The breaking of the bread

A sermon for the third Sunday of Easter, April 30, 2017

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

I wrote this sermon three years ago, for a church in Westchester County, New York.

And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

This is a gently amusing story. We have all been told at the outset that it’s Jesus himself who has fallen in step with these two disciples. They are the only ones that don’t know what is going on. He says, “What are you talking about?” And they stop.

Cleopas says to him “Are you the ONLY ONE who doesn’t know the things that has happened?” If this were a play, I would expect Jesus to take a quick look at the audience, maybe even wink, before turning to Cleopas, “What things? Tell me how you would describe it.” So Cleopas and his companion tell Jesus the story that we have all gone through in the last month, in order that he can understand why they are so depressed, confused, and discouraged. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” So Cleopas is telling Jesus that he’s clearly not the one that is to redeem Israel.

Like many of us, Cleopas knows what he knows, and the things that he expected and wanted didn’t go the way that he wanted and hoped for them to go, so he knows it’s all for naught. So Jesus starts walking with them again—and talking—this one who is to redeem Israel, why is it that he should not suffer? What is the real life of Moses and the prophets, if not filled with both suffering and the Glory of God?

Cleopas and his companion are very real, very understandable—and a lot like most of us. And like most of us, they found it easiest to focus on their own expectations, what they thought should happen, how the good things that they like should continue always in a straight line, always getting better. It’s easy to focus on ourselves, our own problems, and our own solutions. Another way of saying that is that it’s easy to not listen to the Gospel. God has something new and different for us, and we find it in this real world, often not in the ways that we predict, and almost always not by looking for what we ourselves want.

I always wanted to get a doctorate and be a famous professor. At the time I went through seminary, it was fashionable for bishops to require that anyone who was going to be ordained, be first interested in full-time parish ministry, not in primarily an academic calling. So I told him that’s what I wanted to do. I finished seminary and found positions in parishes in the Midwest—with the expectation that I would return to graduate school and become a professor with valuable parish ministry experience informing my scholarship and teaching. The thing is, nothing came out as I expected. I won’t go into the details and personal drama, but the timelines that I had sketched out didn’t work out, the prospects for funding and careers for graduate students in the humanities were quickly drying up, and I realized that the jobs that I envisioned were only going to the superstars and the extremely fortunate, not to those who were just good enough. There weren’t huge scholarships coming my way, or high-powered recruiting.

With three small children, I had to give up that scenario that I had created in my mind. As that was happening, I had the opportunity to watch the work of academic reference librarians and I realized that the work that they did was far closer to my own strengths and the things that I enjoyed than the dissertation writing and classroom teaching of professors. At the time, that meant giving up many things in the story I was telling myself, especially the status that I projected for myself. It also meant giving up employment by the church—it was almost 20 years before I joined the faculty of the General Theological Seminary as the Director of the Library and I never earned that doctorate. There was difficulty in giving up that story I wanted for myself, but I have never regretted it—the enjoyment of doing those things that I was meant to do far outweighs the pursuit of fame and honor.

Of course, after I wrote this sermon, more things happened. My colleagues and I left the institution where I was librarian and I found that I was called to preach the Gospel and minister in parishes from a new perspective, one that is fulfilling to me in ways I had never expected. While I regret the pain that some have suffered, I have no regrets about any of the turnings of my life.

My story isn’t that unusual; almost everyone has their own version of it—either career related or something personal—we have all experienced grappling with disappointments and setbacks and eventually giving up on something we thought was all-important, only to discover something even more meaningful.

God has something new for us, and I certainly never predicted that it would be my being a librarian. These guys out on the road, they thought they knew how Israel was to be delivered, and this Jesus guy seemed like he might have the stuff to be the right kind of leader. Maybe, finally, there would be one person who would wield power justly—but Jesus didn’t wield power at all.

It was not an instantaneous thing for the followers of Jesus to realize that his crucifixion was the source of their hope, not their utter defeat. You can see the church struggling to come to terms with this, not just in this story, but in the whole of the New Testament. Giving up this story about ourselves and how great and powerful we are, and accepting this even more exciting story about how God brings life to the humble, and defeats death with love.

So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him…

Let us share bread, and perhaps our eyes, too, will be opened.


