April 19, 2015

Easter III-B 2015

Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; I John 3: 1-7; Like 24: 36-48


We continue in this Eastertide to read stories of Jesus' post resurrection appearances among his disciples and it is not always easy to understand  how these can relate to our lives today. There are many theological writings, many thoughtful as well as some rather preposterous theories about these stories. One entire weekend of spiritual encounter is held to journey the Road to Emmaus. By comparison, what can be said in a brief Sunday morning homily is only one or two small nuggets.  I urge you to take these rich readings home with you today and re-read and meditate on them throughout the week.

The reading from Acts is from a sermon Peter gave after he and John had healed a lame beggar near the temple in Jerusalem. This was a man whom others carried each day to his post, where he lay on his mat and begged.  Much like the story of Jesus' healing in a similar situation, Peter and John told the man they had no alms to give him, but would give what they had- the gift from the Holy Spirit of healing, the ability to be a conduit of God's healing grace. The man received their gift and got up and walked away. The witnessing crowd was astounded, causing Peter to make the remarks we just read.

Peter asked them, "Why do you wonder at this as though it were our own piety or power that made this man walk?"  He then summarizes the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, fully human and fully divine, and points out they were eye-witnesses to it all. Further, that these things were fulfillment of the scriptures and prophesies with which all Jews were familiar.

In his various appearances, exampled by the Gospel reading from Luke this morning, Jesus does some very normal things. He eats with them; he talks with them;  and he shows them his wounds, scars of his suffering and unconditional love. And Jesus does some very unusual things, like walking through walls and locked doors. His appearance has changed, yet through his words and actions, they recognize him. And this is key.

You see, Jesus repeatedly emphasizes to them the importance of breaking bread together and of taking the message of God's unfailing love and promise of forgiveness and salvation to everyone. He makes it clear that we are all to be conduits of that love and tellers of the story.

Now at that time in the early first century, Christians were horribly persecuted by the Romans, and at least disdained by the Jews. Being a Jesus Follower was a very risky business. We get this when we read that the disciples were frightened, the doors were locked, and they hid from public view. Yet, they believed in what they had lived and they proceeded to form ministries, help one another, and spread the story near and far. And it is because they did so that you and I today have the story available to us in the scriptures, our prayer book, and our music.

Today, we Christians are also under attack. Make no mistake, friends, in most regions of the globe, it is risky business in 2015 to profess belief in Christ. Here in our own country one can no longer assume that others understand the tenets of Christianity and there are times and places where discussion of faith is deemed inappropriate and other times and places where it is illegal. Many of our laws, customs and mores, initially based on the Judeo/Christian model of justice and morality have been diluted and eroded. Within my lifetime, this has come to be so.

This is why it is very important that we gather as a community on a regular basis as the early Christians did, to remember and recite our beliefs, to break bread together in remembrance and in the presence of our Lord, to seek forgiveness for our wrong doings and to encourage one another in our journeys through love - the kind of love which Jesus brought, taught, and lived.

The Israelites literally took up arms against enemies of God, as did the crusaders and others, who were self-appointed judges of who was an enemy. Jesus, however, said to spread our arms in love to honor and respect the dignity of every person, as we are all children of God. He said, love your enemies. To do this, we must not leave the impact, whatever it may be, of this hour of worship in the Narthex when we leave. Rather, we are to take it to the streets, to our homes, to work tomorrow, to wherever life takes us this week, and by golly, share it, as conduits of this grace, with each person we meet through what we say and how we behave. We, like Jesus, can do this through very ordinary acts: how we speak to another, for example. Do we speak as though we truly pray they are filled with God's Peace? Do we share meals, time together, thoughts and conversations?

And we can do some rather unusual things to bear witness to our faith. I say unusual because I think most of us do not do these on a daily basis. We can perform random acts of kindness like paying forward someone's meal or groceries. We can be really radical and invite someone to church! Oh yeah, it is done. And we need to recognize that the enemy is NOT groups of people. The enemy is injustice. We need to be asking, "Why are so many people nearby in need of food assistance and subsidized housing and decent wages?" It is the reasons behind those conditions that Christians need to rise up against, seeking justice for the voiceless.

If some end up wondering how you do it; how you smile and remain calm when there is anger floating everywhere; how you strive to do the right thing even if it costs you financially, in popularity or in other ways; how you are kind and compassionate to everybody - when they wonder, remember Peter's sermon. By faith in the Name of Christ, you are able to remain his follower.

Jesus came to transform us - change our hearts. One of the bases of the Rule of Benedict is Conversion. Simply put, this means change of heart. Our lifelong spiritual journeys, lived as Jesus followers, are made up of conversion experiences; that is, moments of meeting Christ in others wherever we are. But we must venture out a bit to experience this gift of conversion. You have to make appearances.

I have the privilege of helping to form an alliance of clergy from the other churches located nearby. We are small and we are diverse in how we worship. Yet we are Christ followers and respect, actually embrace and learn from our differences. This is the body that is sponsoring the Blessing of Soles next week, and we are look at how we might serve(read, show Christ's love) to the many segments of Heights population through an event that focuses on health and spirituality. As we discuss this, we can imagine many, many ways in which transformative encounters might occur. You are invited to inquire and come, be a part.

This is the promise: In the end, no matter what this age entails, each of us will have a place in God's heavenly kingdom. As God glorified Christ in baptism, suffering, death and resurrection,  so too, we may be glorified through Christ. It is, therefore, important that we give conscious thought and intention to living a Christ-like life, befitting this promise. And it is important that we, as a faith community, come often together to learn, share, worship, encourage, and love one another as Christ loves us.

