All posts by Eric S. Cooter

Episcopal priest, Certified Flight Instructor, USAF Auxiliary Chaplain.

Encouragement Today – COVID 19 4-20-20

The COVID 19 Pandemic has changed our routines, but for all of us, everyday life is forever changed. Some of our sisters and brothers are struggling to make ends meet. People have lost their jobs, and an alarming number of our citizens have lost their lives. 770,000+ Americans have contracted the disease, and over 41,000 Americans have died.

Our struggle is not yet over and we may have a mountain to climb, in order to see hope emerge in this fight. We are making progress, despite the fact that the number of cases from 4/11/20 to 4/18/20 have increased from 525,000 to 770,000. Lord, we all need patience. We all need compassion. We all need to innovate, adapt, and ask for help. We all need to come together as one country and one world, and put aside our petty differences in order to overcome this pandemic.

I know we all want to go back to work, back to church services, dinners out, movie nights, beach days, and life as we once knew it. People are ready to instantly return to normal, but it has only been a few weeks so far. We are not in a sprint here, but a marathon of struggle. The American people during WWII endured years of hardship, years of rationing, years of telegrams announcing the loss of a loved one, but we did not rush to a call to the authorities, “end the war now, it is too hard.” No, we fought bravely, we faced hardships courageously, and we did not allow our own desire for comfort deter us from the fight in which, we needed to engage. On the other side of that great conflict, we defeated the Axis Powers and for many years, we created a new era in life “as we know it.”

Like the months after Pearl Harbor was attacked, our fight has just begun and honestly, it is going to take more time to win than any of us want. It does no good for a small group to go out in public and demand a return to “life as normal,” as if by our own will we can make this all go away. It is as if we are saying, “it is my right to be out in public, and I want it now!” We all need patient endurance. We all need to trust God in this crisis. We all need to think of the health and well-being of others.

So, if you feel hopeless, today, I encourage you to take a moment and reflect on this scripture from James 1:2-4: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Take a moment and pray today asking God for patient endurance, for compassion for others, for the strength to take each day, “one day at a time”. I encourage you to not suffer alone and if you are in need, reach out to me and let’s talk. If you are struggling, reach out to a sister or brother-in-Christ for support. Remember, this fight is not about us as individuals, because we are in this together and none of us have to walk it alone. Christ is with us as we suffer, for Christ suffered with us and yet, Christ still reminds us that we have hope of a new day. Live in that hope today. Strive for hopeful, prayerful, faithful patient endurance.

Fr. Eric+

SERMON Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord 4-12-20 St. Monica’s Naples, FL

Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10

Mary Magdalene and Mary to the tomb

In today’s gospel reading we hear about two women, followers of Jesus, who unlike the other fearful apostles, woke up early on the day of rest, probably before breakfast and their coffee, and went on an errand.  Scripture tells us, “After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.”  Sometimes we read a phrase in scripture and merely glance over it, but this little sentence is filled with significance for us who are celebrating Easter today.  First, they make this trip on the Sabbath, but they were not going there to anoint the body or straighten the body wrappings (that would be work).  Rather, they went to the tomb for some other reason, which scripture does not say for sure why.

Nonetheless, we are left to assume their motivation, but we find a clue as to the reason they made the trtheir the story, and it is right there before our eyes.  Mary and Mary Magdalene were women of great faith, and they most likely remembered everything Jesus said.  They knew that he had promised that he would suffer and die, and on the third day he would be raised.  So, off to the tomb these two women went because they understood and trusted that Jesus had been raised.  They went to the tome merely because they needed to see it with their own eyes.

We are people of faith today, not because we were fortunate like Mary and Mary Magdalene to see the empty tomb.  We are disciples of Jesus today because of the witness of the resurrection proclaimed by these two faithful disciples, and by the billions of faithful Christians throughout the ages.  In other words, we have faith because of the faith of those before us.  What does that say about our responsibility to those Christians who come after us?

Guards and Angels

Here is another interesting fact about the story of the resurrection we hear about today.  In first-century Palestine, the testimony of a woman was not regarded as authentic, and it was not accepted as fact.  Do you not find it ironic that the first witnesses to the resurrection were people that most people would not believe?  Now, believing the truth of the resurrection with that kind of cred takes extraordinary more faith.  However, these were not average disciples, these women were fearless, courageous, and women of great trust in God.

