A Spring of Water gushing up to Eternal Life

A sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, March 19, 2017

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

“The water that I will give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Today’s Gospel is long, because it’s a great story and there really isn’t any way to break it up. There’s so much fascinating detail that we could look at and discuss for a very long time, but we are going to focus on the path of preparation for baptism as the ancient lectionary takes us through Lent.

The woman in this story was a Samaritan and it was a Samaritan village. The Samaritans were not Jews, though they shared the first five books of the Bible with them. To an outsider, they might look quite similar, but the bitterness between the two groups at that time would make the current feelings in our country look mild by comparison. Of course, we tend to hear that term as “Good Samaritan,” but when Jesus told that other story involving a Samaritan, the effect was similar in his context to what it would be in some quarters in this country if he had described the “Good Radical Islamic Terrorist.” The woman was a Samaritan, and each thing she said to Jesus was an essential part of the outline of Samaritan theology and belief. What I notice is that she uses her theological arguments to keep from engaging with Jesus, or facing the truth.

Just as in last week’s lesson, there is a comic misunderstanding.  One of my professors once remarked that the woman thought Jesus was a plumber.  The Greek phrase that we translate as “living water” means running water, like a stream, or a spring, or an aqueduct. “Give me this water, so I don’t have to pull jugs out of the well anymore!” But the Living Water that Jesus was talking about was refreshment from God that takes us out of all of our defensive arguments and crafty evasions.  Life in humble freedom, not in winning arguments. When Jesus shows that he sees through her evasions, she says, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.” And then she again dives into the theological argument, advancing the Samaritan view of what the great prophet Moses, had taught them. Then Jesus says it directly: “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” We learn here that it is not subtle or forceful arguments that connect us to God, but living in truthfulness.  And it is not having the right prescribed formulas or activities, but living in the compassion of God.

The woman is still debating with Jesus about the nature of the messiah, when the disciples return. We should note that they misunderstood Jesus in just the same way that the woman had. She had misunderstood about the Living Water and when Jesus told them, “I have food that you do not know about,” they were looking around for a secret picnic basket.  Though they had been with him, they still did not understand; they were still confused. So he said it again, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” Our food and drink are the love of God and flourishing in his Spirit.  As Jesus explains that “one sows and another reaps,” and that “others have labored and you have entered into their labor” the woman returns from the village with a bunch of other Samaritans. She has heard Jesus, she has understood, and she has shared his word with others. In this case, it happens that those others were exactly the last people in the world that Jesus’ disciples were expecting; least of all expecting to become one with themselves.

The woman was indeed the apostle to the Samaritans. What she shared with them was what she understood, “he told me everything I have ever done.”  In other words, Jesus knew her, and she knew and understood that she was known.  She was converted to truth.  She had been thinking of the hard work of drawing and lugging water and she had the fantasy of running water. But Jesus gave her the transformation of Living Water, the water of baptism, of dying and rising with Christ, of being sustained and refreshed by God’s spirit, of swimming in that water without fear of drowning or worry about going thirsty.  She told her fellow villagers the truth that she knew, but they learned the truth from Jesus—they asked him to stay for two days, to share with them the Living Water and the Food of Eternal life.

Living the Christian life and preparing for baptism are not things that we do individually, by reading books or gazing at our computers. We learn Christian life in community, we prepare for participation in the death and resurrection of Christ by learning to be generous and courageous by living with others who are also learning courage and generosity. “Then they said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.’”

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen


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.

Look—the dwelling of God is among people

A sermon for All Saints Day, November 1, 2015

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Look! The home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them, they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Today is an important day. It is the Feast of All Saints, when we celebrate all of the holy people of God, of all times and ages. Today is also the first anniversary of the death of Father Allen Newman, who was priest in charge at Trinity for seven years. On All Saints Sunday, a year ago I first met you in this Church, and that has been more important for me than I can explain. But most important, today we baptize two new Christians into the Body of Christ.

The Book of Revelation is the Vision at the end of the Bible that opens up the possibilities for our future with God. It does this in the context of all the things that might happen, and particularly those that we would fear. A big part of those ghosts and goblins that we experience on Halloween (which is just old timey speak for the evening before All Saints Day) is that those ghosts and goblins represent our fears and the dangers that assail the saints of God—that assail all of us.

