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.
Welcome Rev. Portia Corbin!
Psalm 31 9:-16
Mark 14:1-15:47 or 15:1-39, (40-47)
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. Amen.
First, let me say that it is an absolute JOY to be here with you.
We’ve been looking forward to this day.
YOU haven been looking forward to this day for an even LONGER time than I have,
And here we are today,
A joyous, long awaited day.
It’s the perfect day actually,
To celebrate Palm Sunday:
Remembering the joyous shouts of “Hosanna!”
As Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
And we don’t just celebrate that either.
We also celebrate today because We’re HERE.
In Church together.
Gathered, when for so long, we could not.
Knowing full well that there were no in person shouts of “Hosanna!” last year.
Today, our joy echoes some of the same feelings on that first Palm Sunday over 2000 years ago.
And so let’s talk about that first Palm Sunday.
In Jesus’ time, the people of Judah:
The Sothern Kingdom of Israel,
Had been under foreign rule for a long, long time.
Over 600 years, actually.
They were oppressed, over-taxed, defeated in wars,
and scattered to all the ends of the earth.
Through all that hardship, they developed various theories of how God would intervene to restore them to their rightful glory.
Most of these theories involved some sort of messiah.
There were lots of different ideas about what the Messiah would look like,
But all of them had some sort of connection to King David:
The greatest king of Israel’s memory:
The one who represented God’s covenant of kingship with the people.
And so the people expected a Messiah who would be a king:
A powerful king: restoring them to their former power and glory.
And against the backdrop of this expectation, Jesus enters.
By the time Jesus enters Jerusalem on that triumphant day,
He has already gained a tremendous reputation as an exceptionally wise teacher and wonder worker:
Precisely the kind of person God would send to restore Israel.
The people were excited as they started to realize that Jesus might really be the one.
A return to the Davidic line.
A sort of restoration to Israel’s old power and glory.
That’s why they cry “Hosannah! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”:
Its a direct callback to Psalm 118:
A Psalm about King David.
The people very clearly see Jesus coming to reinstitute David’s reign on earth:
To cast out the oppressors,
And to liberate Israel to its former glory.
To get back to the “good old days”
Or to the “way things used to be.”
But that’s not really what happened.
The rest of today’s liturgy: and the rest of this week:
Is going to be less than triumphant.
(Until Sunday at least)
This one that was supposed to be the King of splendor:
The one to make Israel whole, and restored, and powerful again:
Will be tried, tortured, and executed like a common criminal:
A far, far cry from the powerful ruler the people were expecting.
Things did not turn out the way people expected or wanted.
Not anywhere even close.
We know that Jesus DOES prove to be the messiah:
But it’s important to remember that he does so in a way that was totally unexpected.
He does not institute a political revolution.
He does not become the ruling king of his country, or of the world.
Instead, by conquering death,
He institutes the most radical revolution of overthrowing oppression itself.
And he inaugurates the full reign of God in the complete transformation of the whole entire cosmos.
But we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves in the story.
It’s not Easter yet.
As I said at the beginning,
The excitement that we feel at returning to in-person worship,
And the excitement we feel at beginning a new adventure together,
Is not unlike the excitement that the people of Jerusalem had on that first Palm Sunday.
We are excited to be back:
We may be thinking that this is the beginning of the restoration of how things were.
Like the people in Jerusalem that day,
We might be expecting something like a return to “normal”
To the “before COVID times”
To the “good old days, and the way things used to be.”
But just as the progression of Holy Week showed with the people’s expectations,
There was no return to the past.
There was no restoration to this golden age.
And like the people of Jerusalem,
We need to be prepared for moving forward in the new realties of our world.
We will probably experience significant frustrations and disappointments when the realities we may have envisioned or expected do not come about in the way that we hoped.
And this is the heart of the Good News:
We know that God will be faithful:
To a degree that is so much greater than we can ever expect:
So much greater than we can ever ask for or imagine.
We will likely be disappointed in our expectations,
But only for God to explode them with something so much more marvelous than we ever could have anticipated.
So the question for us:
The lesson to learn in looking at the normal and natural response for the people of Jerusalem to this upsetting of their expectation is:
Can we learn from it?
Can we allow our disappointments that will likely arise,
To open us up to what God is doing?
