“Keep Your Dream Alive”

485515_10153054943128741_8149624170005865054_nWhen I started professional flight training back in the summer of 2000, I had dreams of leaving corporate America behind and moving from the cubicle world to controls of a jet aircraft.  I wanted to walk away from the flourescent lights, boring meetings, high anxiety “dog-eat-dog” mentality, and pursue another way of being. I had dreamed of being a professional pilot from a very young age, but life seemed to divert me from that dream.  Now the time was right, and after months of study, training, and multiple check rides, I finally achieved my dream, and  I was a Certified Flight Instructor and a Commercial Pilot.  I was now licensed to share the joy of aviation with others and better yet, to earn a living as I did so.

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What I soon learned was that flight instructors are just like every other professional educator-we love what we do and we teach with passion and commitment, but we rarely earn enough to eke out a living.  Flight instructors work long hours and the stress of flight instructing can be intense.  The salary levels associated with this career trek are modest at best, and without at least a couple hundred hours of multi-engine time (at least back then) it was tough to get into the “better paying” career paths.  Those 1930296_21635213740_7093_nflying job opportunities, where one might fly checks for a freight company, get lucky enough to snag a right seat position as a Part 91 first officer in a King Air, or possibly get recruited into the airline pool existed back then, but God had another plan for me.

Fortunately I guess, several things got in the way of my career path as a professional aviator, but I am truly glad it did.  The events of September 11th had an impact on aviation as a whole and the industry struggled for a while.  Financially, I could not survive on the flight instructor’s salary.   Lastly, I could not afford to finish up my multi-engine instructor rating, which would have allowed me to build enough multi-engine time to find the “right job.”

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Then, there was God’s call on my life to serve in leadership in God’s church.  I believe that all along, God was leading and directing me to where I am today.  All of life is about the path we are on, the journey of enlightenment, education, and sanctification.  My experience of teaching others to fly through the science and mystery of aeronautics, inspires me and informs  how I  teach others “to fly” by the sheer mystery of God’s Spirit moving in their lives.

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I teach aviation and fly now, not as a means to a financial end, or even as a chosen career path.   I fly today to relax, to experience the pure joy of sharing aviation with others, and to enjoy the amazing beauty of God’s creation from those lofty heights.  My dream of being a pilot has never died, but it has
taken a different path, a rather joyful unexpected path.

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I was speaking with one of our youth from church, during the coffee hour the other day, and he shared with me that he had a dream of playing professional baseball.  I looked at him and smiled and said, “Never let your dream die, always pursue it, and you will find joy.  It may not look like you had planned, it may not take the well-worn path to an end, but in the end, if you stay true to your dreams and God’s will for your life, your dreams will lead you to joy.”

Peace,

Eric+

SERMON – Pentecost 5/19/18 St. Monica’s Naples FL

mentor-coach-768x511Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Mentor, Teachers, Advocates, and Guides

Have you ever had that teacher, coach, mentor, or friend in your life, the one who saw gifts in you that you did not see in yourself? Have you ever had that someone who looked past the rough and rugged exterior and saw the beauty and potential within?  I have had the gift of mentors like that.  My first flight instructor, my youth minister, my friend Curt, a priest friend named Becky, my Region Chaplain, and yes, my wife Terri, and so many more have been mentors to me.  What would we do without the wisdom, encouragement, empowerment, and drive of those mentors, coaches, and friends?

Many of us would be like the first disciples after their Lord had ascended, and before the first Day of Pentecost.  We may have been like them, spending our lives locked in a room, fearful, uncertain and discouraged.  Could you imagine what went through those early disciples’ minds in that room for those days?  Maybe they pondered, “Well, he’s gone, let’s go back to fishing, or return to our neat, protected, and normal lives.”  Maybe they thought, “We are just poor fishermen, and there is only a few of us, and we can barely keep food on the table, oh, woe is me.”  Scripture does not say this was what happened, but it would not surprise me.

When folks find themselves in difficult or new situations, it is not unusual to begin speaking the language of despondency, but it is in those times, and in all of life, we must realize that we all have an incredible mentor, teacher, advocate and friend.  We Christians have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  God’s Spirit reaches into the depths of our struggles and despair and lifts us up, God’s Spirit enlivens our joy and gives hope, and God’s Spirit sets the church on the path of mission in the world then, today, and tomorrow.  The Holy Spirit, God’s active presence in the church then, and today, moved that small band of misfits from fear to action, from complacency to engagement, and from despondency to a tongues of fire, violent wind rushing new life and mission that literally changed and changes the world.  That same Spirit is moving in us today.

Today is the Feast Day of Pentecost!  Pentecost “literally means “fiftieth” and signifies the celebration of the number of days which divides it from the last festival of Passover. We commemorate that day with the church decorated in red, and the vestments we clergy wear are red, and many of you today have donned your red to help us remember the vision of “tongues of fire” that fell upon the apostles nearly 2000 years ago on the Day of Pentecost.  In a single moment with the sound of rushing wind and the imagery of flaming, divided tongues, the miraculous, life-changing, demonstration of God’s great work of salvation had come to a pivotal point, and while Jesus had left and the disciples were all alone, God’s Spirit rushed in on the scene. 

The Spirit of God is always Moving  

The Spirit moved and breathed as she always does, like a forcible, violent wind or breath, the Spirit filled the house in which the disciples abided.  The same Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation, the same Spirit that breathed into the dry bones and brought new life, the same Spirit that was active in the Incarnation, that same Spirit was now present and active in this new little community.  The Spirit was as she always is, pushing forward the new life brought forth in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Then as a sign of the new age, a vision emerged.  A world separated by languages, culture, and division was now being restored in the power of the Spirit coming down on this little community. The imagery of “tongues of fire” represents the divine origin of the Spirit, the divine intervention in the speaking and declaring God’s Deeds of Power.  “The divine glory (was) received passively and yet (was) experienced directly, in a manner that is apparent to others. Wind, breath, and language; these are the works of the Spirit in that historical event, that event which, is still manifested in and through the Church today.

Pentecost – 20thCentury

Let me give you an example of how the Spirit works today, or at least, how she moved in one particular instance about twenty-seven years ago.  First, a local priest felt nudges to start having conversations with others about establishing a mission church, to serve a nearby emerging village.  Three years later, that little band of church planters held their first worship service in their new parish hall.   The Spirit breathed and moved calling us to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.”

Eight years later, new classrooms were added to the existing structure, and four years after that a new chapel was constructed.  The Spirit breathed and moved calling us to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.”     Four years after that a new space was added and the property expanded for mission. That little community has over its lifetime received and responded to the Spirit’s call, and throughout her history, she has grown and took on new projects.  She has lived into the story of God’s abundance, God’s amazing, outlandish, out of the box call to go and proclaim the Good News.  The Spirit breathed and moved calling us to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.”