How do I know?  When the earth shook and the angel filled with light appeared, the guards, the big brawny soldier types were afraid, shook with fear and passed out.  However, Mary and Mary Magdalene faced their fears and thus, they were brave and listened.  These two disciples saw what they came to see, the empty tomb, but this little morning jaunt on the Sabbath did not end with just Good News.  Their faith led them to belief in the resurrection, but it also led them to discover that being a follower of Jesus, means going out on a mission.

Go tell the others

The angel gave these two disciples a job to do.  He said, “Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’”  Mary M and Mary were given a ministry, a mission call, a job to do.  They were going to be the first evangelists, messengers, and bearers of the Good News that Jesus had been raised.   They saw the Good News of new life, and they could not contain it merely for themselves.

“So, they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” Mary M and Mary did what all disciples are called to do, experience the Risen Christ, and then go share it with others.  You are thinking I bet, “Fr. Eric you are talking about evangelism even today on Easter Sunday.”  Well, you would be right because is that not what Easter is all about after all?  Christians experience the Risen Christ in their lives, through the community of faith gathered in mission, fellowship, and worship, and then we are so transformed by the experience of God’s grace, that we feel compelled to share it?    But what if you have never experienced the Risen Christ?  These two courageous disciples when they went to share the Good News, came face-to-face with Jesus on the way.

Jesus meets them in their mission call

As Mary M and Mary were running back to share the Good News, Jesus appeared to them.  The gospel writer records that, “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  Keep in mind that this little phrase was not merely a friendly “Hi y’all,” or a Western Jerusalem, “Howdy.”  The Greek word we find in the New Testament, “χαίρετε” means, “Rejoice exceedingly, be glad, be well, and thrive.”

When Mary M and Mary encountered Jesus in their ministry and mission call to bear the Good News of his resurrection, Jesus offered them words of encouragement.  Jesus told them to celebrate, to have hope, to live life fully and completely.  That is what this is really all about my friends.  When we experience the Risen Christ in our fellowship and worship and service with others, we are then sent out into the world to celebrate, to have hope, to live life fully and completely.  In living our lives with that kind of joy and peace in Christ, we naturally become evangelist and bearers of Good News.  Like Mary M and Mary, Jesus meets us in acts of faith, and assures that we can be joyful!

Worship and Mission

“How do I experience the Risen Christ, Fr. Eric,” you may ask.  Let’s go back to our story for the answer.  When Mary M and Mary saw Jesus, “they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.”  In all the rest of the gospel, when folks were listening, being taught, and learning from the Master Jesus, they were sitting as his feet.   In other words, these two disciples did what any good disciple would do, they knew they needed to hear from Jesus.  They were ready to hear what Jesus had to tell them.  They prostrated themselves before him, a sign of humility and reverence and worship, a sign of waiting for the Master’s call.

Jesus told Mary M and Mary, “Do not be afraid.”  In other words, to experience the Risen Christ, we have to go to the empty tomb and believe.  We have to discover what our ministry and mission is as a disciple.  We have to get on the road and tell others, and then be ready for Jesus to meet us on the way.

How do we experience the Risen Christ?  In the lives of our sisters and brothers in the church.  We gather for worship, we gather for fellowship, and we gather to do mission work together and in so doing, we become witnesses of the resurrection for future Christians.

This is our mission call:  we worship together, listen to the Master’s teachings, be fed with the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and then, go tell the Good News in the world.  Christ is Risen and that is a promise of great exceeding rejoicing in which we can be glad, be well, and thrive!

In the midst of the tragic times like the one we are in now, we can be assured of hope and joy in the empty tomb.  We have glimpses of that hope through the work and dedication of so many people, sacrificing their own well-being to serve others.  They are witnesses of hope in life lived in service to others and they should inspire all of us.  These doctors, nurses, health care workers, truckers, first responders, police officers, military personnel, grocery workers, and so many more are like the Mary Magdalene’s and Mary’s of today.

Like them, we have experienced the Risen Christ, and so we must go and tell the good news.  We too, must tell Jesus’ brothers and sisters, even in the shadow of death, even when all around is filled with fear and trepidation.  Even now, when life does not seem normal like it did before, and in the days to come, may be forever changed, we do have the hope that there is “exceeding rejoicing, abundant gladness, and spiritual well-being.”  We have hope in life everlasting in Christ.  So, go tell the Good News and shout it loudly for all to hear, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen, the Lord is Risen Indeed.