Our lesson today from Revelation shows God’s Holy City arriving, pure, without any of the hurts and harms that we human beings have wrought on themselves and one another. It says that it was prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Two weeks ago, Paula and I were at a wedding. The bride is a person who is always beautiful, always stylish, always independent. But on this day, it was something extraordinary. She had chosen a beautiful dress, appropriate to the occasion, but it was the bride’s radiance that adorned the room. She was prepared for her new life, a future with her beloved, filled with hope, and filled with all those characteristics of each of them, including independence, intelligence and respect for others. That white dress was symbolic of going into that future unsullied and unafraid.

Those things are what that new Jerusalem represents—a future that God’s people entered, hopeful, fully alive, unsullied and unafraid. That city is the home of God. And a voice comes down from heaven and it says, “Look—the dwelling of God is among people.”

The dwelling of God is among people

The dwelling of God is among people

God is here with us, welcoming us, sustaining us, giving us joy and hope. But it also says something else: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Not that there will be no tears. We know we are talking about real life now. In real life there is suffering and there are tears, and God will wipe them away with his comfort and his presence.

We are baptizing these infants in this real world, a world in which many suffer, and many die. This month a year ago, we lost Allen and Keith. And there were tears. But in Jesus Christ, God has come among us, and dwelt with us. His facing death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead are also in that real world. God wipes away our tears and abolishes death by partaking of our life and death.

When we are baptized into Christ’s death that font is filled with all the tears of all the generations of our ancestors. But it is also filled with the fresh water of the new creation. The children will be baptized into the resurrection of Christ, where all tears have been wiped away and death is no more. They embark on a life growing up with the saints. There are saints in our background—of long ago, the apostles and martyrs of the early church; of recent history like Martin Luther King or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young theologian who was executed by the Nazis or Nelson Mandela; or prominent contemporary witnesses such as Desmond Tutu or Michael Curry who will be installed as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church this afternoon; or people from the heritage of this parish such as Allen Newman, Keith Warren or Father Wendell Roberts.

But these children will also grow up among the saints who are right here and right now. You also have been baptized into the resurrection of Christ—we are all witnesses to Christ’s love, to his death and to his resurrection. We live together in this real world, and all of our children live with us in the reality of this world. And that reality is the life and love of God who dwells here with us. We are the saints for these children who will be the saints of the next generation.

There is always more truth to emerge from scripture, no matter how many times we read it. And every time we have a reading from scripture, there is always more that follows it. This lesson from Revelation stops in the middle of a verse. I am going to read the end of that lesson again for you and include the rest of that verse:

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”

We are all invited to the spring of the water of life, we share in one baptism and we live with God among us. Let us now proceed to the baptismal font.

Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you

A sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, August 9, 2015

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.

I love Elijah, the prophet. We don’t have his writings, but there is a whole cycle of stories about him in the First Book of Kings.  Some of the most memorable miracles in the Old Testament involve Elijah.  The story in today’s lesson is when Elijah is on the run after one of the most memorable miracles.

Elijah was the only prophet of Yahweh, the Lord God, left. And the Kingdom of Israel was turning to Ba’al, so Elijah throws down against the 500 prophets of Ba’al and challenges them to a burnt offering contest to see whose God was real. The catch was that it was a burnt offering contest but nobody could light a fire. Elijah was quite a showman—he had water poured all over his sacrifice. And while the prophets of Ba’al went on for hours, doing all sorts of extreme things, Elijah calmly made a prayer over his soaking wet sacrifice.  Of course fire came down from heaven and consumed Elijah’s sacrifice and the prophets of Ba’al were all put to death.

The thing is, triumph doesn’t stay triumphant. Queen Jezebel was quite a devotee of Ba’al and she was not pleased. So we pick up the story and Elijah is on the run. Out in the desert, and he comes to a solitary tree and sits down: “It’s enough. I have had enough of this. Let me die, take away my life, I’m no better than my ancestors.” He gave up, he was in despair and he lay down under that tree, thinking, or hoping that he would die.