By the way, that history I just shared, if you are not already aware, is the story of St. Monica’s Episcopal Church.  The Spirit that inspired that young church has not left her abandoned, but inspires us in fresh ways through expanding local mission projects, and revived ministries supporting the life of the church.

Just think about it, the same Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation, the same Spirit the prophet Joel mentioned that breathed into the dry bones and brought new life, that same Spirit that was active in the Incarnation, that same Spirit present and active in Jerusalem 2000 years ago on the Day of Pentecost, is the very same Spirit active in the early 1990’s here in Naples with this church, and she is still active today however, the people must respond.   We must regain our rushing fierce wind, tongues of fire bold spirit, so we might move from fear to action, from complacency to engagement, and from despondency to a tongues of fire, ferocious wind rushing new life and mission that literally will change us, and our neighborhood.

Despite the events of Pentecost, there were some naysayers who would not believe God was acting in this group.  They negatively retorted, “They are full of wine,” and like the cynics of old, if we are not careful, we too can get bogged down in disbelief and fear.   Trusting God and relying on God is deeply embedded in the history of St. Monica’s. Bold proclamation is in our DNA. We have a history here in which, God’s Spirit has guided us boldly, and so we might proclaim possibility, vision, and dreams.  Our DNA rejects scarcity, discouragement, and fear.

Pentecost Now and into the Future

We move boldly in mission because have a guide, mentor, coach, and advocate that sees more in us than we see in ourselves.  God is not the God of the tomb, a symbol of death, which would hinder us, stop us, or keeps us from moving forward.  God turns despondency and complacency upside down, because death is not the end.  God is the God of possibilities, and we are people of amazing possibilities.   The same Spirit who on that first Pentecost breathed new life into that first Christian community, is the same Spirit that breathed new life into a group of people with a dream for a mission in this village, and that same Spirit is breathing new life into us today.  The Spirit is calling us to a new vision, a new life, and a new focus.

For you see, the Spirit sees gifts in us that we cannot see in ourselves.  The Spirit looks beyond our rough exterior, our former miscalculations and mistakes, and she sees in us, great possibilities.  Nonetheless, we cannot become too self-assured, and too self-confident that we try to do this work through our own human effort.  We cannot carry this load of mission with only a few select individuals or one or two exclusive groups.

We have to rely on the fact that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness . . .  and that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” If we trust God’s Spirit to lead us, we can we achieve that which, God has in store for us.  The Spirit may push, nudge and guide us out of the familiar and into the unknown, but never forget that we are never alone.  God is with us, guiding us, empowering us, and giving us all we need to do the work we have been called to do.

How do I know? God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” We must pray for a new vision and we must dream a new dream.   All along the way, we have the ultimate coach, the gentle mentor, the strong advocate, and an amazing friend.  We have God’s Spirit, guiding us all along the way.  The Spirit moves and breathes, calling us to continue Jesus mission, and the people respond, “We will with God’s help.”

 

1 http://www.festalpulpit.com/6.html

 

SERMON 5/13/18 7B St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

What's your callingActs 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1;  1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

ROBO CALLS and TELEMARKETERS

Driving down the road the other day, I received a call on my Bluetooth car device for my phone.  When I answered it, you probably guessed, it was one of those Robo-telemarketers.  You know the ones.  A recorded voice said, “Hello? Can you hear me?”  “Oh, sorry, I was just adjusting my headset.” Then, the voice broke into a hard sell script to offer me the latest free vacation “to a fabulous Disney resort.”  I am sure you have received these calls like, the one about car repair insurance, Medicare supplements, and I even received one about the IRS coming to arrest me.  Do you do what I do when those calls come? Well, I just hit the red “end call” button on my phone.  I do not even give them a chance to give me the spiel.

I am sure glad God does not place the call on our lives using robo-callers. Could you imagine, “Hi Eric, this is God, sorry, I was adjusting the weather in India, but I want to offer you an incredible opportunity to serve in a particular type of ministry, designed just for your spiritual gifts.” Seriously though, we all have a call on our lives, but do we hang up when the Spirit begins to nudge us to respond to a call to serve? Being in community means we come to be fed, but we are fed for service, both in the community and in the Kingdom beyond the four walls.  We are a community of varied gifts, unified for a purpose.

JESUS PRAYS FOR US

Over the last few weeks, we have been talking a lot about Christian community, and what it means to be in fellowship with one another.  We discussed the fact that we are a resurrection community, an Easter community, a community raised from the ashes of human despair and strife, into the hope of life everlasting.  We are a family in Christ.  We are a tribe of “Jesus and His Friends,” “vines intertwined in the branch Jesus,” “sheep of the Jesus fold,” and a community living in the hope of “What if.”

In today’s gospel, “Jesus prayed the words we heard in today’s gospel reading. He prayed in the Upper Room on the night of his betrayal, knowing that crucifixion would follow with the coming sunrise. The words are part of his final words, and final words have a history of being intense, focused and passionate.” (2) The “aim of the prayer: the ultimate aim of Jesus’s more immediate prayer, is an aim for the salvation of “the world.” (1) Our Master, Lord, Savior, and King Jesus Christ prayed then, and prays now for us, so that we might have unity of purpose for our mission of love both within the community, and out there in the Kingdom. Each one of us has a part in that mission.

Jesus prays for us to be unified in him, gathering together for mutual support and love, so we might be sent out for mission.  Now unity does not mean we lose the beauty of the diversity of gifts we have as individuals.  As a matter of fact, it is the diversity of God’s people that make our mission in the world effective.

DIVERSITY within UNITY       

            As a nation, we have for over two centuries been gathered together by common goals and objectives, but sometimes those goals and objectives have become hidden in our own divergent agendas.  We have always been a nation, a tribe of people with differing views over issues, cultural differences, policies, and approaches, but it is the diversity of ideas, gifts, talents, and objectives that have made us a great community of people, and somehow God has held us together.

Born at about the same time as our nation, the Episcopal Church (4) is a community of people bound together through decades of tradition, but we are so much more than our beautiful traditions. Our common mission, our identity in Christ, our variety of gifts, different ideas, and talents make our branch of the Jesus movement a place for all. All are welcome, but we, like our nation can become distracted from our unity, and we can become sidetracked and then, the whole Body suffers.