SERMON EASTER VIGIL 4-11-20 St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples, FL

Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10

Renewal of Baptismal Vows

I still recall the first Easter Vigil at my alma mater, my seminary Sewanee, The University of the South.  In that stained-glass chapel that resembled a cathedral more than a mere chapel, in darkness that night, there were multiple baptisms.  The Easter Vigil is one of the few liturgical feasts at which, baptisms can occur, and it is the most appropriate.

In ancient times, candidates for baptism would be prepared by the community through teaching, acts of service, and through examination.  On the Great Vigil of Easter, the candidate would experience the initiation rite of baptism, be welcomed into the Body of Christ, and receive the Blessed sacrament for the first time.

Tonight, is the first celebrated Eucharist of Easter and it is appropriate for us to focus on baptism.  The sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist are what tie us together as a community, and I am not merely speaking of St. Monica’s, I am referring to the Church, the Body of Christ of which, were a mere local chapter.  We are members individually and corporately of Christ and as such, we are witnesses of the Good News of God’s promises of grace, mercy, reconciliation, and resurrection.  We are a community that gathers around the Great Thanksgiving as the power and energy and grace we need to go out there, and show others Christ in us.

Resurrection and New Life

We are living in a time of great fear and trepidation.  We are safe at home, but that safety comes with a price, which is our sense of fellowship and communion together.  The isolation, separation, and loneliness are signs that we are not together as the baptized but fear not, Jesus is still Lord, the Tomb is still empty, and the Resurrected Christ has overcome all our fears, all our doubts, and has even overcome death.  It sounds like a trite saying when all around us, death threatens the core of our nation, but the Resurrected Lord is our hope.

We have new life, even in the midst of fear and death.  We have the promises of God that the grave is not the end and that promise should change how we face today’s crisis and transform how we will face the new normal to come.  I pray that this crisis becomes a lasting transformative wakeup call for not only we as a nation, but all of us as God’s creation, united under God’s abiding grace.  I pray we become a united family that realizes that we have more that brings us together than we do that drives us apart.  I pray that the hope of the resurrection, becomes the new normal for the world

Live as if It is True: Because it Is

I still remember the young college kid a few years ago, who said to me, “Fr. Eric, I cannot be a Christian, because I am not sure I believe in resurrection.”  My response to him was this, “What if it is true?”  Then I thought and I added, “What if you lived your life as if it were true, as if the tomb was empty, and as if Jesus had been raised?”  His response was simply, “Everything for me would change, I would live my life differently, I would treat others differently, I would face my fears without reservation, and I would be at peace.”  I simply told him, “Then live as if it is true, and let trust and choice change your life forever.”

Sisters and brothers, the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and his promises that we will share in a “resurrection like his” is true.  That truth will change you, and it will change the world forever.  Make the choice to live the resurrected life in Christ.  When our new normal returns, and it will return, and when we look back at the economic losses, the isolation, fear, and loneliness we have experienced, how will live?  Will we in a few months return to our self-absorption, petty differences, economic satiation, and our political polarity, or will we be forever changed by the truth of a new life after the pandemic, the truth of new life in resurrection after death?  Then, if you want new life, then live as if it is true, and believe in the hope of God’s promises.  Because the truth of the matter is this, “Alleluia Christ is Risen, The Lord is Risen Indeed.”

SERMON Easter 2A 4-19-20 St Monica’s Naples, FL

Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Thomas the Twin, the disciple in today’s gospel is known by most of us as “Doubting Thomas.” Nonetheless, many theologians think that trademark is a misinterpretation of the story we heard today.  Think about it, we all have had doubts, and I am sure that we all have at some time said, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” or “I doubt that,” or “the proof is in the pudding.”  Thomas was no doubter; he was a realist.

As the narrative goes, a few days before they all gathered in fear behind locked doors, Thomas knew Jesus had died the cruel death of crucifixion.  So, when Jesus appeared to the apostles, Thomas was the one who asked for proof of Jesus’ resurrection.  He wanted to touch the wounded hands, the pierced side, and the scarred hands.  Thomas was mis-labeled a doubter because that required some form of belief.  Thomas was an unbeliever period and had not yet come to faith.