Sometimes what happens in life can be overwhelming.  The prophet Elijah was speaking on behalf of God, but he also was the kind of person who would be not too retiring, stand up to authority and get into trouble for it. It’s not like he had no responsibility in the whole thing.  But still he was exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally. He could see no good way forward.  He had no idea of where to go or what to do. He wanted out.  In his prayer, that’s what Elijah told the Lord.

tortillasBut lying there under the tree, a messenger from God woke him up. There was a cake of bread and a jug of water by Elijah’s head. Baked on a hot flat stone, the bread was nothing fancy—more of a camp bread, improvised in the wilderness—but nourishing. So Elijah got up and ate, and drank the water, and then … collapsed again and went back to sleep. Then the messenger came again and woke him up again. “Eat, or the journey will be too much for you.”ironage_pitcher

Sometimes the stresses of the world are too much.  Too much for the great prophet Elijah, too much for any of us.  And sometimes we feel we can’t face things, we collapse and fall down.  And sometimes … we try to get up and it doesn’t work the first time … or even the second time.

But the messenger of the Lord says, “Eat and drink.” “Drink the cool, clean water that refreshes you, rehydrates you. Eat the nourishing bread, even if it is plain, whatever you have out there in the wilderness.  People need rest, refreshment and nourishment. We should not pretend that we can tough it out and get by without them. Yet, when we look at Elijah, after those two days rest and two nourishing loaves and two jugs of water he did more than anyone could imagine—he crossed the wilderness for forty days until he reached Mount Horeb for his encounter with God.

God provided enough bread for Elijah’s journey, but it wasn’t some sort of “Poof! Everything is now fixed and easy!” kind of magic. The miraculous bread put Elijah in the midst of the real world, fully alive, yet with none of the difficulties gone.

When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” this is exactly what he means. Whoever believes in him has eternal life, not unending “Poof!” magic, not a life free of difficulty or discouragement, but a life of hope that brings us through and beyond despair.

“This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jesus, fed by the food from his Father and the living water of the Spirit, indeed had the courage to make his journey to Jerusalem for us, to sacrifice his life for the life of this world. In him, God brings us bread for our journey just as he did for Elijah.

Let us pray.

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen



Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?

A Sermon for Father’s Day, June 24, 2015

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?

When I was little, I went out for a fishing trip with my father, my uncle and three cousins, in my Dad’s small boat. The lake we were on is a large, local reservoir, probably about one quarter the size of the Sea of Galilee. The sky was perfectly clear blue that afternoon, but while we were out on the lake, way over to the southwest a little tiny dark gray spot appeared.  Out there in the desert, you don’t get long lasting, heavy rainstorms, but when a thunderstorm hits, it is violent. So, while we were paying attention to our fishing, and with the adults trying to keep us kids from falling out of the boat, we were surprised by a sudden, dark sky and the crack of thunder. As the wind rose and the waves got big, my father was just barely able to get the boat’s motor started. He pointed the boat straight at the closest point of land, just about the furthest point on the shore from where we had put the boat in.  The boat hit the shore still going its maximum speed and immediately filled with water.

Dad and some other stranded boaters built a big fire and we got dried out and eventually got back home safely.  Though I really wasn’t old enough to appreciate the situation fully, it’s very scary to be out there on the water in a storm.  Not to mention dangerous.  The disciples out on the Sea of Galilee didn’t even have a 35 horsepower Evinrude motor to push them toward shore in that storm. They were experienced enough to appreciate the seriousness of the situation.  And there was Jesus, asleep in the bow of the boat.

When I first started thinking about this sermon, I thought I would have some fun talking about sleepy Jesus and Father’s Day. Then I woke up on Thursday morning and looked at the news. Nine people in Charleston, South Carolina—murdered. Why? Well, they were studying the Bible and praying.  And they were members of an African Methodist Episcopal congregation that has stood up, and spoken up, for the dignity and rights of African Americans for over two hundred years.

I would like to say that that is unthinkable. I would like to say that it is not possible. I would like to say that I know why Jesus was asleep in the front of that boat. But I can’t.  Yes, maybe the kid is crazy. So his father gave him the money for a .45 automatic for his birthday.  I would like to say that racism is a thing of the past, but all the evidence is to the contrary. About seven years ago, this country elected a black president.  Many of us saw it as a sign of hope and change in this country. Yet since then, the voices and actions of racial hatred have become increasingly overt. Responding to the possibility of the loss of white racial dominance, hatred has come to the fore. I wish I didn’t see it. I wish it was so distant that I could say that it was only a few out on the edges, who none of us really ever run into. But that would mean that I would have to say that I don’t know the people I grew up with. People who believe that they have to preserve a “way of life,” and that way of life includes lots of guns and mostly people who look the same as they did when I grew up out there in Idaho.

“Jesus, why are you asleep? Don’t you care that we are perishing?”