May grace and peace be yours in abundance

A sermon for the second Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2017

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

May grace and peace be yours in abundance. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

This is the second Sunday of Easter, and every year the Gospel lesson is the story of Thomas, the Apostle. I love Thomas, and I love to preach about how he is a model of faith for us. But the Good News also comes from our lesson from the First Letter of Peter, and that’s what I’ll talk about today.

The resurrection of Christ defines who we are—it is not just another miraculous event or fun story. Christianity is inconceivable without the life that Jesus lived, and his life is not real or believable apart from his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. It is a great and incomprehensible mystery that God, the creator of all life and of everything that is, lives among us as one of us. But there would be nothing real about his human life if he skipped over the things that all human beings go through: ultimately death, of course; but also the human interactions of love and indifference, of fear and faithfulness, of insincerity, cowardice, betrayal.

It is only in the context of that real, authentic life that God does a new thing: not magic, or coming up with a happy ending at the end of a sad play or movie. The resurrection is founded in the reality of the world. Jesus’ life incorporates all of the human struggle and experience—the good, the evil, the joy, the very human screw-ups that might come from good intentions of overwhelmed people or bad intentions that are covered up by insincerity and self-delusion. When all of that culminates in the crucifixion, and death seems to be the final reality, God does something new. The resurrection denies none of that. The resurrection is in real life. The resurrection is new and abundant life, spilling out all over—it is the life we see in Jesus all along, his courage, his love, his joy, his compassion. It is God’s love incorporated in every corner of this world.

And so in our reading from the first Epistle of Peter it says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” We are born into a living hope. A living hope is not a dead hope or wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is something like, “If I just win the jackpot on the Powerball, then my problems will be solved.” That kind of wish is not hope; it’s just a desire to escape present reality. Every once in a while, most of us wish that way, but a dollar and a dream is not hope, and probably winning the lottery wouldn’t actually solve the problems that we think it will. A dead hope, you might call nostalgia, looks for restoration of something from the past, maybe a time remembered as hopeful. But hope is not the restoration of some feelings or circumstances that are gone—looking to the past for hope, that’s what I would call dead hope as compared to living hope.

Living hope is the life of Christ going forward. Our present and our future reality are in the living, resurrected Christ. And hope is of the real world—this passage continues: “In this you rejoice, even if now you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” There has never been a time when Christians have not participated in the difficulties of the real world. And at all those same times we rejoice because we are incorporated in that real life of Christ—the resurrection that incorporates all reality.

At St. James, we live in that real hope, founded in the compassion we learn from Christ: older people doing ministry; younger and special needs people receiving encouragement and being treated with dignity. The hope is neither that things will stay the same or that something will happen to make things easy, but that the compassion of Christ will continue and grow in this people and this place.

Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

May grace and peace be yours in abundance.

She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni”

A sermon for Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

Supposing him to be the gardener she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

On Easter Sunday, we proclaim that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, that death is defeated; even the humiliation and agony of his execution on a cross is overcome—Life has overcome Death.  That’s why we’re here—because life has overcome death.  Of an Easter Sunday morning, many come hoping for solid simple assurance. We all like to imagine a day when we think life was simpler, everybody believed in the Bible, and it was no challenge to believe in the Resurrection.  Others stay away, because all of that seems too simple, too glib, and the complex problems of life aren’t just fixed with easy answers, at least not now, not in this modern world where it’s more difficult to believe anything.

I believe the Bible.  So let’s pay close attention to the Gospel lesson for today.  Outside that tomb in a garden near Calvary, it might well have been a beautiful spring morning—it was certainly in the spring.  But it did not start out with hope and Easter eggs and getting all dressed up for a joyful feast.

Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ disciple and friend, was going out, after the Sabbath had ended, perhaps to mourn, perhaps to finish tending to the body of her friend. A wealthy disciple had Jesus’ body placed in a tomb which was sealed shut with a large stone.  Mary saw something disturbing—the stone had been removed from the opening—she ran to get the guys, they look in—the body is gone but the wrappings from the body have been left behind—Peter and the other man leave, one happy and the other confused—and Mary remains behind crying.  There’s someone else in the tomb—two of them [the word “angel” means messenger in Greek, and our standard image of the angels with wings didn’t really emerge until the Middle Ages, or even the Renaissance]—and what do they say? They say, “Woman, why are you crying?”

Really, this is just too much.

Life could not be more chaotic, if you had to change the baby three times, break up two fights between the kids and poke the teenager yet again to get him out the door on Sunday morning.