Jesus desires unity of purpose within the Body.  Jesus prayed, “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” To be sanctified means that we are set aside as holy, sacred, and devoted to God.  We are called to be a people, who give of ourselves, and abandon our self-interest, so that we might focus on God and God’s mission of love and yet, we still get distracted. Likewise, if we were to be merely separated from the world and focused only on ourselves, we would fail to respond to the our corporate and individual vocational calls.

CHRISTIAN VOCATION

            In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear about the calling of a new apostle, after the failure of the one, to remain in unity with the body. Judas followed his own way and his own agenda and we know what happened.  “The appointment of Matthias as a leader is instructive for every Christian. Every Christian is chosen, called, summoned to a vocation and moment that no other person can fill, though every calling is woven into the complex web of the Church’s being.” (3)  Matthias added to the others, a diversity and uniqueness to the unified mission of the emerging community.

Unified purpose takes all of us, in order for the mission of the church to be effective, and our answering of God’s call as individuals using the gifts given us by the Spirit, makes us one. You see, the church is not a respite only, a place where we come to circle the wagons, and live safely in our own little building like the disciples did in the upper room.Jesus prayed, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”  Jesus sends us to continue his ministry of love and reconciliation, both as advocates and as workers in the Kingdom.  We are a community on a mission, God’s mission.

Each one of us has our own Easter story about how Christ has called us unto himself, and how he has equipped each of us for a particular vocation in the church and in the world.  Every single one of us has a call.  You may say, “Now Eric, I am not a leader,” but to that I say, “God equips the ‘called,’ he does not call the ‘equipped.’  In other words, God will give you what you need to do the work and ministry he calls you to do, because having a Christian vocation is part of having a Christian life narrative. Our life story join the stories of the saints of all ages, the Communion of All the saints, and together those stories frame the resurrection story of this community, and our common mission of love in Naples and beyond.

The only one who can tell your story authentically, from the heart, and with passion is you.  “But I have no idea what I am called to do Eric,” you may say.  Well, in your bulletin is a two-page Spiritual Gifts assessment.(5)  I want to encourage you to take this assessment, but do so by prayerfully considering how God is calling you to serve. Then, find a trusted friend, maybe your spouse/partner and share with them what you discovered in the assessment. Ask them if they see those gifts in you. Then, let’s talk you and I talk about it, and together discern what God is calling you to do in your vocation as a Christian disciple.

You have a call on your life as a layperson, to bring your gifts to bear on God’s mission. So, as you leave church today, imagine that your cell phone is ringing or vibrating.  Maybe you look down and you see the caller ID, “God is calling.” What are you going to do.  Seriously now, God is calling, are you ready to answer the call?

REFERENCES

(1) Janzen, J Gerald. “The Scope of Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17.” Encounter, vol. 67, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1-26.

(2)       Lueking, F Dean. “That They May Be One.” The Christian Century, vol. 114, no. 14, 23 Apr. 1997, p. 407.

(3) https://livingchurch.org/2018/05/07/5-13-for-our-lives/

(4) BRIEF HISTORY of the EPISCOPAL CHURCH http://www.dsoconnections.org/2017/08/30/a-brief-history-of-the-episcopal-church/

n 1789, after the American Revolution, an assembly met in Philadelphia to unify all Anglicans in the United States into a single national church. A constitution was adopted along with a set of canonical laws, and the English Book of Common Prayer of 1662 was revised, principally by removing the prayer for the English monarch. Samuel Seabury was ordained in Scotland as the first American bishop.

(5) SPIRITUAL GIFTS ASSESSEMENT

http://www.stmonicasnaples.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Spiritual-Gifts-Assessment-2018PDF.pdf

 

 

Sunday 5-6-18, St. Monica’s Naples, “Feast of Our Patron Saint, Monica”

Jesus and his friendsJohn 16:20-42; Acts 10:44-48;Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

Friendship in 21stcentury

         Jesus said, “I have called you friends.” I Googled the top 50 songs about friends the other day, which I will not name all fifty, but I will share just a few.  See how many of these songs, your have heard before:  Queen, “You’re my Best Friend,” The Beatles, “With a Little Help from my friends,” Andrew Gold, “Thank you for Being my Friend” (Golden Girls Theme), Bill Withers, “Lean on Me,” and my favorite by James Taylor, “You’ve Got a Friend.”  If you were to look at the lyrics of each of these songs, you will get a pretty good idea about friendship in postmodern times, but do the words of these songs capture what Jesus meant?

Today, I think we may be losing the whole idea of friendship, especially the level of friendship Jesus desires for us with him, and with each other.   Here is an example.  According to Facebook, I have over 1,000 “friends.” I am not bragging, but most of the people I am “friends” with on Facebook are people I have merely only met before.  The idea that all 1004 are my real friends, or are people in my life that even meet the friend standard of some of those wonderful ballads I just named is just not possible.

According to a 2016 Huffington Post article, “Science says we can really only have five close friends at a time.” (3) The researcher says, “we are only capable of having a finite number of people in our social sphere — 150 to be exact — due to the size of our brains. The closest emotional layer — the one we consider to hold the most meaning and connection — contains approximately five individuals, according to Dunbar.”(3)

We may think social media makes it possible for us to have an unending group of so-called friends, but that holds no water.  Our capacity the kind of intimate, committed, close friendship Jesus desires for us may seem according to science, to be impossible for we mere humans, but Jesus to have that kind of relationship with us all IS possible.

Jesus said, “I have called you friends.” That means all of us are friends of Jesus; close, intimate, connected, and transforming friends.  So, who are your true friends, and how are you transforming your friends’ lives?  What does it mean to be a part of “Jesus and His Friends?”

True Friend or Flatterer (Frank talk) 

         Have you ever had the so-called friend who “butters you up,” “blows smoke,” or simply stated, gives you nothing but insincere flattery?  Jesus said, “The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father.”  A real friend does not need give insincere flattery of puffed up feedback.  A real friend shares with you what you need to hear, and no always what you want to hear. When I worked for Sears back in the early 90’s, we went through a difficult and lengthy corporate culture shift. One of the core values we shared during those times was a new commitment to giving “straight talk.”  Before the transition, the company had a long-held culture in which, people never spoke truth with love and care about problems, and Sears struggled to break out of its old stuck ways. Systems no longer worked, employee relationship problems were never addressed, and strategies never had solid planning and financial underpinnings.   Finally when people began speaking truth in love, or as we called it “straight talk,” many of the operational and personnel problems were addressed, and a new culture of cooperation emerged.

Theologian Gail O’Day wrote, in first century Greco-Roman culture, “To be someone’s friend was to speak frankly and honestly to them and to hold nothing back.” (1) Jesus was all about straight talk with his disciples and the religious system of his time.  He told Peter when he tried to deter him from the cross, “Get thee behind me Satan.”  He also told him to “feed his sheep” after he had to ask him three times if he loved him. Jesus challenged his disciples about their trust in him, “O You of Little Faith.

