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.

EASTER SUNDAY SERMON St. Monica’s Naples, FL 04/01/18

resurrectionActs 10:34-43, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, John 20:1-18

Alleluia, Christ is Risen, The Lord is Risen indeed. The Gospel story of Resurrection is a message that for some folks may be a difficult thing to accept. Somewhere, even here, there may be some of us, who may not fully understand the mystery of resurrection, or even accept it. Some may struggle with the idea that Jesus was raised from the dead, passed through walls, and was lifted up to heaven at the Ascension. So some folks may ask, “Is New Life really a possibility?” Can there truly be a sequel to the story of death? Is there something on the other side of despair?

Personally, I stake my very life on this hope, even if I cannot fully comprehend the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection. Scripture leaves us a little wanting for information too. Mary Magdalene’s words to the other disciples after his death and burial was merely, “I have seen the Lord.” So, new life beyond death seems a hard thing to fathom for postmodern, techno-savvy, scientific, folks to comprehend, understand, or even to accept as a real possibility. We wrestle with the prospect that even when it comes to death, there is more to the story. Even so, the entertainment industry and even science is exploring more and more the after life. Television shows about the paranormal are fairly popular these days. Books about heaven seem to be on the top seller list. There is even one television network that has for eight seasons, presented a unique series about a post-apocalyptic world in which, an unknown mystery disease changes people into walking, decaying mindless carriers of a life-draining infection.

walkingdeadThe survivors of this apocalyptic place constantly struggle with hunger, lack of shelter, lack of safety, and despair and death abounds all around. There doesn’t seem to be much hope in that story, but in one particular episode of the show, when all hope seemed lost for the group, there was a scene in which, the challenges of faith took the spotlight. Many of the group had been lost in a recent attack and in a brief moment of despair, Rick the hero, said something profound to Herschel one of the more religious characters. Herschel was in despair and was ready to give up and said, “I’ve lost my farm, I’ve lost my wife and maybe my daughters.” Rick chastised him and said, “Herschel, you’re a man of God! Have some faith.” Even television tells us that we should trust in something beyond our current circumstances, and even in the midst of tragedy, when we tend to lose hope there is a new day, a new way, and a new life.

Mary Magdalene trusted beyond the cross and death of Jesus. To her fellow disciples, she said, “I have seen the Lord.” The truth of Jesus’ resurrection is God’s promise that new life, unlike anything we have known before, stands on the other side of our despair, our fears, our struggles, and yes, even our death. When all seems lost, when all around us is falling apart, we still have hope of new life. I know it may be difficult to prove or even understand, but even in the worse moments of life, maybe when we experience job loss, maybe when our beloved abandons us, maybe when our portfolio’s value drops to zero, maybe when our own health fails, and maybe in that last moments of life, when our very breath is slipping from us, we do have hope.

“Alleluia Christ is Risen” proclaims that when our circumstances are beyond our power, we can trust that God is faithful. The promises of God are not just nice little things to believe in, because billions of people over the centuries have faithfully relied on the promise of new life, which became a reality at Jesus’ empty tomb. Mary Magdalene, the first apostle realized that death had lost its grip on Jesus, the promised One of God and thus, and we too can live boldy knowing that it has lost its hold on us as well.

This truth of the resurrection is the promise of a new way of life, a new beginning each and every day, a reclaiming in Christ the beauty, grace, and the blessed, original intent of creation. Even in the shadow of death we have hope, but we still fear death, because we live as if we are detached from our own mortality. The difficult truth of life is that we will not leave this world without passing through death in all its forms: emotional, spiritual, and relational and yes, eventually physical death. We must accept that there are doors in this life, through which we must pass, but on the other side, there is something else awaiting us. If we can live into that possibility, it changes how we live and how we love.

There is a country music song I love. If you play a country song backwards, you know you get your dog back, your house back, your wife back, and your job back. This one is different. It is a story of both tragedy or hope, loss and recovery, death and life. The song “Live like you were Dying” by Tim McGraw is based on the story of a young man who in his mid 40’s, discovers he has a terminal illness. The news is devastating for him and his family. He eventually faces the future and makes up his mind to live the life, which he has left and to live it to its fullest. He decides that he would do all the things he never did before. He committed to go skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing and to go 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu. He decided that from that point forward he would love deeper, speak sweeter, and he would give the forgiveness that he’d been denying. The chorus to this song is this, “Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.” Today’s gospel proclamation, “Alleluia Christ is Risen,” is an invitation to live, not as if we are dying, but to live as if, by the unfathomable mystery of resurrection, death is no more, so that by God’s grace and promises we can love deeper, speak sweeter, and give the forgiveness to others we have been denying.

Over a few months (a few years ago), I had an ongoing conversation about faith with a young man who was a self-proclaimed atheist. At one point in one of our conversations he said to me, “I love this Jesus way of life you talk about Eric, but I just can’t accept that resurrection thing.” I asked him, “What if it’s true? What if God’s love is forever? What if we have hope that none of the tragedies in the world is the end of the story? What if none of the death, none of the loneliness, none of the brokenness is the end of the story? What if we lived like death is not the end?” The young man said, “Wow, I guess it would change everything.” I paused, looked him deeply in the eyes and said, “For many of us, it already has changed everything.” I added, “If you can have just a little hope that it is true my friend, then you will have a better grasp on the hope of the resurrection than you may know.” He smiled and said, “Huh, what if it’s true.”