And then there’s another man standing there, probably the gardener who takes care of this place—he says it too, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

“If you have taken him away, tell me where you put him!” This is not the only time in the stories about Jesus’ resurrection that a disciple looks right at Jesus and does not recognize him. In the Gospel of Luke, on the road to Emmaus, two of his disciples walked with him for miles before they recognized him when he broke the bread. And in the Gospel of John, in Jesus’ final appearance to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus talks with the disciples for quite a while and gives them fishing advice before Peter recognizes him and puts on his clothes and jumps into the water. Recognizing Jesus was not so simple, and plain and self-evident, even for Jesus’ closest friends two thousand years ago.

And Jesus spoke her name: “Mariam.”  “Rabbouni” she said to her teacher.  He was no longer dead, but alive, and sending her to share this life, this Gospel with the others.

Now, note—recognizing Jesus did not make everything simple or smooth.  Not everyone took Mary’s word for it, or respected her, yet with that one word—“Mariam”—everything changed.  Jesus is alive, and death no longer has power over him or over Mary—he called her by name.

Christ rose from the dead.  The final reality and meaning is not death, destruction and dissolution, but life.  And the meaning of that life, that final reality, is the love that is the life of God, the creator who has entered into his creation, who intimately knows our real life, even to the point of dying with us and for us.  Even if it feels like despair—as Mary of Magdala appears early in this lesson to be despairing—that despair has no reality, for Jesus is as near to us as he was to her.  He is our hope, no matter how we feel or what we might think. He is our hope because he lives.  He is OUR hope because he has called us by name.

We have travelled through the season of Lent—that season is the time when from very early on, the church prepared new candidates for baptism.  This year, we walk the way with those candidates, called Catechumens, through the lessons. Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness; Nicodemus, coming by night and learning that he must be born from above—that God did not send the Son into the world to condemn it, but that it might be saved through him; the Samaritan woman at the well, who received living water; the man born blind who received his sight; the two sisters who had lost their brother, Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead.  In each of these lessons we learn more about dying to self and being raised to life in Christ in baptism. In baptism, Christians receive their name.

Jesus calls us each by name. Sometimes we don’t hear, sometimes we don’t recognize it. But Christ is here, for us and with us and in us.  The ultimate meaning of this world, despite what any might do, is life that dwells in God’s love. Fear and hate, as real and compelling as they might seem at times, have no permanent power. Even for Mary Magdalen, the death of Jesus felt like the triumph of violence, but in the end God stands it on its head: it is Jesus, not the manager of that garden who speaks to her.  It is the love of God in Christ that triumphs.

In our service at Easter, we invite you all, at the time we usually say the Nicene Creed, to join with all of us in reaffirming your baptismal vows.  We travel with Jesus, we die with him, and he calls us each by name.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia.

For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first

A homily at the Easter Vigil, April 15, 2017

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

Traditionally, catechumens were those who were preparing for baptism. In the ancient church that preparation was long and serious and the period before Easter, which we call Lent, was the last part of that. The lessons of the traditional lectionary, which were our Gospels for this Lent, were the focus of that preparation for the catechumens. This year at St. James, we have been walking the path along with the catechumens, preparing to re-affirm our own baptisms at Easter.

John Chrysostom was the Bishop of Constantinople in the late 300s and early 400s. That word, Chrysostom, was not his name—it means “Golden Mouth,” because everyone knew him for his eloquence. I will read his homily, which is read at all Eastern Orthodox Churches at the end of Matins for Easter, the traditional time for baptisms in the early church. It is an invitation to us all:

If anyone be devout and a lover of God, enjoy this beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts!

If anyone is a wise servant, rejoice and enter into the joy of the Lord.

If anyone has been wearied in fasting, now receive your recompense.

If anyone has labored from the first hour, today receive your just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, have no misgivings; for you shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, do not fear on account of your delay. For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to the one who comes at the eleventh hour, just as to the one who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious. He both honors the work, and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fattened; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the Feast of Faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let none lament their poverty, for the Universal Kingdom has been revealed.

Let none mourn their transgressions, for Pardon has dawned from the Tomb!

Let no one fear Death, for the Savior’s death has set us free!

He that was taken by Death has annihilated it!

He descended into Hell, and took Hell captive!

He embittered it when it tasted of His Flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

It took a body, and face to face met God! It took earth, and encountered Heaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!

“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?”

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen and the Angels rejoice!

