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.

SERMON 3/29/20 LENT 5A. St. Monica’s Naples FL

Romans 12:1-21; John 8:46-59

Truth be told

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is in the Temple teaching and the Scribes and Pharisees are there confronting him about who he was and what he was teaching.   Recorded earlier and in this same chapter of John’s gospel is the confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders, about the woman caught in adultery.  We all know Jesus’ famous rebuttal to their judgment of the woman, “those among you without sin, cast the first stone.”   Jesus offered the woman hope, mercy, and grace of a New Day in the midst of her personal crisis.

In today’s reading Jesus testified about his mission call given him by the Father, his purpose of redemption assigned to him by the Father, and the unique relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but then, in is sign of mercy to the woman, Jesus clearly demonstrated what a New Day after crisis looks like; God’s grace poured out in desperate times.

Jesus enfleshed the Father’s mercy and grace for woman the religious leaders wanted to stone, and then Jesus proclaimed that reality when he said, “before Abraham was, I am.”  Jesus told the religious leaders that he and the Father were one, but that truth upended the religious leader’s whole concept of who they were and who God was.  So, they rejected the truth, Jesus’ claim of divinity, they retaliated with violent indignation and offered him the same punishment they originally planned for the woman caught in adultery.

It is amazing that their discovery of  “who they were and whose they were” turned their world upside down and caused the religious leaders to react with fear and anxiety and divisive power.  When we face unprecedented times (like those we face now), when who we are as a people seems to be something of the past and we discover “who we are and whose we are” we also react with fear.  Nonetheless, we can choose to have hope, and we can trust in a New Day.

Who we are

The Scribes and Pharisees chose estrangement from Jesus and chose in their fear to remain separated from God’s grace.  They wanted to stone Jesus and to silence his radical teaching, because it came in conflict with their sense of self, and their sense of self-sufficiency. In other words, they succumbed to sin, the actions of missing the mark and fell short, completely forgetting that they were creature and God was creator.  The nature fo our relationship with the divine is one that requires us in times of chaos, crisis and fear, to turn to God in trust and utter dependence.

Many of our lives these past few weeks have been utterly turned upside down.  We are spending each day isolated from friends in our homes, afraid to go out, and we long for the hugs and handshakes from our sisters and brothers, the laughter of joy shared, and the peace of knowing we are not alone.  The virus we face reminds us of who we are and that we are mere fragile jars of clay susceptible to the ravages of the environment in which, we are a part.  The virus also reminds us though whose we are.  We are children of God utterly dependent on the mercy, grace, and forgiveness of a loving Father who desires good for all of God’s creation.

 

Promises of a new Day

It all seems so surreal does it not; this new reality in which we all live?  I mean it is like watching episodes of the Walking Dead, World War Z, or any other apocalyptic Hollywood fantasy, but this is the real world as we know it today.  In times like these, we are afraid, but it is a time to draw closer to God, realizing who we are and whose we are and thus, upending any estrangement from God that we may have experienced before.  We can trust God now more than ever, which if we do, it will lead to peace, and cause our fear, anxiety, and dread to pass away.  When all around us seems to change who we are as a people;  a nation vulnerable, afraid, and powerless, we can turn to the ultimate power of God’s assurances that a new day is coming.

In a couple of weeks, we will celebrate the promises of a new day which we call Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord.  I am still amazed today the number of people who have never attended a Maundy Thursday and Good Friday service, but always celebrate Easter.  We all know the story of God’s new day and yet, we forget that the new day of Easter requires us to go through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  You cannot get to Easter without going through the story of the crucifixion.  You cannot get to the empty tomb without going through death and burial.  We cannot experience the new day God has in store for us as a people, a nation, and a church, until we get through this time of uncertainty, fear, illness, and despair.

Jesus remained faithful through it all and trusted in the same Father he claimed in today’s Gospel reading.  Jesus knew who he was and whose he was and that truth helped him face the possibility of the stoning we heard about today.  That same faithfulness to his relationship to the Father helped him endure the beatings, the betrayal, and the cross that we will hear about on Good Friday.  That faithfulness will help us endure as well, because there is a new day coming for us and we need to consider, how will this experience change us, and how will we live in the days to come.

Living into the New Day

Paul’s letter to the Romans today defines how the Christian community lived into their New Day, post resurrection.  Paul reminded the church who she was and the unique gifts given within the community.  He said some of them had the gifts of “prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.  This is who we are as a people and it reminds us of our place in, and how each one of us will have a part in this community in the New Day to come.  How will this experience change you, when we all are together in person again?

Paul told the church how it should live together in the New Day.  He said, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; honor one another.”  He added that we should, be zealous and passionate to serve the Lord, that we should be hopeful, patient, and prayerful.  He said we should help one another and others.  He said we should “bless those who persecute you, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep and live in harmony with one another.  Paul provides us with a model for the New Day to come.