You see, living in the hope of resurrection changes us. It will make us cherish each relationship we share, accept each bump in the road we hit, it will make us accept every creature as brother/sister, and it will cause us to not take the great gift of life for granted any longer.” What if it’s true? I don’t know about you, but when we leave the presence of the beauty of this Easter Sunday, with its lilies, Easter suits and dresses, white banners and vestments, and the sense of hope and celebration that is ripe all around, there will be days down the road when I will honestly say, “I’m hurting here, I’ve messed it all up, and things seem hopeless.” Maybe that is the exact time I, and many of you will need to pray, “OK Lord, please show me a little glimpse of resurrection right now, today, this week, and at this very moment.”

When that happens my friends that is living into the hope of God’s promises. To even ask for a glimpse of resurrection is the beginning of a glimmer of faith into its possibility. “Eric,” you ask, “how can you be so sure God is faithful?” Well, I believe it to be true because I have experienced God’s grace. I believe it to be true because I have witnessed the example of the faith of those who have gone before me. I believe it to be true because you all, my sisters and brothers, who stand together in this place, proclaiming the hope of resurrection in your daily lives.  I’ll stake my life on it and so can you. “Alleluia, Christ is risen ….”   “The Lord is raised indeed, Alleluia.”

SERMON Easter Vigil St. Monica’s 3/31/18

Romans 6:3-11; Psalm; Mark 16:1-8

This night is the first Eucharist of Easter and in the tradition of the church, it is the primary feast appropriate for Holy Baptism. Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church. The first initiates into the Christian faith were prepared for baptism during the long Lenten season, and their preparation culminated in baptism at the Vigil. Within the diversity of Christian denominations today, the Rite of Baptism has changed quite a bit over the centuries, but for mainline churches like us, it has retained much of its original form.

Regardless, we all pass through the waters of baptism, as the rite through which, we enter the great community of believers. We Christians share a common tie with Our Lord and each other, and because of that tie, we share a mutual responsibility to each other. Each of us has a responsibility to help each other grow in a deeper love and commitment to Christ. Walking in newness of life in the household of God is a communal journey. We followers of Jesus gather to strengthen our bonds of affection, so that we may proclaim the Risen Lord, to shout the truth that “the tomb is empty.” Our faith proclamation to the world is “Alleluia, the Lord is Risen, The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!” All of us gathered here, and Christians throughout the entire world, have made the commitment to one another, that we will do all in our power to support each other.

We promise to bring our Spiritual Gifts to the Kingdom, so that we might together serve the least, lost, and lonely among us and wherever they may be found. We are all gifted by the same Holy Spirit who sealed us in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. That same Spirit equips each of us with gifts of service, leadership, wisdom, giving, and so much more.

On this night, we gathered in darkness into which a new fire, the fire and light of the Crucified one, was once again rekindled and shone brightly in our midst by the Paschal Candle. From it we lit our smaller candles to bring light into the darkness of the church. From the Paschal Candle, our baptismal candles were lit as a sign that we are “Children of Light.”

Our lives are to be illuminated by the light of Christ, and through its brightness, we will change the world. Our faith reflects hope and grace for a world fraught with pain, uncertainty, and despair. Together we are the Church, together we are one Body, and together we are the household of God. Together we are sent out to proclaim the love of God, the reconciliation of creation, the empty tomb, the resurrection of Christ. “Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.”

SERMON Good Friday St. Monica’s 3/30/18

goodfridayIsaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; 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 hearing of the Passion Gospel this week. On Palm Sunday we participated in the narrative’s shift from celebration and the cheers of the crowd with Jesus’ triumphal entry, to the rejection, scorn, trial and execution of the Messiah.   On Good Friday, our attention is drawn dramatically back to Jesus’ death on the cross.

The cross was an oppressive, violent torture device used by the Roman Empire to maximize the pain, agony, and death of criminals who threatened the security of the realm. 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 you stepped out of line, you were sent to the cross as a public spectacle. In many cases, the person crucified may have been a real criminal, but they might have been an outspoken political figure, or an advocate against Roman oppression, or even a victim of injustice.

Jesus was neither, he was an innocent victim of injustice. The loving, reconciling, healing, presence of God among us became the target of Roman and the religious establishment’s oppression. Jesus was a threat to the power systems, with his agenda of self-giving love and the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven, he posed a great risk to the power-wielders. What they failed to realize was that the humble servant was more than a mere man, Jesus was God present with us.

God was present in Christ as a willing victim, whose obedience to forgiveness and non-violence, led him to the cross of Calvary.   Jesus was faithful to his mission of love and his ministry of non-violence despite rejection and abandonment. When in the moment he needed the disciples the most, he cried, “Let them go,” as the soldiers threatened to take his followers in the Garden.