Christ is risen and Life reigns!

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

For Christ being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages!

Jesus Wept

A sermon for the fifth Sunday in Lent, April 2, 2017

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus, as we heard in our Gospel lesson today, is rich, long and complex. But it also contains the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” Or as our translation struggles to render the Greek verb tense more accurately into English: “Jesus began to weep.”  This story is filled with grief, and Jesus himself grieves. In all the other healings in the New Testament, we see Jesus encouraging faith and hope; we don’t see him being affected by doubt or fear or loss.

The previous paragraph in this story tells how Martha responds to Jesus. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” And she responds: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” So we have the Son of God, coming into the world and participating in Martha’s and Mary’s grief: Jesus wept.  Jesus experienced his own human pain, in Jesus, God honors our own pain, our own loss, our own grief.

Like so many who grieve, Mary looked back at the event, and said: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Is that true? It certainly expresses the intensity of Mary’s loss. And especially at intense times, people like to out-theologize God, to change the outcomes of creation and time for what they believe will be to their own benefit. Jesus had not been there and Lazarus had died. He felt the intensity of Mary’s loss, and, in his compassion, Jesus wept.

It is easy for us to presume what God or Jesus—or our own mother or father—would have, could have, or should have done—and then things would have been easier, the world would have been different, Lazarus would have died at a different time, and Mary and Martha would have grieved without Jesus. But Jesus did not explain anything to Mary.  He asked, “Where have you laid him?” He loved Mary. He loved Lazarus. And he wept. And he called Lazarus out of the grave: “Unbind him, let him go.”  And the Gospel says, “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.”

And what did they believe? I remind you again that this story contains the confession of Martha: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” Or, as Jesus said it, “I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” He is the one coming into the world to give life—in him, God feels every pain, every desire and every loss. There is nothing insignificant or trivial in any loss that is grieved.

This story of Martha and Mary and Lazarus is framed in the Gospel of John by a significant and related story. Jesus went away from Jerusalem to the northeast, to the area where John had previously been baptizing. But he also left Jerusalem because there was danger—Jesus had nearly been stoned or arrested on a number of occasions. And the disciples were well aware that Jesus could be in mortal danger if he returned , as the first part of our story shows.

Lazarus lived in Bethany, a town on the very edge of Jerusalem, in the midst of this danger. Jesus decided to go and his disciples followed him. Immediately after the raising of Lazarus, some of those who witnessed it went and informed some of Jesus’ opponents who arranged for a meeting of the Sanhedrin.  In their fear of the Romans and of the people, the high priests decided that Jesus should die. Thus, Jesus’ return to bring to bring Lazarus to life was pretty much the direct cause of his own death. He came into the world, and into Bethany to face death for the sake of compassion for his sisters and brothers. Jesus courage is the embodiment of God’s generosity and compassion.

This Lent we have been walking the path of the Catechumens in their preparation for baptism. We have heard the traditional lessons for this preparation on these five Sundays. In the first, with the temptations of Jesus, we learn to focus on God alone, on Scripture and God’s love, not on our own comfort, popularity, possessions or power. In the second, we learn with Nicodemus that we must be born from above, abandoning our preconceptions and embarking on the long trek of transformation. With the Samaritan woman at the well, we receive Living Water and learn that we are known by God. On the fourth Sunday, the blind receive their sight and a beggar speaks the truth that he sees. We learn to see the transforming light of God in the works of Jesus, and in belief to give up our own blindness. And finally today, we see Jesus restoring the dead to life, and we learn with Martha and Mary to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the one coming into this world as the Resurrection and the Life. In absorbing these things, and taking them into their hearts the catechumens are prepared for baptism. In our baptism, we participate in the death and resurrection of Christ. Next week, we begin Holy Week with Palm Sunday. It is that painful and glorious journey with Jesus through the last week of his life, through his death on the cross and into the joy of his Resurrection on Easter.

I invite all of you to join us in our Holy Week services which culminate in the reaffirmation of our baptismal vows and the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday morning.

This prayer is the Collect for that Monday in Holy Week. Let us pray:

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today you will be with me in Paradise

A sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, The Feast of Christ the King, November 20, 2016

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise”

Today is the last Sunday of the Church year. Next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the new year, our expectation of the coming of Christ into the world. This Sunday is often called the Feast of Christ the King and on it we celebrate the kingship of Christ.

Christ the King.

