Trinity Sunday

A sermon for Trinity Sunday, May 22, 2016

Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens.

Today is Trinity Sunday. The feast of the Holy and Blessed Trinity, God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the name day of this church and congregation. Fundamentally it is about our worship and adoration of God, who gives us life. And mercy. And hope.

We celebrate God, but we also celebrate this Trinity Church. I have been with you a little over a year and a half, pretty much every Sunday. Here’s what I have seen: a congregation with life and courage. From the outset, I noticed how important respect for one another is here.  There is a joy in being together, worshiping God and sharing in meals and our times together. There is particular joy in the nurture of children in this church. Easter 3Young people are taught the faith and they take leadership roles in the services. And everyone enjoys hearing our youth choir sing.

I arrived here the day after Fr. Allen Newman died and shortly before the death of Keith Warren. Besides grief over losing two beloved brothers in Christ, Trinity lost two major leaders. Which meant there was understandable anxiety: How would things get done? How could the church move forward?

On this Trinity Sunday, a year-and-a-half into my ministry, I am here to report that Trinity Church got the important things done and it is moving forward. I will tell you what I have seen, but first I want to say something about my role as priest here.

There’s a part of my ministry that everyone sees here: On Sunday, I preach the Gospel and celebrate the Eucharist with you. Those are very important things, and there are things I do here that not everybody sees. But there are also important things I don’t do that are often done by clergy when a parish has a full-time priest. I don’t manage the budget or supervise employees. I don’t choose the music or put together the liturgy or service bulletin. I don’t manage the Sunday School and I don’t round up the stewardship and fundraising programs. In the beginning, I didn’t even attend vestry meetings, though that has changed recently. Yet that has all been done. How? You have done it. You, the members of this body, took responsibility for being the church and making it run. And this isn’t just a question of the nuts-and-bolts of what it takes to make an organization run. Each of the groups and families in this congregation works hard, with generosity of spirit, to make this a place of spiritual awakening, respect and hope.

What have I seen in my time with you? I see outreach to this neighborhood, through an after-school ceramics program, which gives possibilities in artistic expression and positive attention for kids who really need this enrichment. I see women from a local homeless shelter welcomed at Christmas time as our guests—receiving dignified respect as well as a festive meal.

And our sick and homebound are not forgotten. Our pastoral care committee and others visit the sick, and Jeannie Seaman is a lay Eucharistic visitor who brings communion to the shut-ins. And when Jeannie was in the hospital, she herself received visits, organized by parishioners. When I have gone to visit those who are sick or in hospital, I have never gone alone—Trinity members have always gone with me because it is in their DNA to be community together.
Then, we have an acolyte core that includes young and old—we have our altar guild—we have our choir. It’s not only their serious dedication to the tasks of preparing our Sundays for worship, it’s also the reverence displayed toward God that makes it possible for us all to enter into the mysteries of faith—together.

This is a family that loves being together. I once described it as a group that would have a feast at the slightest provocation. We rejoice in God’s love, and in this short time we have baptized Logan, Ethan, Aiden, Jael, Demetrius, Amiyah, Savannah, and Zyhir into the body of Christ in our midst. The Body of Christ is alive and continues forward into the future.

These things that I have seen are the manifestations of the spirit of this Trinity Church of Morrisania which is enlivened by the Holy Spirit to bring forth Christ’s love into the world. It is not a fearful spirit or one that is only worried about its self-preservation. We have received God’s generosity in Jesus Christ and we look to share his hospitality with all his children.

At the parish meeting a couple of months ago we discussed together a new project that grows out of this spirit. The New York Internship Program of the Episcopal Service Corps will be working with Trinity to bring interns in residence here, beginning in 2017. This is a big project, and it takes a lot of preparation. Paula Roberts and Eleanor Chesterfield are leading the way on this and participating in the steering committee of the project.  One of the things that the project will do is provide a certain amount of revenue to offset the costs that the parish has been incurring to maintain the rectory where the interns will be living. In itself, that is important, because it helps to stabilize the finances of the parish.  But as a priest and a theologian, what is more important to me is that half-a-dozen young adults will be here and learn from the spirit of this parish, to learn how you live out respect, love and joy here in the south Bronx. And they will share that forward, in this part of the city that so much needs to receive respect and hope, they will share this spirit—in their work assignments, and in being resident seven days a week here on this block, and in their participation in the congregation. The interns will be enlivened by their contacts here in this church and in turn they will contribute to the life and ministry and hope of the congregation that is already here.