Peter resorted to violence and drew a sword to cut off the ear of the soldier, but Jesus reminded Peter that non-violent love was the way of salvation. Even on the cross, as the terrible torture was near its end, Jesus cried, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Then, he cried, “It is finished,” or it is complete.

Jesus never turned to vindication against the atrocities waged against him, nor did he retaliate against those who crucified him. He remained the loving, obedient servant to the last, and He became abundant love with no bounds, even a love so profound, that lasts in the face of rejection and death on the cross. Jesus revealed God’s love and forgiveness even in death, but his death was not the story’s end.  The cross has been transformed from a sign of torture, death and power wielding into a sign of the new reality of God’s grace and mercy made real. Jesus with outstretched is God declaring to creation, “I love you this much.”

In a few moments, you will be invited to express your devotion to the One who bore the cross for us, by showing our own devotion to a representation of His cross. At that invitation, please consider coming forward and praying at the cross, or You may choose to remain seated in silence, and pray at your seat. “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.”

SERMON Maundy Thursday St. Monica’s 3/29/18

washemupExodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14 ; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Over a decade ago, Terri and I, and several members of our young adult ministry team used to travel to downtown Fort Myers, to provide a hot meal for about 50-60 homeless folks, who spent every night living on the streets of Fort Myers. It was an incredibly humbling and leveling experience for us. We would sit across the picnic table and eat a meal with someone, who in our culture is often seen as less than, forgotten, and avoided. To be willing to have an experience like that, it will change you.

We listened to the stories of these folks, God’s people, and discovered many times that their plight was not because of laziness or a desire for a carefree lifestyle. To be willing to have an experience like that, it will change you. We served the least, lost, and lonely and to do so, the ministry team had to humble ourselves, so we might actually understand what it means to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” To be willing to have an experience like that, it will change you. That is exactly what Jesus Christ did for us, by coming among us and humbling himself to serve us.

On the evening before his death on the cross, Our Lord gathered his closest followers together and did something incredible for them; he washed their feet. In the 21st century, we may think that it was not such a big deal, but in Jesus’ time, washing the feet of another person was the job of someone of very low social status, usually a household servant. In that geographic region, the landscape was arid, dusty, sandy, and harsh. Transportation from home to work, from field to town, from village to village, was accomplished by walking. Sandals were the fashion back then, and of course, the invention of high quality walking shoes was several centuries away. You can imagine what their feet looked like by the end of the day. I am sure those feet were covered with sand, caked on with gunk, and you can only imagine the odor. The cleaning of feet had both a practical and social significance in those days.

When traveling guests stopped for a respite at a friend’s home, it was common for a homeowner to instruct one of his or her lowliest of servants to take fresh water to the entrance of the home, and wash each guest’s feet prior to entry. To offer this service, it was an sign of great hospitality and not a mere a practical gesture. The significance of Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet was profound. Before the Last Supper, Jesus did not send a servant to offer that deed of humility. Jesus served them himself.

This event was of great importance to that little band of followers, and it should be, as weighty a sign of humility and service for us today. What we sometimes see as an insignificant ritual, speaks volumes to the very nature of God’s plan of salvation in Christ. God, in the mystery of the Incarnation, sent not a mere servant to reconcile us, He did it himself in Christ. So tonight’s ritual of foot washing is God’s invitation to be served by God through the hands of his followers.

Each year some of us are dead set against participating in tonight’s ritual of foot washing, but when we resist, we miss out on one the great lessons of humility, and of community, taught to us by Our Lord. For the one washing, you are humbling yourself to give care to someone else, serving them from a very lowly state.   For the one being washed you are humbling yourself to receive a free gift from someone, by allowing them to enter your personal space. There is great humility on both sides of the foot basin. Personally, it can be difficult for me, to even have my spouse whom I love, trust, and share my life with, to give me such a gift. However, in this ancient ritual, we allow ourselves to become vulnerable, offering ourselves to be cleansed by another.

Isn’t this what the gift of grace is all about? The reconciliation of humankind to God was not something assigned to someone else. It was not a job that was so insignificant that it was delegated to a flunky. No, God did it Godself. God took on flesh and walked among us. He offered himself not as a powerful ruler, king, sword wielder, but as the humble servant, willing to give all, for all.The wonderful thing about God’s grace, this free gift given us by the humble servant Lord, is that all we must do is receive it. Receiving grace gives us the strength to remove the masks we wear that hide our brokenness, so we may stand before God and say, “Here I am, wash me clean.” God does just that. There is humility and grace and both sides of the foot basin.

The gesture of washing each other’s feet signifies our commitment to each other.   To allow a sister or brother to wash your feet, shows that we are a community of commitment, service, and mutual love. On the eve before he offered himself to death on the cross, as the humbled, self-giving servant, Our Lord used this very significant moment, this significant act to teach us, to encourage us, and to command us to love one another. Tonight, I invite each of you to come forward, wash each other’s feet as a sign of commitment and our mutual love for God, and for one another. There is humility and grace and both sides of the foot basin, and to be willing to have an experience like that, it will change you.

 

 

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