There is a subtle, but distinct difference between doubt and unbelief.  Doubt is a situation we find ourselves somewhere between belief and disbelief.  Doubt involves uncertainty and a lack of sureness about something.  When in doubt, the mind remains suspended between two polar opposite conclusions, and the people who find themselves in this place, may not be able to commit to either assertion.  Thomas was not in doubt, he just did not believe Jesus had been raised.   Thomas was not a skeptic.  Thomas was a realist who needed proof, in order to believe.

Belief requires a heart change

How many of us are like Thomas?  We struggle to go all the way in this faith journey, because we need to see proof of it all.  For some of us, making the commitment to follow Jesus as a disciple is a challenge, not because we have doubt, but because we are not ready to fully trust Jesus as Lord.

When Thomas came to belief in Christ, it required his heart to be changed.   Thomas not only acquiesced to his newfound knowledge of the reality of the Risen Christ, the knowledge led him to a faith proclamation.  A tiny seed of faith in Jesus’ had been planted in that moment of resurrection in front of him, and he responded in turn, with TRUST in Jesus’ promises.  This unbeliever, in a pivotal moment, proclaimed Jesus as “My Lord and My God.”

When the evidence of the crucifixion became evident in Christ’s resurrected body, Thomas did not jump on the fence and say, I like what the man teaches and so I’ll hang around with him and with these others.    No, Thomas jumped over the fence of unbelief, and he became a believer in action.  Thomas went from unbelief to proclaimer.  Thomas saw the Risen Christ and his whole life changed from that moment on.  Belief requires a heart change.

Faith, Trust, Belief

Theologian Rex Chaplain asserts that there are several elements of faith or trust.  He wrote, “Christian faith involves an assertion of the truth of what is believed, a personal experience of that truth in one’s life, a kind of loving action that flows from it, and a constancy of approach in trust.” (Rex Chapman [Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1983], p. 144). In other words, we believe, we proclaim, we respond, and we remain faithful.

When we acknowledge and trust we are in a loving relationship with God, we also must be ready for times of uncertainty and doubt.  We all have moments when we doubt, but uncertainty is a part of any relationship, because love comes with its moments of doubt.  The antithesis of faith is not doubt, but the antithesis of faith is absolute exact certainty.

Skepticism is an essential element of the human psyche, and so when it comes to discipleship, we can find solace in knowing that doubt is not failure.  Being, growing into, and remaining a person of faith is a life-long marathon and not a 100-yard dash.

Many saints through the ages have lived their entire lifetime of believing and proclaiming, while filled with doubting and questioning.  In 1953, beloved Mother Teresa wrote in her memoirs, “Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself — for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work.’”  Even she had moments of doubt, and people look to her as a guide to living the life of fait

For us, your mere presence watching from home this day, your ongoing prayers for one another and the world, your trust in God when all around us seems so God-less attests to you faith, even in moments of doubt.   You see, faith transforms us , it moves us to express that transformation in action and in words.  Faith drives us to proclaim Jesus as Lord by adopting a life of love, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.  Our faith changes how we live, and how we live changes our faith, because the Spirit working in us, giving us space for grace, transforms us so that we can give space for grace for others.  Faith puts us on missipon 

Faith Leads Us to Mission

Our mission is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.  We are a people who gather together, but we are also sent out to be reconcilers and restorers in the world. As the co-missioners with Christ, we are sent out to heal, we are sent out to restore, and we are sent out to show others that Christ frees us from the hold our failures have over us. Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  God restores us when we fall short.   Our mission is to do what our Lord does and restore others when they fall short.

Jesus sends out all disciples, to engage in his ministry of reconciliation in the world.  Our trust in Jesus as “Lord of our Lives” means we not only embrace his ministry of love, peace, reconciliation, and restoration, but we become instruments of God’s love.  We live the life of faith in our relationships with those closest to us, in our relationships with each other in the church, and more directly, in our witness of God’s love in this community and beyond.

Our mission given to us by Jesus himself is to take that life-changing power he gives us in the Spirit and go out there.  This mission of love is made possible because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ; God’s reconciliatory love that overcomes death.  Despite the scars of our lives, we through our baptism and by the gift of the Holy Spirit breathed into us, go out carrying on Christ’s mission of love in the world.  By loving those who are broken, those seeking God’s love, we are revealing the grace that transforms scars into Good News for all.