Rather than closing us in our expectations of what used to be?
Will we be able to set ourselves into a posture of constantly looking for the new and marvelous thing God will be doing in our midst?
Will we be ready for an unexpected Easter?
Or do we just expect it to be how it used to be?
Now I know it would be great for your new priest to know what’s going to happen:
To have all the right answers,
And all the magic words and tricks.
Yet I have NO idea what our new unexpected Easter will look like or what it will bring.
But I DO know that it’s coming.
And that it will be greater than anything we could’ve ever imagined:
If only we’re open to it:
If only we’re willing to shed our expectations,
And see that anything is possible.
Let us pray: God of order and unity, direct our thoughts and actions to sharing your unfailing love with all we encounter. In the name of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Lent, a season that calls us to repentance, in which we change our vestments to purple, a color associated with mourning. It is a solemn season, and this may resonate with many of us today. It has been about a year since our worlds were completely changed. It has been a year of grieving – a year of adjusting to new ways of gathering. A year of limiting in-person gatherings to protect each other and the most vulnerable. A year of many changes, regardless of where you find yourself on life’s journey.
And maybe this Lent, you decided to do some self-care or take on a specific spiritual practice. If you did, great! And if you did not, that’s great too! With a pandemic raging and all of the unprecedented events, it is important to be kind to ourselves. It is important to be present with all these changes and feelings.
Current news and the social unrest of this past year have probably left us with the same request as the Greeks in today’s gospel: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Now, we do not know much about the Greeks in this story; Andrew and Philip did not know what to do, but Jesus made sure to respond.
Of course, right before this passage, many people had witnessed Jesus calling Lazarus from the tomb, so they wanted to meet and listen to this man. Lazarus was drawing crowds, and this understandably caused a lot of concern among many, including the religious authorities.
Similarly, this pandemic has highlighted our desire to “see” or experience Jesus. We have come face-to-face with the ways in which our world continues to oppress, but it has also lifted new movements to create opportunities to correct what has been wrong for so long. Our Old Testament lesson reminds us that the Lord will forgive Israel. A radically new future is presented. Maybe this is a time of God forgiving our collective sins and making way for a radically new future. Forgiving us for not listening to the voice of the Father. For not listening to the voices of those suffering. For perhaps trying to ignore the realities or experiences of those whom we label as outsiders. Allowing this sin to separate us from God and others.
This pandemic has allowed us to see what privilege looks like and whom it benefits. And this has left us wondering what it looks like to serve the Father. Jesus says that those who serve must also follow. Today, we are serving the Father by loving our neighbors, by listening to those voices telling us that they are not doing well. We are following Jesus by protecting our neighbors.
In our gospel reading, Jesus heard the voice. Some thought it was thunder and others an angel, but they all heard something. And like the crowd, we may sometimes confuse the voice, or even deny it. But Jesus reminds us that this voice is for our benefit. That we must pay close attention to what God is doing and saying.
This year has been one of much listening. We have heard the voices of so many. We have heard the voices of our neighbors who are Black and indigenous people of color in ways that we have never heard before. We have heard the stories of families in need. We have heard the voices of anger, despair, and rage. We have heard the voices of the marginalized, the once forgotten.
What if we found God in these voices, too? Today, we can decide to be intentional about listening to these voices. We educate and inform ourselves in what matters to those who do not look or think like we do. We make space to welcome them into our lives, our communities, our churches, and our families. We welcome them in authentic ways that leave nothing to the imagination – because our actions make clear statements that we embrace all.
As we come to the end of this Lenten season, can you stop and wonder where you have heard that voice? From whom the voice came? Or even with whom have you shared this voice?
In answering and understanding these, you will also find love. You find God. You find forgiveness. You find that even in the midst of chaos, there is love. Even in our struggle, we will find love. You hear God saying that you are enough – that listening to God’s voice is transformative and healing.
Yes, it has felt like an extremely long season of Lent, but Easter is coming. We believe in a God who gives life. We believe that joy comes in the morning.
Perhaps you have been feeling like this unrest will never end. Although we are slowly coming to a new normal, we know that nothing will entirely go back to what it used to be – nor should it. Be reminded that the same Jesus who cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” will do the same with us even when we don’t see it. Even now, God is calling us with a loud voice, saying, “Come out!”