We are afraid, much as the disciples were. And we grieve. And we fear for the future, for our children and grandchildren.  This is a country where civil discourse has broken down. People respond to concerns about insecurity with selfishness, and to worries about violence with terrorism. This must stop. This country must change.

On this Father’s Day, I remember my own father, who died 10 years ago this month. For him, being a father was about loving and enjoying children and giving them a model of dignity and respect. When there was any sort of emergency or crisis, his first response was to protect the children—even though some people might not recognize that was what he was doing when he was focusing on getting that cranky outboard motor to start in that thunderstorm.

The Rev. Clementa Pinckney (1973-2015) Senior Pastor, Mother Emanuel AME Church,  Charleston, SC State Senator, South Carolina 45th District

The Rev. Clementa Pinckney (1973-2015)
Senior Pastor, Mother Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC
State Senator, South Carolina 45th District

Likewise, the witness of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina has always been to foster the dignity, respect and well being of the African-American community in South Carolina.  The Reverend Clementa Pinckney and his companions were not the first members of that congregation who suffered and died, witnessing for the Gospel and the dignity of every human being. He was a father to two daughters, as well as serving and caring for Mother Emanuel AME Church. His ministry included being a state senator, because there is much work to be done in that state for legislation to protect the dignity and safety of all people. On this Father’s Day, let us remember that it is the vocation of fathers, as well as all of the rest of us, to have the courage to do the right thing, to stand up to protect those who are vulnerable, particularly when we have reason to be afraid ourselves.

The way of Jesus is always the way of the cross, even when it doesn’t fit with our liturgical calendar. Sometimes it looks like he is asleep in the bow of the boat when we want him, need him, to be awake. In the turmoil and storm of our emotions, he says, “Peace! Be still.” There is much left to do, and it requires faith, calm, and resolve.

From today’s psalm:

They beheld the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep.

Then he spoke, and a stormy wind arose which tossed high the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths; their hearts melted   because of their peril.

They reeled and staged like drunkards and were at their wits end.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress.

He stilled the storm to a whisper and quieted the waves of the sea.

Then were they glad because of the calm, and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy and the wonders he does for his children.


You will never wash my feet

A sermon at Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Maundy Thursday, April 2, 2015

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”

What’s going on with this foot washing?

Slavery was prevalent in the Roman Empire. The economy depended on it. Its existence was hardly ever questioned, since people are not inclined to question things that look necessary for the economy to function. Wealthy households had slaves, and a characteristic duty of a slave was to wash the feet of guests whose feet were dirty from walking dusty roads in sandals. It didn’t require intentional humiliation for it to be a demeaning job. In more humble households where there were no servants, the task was given to the women.

Washing of the feet was associated with the people who were held in the least esteem. Men were used to simply dismissing those who washed the feet. Nicer men would nicely dismiss the slaves or the women, nastier men would be more rude, but all in all those who washed feet were meant to get out of the way and be dismissed from further thought.

Peter always shows up in the Gospels as a normal guy. He’s like the rest of us. When we’re being really pious, we pretend like we’re different, but mostly we know that we are faking it when we do that. Peter was not a nasty guy, but he was also not particularly refined, neither was he someone who covered up his thoughts and feelings. He was not excessively pious about Jesus. Jesus was his friend. This friend was the person he esteemed more than anyone in the world. This friend was his teacher and leader, and the person that Peter believed the world should take more seriously than anyone else. And that Friend stood up and got ready to wash feet—how could he? To give up all that esteem and take the role of someone to be dismissed: a woman or a slave? And in this season of Passover when we remember our people’s liberation from slavery? Ridiculous. In such bad taste. Giving up a serious role to become a nothing–You will never wash my feet!

You see, nowadays you would have a hard time finding people who would actually say that, though you might often encounter people who readily dismiss others and count them as nothing, as not worthy of respect or attention. But in the scripture, Peter is always there to say it out loud and then to learn from Jesus’ teaching. It was powerful, because right there, Jesus was becoming one of those who was dismissed—how can we be of any account if we are those who are dismissed? Don’t we have to act like we’re important?

Foot WashingJesus kept on washing the feet. James, John, Andrew, Peter … Judas. Jesus was the least, and in that he was their teacher and Lord. The servants, and even the women were of equal importance and dignity as those who sat at the table. Jesus was not a teacher who brought his students knowledge or skill that would give them power or wealth. He said to them: “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, 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.” No one should be dismissed, ignored, disregarded. All are important, and our self-importance is the one thing that won’t make it into the Kingdom.