 

SERMON Good Friday 4-10-20 St. Monica’s Naples, FL

Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

“We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.” (BCP p. 281)  Today is the second reading of the Passion Gospel this week. On Palm Sunday we focused on the liturgical move from cheers of the crowd and the triumphal entry, to the rejection and execution of Messiah.   Today on Good Friday, we hear again the dramatic reading and yet, our focus today is on Jesus’ cross.

The cross of Rome was used by an oppressive, violent empire as an instrument of torture, agony, and death.  Its purpose was to keep the population in line, to maintain dominance, to stand as a sign of power wielded over the people it ruled.  If one stepped out of line, they were sent to the cross as a public spectacle.  In many cases, the person crucified was a criminal, but Rome also used the cross to deal with outspoken political figures who spoke against Roman oppression.  Jesus was neither, but rather, he was a victim of injustice from a system, which kept people locked in the bondage of religious oppression.

Jesus, the loving, reconciling, healing, presence of God among us became the target of Roman and the religious establishment’s subjugation.  Why? Because Jesus threatened the power systems, because his ministry of self-giving love called for the enactment of forgiveness and reconciliation and mercy ruled the day .  Jesus had no plans to create political disruption, but to bring loving, grace-filled, life transforming spiritual disruption into all our lives.

God in Christ was with us in our frailty and yet, he was the willing victim whose obedience to forgiveness and non-violence led him to the cross of Calvary.  Jesus was faithful to the end, but those who accompanied him in his work, in the moments when he needed them the most would only follow him so far.  Jesus never abandoned his disciples and even when the soldiers in the garden wanted to arrest Peter, James, John, and the others, Jesus commanded them, “Let them go.”

Jesus never strayed from his mission, because when Peter succumbed to violence in those hours, Jesus reminded him that strength was not the way to salvation, and Jesus even healed the soldier’s wound.  Later on, when the torture of the cross was near its end, Jesus’ cried, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” The work of Christ was complete in a last act of forgiveness and thus, Jesus remained the loving life-giving servant, even unto his very last breath.

Jesus did not resort to acts of vindication against the atrocities waged against him, even though he could have done so.  He did not retaliate against those who crucified him, as he could have done.  No, Jesus remained the loving, obedient servant to the last, fulfilling the promises of God’s abundant love, which has no bounds, even in the face of rejection and death on the cross.

The cross of Jesus is scandalous, but it symbolizes God’s love, and although there are multiple theories about the significance of the cross and Christ’s death, the cross represents the work of Christ for us and for our salvation.  The cross makes a way for us to have life lived in a reconciled relationship with God. Our salvation began on the initiative of God and not ours. God came to participate fully in humanity’s destiny; life everlasting and not death. Christ did not give in to the fear of death, nor when facing his own demise, Jesus did not succumb to the often, normal human response of vindication or retaliation.

Jesus showed us the endless love of the Father, by becoming embodied forgiveness, even in the face of persecution, torture, and death.  Death is now no longer our story’s end, and the world is forever changed, because life lived in hope of God’s promises will never be the same.  The cross has now been transformed from a sign of torture, death and power, into the sign of the new reality of God’s presence with us, who with outstretched arms, God declares, “I love you this much.”

If we truly follow Jesus, then we must take up the banner of suffering ourselves, the emblem of reconciliation and restoration, and we must carry it as we demonstrate the Way of Jesus every day, Christ’s love for the world.  In a few moments, a cross will be brought into the sanctuary, and although each of us cannot be present here to express our devotion to Jesus Christ and his cross, we can pray in silence at home.  Please, when that opportunity is offered, at home find a place to kneel at the cross and consider this simple prayer, “We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cro

SERMON Maundy Thursday 4-9-20 St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples, FL

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-14); Psalm 116:1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32;  John 13:1-17, 31b-35

 What is Love

I believe Jesus was trying to teach us something profoundly different in his simple act of foot washing.  Jesus was telling us that we need to be real with one another, and try and accept one another as sisters and brothers, despite our many faults and failures. When Jesus said to love one another, he meant we should accept and empathize with, the unlikeable characteristics, brokenness, and sordid histories, dark secrets, and quirks found in those we are called to love.  That is what makes being a disciple so difficult, because Jesus wants us to love those who are difficult to love.  So, Jesus mandate that he gives us, this whole reason for Maundy Thursday, needs just a little clarification.