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminds us in his book, Love Is the Way, “The journey is always a struggle. But the movement is always forward.” He adds, “Now, if you ask me why, I’ll answer I don’t know. But as Fredrick Douglass put it, ‘If there is no struggle there is no progress.’” We cannot learn from blocking changes or denying our struggles – and this is difficult to understand. There will be days when we will not get all of the work done, days when we will not know which voices to listen to – but God will remain with us. We must take our time when listening to the voices around us and decide where we can find God in them. We must decide to love because we know that hate is too much to carry. We must continue to say, “We wish to see Jesus.” Let us continue to boldly claim this for our lives and for our world.
Be reminded that we are not alone. Remember that God delights in our peculiarities and that God sees our struggles. God recognizes all of who we are and all of what we experience. We have the example in Jesus, who also offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the One who was able to save. Jesus is the example for us to follow. So, offer up your prayers, your loud cries and tears, knowing that God hears them, knowing that we belong to a God whose compassion blots out our offenses. We serve and follow a God who sees our transgressions and loves us the same.
May the God who saw your tears yesterday and heard your silent prayers today provide and care for you in ways that cannot yet be described. May the voice sustain you, may love guide every part of your life, and may the loving and liberating Son, our Savior Jesus Christ give you peace. Amen.
Let us pray: O God, who sent Christ to be the light of the world and the light for the world, shine within us, upon us and around us. So guide our reflection on the life of Christ that we might find new purpose in our own. We pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you are squeamish about snakes, this might not be your Sunday! But, if you can set that discomfort aside, you will be treated to an insight about how the ancient Hebrew Bible reading from Numbers connects with the Gospel reading from John.
If you were running from something, brutal slave labor, for example, you could hardly write a tougher scenario of a flight to freedom than the Exodus. The people of the Hebrews were fleeing through the desert, and their wilderness wanderings were plagued by lack of food and water. They complained continuously against God who was delivering them.
All told, Numbers depicts five of these so-called “murmuring episodes,” where the Hebrew people grumble and complain about an assortment of perceived grievances. They don’t like the food; they want more water; they’re tired; they want to go back to Egypt; they’re sick of camping. Picture a minivan loaded up for a road trip with a gaggle of disgruntled toddlers kicking the seats, throwing popcorn, and screaming, “Are we there yet?” and you won’t be far off!
Each episode follows a predictable pattern: the Hebrew people complain, God gets angry, the Hebrew people realize they’ve made God angry and beg Moses to intercede on their behalf, Moses does, and God calms down. Then, a few chapters later, another tantrum erupts, and the same pattern unfolds. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Finally, their sniping reaches a boiling point. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness,” they grumbled against God and Moses, “For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”
If you listen carefully, you’ll catch the level of absurdity behind their whining. “There is no food and water,” they moan in one breath, and then, “we detest this miserable food,” they grumble in the next breath. In response, God punishes them for their insolence and rebellion by sending venomous snakes into the encampment.
Now, at this point, some of us may be thinking, “Well that was a little harsh, God. Those snakes bit people, and some folks even died!” But we must leaven our reading of Scripture with a bit of theological imagination.
So, when was the last time you found yourself in traffic complaining about its slow pace, while your air conditioner or heater hummed, and you listened to satellite radio in stereo? Here you are in your own little island, but you are upset because you can’t get to work or home any faster. And while you might not be tripping over snakes, you at least know you’re going to get there eventually. The Hebrews didn’t even know where “there” was.
Being miserable is something we try to avoid, but how we handle it really hasn’t changed much. The power goes off and we call the power company and complain. The water is turned off for a few hours because of a water main leak, and we complain to the water utility. The waiter tells us they have just run out of the dish we had so looked forward to, so we fuss and grumble as we order another choice from a diverse menu.
Okay, so maybe this is a little over the top about complaining, but really – what do we have to complain about? Besides, it’s Lent! Aren’t we supposed to feel a little miserable?