I believe we need that kind of “straight talk” and loving frankness in the church today. We need to lovingly remove our masks of so-called good Christian culture, and be real with one another, and have a closeness that allows us to share, what we often might not want to hear, but what we need to hear, all for our own good, and the good of the community.  Friends need a little straight talk but also, we need to walk the talk.

Friends: Following Jesus’ commandments

         Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Gail O’Day wrote, “Friendship is not simply an abstract social and moral virtue; it achieves its real worth when it is modeled and embodied in practice.” (1) Jesus taught us the simplest of commands, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And Love your neighbor as yourself.” That kind of love transcends oneself. Jesus explains that loving God and neighbor describes how we should be willing to lay down our lives for our friends.

I know I would risk my life for my wife and daughter, my mother and siblings, but would I risk my life for others?  I sure hope I would when the moment comes, but maybe Jesus means something even more simple than sacrificing our life for someone.  Maybe Jesus is telling us that laying down our life means, setting aside our own agenda, our own desires and wants, for what may very well be the best thing for our friend, for our community, and for God’s will.

O’Day also wrote, “Friendship moves a person from being a private individual to a member of a social group based on something beyond kinship.” (1)  “Jesus and His Friends” move outside ourselves and follow the life giving, sacrificial approach to following God’s will. According to the Urban Dictionary, “A friend is someone who would sacrifice their life and happiness for you. A friend is someone who will come with you when you have to do boring things like watch badrecitals, go to stuffy parties, or wait in boring lobbies.” (2) Simply said, “Jesus and His friends” make time for cultivating the connection of love between the other, even if it means setting aside our own desires, needs, and wants. 

Friendship:  Monica and A Toy Story

“Jesus and His Friends” must walk the talk.  We can find examples of that kind of friendship throughout the history of the church.   We could not ask for a better Patron Saint, Monica whom we commemorate today.  She was the Mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest theologians of the church. Her life was dedicated to her son’s secular success in life, but despite her own desires, she eventually committed herself to seeing him become a person of faith and a convert to Christianity.  I am so glad she did because Augustine’s writings and theological work have become the basis of our understanding of the faith today.

Thanks to his mother’s friendship, straight talk, and acts of love we have a deeper understanding of God today.  “Monica is the saint of married women, abuse victims, alcoholics, alcoholism, difficult marriages, disappointing children, homemakers, housewives, mothers, victims of adultery, victims of unfaithfulness, victims of verbal abuse, widows and wives.”

St. Monica’s Episcopal Church is a haven, a respite, a spiritual home for all of us who have endured such terrible trials and troubles in life.  Monica is an example of what it means to be a part of the tribe of “Jesus and His Friends.”

“Jesus and His Friends” speak frankly and say what a friend needs to hear, but may not want to hear.  We lay down our own agendas and well-being, so that God’s will, and the good of the other comes first.  We center our lives on God’s mission of love. In a world where friendship has become distorted, and racking up friends on a social media site has become a badge of false connectedness and community, we need to recapture a simpler understanding of friendship in Christ.  Jesus said, “I have called you friends.”

Have you ever heard the song “You’ve Gotta Friend in Me,” the theme song of the movie “Toy Story?”  I found an incredible version on YouTube the other day.  The song is sung by a three-year-old named Claire and her Dad.  I think the lyrics of this song, might give us with a simple picture of the kind of friendship Jesus is talking about.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mzhk2aheNfI

 

The song goes like this:

You’ve got a friend in me
When the road looks rough ahead
And you’re miles and miles
From your nice warm bed
You just remember what your old pal said
Boy, you’ve got a friend in me

 

You’ve got a friend in me
You got troubles, I’ve got ’em too
There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you
We stick together and see it through
Cause you’ve got a friend in me

 

Some other folks might be
A little bit smarter than I am
Bigger and stronger too
Maybe
But none of them will ever love you The way I do
It’s me and you, boy, you’ve got a friend in me.

 

And as the years go by
Our friendship will never die
You’re gonna see it’s our destiny
You’ve got a friend in me, You’ve Got a friend in me.

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES

(1) O’Day, Gail R. “Jesus as Friend in the Gospel of John.” Interpretation, vol. 58, no. 2, Apr. 2004, pp. 144-157.

(2) https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=friends

(3) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/dunbar-layers-friendship-study_us_5728d4c5e4b016f37893ac14

(4) “You’ve Gotta Friend in Me” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukD8zj6ngVY

SERMON 4/29/18 Easter 5B St. Monica’s

lemon thymeActs 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

Abiding

I enjoy spending time with the love of my life Terri. Sometimes, just being able to just sit on the sofa together, not saying anything to one another, we are able to know that our love abides in the moment. In that moment there is a gift of being together, breathing the same air, sharing the same space, enjoying the presence of each other’s company.

Abiding has nothing to do with doing. Abiding has nothing to do about place or even conversation. Abiding with Christ is about being present with him in the moment, wherever we are. Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

The vine metaphor Jesus uses reminds us that we must be intimately connected to Jesus and it is through that connectedness, that we are able to bear fruit in our lives. Now as branches of the Jesus vine, our call as Christians requires more than mere connectedness. We are called to bear fruit. We are called to convert the nutrients of God’s love into blossoms of beauty others can see. Fruit bearing though often requires a little pruning.

We Episcopalians could us a little pruning. We find it hard to bear the fruit, which Jesus requires of us. The fruit Jesus is talking about is the fruit of our very lives, our witness to God’s love in our lives. We should be so moved by our abiding love in Christ, that we just have to share the Good News with others. For some of us though, talking to friends, family or co-workers about our faith can be a frightening experience, but sometimes it’s easier than we think, if we allow the Master Gardner to prune away our fears and reluctance.

Pruning for Growth

In my windowsill garden in our old house in Ellenton, I had a nice planter of lemon thyme. Those tiny leaves, the fruit of that plant were a delicious herbal addition to any dish I prepared. A few months ago, Terri and I had to be away from home for several days, and when we returned, only a small section of my Lemon Thyme still had beautiful green tasty leaves. The rest had died.

I watered it, added fertilizer, but the thing just wouldn’t spring back. Finally, I gave up hope of bringing it back and so, I cut out all of the dead branches, and left the only a few tiny leaves of green. Soon, in a few days I noticed something miraculous happening. New growth emerged and in a week or so, I had a growing plant of tasty, herbalicious lemon thyme once again.