The English word for love does not capture the depth of the emotion, the action, and the way of life Jesus calls us to lead.  In scripture we hear about the following types of love: “Philia,” the kind bond we share with a friend, “Eros,” an erotic bond we share with a spouse, and finally “Agape: an unconditional bond we have with “God” and other Christians.  Agape is the action of love that Jesus mandates his disciples aspire to love.  Agape is the love that exists between people, even regardless of the changing circumstances of the relationship, and regardless of the other’s so-called, unloveableness.

Mandatum  – Love one Another

In Holy Week, the first day of the Triduum or the great three days is Maundy Thursday.  “In Latin, the word for a commandment is mandatum.”(3)  Love one another is a mandate, not a suggestion, but it is not an easy way of life for most of us.  Could you imagine what would happen if the church, those loved by God, could love as Jesus loves?  The world would be a much better place. Imagine loving beyond ourselves like Jesus, who “went to the cross to show in word and deed that God is love and that we, as God’s children, are loved.”  (2)  We see examples of that kind of love, found in the tireless work, unimaginable sacrifices, and endless hours by nurses, doctors, and other caregivers, who are risking their lives in the hospitals caring for the sick and dying, afflicted with the COVID virus.  We can learn much about agape love in times like these.

Jesus taught us first what Agape love looks like, when he, before his death on the cross, washed his disciples’ feet.  We 21st century Christians culturally do not connect with why that little act was so important.  In Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, it was arid, dusty, sandy, and harsh.  Transportation from home to work, from field to town, from village to village, was accomplished by walking. So, you can imagine what feet looked like by the end of the day, covered with sand, caked on with gunk, and you can only imagine the odor.  So, here is why this act is so important.

When traveling guests stopped for a respite at a friend’s home, the homeowner directed his or her lowliest servants to take fresh water to the entrance of the home and wash each guest’s feet prior to entry.  A servant of very low status and not the homeowner accomplished this act, which in that culture was a sign of great hospitality and kindness.  Through Jesus loving act of foot washing after the Last Supper, the event we commemorate on Maundy Thursday, Jesus demonstrated Agape Love as he became the lowly servant, who served his disciples. What we sometimes see as maybe a distasteful ritual, truly speaks volumes about the very character of God, who through the mystery of the Incarnation, sent not a mere servant to reconcile us, He did it himself in Christ, with humility and vulnerability. God invites us to be served and loved by God, and to be served and love by one another. 

Following Jesus

We allow another person to wash our feet, as a sign of how we should interact with one another; allowing us for a sister or brother, to remove the masks of power that we hide behind.  When we are humbled to one another, we allow another person to see our real self.  We reveal the muck, dirt, grime, and crusted over authenticity we all carry, and only then are able to love one another, as servants of one another.   This is critical for the church, because “Jesus (was) not just urging the church to be merely a friendly place with a big parking lot where folks greet newbies with a smile.  His parting command that (we) love one another is a call for (us) to hang together, to present a united front against the world’s hatred.” (4)

Humbling ourselves and being real with one another is how we begin to live into that kind of agape love as the church every week.  However, we Christians must be willing to be vulnerable, as Jesus was vulnerable on the cross, and that is when we reveal to the world God’s agape for all of creation.  Author Richard Hayes wrote, “If outsiders do not see in the Christian community love of another kind, there is no reason for them to attend to the message that God loved the world so much that he sent his Son to rescue it.” (4)

Wash My Feet Lord

Following Jesus means we must walk behind him and do what he does and love how he loves.  We have to traverse the mud and muck of life and get into the deep reality of who we are now, so that we might be able to participate in that agape love Jesus commands us to share. Like the masks we sometimes hide behind, we are afraid to be vulnerable and release the false power we wield in life.  We would rather not allow Jesus (or someone else) to touch the weakest and dark recesses of our hearts. “A deeper reason we don’t want Jesus handling our feet is because to allow Jesus to touch our feet is to allow him to touch our will.” (5) “To allow Jesus to cleanse our feet is to remove all that prevents us from using our feet to follow him.” (5)

On the eve before he offered himself to death on the cross, as the humbled, self-giving servant, agape loving savior, Our Lord used this very significant moment, this significant act to teach us, to encourage us, and to command us to love one another.  As we gather on this evening, commemorating the night at which, Jesus gave himself for us, we are still able to participate. Even though we cannot be together here in this place tonight, I invite each of you to consider washing the feet of those with whom you are quarantined at home as an act of humble, agape love.  Take this opportunity to wash another’s feet, and then allow them to do the same, as a sign of humility, obedience, mutual commitment, and agape love for one another.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you, love one another.”