When we can all come together face-to-face as a community once again it will be a glorious new day however, you do not have to wait.  Come to think of it though, we do not have to wait until everyone is tested, a cure is found, a vaccine discovered, the curve of the disease slanted downward when the numbers again show we are on our way to a better day.  We can make the choice to live the way Paul exhorts us to live right now, that place where grace, mercy, forgiveness, and trust come in even in the midst of this crisis.  When we know who we are and whose we are, the reality of our common life in Christ supersedes our need for being in the same room at the same time.  Our Life in Christ gives us hope, peace, and the grace to face anything before us.  Sisters and brothers, even when fear, isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty surround us, we can trust that Our Father in Heaven will never abandon us, that we have a fount of Living Water from which to draw, and soon very soon, there will be a New Day; a day when will all be together again and all will be made new.

 

 

SERMON 3/22/20 Lent 4A. St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples, FL

Watch online: https://youtu.be/YoHjmSj8xMU

Genesis 48:8-22; John 6:27-40

New Days New Ways

We are living in new times dear friends.  There are fewer cars out on the road, and Immokalee Road in the busiest part of that day, looks much like what we normally see in June, July, and August.    I drove through the streets of the outdoor mall at Coconut Point the other day, and it looks like a scene from the Walking Dear television series.  I was at my favorite weekly burger place (Culver’s) and you can only get food through the drive through.  And the empty food aisles of Publix look like it does during the days right before a major hurricane, but much worse.  We are living in much different times.  

Jesus has something to say about days like these.  He said, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”  I think this scripture is sound advice for all of us when, food seems to be perishable these days, when life seems fleeting and ominous, and when fear abounds all around us.  We face an unknown, unseen threat to life as we know it, but I offer you hope today.

We serve a visible, loving, grace-pouring, life sustaining Savior, Jesus Christ who offers us the promises of life and life eternal, even in the face of despair, anxiety, and uncertainty.  Yes, in times like these, we have another way to live, another way to face the day, when the news seems frightening, when the streets are abandoned, and when we are home alone.   We can do the work of God, even if we are social distancing.

Doing the works of God

The people to whom Jesus was addressing (disciples of old) and we today, asked him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”  Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  Lately, I have seen, been a part of, and witnessed from a far, moments when people of faith were doing the work of God in times of despair.  I want to offer you a different perspective on some of those scenes I described earlier.  I want to show you a different view of this new life that I, and many of you have witnessed these last several weeks.  I have seen people of faith take these ominous circumstances, and transform them into moments of hope, mercy, grace, and peace.  Here are just a few.  

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday several of your sisters and brothers from St. Monica’s gathered on a Zoom call for fellowship, encouragement, and prayer.  I saw faces online of people who came together initially in fear, but ended up laughing, praying for others in need, and leaving being fed by that holy bread, that true bread from heaven, Jesus Christ.   Tuesday, five rectors from area churches came together on a virtual meeting to share with each our concerns, fears, our need for help and support from one another, and we all left the call,feeling strengthened, supported and not alone.  We were fed by that holy bread, that true bread from heaven, Jesus Christ.  

I was on a call on Wednesday morning working with our Local Mission team leaders to discuss how we as a parish can continue to feed our neighbors during this time of great need, when so many are losing employment, and the food needs are growing.  We left that call encouraged, with a plan to continue to serve, and hope for the future.  We were fed by that holy bread, that true bread from heaven Jesus Christ.  I see more of my neighbors walking and holding hands in my community, couples riding bikes together, and the tenor of the social media posts have transformed from division and character assassinations to mutual support and encouragement.  I know many of you have stories just like these, that is, if you allow the Savior of the world to transform your anxiety and fear, into hope, service, and love.  

Signs of the Promises of God

The people that Jesus was speaking to in John’s gospel today, wanted a sign from God so that they might believe.  We want a sign of hope right now too, don’t we?  We are looking for a sign from the authorities, and we hope for a vaccine to fend off the virus, we want a cure and speedy medicine to stem the spread of the disease.  So, while we wait for those in charge to bring us a sign, let us look for real hope no further, than the true sign of the promises of our faith in Christ Jesus.  

Right now, more than ever, we need to trust God in all things.   We need to trust that our faith will give us peace and hope, even when all seems so anxious.  We must believe what Jesus said, even when the food aisles are empty and the streets are abandoned, “My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  I am not offering you sentimental and trite sayings like, “keep your chin up,” or “look for the silver lining.”  I am telling you to right now, eat heartily from the peace of Christ in these times, and let your anxiety pass on.  God is with us in all things.  God’s love will never abandon us, not even unto death.  

Bread of Life

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  When all around us, we see the thirst of anxiety and the hunger of fear, we must turn to love.  Jesus said, “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.”  When you feel alone, join with your sisters and brothers and be together, even if it is over a screen and microphone.  When you feel helpless, practice sound social distancing, but send a text of encouragement, a call of hope, and the written letter of peace to someone who needs it right now.  

Jesus has not, and will never abandon us, even in times like these. He promises, “I should lose nothing of all that he has given me but raise it up on the last day.” Nothing stands between us and the love of God; not fear, anxiety, disease, loneliness, and not even death. Trust God now. Reach out to your sisters and brothers now. Call your priest for prayer now. Better yet, take a moment, take a breath, and take a slice of the Bread of Life, and indulge in the promises that God is with you, and you can be assured that you are not alone.

A Blog by Eric Cooter

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