This is what YOU do, and who YOU are: God’s people, living in the joy of God’s presence. It may feel at times like we are small, or have few resources. But God is not small, and the abundance and riches of God outstrip all the opulence of the most wealthy places in the city.

The Trinity is how we know God: the Father and creator of all things in the whole of the universe, in Jesus manifesting God in demonstrating how to be human, and the Holy Spirit transforming us and incorporating us into the life of God. It is here at this Trinity Church that I have seen the Holy Spirit doing this.

As our psalm says:

Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

What is man that you should be mindful of him?

The son of man that you should seek him out?

You have made him but little lower than the angels;

you adorn him with glory and honor;

O Lord our Governor, how exalted is your Name in all the world.

Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ

A sermon for Pentecost, May 15, 2016

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Today is the feast of Pentecost when the church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit. One version of that is the story in our lesson from the book of Acts. The Spirit alights on the apostles like tongues of fire and they are understood by everyone in their own languages, while the apostles preach the Gospel.  But the coming of the Holy Spirit is not just about a dramatic public event of evangelism. The Holy Spirit has always been regarded by the church as the presence of God, enlivening and guiding it. But we are like Philip—we can’t see it, even when it is standing there staring us in the face: “Lord, show us the Father.” “How long have you been with me Philip, and you still cannot see me?” Jesus answered him. “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

This is the promise and the reality of Jesus to us, to all of us. But there is no cause to be complacent about that, or to pat ourselves on the back, or to think that God abiding in us makes us or our decisions better than anyone else’s. The World, pre-occupied in serving self, cannot receive the Spirit because it does not see or know him—too often the Church paradoxically becomes that World, pre-occupied with fears and schemes, rather than the courage and love of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, the Spirit does guide us, in our weakness and our blindness.

St. Paul says this, just a few verses later in his letter to the Romans following our epistle lesson for today: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sights to deep for words.” The Holy Spirit is not something superficial, nor is it something emotional; rather it is the power of God among us, between us and within each of us, guiding and healing us in his love.

The passage appointed from this same chapter today starts: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” I’ve been recently reading a couple of very good books about the Roman Empire. In one by Mary Beard [called SPQR] which has little to do with religion and almost nothing about Christianity, it is clear that everyone in the Roman Empire at this time was very familiar with slavery and with adoption. The economy of the empire was based on slavery, from the lowest and harshest of menial labor in the mines to very high functionaries in the households of the wealthiest aristocrats.

Three slaves tend their Roman mistress

Three slaves tend their Roman mistress

Wealth and comfort for the owners proceeded from the work of the slaves, yet they counted as nothing, they were regarded as invisible and of little or no worth. Any slave could be beaten or even killed, without the master having to even explain. Many early Christians were slaves and a substantial number of other Christians at the same time were owners of slaves. Everyone intimately understood the fear that dominated the lives of the slaves. Jesus, described himself as a slave to all—a most extraordinarily radical thing. Equally radical was that the church asserted that they followed this man, and honored him as God.

Adoption was also common in the Roman Empire, though not nearly as many people were adopted as were slaves. Many Roman emperors were the adopted sons of the previous emperor. If a man of wealth and property did not have a son who he judged satisfactory to be his heir, he would choose someone to adopt as his son.  Today, wealth is more often handled through corporations that have complicated succession plans. In the Roman Empire being adopted was a typical succession plan—those who were adopted achieved higher status and security than they had had previously.

So St. Paul says, “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” The Holy Spirit, which the church receives on Pentecost takes us out of fear and slavery through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And not only that, every one of us is now adopted, not by a wealthy landowner, or by a Roman Emperor, but by the God who created heaven and earth. When we boldly and audaciously sing, “Our Father…” at the breaking of the bread, that Holy Spirit is bearing witness “with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,” as St. Paul says. And he continues, “If, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Suffering is indeed real, we can expect it, and the Holy Spirit enables us to face it squarely–without fear.

We are glorified with God as we live for others. We know the blessing of Christ’s presence through being generous and welcoming. We know God by looking Jesus in the face.

As it says in today’s psalm:

O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them

all’ the earth is full of your creatures.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in all his works.

He looks at the earth and it trembles; he touches the mountains and they smoke.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;

I will praise my God while I have my being.