REFERENCES

(1) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Four_Loves

(2) http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=2542

(3) https://www.thoughtco.com/maundy-holy-thursday-541524

(4) Hays, Richard B. “An Emergency Directive.” The Christian Century, vol. 109, no. 14, Apr. 1992, p. 425.

(5) https://www.patheos.com/resources/additional-resources/2011/04/clean-feet-a-maundy-thursday-meditation-alyce-mckenzie-04-18-2011

 

 

 

Hope for today … (a reflection this morning) 4-7-2020

“For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Psalm 71:5″

Merriam Webster’s dictionary describes faith as ‘complete trust.’ If we say we have faith in God, do we really trust God in all circumstances, including today’s tragic pandemic? Even clergy struggle to have complete trust all the time, but that is why we, in our frailty and human condition, must rely on God. We trust professionals, politicians, experts, and those closest to us, but in whom is it that we can really trust? God in Christ, and we only need a small seed-sized amount of faith.

We who long for the presence of others, now must social distance, stay at home, all so that we can protect others, and so many of us live in fear and isolation. We do not have to remain afraid, because we can turn fear into trust and trust into hope. In Christ, we can find strength, resolve, and hope that is, if we will trust God’s grace even in the midst of tragedy.

If you need proof of God’s outpouring of love for us, if you want to see trust and hope in action, watch those health care providers on the front lines, who are pouring their hearts out in faith, to bring hope to those who are ill.

Today, trust God in these times. Have faith. Remain hopeful, remain prayerful, and remain faithful.

Peace, Fr. Eric

SERMON Palm Sunday 4-5-20, St. Monica’s Naples

Isaiah 50:4-9ª; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 27:11-54

Disappointment

            Like most of you at home, this is the first time in many years that on Palm Sunday, I have not been able to participate in the Palm procession.  This ritual has been a part of Holy Week in the Anglican tradition for decades.  However, today our current crisis, our new normal, precludes us from participating in a ritual so critical to the beginning of the most sacred time in the church.  In my two years here at St. Monica’s we have only been able to walk this path of palm and cross together once.  You may recall that last year, our 9:30 am service procession was rained out.  This year, we must remain six feet apart and we cannot have more than ten people in the same room.  Even so, the purpose of the ritual is so essential to gospel story we hear today, despite the fact the liturgy, and we are so distant this year.

However, like normal, we will enact the gospel narrative by having select parishioners read parts of the story, a story that in a way, puts each of us in the roles of the people present with Jesus 2000 years ago.  However, you are watching it all played out from home, unable to fully engage in the Palm Sunday gospel narrative.  So, I want to ask you to imagine you are actually here in the story itself and allow yourself to immerse your heart in the characters of the story.  Bring into the present moment, the locale, the sounds, the smells, and the sights many of us would have experienced as a part of the crowd, or the group of Jesus’ closest disciples.

We participate in a story where we are the crowd shouting “All Glory Laud and Honor” and later end up crying, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” The story of the journey from celebration to cross makes present for us, our own struggle to follow Jesus.  We struggle whether to choose palm or cross when we choose to follow Jesus.  If we are honest, we all wrestle with the kind of Savior we seek even today, and we struggle with what kind of symbol we carry, the symbol of our discipleship; a palm or a cross.

             Jesus’ first followers had a difficult time choosing which one to carry as well.   The disciples with Jesus in the Garden were asked by The Lord merely to stay with him and pray, but they all fall asleep.   When Jesus was arrested and did not resist his own apprehension, Peter forgot what Jesus taught him about loving neighbor, and he cut the ear off of one of the soldiers.  When accused of being a disciple by the fireside, Peter the bold defender of the Savior denied him three times.  Later, the crowd that cheered Jesus upon his arrival, when before Pilate’s judgement seat were asked for which prisoner they wished acquitted, they chose to call for the release of a violent insurrectionist in place of the innocent one, Jesus.

Jesus chose well which symbol he would carry.  Despite shouts of “Crucify Him,” we later heard Jesus on the cross say, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Others there chose which symbol they would carry.  As the crowd taunted the tortured Lord they shouted, “You saved others, save yourself Jesus.” Then a criminal under the same penalty cried, “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Finally, Jesus spoke his last words, “Father I commend my spirit” and then, we hear another person choose which symbol to carry.  We heard the soldier’s regret for his part in the drama, “Surely, this man was innocent.”