Like Moses with the Hebrews, somebody prays for us. Somebody offers up our fears of snakes that bite us and frighten us. Somebody breaks the bread and blesses the cup and offers us real spiritual food. The bread is broken, the cup is offered, and we see the sign like the people saw the bronze serpent in the wilderness and lived. We receive the bread and the cup, and our impatience and complaining retreat, even if only for a while.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,” proclaims the Psalmist. And if God is good, what he offers us is never a snake that bites us, but the bread of life. “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.”
Lent is all about who truly delivers us from the hardships we suffer, the complaints we offer, and the peril of the snakes in this world.
Paul writes to the Ephesians, carefully setting up the situation: we are all dead through our sinning because we think the things of this world will save us, keep us comfortable, and drive the snakes away. He describes God as rich in mercy and able in our dead state to make us alive in Christ Jesus, saved and raised up with him. And most of all, we can’t cause it by our good works. Rather, God’s free gift of Christ on the cross—recalling the serpent lifted up by Moses—brings us salvation. The snakes can’t win. Thanks be to God.
So, we come to the Gospel from John, and the one verse every Christian knows by heart: “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.” This passage is so well known that it is often cited on billboards and in ads as John 3:16 with no text provided.
This Gospel taken by itself is almost a romantic rendering of the Gospel, as if somehow God came into the world and erased evil in all its forms from our lives. That leaves us with a lot of questions. Good, well-intentioned, and brave people are killed every day: some by accident, some by violence and mayhem. Simply quoting John 3:16 to their families and friends will not provide a lot of comfort.
The story of the Gospel is about our encounter with it, and how even after hearing it, we may choose evil rather than good. Jesus’ life and ministry are a judgment because despite his being in the world, people still love darkness rather than light, and our deeds are often evil, as John continues to proclaim.
Somehow, we have to connect with these readings, with the Hebrews who wandered in the desert. Somehow, we have to embrace St. Paul who writes in Ephesians about our being dead because we follow the course of the world. And somehow, we have to take what is offered this Sunday, the word and sacrament, and let it begin to work in us so that, as John writes: “those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that [our] deeds have been done in God.”
As the collect for this 4th Sunday of Lent says, “Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us and we in him.” Amen.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Let us pray: Eternal God, through the life, death and resurrection of your Son your kingdom has broken into our troubled world. Help us now to hear your Word, and give us grace to respond in faithful obedience, that our lives might be signs of the new life given through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Each Sunday during Lent we begin the recitation of the Decalogue (the ten Commandments) with these words: Hear the commandments of God to his people: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of bondage. You shall have no other gods but me.
In this time, when Mammon is worshipped proudly in the public realm of both politics and of what passes for popular religion, it is healthy to read St. John’s depiction of Jesus’ visit to the Temple, to his “Father’s house,” as he called it. It makes us cry aloud, “Oh, for a whip of justice to clean out the corruption in our own temples of power.” Yet, we know that only Jesus has the courage and the authority to do so. All we are able to do is wait and repeat, “How long oh Lord, how long?”
For Jesus, it is the first Passover of his public ministry and his first known visit to Jerusalem as a grown man. This is exclusively St. John’s history of the event; no less an authority than Archbishop William Temple declares that it is the correct one. The Archbishop makes it clear that early in his ministry, Jesus still considers the Herodian Temple his “Father’s House.” But by the end of his ministry, when he weeps over Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it,” he declares it to be the people’s temple. “See, your house is left to you,” he cries, and the implication of desolation is in his words.
The Temple was finally finished in A.D. 64 only to be destroyed six years later. By then Jesus’ resurrected body was the temple he was talking about in his prophecy. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Later the cronies of the high priests will force witnesses to accuse Jesus of saying that he himself would destroy the temple, but as false witnesses do, they lied. It was not he who destroyed the temple; it was human arrogance and sin.
Why did Jesus become so angry when he saw his father’s house being made into a marketplace? The Old Testament lesson gives us many clues to the answer. Idolatry of any kind was forbidden by God. The money changers had the following purpose: taxes had to be paid to the Roman overlords, but the Roman money carried the image of Caesar on it. The High Priests, considering this image idolatry, had ordered that the money paid in taxes should be converted to the shekel in order to be acceptable for Temple business. In that exchange, a great profit went into the coffers of these same priests. Jesus knew that this was both profanity of the Temple and exploitation of the poor citizens. It was another form of idolatry, but this time the idol was Mammon, a god ever present both then and now—a god not named by his followers but worshipped nonetheless.