May these words of mine please him;

I will rejoice in the Lord.

Bless the Lord, O my soul.

Hallelujah!

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

A sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter, Mother’s Day, May 8, 2016

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

Our lesson today comes at the very end of the Book of Revelation; the very end of the Bible. It is an invitation and a promise. The images of the Spirit and the Bride refer to the Holy Spirit—the life of God which enlivens the church, and the Bride of Christ, which in the Book of Revelation, is portrayed both as the church and as the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, which is an image of the Kingdom of God. Both the Spirit and the Bride say “Come”—inviting all to enter in.

At the same time, “Come” is also prayer for the return of Jesus. “Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus” was a common prayer for Christians in the first hundred years or so of the church.  It continues, “Let everyone who hears say, `Come.’” The whole assembly, including us, at this time, is about welcome and inviting. The good news of God’s overwhelming love is for sharing, and healing, and giving life.

The next sentence is: “Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” The living water that enlivens our spirit, and gives us hope is the possession and property of no human being. It is the gift of God—take it as a gift. Today there are many who are thirsty, many whose spirits are hurt, lost, angry, discouraged and dying in their spirit. They are thirsty, and yet when they look toward the living water, they see it surrounded with barriers; toll collectors; people who think they own the well. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” “Let everyone who is thirsty Come! Take the water of life as a gift.” It is yours, it is ours, it is for all of us.  Yet even more, it belongs to the one who promises, “Surely, I am coming soon.” The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the one—that Jesus who we know has come for us, with mercy and healing. In his promise and his name, the water is freely given—life is here in the sharing.

Last Thursday, the church observed the Feast of the Ascension when Christ left his disciples and ascended into heaven. He may have ascended, but make no mistake: Jesus is still with us, welcoming and healing and making us one.  Our Gospel lesson today is a prayer from the Gospel of John, which Jesus prayed at his last meal with his disciples. He prays for all of us who believe in him. “The glory that you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one…”  We live in the Glory of God, we live in the divine life, not because we are so good, but because God loves us and dwells in us and we in him. We celebrate God’s glory because of the gift of the water of life.

Madonna CriteToday is also Mother’s Day.  We celebrate the gift and life and ministry of Mothers: those in our midst and those who have touched our lives.  When we talk about the indwelling of our life in God, mothers may particularly recognize what it means to have life indwelling and intertwined with their own.  Not just in the gestation and birth of a child—mothers’ nurturing never ends, they continue to be intertwined with children long after they have become adults. We appreciate mothers, and some are mothers who aren’t the biological mothers of those children they serve. Sometimes it is tempting to be sentimental about mothers and idealize their role. But there is nothing sentimental about it. Watching out for the well-being of a child is hard work, and the thanks that mothers get hardly balances the anxiety and sacrifice they put up with for the sake of those children. At least in the objective world. The miraculous thing is how frequently those mothers will tell you, right in the midst of the difficulty, that it is their greatest joy to be the mother of this boy, or that girl or all these children. There are lots of kinds of mothers—some are more saintly than others, some have more or less privilege to share with their children, some wish that they could be more patient, and others that they could do more things. Some have had to give up children into the care of others. The mother’s life is a real life with all of its joys and imperfections, just like every human life. But theirs, in particular, is interwoven in this intimate way with those children who they nurture.

So when Jesus says, “that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me,” we should realize that intimacy of God with all of us is an analogy of the mother with her children: we are at once, the source of the greatest anxiety and the greatest joy for God. We are cared for abundantly and rejoiced over abundantly, even at those times that we might try to avoid loving all of God’s children, or properly attending to our spiritual responsibilities.

The Spirit and the Bride say: Come

And let everyone who hears say: Come!

And let everyone who is thirsty Come!

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”

Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord be with all the saints. Amen.

God is glorified in wiping away every tear

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

“See, the home of God is among mortals.”

That’s a radical statement. After 2000 years of Christian theology and preaching we sometimes miss how radical it really is.  In the Roman Empire there were two standard views, one of the official pagan religion with its many gods, and another of philosophers and sophisticates, who basically believed that there was some sort of ultimate God, either beyond the pagan gods, or instead of them. The pagan gods made their home somewhere else, not among mortals, though they might capriciously come and mess with people from time to time. The God of the philosophers was consistently distant, detached from the world, the unmoved mover—engagement with humanity was unthinkable.