The term “Maundy” in Maundy Thursday, come from the Latin word that we get the word “mandate” from, it means commandment. In this Gospel lesson, Jesus gives us one commandment, a “New Commandment”, but really the only commandment: “That you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Love. Love. Love. It can be so simplistic and meaningless, can’t it? But in his washing the feet of the disciples Jesus is very specific: who do they dismiss? Who do we dismiss? Most of us have, at one time or another been dismissed by others. Like Peter, the temptation is to try to get into a position where we can do the dismissing, where we are in control or in power. But Jesus shows us God’s grace, God’s costly grace, where the power of God lifts us up in our humility and gives us the greatest dignity in the privilege of washing one another’s feet, knowing every person is important.

Almighty Father, whose blessed Son before his passion prayed for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one: Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit, that the world may believe in him whom you have sent, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Good Friday, April 3, 2015

Three Hour Service from Noon until 3 pm

The service combined the Good Friday Liturgy with an extended expository reflection on Isaiah 52-53, Stations of the Cross, 10 hymns and the reading of the Passion. The following homily was preached after the Passion. It is one that was preached at Holy Apostles in New York City in 2013 and at Trinity Ossining in 2014.


“It is finished.” What is finished? We might be tempted to pass over these last words–Jesus has been through a lot. So have we–all through the journey of Lent there are references to Jesus’ cross or his crucifixion, and then this week the story is told at least two different ways. It is draining to go through this execution–and there are so many ways, in the mass of the detail of Jesus’ suffering, that we can miss the point—

One way is to abstract from Jesus’ real life and reduce the crucifixion to a theological principle. One way this has been done is to assert that Jesus had to die in order to satisfy the debt owed to God for all the sins and crimes of humanity, other times I run into preachers and theologians who are at great pains to demonstrate that Jesus’ suffering was the most or the worst possible—but in both cases, Jesus suffering and death becomes symbolic and detached from his actual life and in fact, from ours.

At the other pole, it is common to focus on our own emotional response, and all the details of Jesus’ suffering to the point where we are overwhelmed. There is a great danger in this—when faced with such enormity of suffering, human beings lose their perspective, and either fall into despair or disavow their own place in this—“Who is responsible for doing this injustice to this good man?” How often in Christian history have people asked that question and then answered it with… “The Jews”? And it’s not any better to ask the same question and answer it with “the Romans”, or “the military industrial complex” or “the Tea Party.”

The life of Jesus that we see in the Gospels is, above all, a real life of a real person. The authenticity of his humanity shows us who God is. The way in which he lived his life reveals to us what we can be. If we say that he is sinless or perfect, it is not a perfection that makes Jesus distant or unapproachable…it is not in trivialities that Jesus is perfect, but in his life of love. We see it in the joyful teacher, the host who gives bread to the crowds on the mountainside, the obedient Son who supplies gallons upon gallons of wine for the wedding guests. We see his love in the courage to heal people when he wasn’t supposed to, for loving people who everyone knew were sinners.

And he led his disciples, inexorably, and against their better judgment, to Jerusalem. In that sacred city, all that was significant of humanity was gathered: pilgrims and people celebrating the feast, imperial bureaucrats and soldiers to enforce empire, religious officials trying and hoping to keep everything from falling apart, and religious zealots and nationalist insurrectionists trying to blow everything up. Jesus came to them in Jerusalem, as he comes to us in the Bronx, to love them. And what we see, in a concentrated way, is what people usually do: they are fearful, greedy, some scheme and find ways to assert power over others, others avoid doing what they know is right because it will be difficult. They are all concerned for themselves, afraid to give, because they might lose something. Each person plays a part, whether priest, or soldier or disciple or bureaucrat—and Jesus, the real, living, loving Jesus—is put on the cross.

Looking down, he sees there a disciple whom he loved, and his mother. And he says “there is your mother” and “there is your son.” Look, and love. Attend not to your own hardship, but love and care for one another. Jesus had no power to stop all the ugliness and violence of the turn that human reality had taken on that day, but he looked with love on those people and reminded those who could hear to get outside of their own concerns and to take care of one another.

After this, … Jesus knew that all was now finished. When Jesus had received the wine, he said. “It is finished.”