In today’s gospel, St. John shows the scandalous activity of Jesus in all its glory. The leaders of the Jews had fooled the people with a piety that had become idolatry and had allowed physical structures to take the place of a God who demanded, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Our culture has forgotten this command also, and so many signs or symbols have been turned into idols: the Ten Commandments are not obeyed, but their depiction on stone is approved; the flag that is supposed to remind us of the human longing for freedom becomes an idol to be worshipped at athletic games; money that should be used to educate and feed children becomes an idolatrous acquisition for those who already have too much of it, while our streets fill with homeless people; and other, old symbols of the evil of violence return to trouble our world.
We need Jesus’ courage to cleanse the temples of idolatry. We long for his kind of integrity that dares to call out the oppressors, no matter who they are. We pray for the power to overthrow the tables of the moneychangers who cheat the poor and the voiceless. In St. Paul’s words, we too must “proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Nowhere does St. Paul ever speak of a prosperity gospel.
Tony Campolo, writer, teacher, and pastor, writes in his book Who Switched the Price Tags? about growing up in his hometown in Philadelphia. The night before Halloween was designated as “mischief night.” On that night the adults braced themselves against all sorts of petty mischief at the hands of the younger generation. Windows were soaped, air was let out of tires and all the other annoying mischief which an adolescent could conjure up was done.
One year, he and his best friend devised what they thought was a brilliant and creative plan for mischief. The decided to break into the basement of the local five and ten cent store, not to rob the place (after all Sunday school boys would not do that sort of thing), but instead, they would do something really mischievous. The plan was to get into that five and dime store and change the price tags on things.
What chaos it would be when the next morning people came into the store and discovered that radios were selling for a quarter and bobby pins were priced at five dollars each. With diabolical glee, they wondered what it would be like when nobody could figure out what the prices of things really should be.
He goes on to say that Satan and the world have played the same kind of trick on all of us. Our world has been broken into and the price tags have been changed. Too often, we treat what deserves to be treated with loving care as though it were of little worth. And on the other hand we find ourselves making great sacrifices, paying a high price, for those things which in the long run of life, have no lasting value.
As we approach Holy Week, we need the love and the passion that can sustain us even unto death. We will be laughed at when we too resist the culture of the day, but we will remember with St. Paul that, “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.” Let us be aware, more than ever during this season of Lent, that the power of God goes with us.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, your law challenges our priorities and turns us away from the darkness of greed and selfishness towards the light and peace of your presence. Help us to discern those things in our lives that stand in the way of more perfectly fulfilling your will for us. Hear this and all of our prayers through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Let us pray. O Lord, teach us this day, to love you as you love us. Open our eyes, that we might behold your image in us, discern your will for us, and heed your summons to us, not only in our worship but also in our work. This we pray in the name of our Savior Jesus. Amen.
Imagine the scene. You are one of the twelve Galileans who have been singled out to follow the most compelling teacher ever to walk the stony hills of your land. You have been with your beloved leader, the one you call Master or Rabbi, for nearly three years now, and increasingly, you watch as more people come to hear him, fascinated by his message about God as a loving father, people longing to be fed, some with words of comfort and many of them literally. And then there are those who are sick or blind, who take up his time, but he gives it freely, healing them and giving them sight in the process. But you, you are not one of the crowd, you are the one who just recently has had his name changed from Simon to Peter. You are Petros, the rock, the stone chosen and cut and named by your beloved Master. You declared the conviction of your heart to him when he asked that stirring question: “Who do you say that I am?” And you, Simon the fisherman, you were the one with the proper answer. “You are the Messiah.”