The crowd, his disciples, and others just sitting on the sidelines debated about who Jesus was, and in their struggle to choose him or reject him, they experienced cycles of adulation, rejection, and regret.  Many of us do the same in this battle to be a disciple. As the baptized we journey in faith with Jesus every day, but the path of our discipleship is lined with both palms and crosses, and like the crowd, we often cannot decide what kind of Savior we really want.

We need the King of Hope

We are not that different from those early disciples.  When they shared that meal of memorial with Jesus, it was only an hour later that they were arguing about who was going to be greatest among them.  They seemed to forget his teachings and warnings about self-denial and self-giving love.  It was as if they forgot all that he taught them and yet, they still had hopes of a power-wielding King, who would satisfy their own personal desires.  I think we all struggle whether to choose the “king of the palms,” or the “king of the cross.”

To follow the “King of the Cross” means we choose the counter-cultural, arduous path of self-giving love, while rejecting the normative, tranquil path of self-satisfaction or self-preservation.  When life becomes uncomfortable for us, and we all know that right now it is more than uncomfortable, how do we take a stand to protect the innocent, to bring justice to the oppressed, to claim peace in the midst of chaos, or to merely claim Jesus as the Lord of our lives?  When we are so afraid, so uncertain, and so out of control, we must realize that we have the capacity to be like Peter and deny our affiliation. We also have the capacity to be like the crucified thief beside Jesus, who cried out in faith in his desperate circumstances.

Today, our world is very different.  Our very lives are not what they were only a month ago, and in a month, things will be different still.  It seems difficult to follow the Crucified Savior of the world now it seems because, we are afraid and we are isolated.  We are anxious and many of us feel helpless to offer aid to those who are suffering from the pandemic.  We want to be people of faith, but all of us are affected in some way by this virus and many of our families are suffering alone.  I want to offer you hope today by encouraging you to face your fears, anxiety, and uncertainty and choose the way of the palm, and the cross.  Right now, more than ever, what we all need is hope in the fact that that palms become crosses, and that transformation leads us to a new and better day.

Palms to Crosses

In my first parish after Palm Sunday, I walked into the parish hall after the Eucharist, and I noticed one of our youth making a cross out of her palm branch.   I had seen the results of someone doing that before, but I had not made on in years. I walked over and commented on her creativity, and I asked her she was doing it.  She said, we always make these on Palm Sunday, it reminds us that our Joy is in what Jesus did on the cross.  I smiled and sat down with her and started one myself.  Terri joined me later, then several others joined in and we were all around the table making palm crosses.  Then, I realized something that day.  We are not called to choose palm or cross per se.  We are called to recognize that the joy and celebration of Our Savior’s arrival each day, only comes through the reality of his grace made real in his mutual suffering with us in our despair.  The celebration and joy of his entrance requires that he join us in our suffering and in our death, and that is where we can find hope today.

The God who created all, stands with us today in the midst of this chaos, this fear, vulnerability, and death all around us.  Jesus promises us that even in times like these, there is hope enough for a new day to come.  Jesus promises that even in despair, we have courage.  Jesus promises that even in loneliness, we are never alone.  Jesus promises that even death has lost its power over us.  We have hope, and the palm crosses are symbols of that hope, a hope that each of us can have right now.

So, can we follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha, or will we stop in the courtyard near the warm and comfortable fire, and deny him like Peter.  Honestly, none of us want to go that full distance to the disgraceful death of a cross, but thanks be to God, none of us have to do so, because we have God’s grace.

God’s grace is a gift we merely accept.  We cannot work for it, do enough to gain it, or serve in enough ministries to manipulate it.  It is the free gift of love from God, and it is ours, despite our capacity to reject the humbled Lord, who intercedes on our behalf saying, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” We have the grace of God’s presence with us in this time of tragedy and we can trust God’s love will never abandon us no matter what happens.  When it seems like you are alone, when the television news is too much, and when you feel helpless and afraid, trust the King Jesus, the King of Palm and Cross.

 

REFERENCES

(1)  King, Michael A. “Holy Hate.” The Christian Century, vol. 124, no. 23, Nov. 2007, p. 18.