“When they came to the place that is called the Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals.”

crucifixionA somewhat different kind of coronation than one might get at Westminster Abbey. He was picked up and tied to the cross by soldiers, and was helpless as they lifted him up to die of torture and suffocation. The sign said, “This is the King of the Jews.” I’m sure the Romans got a laugh out of that. And they taunted him, because he did not have the power that went with what they meant when they talked about a king.

Jesus was indeed in control, but his kingship was never like that. He never looked to the power of the sword, or yet to some divine magic power to overcome the power of the world. The robber said, “Save yourself and us!” Like the rest, for him it was all about us and what we can seize, how we can use power and escape the consequences of how we have lived our lives.

But Jesus, as soon as he was crucified, prayed: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He died as he lived, bringing the mercy of God to all people, including those who did not realize that in seeking comfort with the powerful and security in their violence, they were killing the King of Glory, the true king who can bring comfort and security. Jesus was praying for the soldiers, the politicians, the religious leaders, the mob, and for the two criminals who died with him, on either side of him.  Even for the one who wallowed in self-pity, the one who lashed out at Jesus, “Are you not the Messiah?” … “Father forgive them.” The king is the king of mercy, whose courage allowed him to not save himself, but to be there to bring God’s mercy. The other criminal had the courage to face the truth—“Do you not fear God?” “We indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds…”  The pain of crucifixion did not make the first one repent, I doubt that it made the second one either more courageous or honest; yet right there he did recognize the blamelessness and truth of Jesus.

Our reading from Colossians says of Jesus: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation… for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things…” Reconciliation is often used as a cheap word. As if it simply means being nice and accepting whatever will avoid conflict. Reconciliation requires trust on both sides, and to achieve that requires both honesty and humility in all parties. For Jesus, reconciliation is anything but cheap—he faced the violence and the hatred, and he was killed, tortured to death—there is no reconciliation without facing that truth, there is nothing cheap in accepting the truth and courageously owning up to it.

St. Paul continues: “And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death…”  The mercy of God and reconciliation in Christ are not cheap, both require repentance and courage to accept the truth. And the criminal who had the courage to accept the truth about himself also had the courage to say to the King: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” It is in no way cheap to acknowledge deeply your own place in the violence and injustice in this world, as this man did. It takes courage to be humble enough to accept those hard realities about yourself. But reconciliation requires a further step—the man turned toward Jesus and his Kingdom—the Kingdom of life, of justice, of costly reconciliation—the Kingdom of the God who resurrected Jesus Christ from the dead.

And Jesus said to that man: “Amen, I tell you. Today you will be with me in Paradise.” In Paradise—the image is of a garden. God’s garden. The garden as it was before the humans seized a fruit before it was ready, thinking that they would have the power of gods, the power that is only God’s. The image of Paradise is an image of life as it should be, as it might be from the point of view of God, in Jesus who was a man from God’s own point of view. Jesus extends a welcome into that garden, to that man beside him on the cross, and to all of us who seek his Kingdom. The cost is high, but it is within the grasp of each of us. The cost is mercy, honesty, repentance, love and the courage to persist in following Christ when the temptation is high to join the scoffers.

Last Thursday night, one of our own passed from this life. Jacqueline Johnson was a gentle and quiet person. One who always sought the good of others. She was over one-hundred-and-two years old, but her mind was sharp until she went into unconsciousness about a week ago. She was one of those people who practiced graciousness as a way of life. The last time I had a good conversation with her, though she really didn’t feel like eating, she still assured me she had two cans of Ensure each day and ate whatever was given her. “I just eat very slowly,” she said. She was beginning to depart this life, but she was still more concerned about others’ feelings than her own needs. A faithful person, she has passed through her struggles, from death to life. Please join me in remembering her and turn to page 499 in the Book of Common Prayer. The congregation’s words are in italics.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints,

Where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania Farewell Sermon

A Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 31, 2016

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.

I have been with you for nearly two years, and today is my last Sunday preaching here at Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania. Together we have experienced the love of God here in this place. What I have experienced is a community that is welcoming, that takes hospitality seriously, where respect of one another is practiced and not taken for granted. God’s mercy is known here. We have grieved together and rejoiced together.