At one point, I had so much Lemon Thyme that I had to share it with some friends. You know, the best part of having an abundance of anything is the joy of having so much of it that you just have to share it with other people.

Just think though, I would not have had that abundant herb if I had not pruned away the dry and ineffective parts, and sometimes God has to prune us a little like that. God has to clip away our fears and uncertainties that stand in the way of our growth, our mission, and our primary vocation as Christians; to share the Good News of God’s love with others with whom we abide.

Why Fruit is Important

Last Friday, I took a walk down the hall to check in with one of the preschool classrooms. As I came close to their door, I noticed that all the little ones were readying themselves to leave the room. The teacher stopped me and said, “Father Eric, the children were coming to see you, and they have something for St. Monica’s.” One little beautiful child came up to me and handed me one of our blue cups, filled to the brim with coins. The Teacher said, “she has emptied her piggy bank and put half of it in the blue cup for St. Monica’s.” The little girl with an incredible smile handed me the cup, and as I took it, I almost cried. She said, “I will bring the other half later.”

What an incredible example of how her connection to St. Monica’s has changed that precious little girl’s life. What an example of how we as a community through our sharing of Good News and abiding in love with others, brings others to know Christ’s love. Sometimes the fruit we bear emerges in ways we cannot imagine.

“But Eric, that sharing Good News thing is just not for me. I cannot do that,” you might say. What if I told you that your ability to share Good News really has nothing to do with being a professional evangelist? Our ability to share good news is simply being willing to take a chance to offer an invitation, and we leave the rest up to God. Here is an example.

Philip the Evangelist

We heard the story in the Acts of the Apostles how the Spirit called Phillip out of his comfort zone and sent him on an evangelistic mission, all for the spiritual transformation of one person; a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. Philip had no idea why he was sent to this guy, but he went. He had no thought about bringing the man to conversion, but it happened. He did not run up to the chariot and say, “Let me tell you about Jesus,” but eventually the Ethiopian did become a disciple. Sometimes, the simplest of interactions are the ones that bring someone to hear the Good news of God’s grace. Sharing Good News is our primary vocation as Christians.

I was asked the other day how we might invite the families of one of participants in our outreach ministries to worship with us. I said, “Simply ask them if they have a spiritual home or a home church. If they say no, then merely say, “You always have a spiritual home at St. Monica’s, and you will find a caring community to support and love you and your family.”   Sharing God’s Good news my friends is as simple as that, and an invitation is all it takes. Want proof? Did you know that there are 32 million members of the Ethiopian Orthodox church alive and active today? I have to believe that maybe that the encounter between Philip and the court official had something to do with all that. Sometimes we bear fruit and the results are not apparent at that time.

Trust God’s Spirit

So what does Lemon Thyme have to do with vines, branches, bearing fruit and evangelism? You know, just a few snips of those delicious green succulent leaves of Lemon Thyme, really do add savory and herbal notes to the flavor of any dish.   Well, sharing a little time and abiding love with someone else, and offering an invitation to be in community, could be the simple words that changes and flavors the lives of someone, in ways we cannot even fathom.

Would you please give this a try? The next time you are with friends, and if as you chat, the topic of conversation becomes about troubles, fears, doubts, worries, joy, peace, religion, church, or faith, offer your friends an invitation to accompany you to St. Monica’s. Ask, “would you like to check out this awesome group of people with me sometime, and then, I’ll treat you to lunch or dinner afterward.” Then, just see what happens. You may be surprised.

So, what do you think? Is evangelism really possible in the Episcopal Church? I think yes. Sharing a little of your time to share the Good News of God’s love is really pretty simple, but it may take us out of our comfort zone. Being an evangelist is not as hard as it seems, but it means we have to take a chance, share our story of transformation, and maybe, it means giving away just a little bit of something we have an abundance of – God’s grace, mercy, and love. All of us are called to be evangelists and it really is easy, but to do so, we have to give away, just a little abiding love and maybe, just a little time.

 

 

(1) Wilson, Stan. “On the Vine.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 9, 02 May 2006, p. 19.

SERMON 4/22/18 Easter 4B St. Monica’s Naples

breakfast-club1_zpsgbiyiqiwActs 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Sheep Behavior         

The early followers of Jesus wrestled with understanding who Jesus was, who they were as an emerging community, and they struggled with WHOSE they were. Jesus used a zoological metaphor about the Good shepherd and the vocation of shepherding, to explain. Sheep and shepherding seem disconnected from our neat and tidy suburbanite lives. You do not see many shepherds and sheep here in hot, humid, Southwest Florida, but raising sheep was a vital occupation in 1st century Palestine. It was hard work, and the shepherd’s life was constantly at risk from the threat of wolves and bandits. Good shepherds knew the risk and yet, spent long months moving their herds from cool streams to lush grazing plains, and to the safety of the home pen. Good shepherds literally laid down their lives for their sheep, even though sheep can be peculiar animals that have some interesting behavioral characteristics.

For instance, sheep instinctively flock together, follow a leader, and socially they can be either sweet and gentle as lambs, or crabby and dangerous as rams. Sheep will band together in large groups for protection from predators, and they crave social contact. Sheep must maintain visual contact with other sheep to prevent stress, and to avoid becoming highly agitated if separated from the rest of the flock. Sheep follow a leader and when one sheep moves the rest will follow, even if it is not a good idea. This instinct is so strong that it caused “400 sheep in 2006 in eastern Turkey to jump off a cliff, because one of the sheep tried to cross ravine, and the rest of the flock followed.” (1)

Lastly, lambs (baby sheep) and rams (adults) are as different as night and day. Lambs are very active, playful, and curious and they love to climb. Rams on the other hand, can be very aggressive and have been known to cause serious injuries to people. Never turn your back on a ram, or you may pay the price. Now, you do understand that I am describing sheep here, and I am not even trying to make a connection between sheep and good church folk. (wink, wink).

The Good Shepherd

Jesus used this metaphor to explain to his followers (then and now) that human behavior can be like sheep behavior. We band together for companionship and mutual support, we naturally follow a leader or leaders, and we crave social interaction. That whole lamb vs. ram part though, I will leave that up to your own imagination. But as for me, I know I am mostly a gentle little lamb, but if I do not get enough sleep, enough food, some aviation time, or date night each week with my wife, I can be like a Dodge Truck; Ram tough.

The hearers of this metaphor about sheep and the Good Shepherd understood what Jesus was talking about, because sheep herding was familiar to everyone. What we need to hear in the story is this, “we Christians need one another” and we need Jesus! We have to rely on one another, and we need to come together, to mutually care for one another and to strengthen our faith journeys.