Brother John of the Society of Jesus has said,"

"Listen to me. You HAVE to decide what you believe to be the most important work in the world and then you have to DO THAT WORK. Because THIS is what happens. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS. God shows up."


April 2, 2015

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35; Psalm 116:1, 10-17


Elie Wiesel wrote in an essay for Walking With God in a Fragile World, "Created in God's image, man is as alone as He is. And yet: man may and must hope; he must rise to the challenge, transcend himself until he loses or finds himself. Only God is condemned to eternal loneliness. Only God is truly, irreducibly alone."

Perhaps this idea was never more apparent than on that night when Jesus shared his last earthly meal with his disciples and then took them to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Yes, these followers were with him physically, but the story lets us know they hadn't a clue as to what was happening in their midst. Jesus had tried three times to explain to them what would happen when they got to Jerusalem. They were going with so many others to celebrate the Passover. Upon entering the gates, Jesus was hailed and adored by the crowds - Ride on, ride on in majesty" says the hymn. And he did. surrounded by the throngs, but alone all the while. You may recall that before entering the city, Jesus is said to have opened his arms and lamented, saying he wished he could take the people under his wings."

The synoptic Gospels have this meal we recreate tonight - and every Sunday - occurring on Passover. John, however places it as the day before the festival day. The set up has been prearranged, much like if we were to have a family gathering and needed to rent a hall and pay a caterer. It begins joyfully enough, but quickly becomes somber. Jesus begins to behave in a very odd manner. The hospitality custom would have been for the host to have his servants wash the feet of arriving guests. Wearing sandals on unpaved streets can create a lot of dirty feet that you probably do not want carried into your home.  This night, however, Jesus, the host, waits until the middle of the meal and he himself removes his robe and proceeds to wash the feet of his guests. Odd indeed.

Earlier, as they began the meal, Jesus breaks the bread and shares the cup of wine and talks about his body and blood and tells them to remember him when they eat and drink together in the future. What in the world? Has Jesus been having a few cocktails with the locals before this gathering?

No, but Jesus, in the midst of his closest friends on earth, is alone as he faces his gravest hour, his most challenging mission. And his actions are ones of the most profound love that ever was - love that is alive and available to us even today.

Peter - Ah, Peter, the one who forever blurts out the responses of the common man, the things you and I might have said had we been there. Yet Peter will become the rock upon which our church is founded.- Peter once more rebukes Jesus, claiming to be unworthy to be served by him - "You will not wash MY feet!"

A few years ago in another parish at this service, I was in line to wash and be washed. The man in front of me was a brilliant, highly respected professional man. He motioned to me to sit in the chair so he could wash my feet. When I explained that it was his turn to be served, he said, "No, I am not worthy." I was momentarily stunned. If this good and faithful man was not worthy, who was I? Then I thought, 'But he is as Peter was." and I said to him, "We are all unworthy and we are all, by God's grace, worthy".

It is on account of love that Jesus' washes his disciples' feet, and it is on account of Jesus that his followers will be able to live into that love with one another -- whether or not they fully understand or are able to see the outcome.

The meaning of the word, Maundy, is Commandment. This is Commandment Day and Christ gave us two commandments in his acts on this original day. He stressed that we are to serve one another with love as he served with love,  demonstrated this night by serving his friends in washing their feet; and we are to forgive, even as he has and does forgive us. Alone in his knowledge and understanding of the present moments of that night, Jesus, our lonely God, nevertheless loved those who could not remain with him; could not comprehend what he tried repeatedly to teach them; could not remain awake and pray with him in the garden; could not understand the concept of forgive your enemies, and so raised a sword toward the arresting soldier.

Jesus states explicitly that his actions on this night are an example for the disciples. "You also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you" If washing feet is the particular example, the wider principle is also quite apparent: "Just as I have loved you, so also should you love one another."

Loving one another as Jesus has loved us - does love us. For, that love has not died. And it is in and by and through that love that we, unlike God, are never, never ever alone.  Even when we think no one understands, no one cares, no one could possibly care about us because we are such miserable beings, Someone does. We are never, never, ever alone, for Christ, as promised, is with us.

In loving one another as Jesus loved us, we are called to forgive one another (and ourselves) as Jesus forgave.  Peter denied him later, three times. Yet, in love and forgiveness which comes with that love, Jesus later gives Peter the "Keys to the Kingdom".

We know how this story ends. On the night he was betrayed, his friends did not know how the story would end. They were first confused, then perhaps amused, then curious then terrified. In the saga of this rabbi who was arrested before their very eyes, surely they would be persons of interest to the authorities. We know that the next day, at the time in John's chronology when the Passover lambs are being sacrificed, Jesus is put to death, executed, on a cross on Calvary Hill.

It is Jesus' loving his disciples that brings them into the family of God. It is Jesus' loving us that keeps us in the family of God. and it is in our loving one another and others in the world that maintains and enlarges the family of God. Tonight we break bread and drink from the common cup in remembrance of that meal Jesus shared with his disciples. We eat and drink not only in remembrance, but also as a reminder of Christ's presence with us in our very own time.  In sharing this meal we are proclaiming our belief in the risen Christ which we will celebrate beginning Saturday night. But for tonight, broken and divided as we are, we come to remember service, love and forgiveness. We come, as the Prayer Book says, not for solace only, but for renewal as we remind ourselves of the immeasurable grace and love of our Lord Jesus and his command for us to do as he did. We are not alone in our efforts to follow.

"Infinite, intimate God; this night you kneel before your friends and wash our feet. Bound together in your love, trembling, we drink your cup and watch." AMEN