the Good News of God in Christ:
In the best way that we can:
We will inch further and further:
With less and less fear:
Until one day,
When we like Christ:
Fear will no longer be a part of who we are:
And our Alleluia’s will burst forth for all eternity.
In the final book of C.S. Lewis’ beloved chronicles of Narnia:
Thousands of years after the death and resurrection of the Christ figure:
The Characters find themselves in the presence of God:
In the eternal heavenly Garden,
At the end of the world:
And Lucy says to the others:
“Isn’t it wonderful? Have you noticed one can’t feel afraid, even if one wants to?”
Resurrected WITH Christ:
We too: Will enter that garden.
Where there is no terror,
Where there is no fear:
And until then:
We keep hearing the story:
Reading the story:
Becoming the story:
And proclaiming and sharing it in the best way that we can.
Fr. Jim is providing his sermons online during the Corona virus pandemic. Enjoy!