We also need to hear in Jesus’ metaphor that we have to rely on the Good Shepherd to lead us each day. Otherwise we have a tendency to fall back on our natural instincts to stray and leave the flock behind, becoming either like “indifferent, playful Lambs, or like angry, self-interested rams.” If we fall into either of these extremes in Christian community, we are blocked from spiritual growth, through the shepherding care and leadership of Jesus and the love and care we need to have for one another.

Love one another

            “We ought to lay down our lives for one another.” That statement from John in his letter stands in defiance; to the way life celebrated in our culture today. The idea of serving the greater good, or risking one’s own safety for someone else’s may be a thing of a bygone era. Business and politics and life in general today is all about “dog eat dog,” “negotiate the best deal at all costs,” and only “the fittest survive.”

Our whole economic system is based on unfettered competition. Whatever happened to, “let’s do what is best for the world,” “let’s care for those who cannot care for themselves,” and “what you do for the least of these, you do for me.” In other words, what happened to “love one another?” Laying down our lives for each other requires us to release positions of power, influence, and acquisition to pursue what is best for the whole community, but fear causes us to resist that call.

Stan Wilson in a Christian Century article wrote, “I suspect that not only do we fear the future, we also fear each other. We are afraid that somebody will try to take advantage of us, afraid that we will have to expose ourselves at our most intimate, private level. ”(2) Jesus turns that concept upside down, and explains that we need to be like sheep, who flock together, trust one another, and most importantly, trust the Good Shepherd.

Sheep scatter and go rogue. Sometimes folks in the flock go astray and go their own way. We Christians cannot be Christians in isolation. We need intimacy, connectedness, and community to thrive. Healthy community requires that we become vulnerable to one another, letting our guard down some and yes, removing our masks of power and society status and thus, laying down our lives for one another. “But Eric, vulnerability is weakness,” you may say.

Brene’ Brown, PhD/LCSW author, speaker, and researcher of vulnerability and shame, writes in one of her books, “In our culture we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.”

Our common life must be one in which, we trust the Good Shepherd to guide us, and we trust our sisters and brothers whom we need, and with whom we must lay down our lives, in order for real love to emerge. We need to let down the walls, get real with one another, be a little vulnerable, and allow love to emerge among us. We need to know WHO we are and WHOSE we are.

The Breakfast Club

In 1984, I first watched the blockbuster movie “The Breakfast Club” and it changed me. It was a film about five very different teenagers who because of bad behavior spent a whole Saturday in high school detention. Their discipline assignment was to write a 1000 word essay about “who they think they are.”

This unlikely gathering of dissimilar teens start out the day, trying to endure the next nine hours together, maintaining their distance from one another and promising not to allow the boundaries between them to crumble. But as they day progressed, and as they allowed themselves to be open, honest, and vulnerable to one another, they began to share more of their lives with each other. As you can imagine something amazing happened.

These teens became an unexpected community, a band of friends, or as the movie called them, “The Breakfast Club.” Their bogus masks, their made up identities, and their stoic personas fell away. These five unlikely teens became friends one day in an unlikely place, when through their vulnerability and unexpected love, their lives were changed forever. They found their common connection and community emerged.

When we the Body of Christ begin to understand that we are the flock of the Good Shepherd, when we understand our common connection in Our Lord Jesus Christ, community grows authentically, and nothing can get in the way of our mutual love. We must never forget WHO we are, and WHOSE we are.

Jesus calls us to be more than a mere gathering of friends, or a social club, or even a “Breakfast Club.” He gathers us into his loving arms as a community of love and transformation, a family who welcome change and experience new life. From that transformed group, Jesus sends us out those doors, as a lighthouse for other sheep that are not yet a part of this flock.

My sisters and brothers, we are not just poor little lambs, who have lost their way, scattered and tumbling off the cliffs of fear. We are followers of Jesus, a community of love and grace, and we follow the one leader, the one Lord, the God in flesh who loves us and who reminds us in all circumstances of life, “I am the Good Shepherd and I lay down my life for my sheep.” Are we willing to lay aside our masks of fear and distrust, so that like Our Shepherd, lay down our lives for one another?

 

REFERENCES

1 http://www.sheep101.info/201/behavior.html

2 Wilson, Stan. “Ties That Bind.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 9, 02 May 2006, p. 18.

3 Long, Kimberly Bracken. “The Shepherd Jesus.” Journal for Preachers, vol. 29, no. 3, 2006, pp. 51-54

SERMON 4/15/18 Easter 3B

whatifActs 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

Hope in the midst of troubles, disappointments, and fear

Since Easter Sunday, we have been exploring Jesus’ resurrection and the events of the aftermath of that event. We have been studying faith and hope in the midst of troubles, disappointments, and fear, and we have tried to connect it all to our world today. I think now is the perfect time for us to spend some time focusing of faith in the midst of fear and anxiety. Have you been watching the news lately? Violence, scandal, trade wars, a new time of war, attacks, and shootings abound around us.   We need some resurrection hope right now. We live in an unbelievably volatile time my friends, and fear and negativity is invading our peace and sense of security. When the headlines are so negative, when fear and uncertainty are near, where do we find hope? In God’s promises, God’s presence, and God’s peace. 

         Wikipedia describes hope as “an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes, with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.” Today’s gospel is set in the context of hope reignited. Today’s reading is a re-telling of John’s version of the story of Jesus with the disciples in the locked room post resurrection that we heard last week. This version of the story takes place after Jesus appeared to two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, where something incredible happened.

After an invitation to dine with these two weary travelers, Luke records, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” Before these two disciples had encountered the post-resurrection Savior, they were dismayed, disappointed, lost, and untethered. Their Lord had been crucified and all hope seemed lost, but Jesus showed up and opened their eyes to hope. Then, through that hope and transformed assurance, they discovered their renewed vocational calling, which was to go and tell the story.

My Desire or God’s Desire

Now if you have ever been a part of any human organization, you will have experienced disappointment, just like Jesus’ early followers. Even in the church, we can become paralyzed to inaction and complacency, especially when unexpected things happen, when our comfortable places are tipped over, or when we become disappointed when things happen we do not understand, cannot control, or are outside our own desires. Like those early disciples who had great expectations of Jesus after the crucifixion happened, when they discovered his mission did not include the role of mighty ruler and over thrower of the Romans, and that he would be killed, they lost hope.

Negativity, fearfulness, uncertainty emerges in our disappointments. Despondency can be a syndrome in the church, and it can paralyze us from the calling God has in store for us. For example, when we encounter change that we don’t like, or something new happens, or when God bursts in unexpectedly, we might react with, “we’ve never done that before,” or “I’m not going to budge on this one,” or “this change will not stand,” or “why can’t it be like it used to be.” Maybe those are the times we should practice discernment and prayer. Maybe we should seek God through prayer and question our own motives asking, “Is my response or are my actions now, more about me seeking God’s desire or am I seeking my own desire?