But the thing is, it is not about this group of people and it is not about this preacher. It is about God’s overwhelming love in Jesus Christ. In him, the love of God is much bigger, more consistent and more true than anything that we can attribute to ourselves.  Jesus walks in the real world that we walk in. And when we find joy in him, it is because he always knows and takes into account our difficulties and our sorrows. His Resurrection from the dead does not involve any denial of death or suffering—it is precisely in living freely, even to the point of being killed, that God’s action in raising him from the dead makes sense. Christian hope is founded in the realities of life that people face each day.

I was reflecting on my time here with someone, and I told them that my time here at Trinity has been for healing and encouragement. That healing and encouragement goes both ways, I have been healed and encouraged here at least as much as anyone in the congregation. The time just before my first Sunday here was among the most difficult and hurtful time in my life.  My anger at that time could have eaten up my spirit. But God guided me, through the kind invitation of Paula Roberts, to a church that had need of healing. I had to look to the Gospel each week and find God’s words of healing for this congregation. The Gospel for that first Sunday was the Beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

In mourning together the loss of Father Newman and soon after, Keith Warren, we were all comforted and healed. Healing is a process—a process of a body returning to health over time. It takes more than a Sunday or a few weeks. We carry the memories of the good that those men brought to us, as well as all the other saints of God who have served in this community. We are healed, not because we forget, but because we remember how God’s love is manifested in those people and how their love continues to be carried in this community. And I have been healed in sharing in this community and sharing and hearing God’s love in the Gospel of Jesus.

We are healed, and we are encouraged. Encouraged by a community that maintains itself, by our children who are nurtured in the Gospel, who lead us forward as the church of the twenty-first century. If you listen closely to him, Jesus is always talking about the real world that we experience with all its difficulties, not some pretend place. Jesus offers the mercy of God, and that is a hope that won’t let us down—there’s nothing pretend in Christian hope. It is Jesus that has done this. It is in God’s mercy that we have encouragement.

My role here has been primarily one of healing and encouragement. And I believe that is primarily what Trinity Church has needed these past two years. Going forward, Trinity Church will continue to celebrate the gifts that God has bestowed, but it will look forward to new things, to growth and challenge. Pieces of that future can be seen—the internship program that will take up residence in the rectory is not the least among these. The foundations are the same, the grace and mercy of God, the hospitality and love of the community, the traditions of worship and outreach to the neighborhood. We incorporate all the good that God has done for us into a new future that has many possibilities. My wife, Paula, and I are very sad to leave our Trinity family, but we are also going into new communities where we hope to bring the love and hope we experienced here to continue living the gospel in another place.

This brings me to today’s Gospel lesson. Somebody tells Jesus that he should get involved in a family dispute over money. Jesus says, “Who made me a judge and arbiter over you?”  Now the Nicene creed says about Jesus, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead…” but this family money dispute? Not so much.

Then Jesus tells a story. This rich man has so much wealth that he has run out of any place to put the wealth he has coming in—and he can’t think of anything to do with that wealth but build bigger storage facilities. And he turns around and the only conversation partner that he can find is his own soul, so he says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” This is a description of greed. It describes how this man’s greed has cut him off and put him in a place of despair, even at the moment that he thought he had it made. God said, “And, the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” For there was no one else in this man’s picture of the future, just this stuff—and even his barns were destroyed at the end of the story.

Truth be told, I see nothing of this greed and disconnection here at Trinity. But this sentence contains a warning to all of us: “Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink, be merry.”  It’s possible to set our sights on being complacent; to keep things the same; to focus on what has fed us in the past rather than to look to the new nourishment of the future. When God gave the Israelites manna in the desert, some tried to save extra for the next day, but it rotted overnight and was filled with maggots. But each day, God provided them with enough to sustain them: Give us this day our daily bread.

So let us take a moment and remember over these last two years where we have experienced Jesus love and presence in our community…,

a gift that can’t be stored in a barn, but can be held, remembered, and relived in our hearts…

And as we remember these gifts we can imagine sharing them with the people we encounter…

As we part and go our separate ways, we carry forward in our hearts the gifts that God has given us together: our time of spiritual nourishment and healing, the life of encouragement and the courage to face life’s struggles within the hope of the resurrection. I know that I will carry in my heart the blessing of being with you and receiving healing grace from you and through you. I look forward to being encouraged by your love to preach the Gospel with confidence in a new context. I believe that in God’s love, Trinity will continue to thrive, because the love of Jesus has been shared here for healing and encouragement by all his saints—past, and present and will continue to be shared by the many more to come.