So now that all of us have imagined the scene and have, somehow, identified with Peter at his triumphant moment of revelation and stunning declaration, let us move with him to the scene that follows. Already, halfway into Mark’s Gospel, we are entering the second part that concentrates on Jesus’ passion. In today’s passage, we are given the first prediction of suffering and death in Mark’s singular style of brevity and immediacy. “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed . . .” “What? Did he say killed?” The disciples forget all their preoccupations, look at each other stunned, fail to hear the end of the prediction, and then turn to Peter because Jesus seems removed, deep in thought—probably in prayer, they think, for he seems to be always connected to Someone else, always praying. And Peter takes charge again. This simply will not do. No one had ever spoken of the Messiah as having to suffer. After all, the word Messiah, Anointed, is a triumphant word. He grasps Jesus by the arm to move him a bit away from the others, and Jesus allows this, listens to him as Peter rebukes him. What is Peter saying? What does the word rebuke mean? Something like this, perhaps: “How can you speak of suffering and death? Didn’t we agree just the other day that you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God? and you did not dispute it when I declared it to you. Why are you frightening us? Look at all the crowds following you.”
Jesus does not answer him immediately. He pulls away from Peter and turns to look at his disciples, these people he has loved and taught for so many months, the ones on whom he has pinned his hopes that the vision of the kingdom that has set him on fire will do the same for them and that they will continue his mission. He sees that they are stunned and frightened, but mostly confused. He knows that he has the power to change his own course and to comfort them. He remembers his forty days in the wilderness, Satan tempting him with power. Look, if you align with me all these kingdoms will be yours. Just say the word. Forget the one who is pulling you to himself, always to himself, forget your father. Jesus addresses Peter, but his eyes are on all his faithful disciples, for they all matter. If they don’t understand, no one will. “Get behind me, Satan!” he cries out again as he did in the wilderness, directly to Peter, reversing what he had told him in their previous encounter. Now his meaning is just as clear: “Peter, you are thinking of all this in human terms. You are thinking of human power and armies and wealth, and even of violence. But the ways of God are different. Don’t you know this? Haven’t I spoken to you about God’s kingdom?” He sees Peter’s anger and then confusion and immediately his great sadness. And he knows that his dear disciple will go through much agony of spirit and grief before he understands. Now he must teach all of them once again, he must make them understand the values of the kingdom.
His first words are terrible. Do you want to follow me? It will not be easy. I am not promising you power or wealth or importance. First, you recognize that God is the center of your existence, not you, yourself. “Take up your cross,” he tells them, “and follow me.”
In our days, this command is used profanely. “I too have my cross to bear,” someone says of a simple annoyance, and we who have been confronted by the gospel cringe. But in that day, Jesus’ listeners knew what the sentence meant in all its horror. The condemned had to carry their own means of the most horrid death to their crucifixion. This was an awful saying to the ears who first heard it. They knew the reality of Roman cruelty. Later they would come to recognize their teacher’s words more fully: “If you can recognize your own self-centeredness and then discard it, you may follow me. If you understand that the life I call you to lead may cause your own death, you may follow me.”
They quickly learned what we are invited to learn every day. The life we are called to live as Christ-followers is filled with paradox. We gain by losing. We are saved by dying to self. The first become last. The last, the despised, become first. This is no happiness gospel. This is no prosperity gospel. We are not called to make millions while others go hungry. We are not called to live in mansions when others have nowhere to lay their heads.
It was the first day of school. At noon, the principal noticed that a new first grader was outside with his backpack on waiting at the bus-loading zone. She went out and asked the boy why he wasn’t in class. The child answered that it was time to go home. The principal told him that now that he was in first grade, he would be staying at school all day instead of a half day. The boy looked at the principal and exclaimed, “Who signed me up for this?!”
Who signed me up for this? That’s kind of our reaction to a lot of things. Life has a way of getting a lot more complicated than we had planned on.
I can just hear Peter say, “Who signed me up for this?” Taking up one’s cross and following Jesus doesn’t sound so pleasant, or easy, or fun.
The Old Testament Lesson and St. Paul speak of faith and covenants and promises fulfilled because of Abraham’s trust in God. Jesus’ trust in God brought him to the cross. It is the only way we have for understanding what he means when he warns us of the cost of following him. And yet, who would not want to follow him? As Peter said when inspired by the Holy Spirit, “You, Lord, you alone have the words of life eternal.” Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: Father we give you thanks for the example of Christ—who walked the road to the cross, not knowing, but believing, that you would give him the victory. Help us, O God, to set our eyes upon the victory of Christ that has been promised to us, and set our feet upon the path that leads to it. We pray in the name of Christ Jesus your Son. Amen.
Fr. Jim is providing his sermons online during the Corona virus pandemic. Enjoy!