The truth is “God is always making things new!” Thus, we must be willing for God to open our hearts and eyes, to change our mindset, and to transform our default responses. We need to move from, “we are not enough” or “we do not have the resources” or “we need more space.” We need to live in hopeful expectation. We need to dream big again and we need to invite God to give us a HUGE dream! Our conviction needs to move from “we are not enough” to “What if?” “What if” is a powerfully simple phrase, and it has the power to release in us, God’s renewed creativity and hope in which, we can expect the unexpected. We may even be able to expect a miracle or two.

Faith – Miracles

Webster’s online dictionary describes “Miracles” as an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment. Last Sunday, I gathered with some very incredibly well prepared Christian young men from St. Monica’s, who will be confirmed by Bishop Howe next Sunday. Thank you Antoinetta, Mary, and Scott for your fine work preparing these young adults. I gave these young men an opportunity to ask me some tough faith questions and try and “stump the priest.” There were some really tough questions like, “If you were not a Christian, what religion would you follow?” But one awesome young man asked me a very profound and insightful question. He asked, “Fr. Eric, do you believe in miracles?” I first gave him the seminary non-committal answer which was “the early church’s experience of Jesus ministry included miraculous acts by Our Lord, and billions of Christians over the centuries have held these acts in high regard and considered them to be true.”

Then I thought about the question, searched deep in my soul, and I cut through the theological rhetoric and I offered this heartfelt answer, “In my own life, I have experienced things I cannot explain, and somehow through that mystery, I believe God was guiding and directing me and those around me.” I have seen people experience healing, I have seen people experience incredible circumstances, and I have prayed with people who have experienced new life in all things. Yes, I believe in miracles. You see, when we live in the mystery of God’s “What if,” the possibility of God bursting forth in our lives is real. It is then that Christian community discovers our true vocation, our purpose, and our mission.

Vocational Witness

Theologian Sarah Henrich once wrote, “Followers are made into witnesses who will have the power they need to understand and to teach, to speak of what they have seen and what they have learned, to share with others what God has been up to in Jesus: the keeping of God’s promise to be God of all people and bring God’s own reign into reality for us.”(1) In 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NRSV) we hear Paul’s encouragement to that early community, ”But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” I believe that when God leads us and we practice discerning listening, all things are possible, and we will find our vocation, our mission, our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Discipleship means believing that God’s desire for God’s people is to gather to be formed, spiritually fed, and prepared for service and then, to be sent out into the world as witnesses of the grace, through our local mission and through our daily lives. However, if we merely rely on our own initiative, ideas, plans, and vision, we will be limited in our mission and we will never reach the potential God has before us. If we rely on God’s spirit, we can accomplish anything that God calls us to do. We cannot do any of this ministry, without God’s leading and God’s support.

 A New Day and New Adventure

My sisters and brothers, I believe God is calling St. Monica’s to a new day, a renewed way of life, a renewed vocation, and God has in store for us a future we cannot fully fathom today. So, “What if” God is calling us to gather together in new ways of fellowship and fun where we can support one another. “What if” God is inviting us to even more ways of service and local mission in which, we continue to feed those in need, where our current mission expands even more to provide for the destitute, where we can continue to help families in our midst who cannot care for themselves. “What if” God is calling us to renew and expand our Christian formation programs to grow our faith together for all ages.

What if God is already creating an exciting welcoming program that will help our new friends become active and engaged sisters and brothers. What if God is renewing our call to be a church for all ages and a place of spiritual healing for all people regardless of ethnicity, culture, gender, orientation, or creed. What if God is inspiring each one of you, to find your own personal ministry call in the midst of all this new life God is bursting forth in our midst.

The two disciples on the Road with Jesus eyes were opened and they recognized him. Jesus does not abandon us in the mission before us, he walks the journey with us, and we must travel with Jesus seeking his leading, as we walk the road God has in store for us, we must do so with hope and expectation.

Erin Hansen wrote this beautiful poem of hope based on an imaginary dialogue between a Mamma bird and her baby who was about to jump out of the nest again. It is an encouragement for all of us, as we begin this new journey of mission with God. Erin wrote, “There is freedom waiting for you on the breezes of the sky, and you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, “What if you fly?” St. Monica’s, God is calling us to a new day, we can no longer ask, “what if we fall.” We must have hope and expect miraculous new adventures, expect the unexpected, and expect Christ to burst forth on the scene with us. Our question from this day forward must be, “what if, with God’s help, we fly!”

(1) Henrich, Sarah S. “Between Text and Sermon: Luke 24:36 53.” Interpretation, vol. 68, no. 4, Oct. 2014, pp. 431-434.

 

Sermon – Easter 2B St. Monica’s Episcopal Church 4/8/18

Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133 Page 787; BCP, 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

“DOUBTING” THOMAS?

Doubt and Fear Just Ahead Green Road Sign with Dramatic Storm Clouds and Sky.In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus and reported it to the disciples, but they were skeptical. After the crucifixion those who saw his miracles, heard his preaching, and sat at the table with him were cowering behind locked doors. Thomas, or “Doubting Thomas” as he has been sometimes nicknamed is one skeptic who became the focus of today’s story. From our Sunday school classes, we were taught, do not be like Thomas, because he was suspicious, wary, and doubter. We may have been trained to believe that Thomas didn’t have faith as solid as a rock, and thus, we may have grown up believing that Thomas was an unworthy, faithless, and imperfect disciple. Are we all unworthy, faithless, and imperfect followers of Jesus sometimes?

MONDAY MORNING CRITICS

We can be pretty hard on those early followers, because we were not there with them, and because we stand on the other side of the story. We can be like Monday morning quarterbacks after the Super Bowl who at the water cooler says, “Those Jesus followers locked in the upper room were just a bunch of cowards, and they should have done this or said that.”  You know, we faithful and confident disciples can look back and think we can call the right plays, or take the ball down the field better than that misfit band of followers.” It is easy to be spectators on the sidelines and pass judgment.

Some of us might believe, “If I had been there, I would have been out in the street proclaiming, ‘Alleluia, Christ is risen!’” Really? Would we? I can tell you right now, I probably would have been right there with them, scared to death, cowering in that safe, protected, secure room just as dismayed as the rest of them. There are times today I imagine that many of we Christians find it easy to proclaim our faith in safe groups inside the church walls, but being a Christian in our daily lives, at the office, golf course, or with our secular friends, we live in a perpetual fear of living the resurrected.