“I heard a voice saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;…” In the ancient world, that would be a shocking statement, it would go against all their values for a god to be that humble. The holy city arrives and God dwells with his people, and his people are not just the elite: God’s people are everyone. Not only will God himself dwell with them, but he will wipe every tear from their eyes. From the eyes of those who suffer—and there is no denial of the reality of suffering.

There is no doubt that Christianity was very diverse from the earliest times. There are references in the earliest documents to wealthy individuals and to slaves being members on an equal footing. Today’s lesson from the Acts of the Apostles is about the incorporation of all the non-Jewish nations into the Body of Christ, even those who did not observe the practices that their Jewish sisters and brothers did.  Both of these things were frankly controversial, because of how uncomfortable they made many people, and the solutions that were worked out were not always as perfect as we might like to put forward in a story with a “happily ever after” ending. But the vision of the holy city with God tending to the tears and the healing of every person—humble or exalted—was something essential, something not to be sacrificed or compromised. It was a radical idea then. It is still a struggle.

It is in Jesus Christ that we know God who is now present with us. At the last supper, when our Eucharistic celebration was instituted, Jesus interpreted it by these words that are in today’s Gospel lesson: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The infinite, the almighty, the all powerful ever-living God had just washed his disciples’ feet. As hard as it is, “you should love one another.” Just like he loved us. With complete humility and openness. The lesson from the Acts of the Apostles and much of the epistles of St. Paul record the conflict between Christians, from very early on, in accepting one another—in accepting people from all nations among themselves. Loving one another fully is not easy and it’s not just a one-off thing. We can’t say: “I love you, now don’t bother me.”

Eichenberg Lord's SupperThe shocking thing in Christianity is that it is God that is humble, it is God that lives among us. And in dwelling with God, we learn to be his disciples, in love and service to one another—and to all of God’s children.

Jesus said this, at his last meal with his disciples: “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” Unlike the world’s idea of exalted and distant God honored by wealth and power, the city of God is among the servants. God is present among us, and we know his power and glory in his being the servant of all.

Let’s read again what Peter said and the end of this lesson from the book of Acts: “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced.”

It is God who wipes away every tear. It is God who welcomes and serves every stranger in our midst.

A Great Multitude

A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 17, 2016

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.

MultitudeToday’s lesson from the book of Revelation presents a vision of the Kingdom of God, gathered in heavenly worship: a great multitude, more than anybody could possibly count—from every nation, all languages—every different kind of person you can imagine. All of them waving palm branches in victory and shouting out praises: “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

The Lamb. That is, the one who was sacrificed for all, Jesus our Lord. The one who lived for us, the one who didn’t care whether he might suffer, or whether some might be angry that he paid more attention to those who were down or discouraged or needy…  Jesus lived—for us. Calmly, courageously, attentively, with affection. That is the Lamb that is described in the book of Revelation and throughout the Gospel of Christianity.

Amen! They all said. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen. We praise God for his unending mercy and love. God is merciful to us—not because we deserve or have earned it, but because … God is all loving and all merciful beyond any expectation or reason. It is not who people consider the best, but whom God calls: “A great multitude that not one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…”

This passage refers to a “multitude,” but what does that mean? Is it all of humanity? Well, no. This multitude, these people, all have something in common.  An elder describes this way: “These are they that have come out of the great ordeal.”

That’s interesting because we might have thought that those coming out of the great ordeal refers to the small group of Christians who might have been hurt by the Romans in first century Christianity. But this is a great multitude, and they have all, all been through the great ordeal.  Without exception, those who come to know the joy of God have suffered…suffered the pain of loss, or of failure, or tragic things happening to loved ones. Or maybe the ordeal of being lost, not knowing whether you are loved by anyone, or of being cast out, disrespected and even despised.

The multitude around the heavenly throne, don’t wallow in the ordeal or in self-pity: “These are they who have come OUT of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Purified, washed and bleached and ironed because of the one who lived for us, full of selfless courage and compassion. We participate in the Lamb, living the life of selflessness and compassion, worshiping him night and day.

I once had the privilege of singing in a choir that performed Benjamin Britten’s cantata, “Rejoice in the Lamb.” The texts

were written by Christopher Smart, an English poet from the 1700s, who wrote them while he was locked in an insane asylum.  The music and the poetry are filled and overflowing with the joy of the goodness of God. It catches the spirit of those multitudes praising God night and day, particularly it’s last movement: “Hallelujah, Hallelu… Hallelujah from the heart of God … from the hand of the artist inimitable and from the echo of the heavenly harp in sweetness magnifical and mighty. Hallelujah.” In singing it together with others, weaving many parts together, I felt lifted out of my own self-concern, for a moment, or a time of pure thankfulness.