It was completed, this life of abundance and love. All aspects of humanity had been faced, and loved and blessed. Even this ugly death he blessed and embraced. For three days it could not be known that that the ugliness and fear and cowardice and hate of Jesus friends and enemies alike had been redeemed and transformed by this Life.

His life was really complete, facing and incorporating that universal human reality that we avoid: his death. Three days in the tomb. Yet we are here, the church is here, because God in Jesus did not let death be the final word or the defeat of that life—the generous, hospitable, and all loving life of Jesus encompassed and incorporated all that human confusion and evil could muster, and brought forth a new creation. But the resurrection … that’s the story for Sunday morning.

Darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters

A sermon for the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, January 11, 2015

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, NY

“The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters…”

The image in this verse from the very beginning of the Bible, about the creation of everything that is … the image starts with a huge expanse of water, like the ocean, but without a shore, without even any islands. And there is no bottom, not just no sandy bottom that you can reach by snorkeling or scuba diving; no bottom—even miles down. It would be very frightening, alone in the dark, in the great limitless ocean, but there was no one there to be afraid.Dark Ocean

The water of the deep is chaos, it is meaningless; every direction is no direction. And then God said… “Let there be light!” Out of the meaningless, and directionless the eternal love that is God brought forth illumination, meaning and direction. And as we read further in the creation story, that water becomes the source and environment of life. Out of chaos, God has created life, and meaning and beauty. And water is not some sort of little symbolic thing, water is at the origin of existence and where God first gave light and direction to our lives.

This water is also the water of our baptism. Three young gentlemen will be baptized here with us this morning. When I was baptized, I was about the same age as Logan, the oldest of Regina Mungin’s three sons. My baby sister was not quite a year old. and I was almost six at Easter of 1960. I did not grow up in a big city, like New York, still less did I grow up on a Caribbean island surrounded by the ocean. I grew up in a small town in the middle of the western deserts of Idaho. Water was a precious thing, people fought over it. I remember going to St. David’s church in Caldwell, Idaho. It is a building much smaller than this, even on that Easter Sunday, with chairs in the aisles and the windows of the parish hall open to create a loft, it could have hardly seated 120. And I remember on ordinary Sundays, my mother took me to church sometimes. About half the time, the service was Morning Prayer, and in those days women and girls always wore white gloves to church. So I would sit with my mother and the priest would rattle on, saying boring and sometimes stupid things, and I would want to respond and say something. I remember that white glove covering up my mouth…

But in Morning Prayer, we also sang the canticles, and I could sing. I especially remember the Te Deum: “We praise thee o God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord, all the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting. To thee all angels cry aloud, the Heavens and all the Powers therein, To thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.”

The whole heaven, the whole earth, praise that God that created us all. It is from that deep water that God has brought us all. The Gospel lesson today recounts the baptism of Jesus. John the Baptist was out there in the desert, baptizing people for repentance for their sins. Let’s think about that for a minute. God leads us in creation to a life of meaning, possibility, prosperity and love. The creation itself is praise for the living God that created the light. And yet, human beings manage to get lost, hurt one another, and lose direction in their lives. Our sins take us back into darkness, where we don’t understand one another and fail to respect and care for our brothers and sisters.

John the Baptizer was out there, encouraging people to repent, to return to the righteousness of God. And he said, “I baptize you with this water, but the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” That is, the Spirit of God, which is that Wind that was blowing across the bottomless deep from before creation, the Spirit which is the life of God, bringing life to all things. And as he climbed up out of the water, the Spirit descended on Jesus, like a dove, and the Voice said, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

In baptism, we are immersed in water much deeper than this font, much deeper than in any baptistry where anyone has been baptized. We are immersed in those depths of God that were there before creation, all of our chaos and lostness is immersed and we re-emerge into the light of Christ. This Jesus gives direction and meaning in our lives—in the weeks to come we will hear his teaching and follow his life and ministry. As the baptized we become the Wisdom of Christ as we support one another and live in Him.

We are about to baptize three young men. Or at least very soon they will be men. We, gathered here, are the Church, and as the Church we are responsible to every one who is baptized, especially these three… Logan Mungin, Ethan Stowers, and Aiden Stowers, who are baptized today, to live as that light of God. In this world that has plenty of chaos and fear, it is our job to know that God is guiding us, and to share that meaning and that life, the gift of Living Water, in Christ Jesus our Lord.