ANXIETY IS THE ENEMY OF FAITH

Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Fear is the enemy of faith. Likewise, absolute factual certainty can be the antithesis to faith. We probably hear Jesus’ words as a cutting and terse admonishment to Thomas. We may even hear his words as a chastisement, for folks like us whose faith journeys often times include moments of doubt.   But, I believe this is less of a reprimand for so-called failed disciples, and it is more of an encouragement to many of us, who often struggle with occasions of doubt. We are called to try and trust in God’s promises, even when we do not have visible evidence that supports the trust that we believe we have.

Thomas gets a bum rap my friends. Doubt is not sin! Uncertainty and skepticism are not disqualifications for faithful discipleship. Having moments of doubt is a natural facet of faith. I will say, “It is ok to have moments of doubt as a Christian!” There is a caveat to that statement though. We run into problems when our doubt emerges, and we allow the associated fear to paralyze us from recognizing the work of God’s Spirit in our lives. Living in fear is different from living with doubt. Fear keeps us from trusting God. Trust requires us to move forward hoping for the best, and expecting God’s presence no matter what happens.

ENCOUNTERS WITH CHRIST

Mary Magdalene proclaimed the resurrection to the other apostles, but nothing initially changed in this little community of followers. The doors remained locked, and then suddenly Jesus showed up. He burst into the room and proclaimed in the midst of their fear, “Peace be with you!” In a flash, they had encountered the Risen Lord right there in their very midst and from that point forward, everything changed. I am sure that this was not the last time there was doubt and uncertainty among Jesus’ followers. Just read some of the Apostle Paul’s letters and you will from time to time, hear a little weariness and doubt, but even so, he remained faithful. We do not need to dismiss doubt as faithlessness but rather; we should embrace doubt and let its presence become for us, an awareness that we must seek encounters with Christ, in order to walk the Resurrected Life.

Thomas wanted more than just an assurance from someone else; he wanted an intimate encounter with Jesus, so that he could trust. This Christian journey requires us to trust even when doubt creeps in, because our renewal comes from those moments when we experience an intimate encounter with Jesus. Faith is not merely an assent to a particular fact or truth alone, it is experiencing Christ every day.   We need to encounter the Risen Lord, in order that our faith might be renewed and strengthened. Each week we encounter Christ in the Eucharistic meal, bread and wine become Body and Blood, and through this sacrament, we encounter the Risen Lord. Our trust is renewed.

Is it enough to enliven our faith and strengthen our trust, to merely gather and say; “He is risen?” Can we be mere hearers and not doers of the word? What good is the resurrection and the Good News of Christ, if we are unchanged by it, if we choose to hide it, if we fail to share it, and if by our very lives, others are unable to see the Risen Lord in us. If we trust that Jesus is Lord, then we should live transformed by the power of the resurrection and live as if joy, reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and mutual love mean something every moment, every day, every week.

PRACTICAL WAYS to ENCOUNTER CHRIST: pray, study, gather, and share

You know, there are some really easy practical ways to live the resurrected life and by doing so, we can encounter Christ, just like Thomas did. Here are just few: (1) Pray daily, (2) Study, read, and inwardly digest scripture, (3) gather with other Christians, (4) serve in the Kingdom, and (5) share the Good News.

Pray not merely for your own needs, but for the needs of each other and the needs of the world. We need to carry in our hearts the burdens of our sisters and brothers both here, and beyond these walls. Sit in silence with God and let the awareness of God’s presence fill you. We will be amazed how fear will subside and trust will grow when we pray.

Study, read, and inwardly digest scripture and commit to growing in your walk with Christ. We need to stretch our minds through the study of scripture and the reading of good theologians and writers who share their faith through story and devotionals. Scripture study may seem daunting, but it can be as easy as taking a journey through the Psalms. Consider reading one chapter a day and the habit will feed your soul. Read “Forward Day by Day,” a great little devotional published by the Episcopal Church. You will be amazed how fear and doubt will subside and trust will grow when we study God’s word.

Gather with other Christians. We need the faith of our sisters and brothers to strengthen our faith. I encourage you to join a small group and seek a mentor to walk the journey with you. If there is not one here already that interests you, come see me and we will start another one. Gather with other Christians, immerse yourself in fellowship, study, and prayer you will be amazed how fear and doubt will subside and trust grows when you gather with others.

Serve in God’s Kingdom. Search your heart for your God-given Spiritual Gifts and put them to work in God’s Kingdom. Do you sing? Do you play an instrument? Can you teach? Are you an organizer? Do you have great leadership skills? Have you ever wanted to serve at the Lord’s Table on Sunday mornings? Whether you serve the community in some way on Sunday, or whether you serve in some way through Outreach and Mission, each one of us has been gifted by the Holy Spirit at baptism, to serve. If you don’t know what your gifts are, call me and let’s go get a cup of coffee or have lunch together, and I will help you unpack your gifts for ministry. Serve in the Kingdom and you will be amazed how fear and doubt will subside and trust will grow as you serve Christ and his Kingdom.

Share the Good News. Do not, I repeat do not, go buy a bullhorn and stand on Immokalee Road and shout “Jesus Saves.” This is not evangelism. What you can do is live your faith every day with everyone you encounter. Be aware of God’s presence and just love deeper, speak sweeter, and give the forgiveness you may have been denying. In each encounter you have with others, whether in the store, at the golf course, or out at dinner ask yourself this question, “Is this encounter the only one today by which, this person may see the face of Christ?” Then let your life speak the Gospel to them. Share the Good News and you will be amazed how fear and doubt will subside and trust will grow when you share your faith.

FEAR AND DOUBT AHEAD – OPTIONAL

It is time for us to open the lock of fear, to throw open the doors of skepticism and encounter the Risen Christ we all proclaim. Pray, study, gather, serve, and share … this is how we can encounter the Risen Lord each and every day. This is how we have an intimate encounter with Christ. Our faith will be strengthened, our souls will be renewed, and the Gospel will be shared. You see, we really have nothing to fear, unless we allow the Good News to be silent because of our fear, our indifference, or our lack of commitment. Just as the early disciples wrestled with their doubt and fear, we too struggle with ours. “What good is the resurrection and the Good News of Christ, if we are unchanged by it, if we choose to hide it, if we fail to share it, and if by our very lives, others are unable to see the Risen Lord in us?” Fear and Doubt will always be just ahead, but remember, the choice to allow it to paralyze us is optional.

 

(1) Hunter, Amy B. “The Show-Me Disciple.” Christian Century 119.6 (2002): 17-22. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 14 Apr. 2012.

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