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

God will wipe away every tear. The Lamb is our Shepherd. The Good Shepherd Jesus who we know—he will guide us out of every uncertainty and anxiety—indeed he will guide us out of any arrogance or hatred; wiping away the tears of sorrow and of suffering and leading us into the presence of God to join in the heavenly music of that multitude.

 

Let’s join and say together once again our psalm for today:

 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul; and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;

For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;

You have anointed by head with oil, and my cup is running over.

Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

You restored my life

A sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 10, 2016

St. Luke’s Church, Haworth, New Jersey

You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

Today we have the stories of two resurrection appearances. The resurrected Jesus appears to Saul on the road to Damascus. He also appears to Peter and six others on the beach of the lake of Tiberius, also known as the Sea of Galilee. One thing these stories share in common is that, at first, no one recognized Jesus.

The story that was read first is usually called the Conversion of St. Paul. Which is interesting because it’s not actually a conversion story. Paul was a devout Jew before this event and he remained a devout Jew for the rest of his life. Paul himself describes what happened, not as a conversion, but as an appearance of the resurrected Lord. In his First Letter to the Corinthians he says this:

[Jesus] was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

In our lesson from Acts this morning, the form of the story is not so much that of a conversion. It’s more akin to the way prophets are called. Think of Moses and the Burning Bush. Or Isaiah in the Temple when the prophet responded: “Here am I Lord. Send me.”

So here are we are, on the road to Damascus. There’s a flash, overwhelming light, Saul falls from his donkey. And a voice says: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Saul’s response? “Who ARE you Lord?” Now, commentators have singled this passage out as a very strange thing. Saul knows he is being called—but he doesn’t know that Jesus is doing the calling. Put another way: he knows he is being called, but he does not see.

Why doesn’t he see Jesus? Well, there is that blinding flash from heaven, but I think the key is the very beginning of the lesson: “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord…” Saul’s anger, his hatred, so overcame him—he was already not seeing—he was not seeing at whom he was angry, just the self-righteousness of his anger. And Jesus says to him, “Why do you persecute ME.” The ones that Saul persecuted were members of the church. He had nothing to do with Jesus’ persecution before his death, but what Jesus said to him was it didn’t matter. In persecuting the church, Saul was persecuting Jesus. Saul was blinded, and helpless and he was guided into the community that he had been persecuting for support and healing. And he was healed, and when he was able to see, he could see that in his encounter with the resurrected Jesus, he was called to proclaim him, even beyond his own Jewish nation and to bring the news of what God has done in Jesus to all the nations.

The other resurrection appearance is the last chapter of the Gospel of John.  Some time after the first resurrection appearances of Jesus, seven of Jesus’ long time disciples are back in Galilee, at that lake where Jesus had first called them away from their jobs as fishermen. And Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” We don’t know why they were there or what they were doing, but I think they were discouraged and lost. They didn’t know what to do—so they just defaulted back to their old ways. What happened next was that these professional fishermen were out in the dark and couldn’t find any fish, despite their skill and years of experience.

Jesus appears on the beach, but in their discouragement and confusion they don’t recognize him. Jesus asks them about their catch, and gives them a little advice. All of a sudden, their net is filled and Peter recognizes Jesus—and then Peter puts on his clothes and goes in for a swim—go figure. On the beach, there’s a charcoal fire, not unlike the charcoal fire that was in the High Priest’s courtyard, where the slaves and soldiers were warming themselves when Peter denied Jesus. And Jesus is barbecuing fish.

fishFor me, this scene always brings back a wonderful memory from my childhood. I was fishing with my family off the Oregon coast early one summer morning. As dawn broke, we all caught our limit and we drove back to my uncle’s house in Portland, where we barbecued our catch. There is nothing quite like Pacific salmon caught just a few hours ago cooked over coals. That’s how I imagine the disciples responded to this wonderful breakfast after their long night at sea. But as to Jesus? They sort of recognized him and they sort of didn’t. The Gospel says: “None of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord.”

Why aren’t the disciples seeing Jesus? Because they had yet to give up their despair and confusion, just like Saul needed to surrender his anger and hate. They needed to change.

After they have eaten, Jesus talks to Peter. Three times, Jesus asks Peter: Do you love me? Each time, when Peter answers in the affirmative, Jesus replies: Take care of my sheep. Let’s not forget, it was only a few days ago that Peter had denied Jesus three times. Interesting—in the Greek, three different words are used for sheep and for tend. It’s not exactly a rhetorical repetition, rather it’s a variation. Maybe there are different kinds of sheep, that need different kinds of tending. Perhaps that’s true of people, too.

When Peter and Paul finally see the risen Lord, they are changed. But they aren’t changed in who they are in their essential beings. The change is that they are called to serve; to reach out; to proclaim the life of the risen Christ in a world where there is too much death, hate, anger and fear. Christ comes to us as we are, however that may be. He calls Christians out of their fear, or anger, or confusion, or complacency. Jesus gives his life, so that we may give. He appears to us to call us forward to be transformed to tend and to heal one another.

From our psalm today:
You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

 

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!

A sermon for the second Sunday of Easter, April 3, 2016

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!

Easter continues. The disciples were gathered in a locked room for fear… And the risen Jesus just appeared in the midst of them. Christ is not just risen because the occasion is cheery and the flowers are blooming.

Christ appears and the wounds of his crucifixion are real.  In the real world, the powers of death are very real indeed. The powers of hate and intimidation have their effects. But God has raised Christ from the dead and that changes the meaning of all of these things.

“Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; even those who pierced him…” We have life, not because we have made an agreement with earthly powers, so that they don’t take it away from us… we have life because God, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ has given us the gift of life.  It is easy to fall into believing that the real world gives life by getting status or wealth, or working for somebody who has those things. I used to think, “Oh, I’ll be able to fix things, if I can just get to being an important enough leader…” Others think that large amounts of money will help them to fix things for themselves and their families. There’s nothing wrong with having money and there is nothing wrong with serving in an important position; but when we fall into focusing on those things; believing that achieving those things will give life, it is at that point that we start to compromise with the powers of death. Do you think that it’s rare for people to think, quietly, to themselves, “If I can just get a bit more advantage and others suffer just a little more, then I can achieve a lot of good for everybody?” Just a little manipulation of the truth, or a financial push or planting a bit of dishonest philosophy in public opinion to give an advantage to my organization, or my political party, or my company.

The Way of Death is seductive, it masquerades as the way of the Real World. But it is not. The real world is the Way of Life. The Resurrection of Jesus binds us together, we have the life of generosity extended and received, of community where where we are bound together in good times and in difficult times, with people that we like, and especially, with people that we don’t get along with, yet they are part of us. The Resurrection shows that life is not dependent on compromise with death—God gives us life in love, not in outwitting others and maneuvering to the top.

The crucifixion and the resurrection confirm that what Jesus’ opponents said and did was real. They could kill him and defeat any worldly plans that he or his friends might have had. The way of death is powerful, but it does not give life.

Jesus’ friends had locked themselves in a room because they were afraid. They did not know what to do. Despite the lock and the barred door, he came into them. “Peace be with you. I send you into the world just as I myself has been sent.” He sends us forth in life, to bring life and to give life. The forces of death are there, but God will defeat them. In Christ, God has defeated them. Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of anyone they are forgiven—sinners though they have been, imperfect and fearful as they might be.  And whoever you hold fast, they are held fast—it does not matter if they aren’t with the program, or if they are fearful or angry or compromising with the world. You hold them fast and they are part of you. (Last year I explained why I translate this sentence this way. It’s a mistranslation and a misunderstanding to think that they Jesus’ disciples are retaining the sins of others—it’s their brothers and sisters themselves that they are holding fast).

thomasThis Gospel includes the story of Faithful Thomas. Not Doubting Thomas. While his friends were locked up and afraid, Thomas was out. Somewhere, away, doing we know not what. And he came back and he had not been there when Jesus brought peace and his spirit to his fearful friends. They could not make him understand, and they disagreed. But they held him fast with them. He was their brother and they remained with him and he with them. They shared in receiving the power of life, though they did not understand. And, a week later Jesus appeared. Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus brings life to Thomas, and as the Gospel lesson ends, it says, “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

We rejoice in life, in the freedom that God gives us and the opportunity to be bound together in his love. As our lesson from Revelation says:

“Jesus Christ [is] the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.”