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Posted on Jul 8, 2018

Transformers—homily for 8 July 2018

Transformers

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Photo Credit: .hd. Flickr via Compfight cc

July 8, Proper 9:

2 Samuel 5:1-5,9-10 & Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10Mark 6:1-13

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

David stands alone in a field…facing a giant.

And unlike the fearful Israelites surrounding him, he is secure in his faith…his faith in God…his faith in God’s love and care and possession of him…his faith in God to be in control…and thus he transforms the fear surrounding him and slays the giant.

A powerful man with a gravely ill daughter, and a powerless woman plagued for years with a disease for which there appears to be no cure, both push through a crowd of fearful, anxious people, and reach out in faith…faith that even in their immense need and brokenness that God loves and cares for them…and in reaching out they transform a crowd of need into a cloud of witnesses.

For the past two weeks, we’ve heard stories of faith and fear…and today, again, Jesus stands in the midst of skeptical crowds…with the anxiety rising,  “how can he do this?” … Fear seeping in… ”Where did he get this?”…and today…for the first time…fear seems to have the upper hand…He is unable to do any deed of power, and is “amazed at their unbelief.”

Fear is a giant…we know this…and faith often seems small and insignificant in comparison.

Fear is ever-present…we know this too…Every day waves of fear constantly crash over us. Faith is there too…somewhere…we think…we hope…and yes, faith is important but…sometimes…maybe this time (we fear) …faith might be too little, too late…If even Jesus can’t do anything about it…

The fear that emerges in questions like: “How are you doing this Jesus?” “Why are you doing this?” Aren’t you the carpenters son?” today might transform into: “Why can’t you do anything about this?”… “Why aren’t you doing anything about this?” “That’s all you’ve got? An offhand comment about ‘Prophets not being without honor’ and then just walking away?”

But, there’s no single faithful response to fear…There are many ways Jesus could have handled this…he could have done what many of us might do—what many of our public figures do—when faced with a direct challenge to their position or their authority…he could double down. He could “stay on message,” “push-through,” try even harder to get them to come around…try to control the situation…but that’s not what he does.

And I’ve missed this every time I’ve read it. Having this faith and fear framework made me notice this time, what he does…what his response is…because he doesn’t just ignore it…what he does is way more interesting…

In the face of this fearful crowd trying to drain and tame him, he names what they’re doing—“there is no prophet in his own city…” “your own expectations are blinding you.” And then he gathers the twelve and gives them “authority over unclean spirits,” and sends them out. Instead of consolidating and reasserting his own power…he shares it…he redistributes it…gives it up…gives it to others, and sends them out to do the transforming work he’s been doing…

There are many ways of standing up to the ever-present giant of fear.

He sends them out with his authority, a buddy (that’s important), and some very simple instructions. Go to a place, tell the story, if they’re hospitable and receptive, hang out…do what I’m doing…if they’re not, move on…shake off that dust…don’t let the fear and the negativity congeal around you…don’t let it clog up your path and trip you up.

It’s a risky and remarkable move. And notice also what they don’t do. They don’t go out and try to convince people that Jesus is right…They’re not campaigning, or drumming up business, or even being evangelical in the sense of trying to convert people. But they are being evangelical in the sense of listening…and telling stories…sharing meals…and helping out…They’re operating like transformers…dialing down the fear, and pumping up the faith. Just by their presence.

What would change in the world if we did that? If we started to view our role in that way…as transformers…not clinging to power, but redistributing it…dialing down the fear, and upping the faith, the hope, in any situation… What would change?

What would the world look like if we each left here…grounded in an absolute unshakable knowledge that God loves us…what if we each left here grounded in the unshakable conviction that not only loves us, but that God loves everyone…without exception…

What would change if we went out with that knowledge, and really believing that God was active in the world…that God’s deepest desire is to draw the whole creation into reconciled, right relationship?

What would change if we left here with absolute clarity that our task—our faithful task—was to simply pay attention, and try to follow God’s leading in our lives…pay attention to and point out God’s movement in the lives of others…and then, if people were receptive we could stay and have a conversation…learn more about them…learn more about ourselves…and if they weren’t receptive?…we could just shake it off and move on. What would change if we did that?

What would change if all Christians did that? What would change if people from all faiths (and no faith) talked in small groups together about what we value, about how we discover love and find meaning in something that is utterly beyond us, yet as close as our own breath?

What would change? Maybe nothing…maybe everything.

We’re confronted by fear all the time. Some of fears are gigantic, and intractable…some are personal and insidious. And there is no one correct response to fear…Standing up to the giant. Reaching out in vulnerability…Listening to the truth from the powerless…Letting go of power, giving it to others…and shaking the dust off. All of those are faithful responses, what’s key is that as we respond with faith, faith begins to transform fear into courage, begins to transform brokenness into wholeness, begins to transform despair into hope. That’s what we’re called to do and to be…to be transformers for the power of God…so that God’s power do the work of transforming the world.

Amen.

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Posted on Jun 3, 2018

Acceptance—homily for 3 June 2018

Acceptance

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Photo Credit: Leonard J Matthews Flickr via Compfight cc

June 3, Proper 4

1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20) & Psalm 139:1-5,12-17
2 Corinthians 4:5-12Mark 2:23—3:6

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

Our Children, Youth, and Family Minister, Kathy O’Donoghue and I have been listening to a new podcast recently.

It’s called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. They go chapter by chapter through all the Harry Potter books reading them not just as novels but “but as instructive and inspirational texts that will teach us about our own lives.” They do this by focusing on major themes like: commitment, love, loneliness, fear, generosity, betrayal, etc.

I want to stop right here, because I’m sure I’ve lost many of you. Some of you have never read Harry Potter, never want to read Harry Potter, and so you maybe silently rolled your eyes and started thinking about something else.

I’ve lost others of you because you’re already trying to surreptitiously check your podcast lists and making sure you’re subscribing to this, and just want me to stop talking so you can start listening to it…

I invite you all to come back…

What hooked me was in the first episode, when one of the hosts (who did go to divinity school) said. “I [grew] up in a non-religious household and never thought I would be sitting in a Bible study class learning how to understand this ancient text. [The bible] was interesting, but it never felt like it was mine. I didn’t love it.”

I’m going to stop there again…how many of you have had a similar experience with the Bible… interesting but not loving it…the bible is a difficult text. It’s not even a single text…it’s more like an entire library. [For a fun, and helpful guide, check out The Overview Bible]

“It never felt like it was mine.” I bet that resonates with a lot of us. The bible feels very distant a lot of times…thousands of years ago…contexts we don’t really understand….”The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” What does that mean?

Jesus makes this reference to something David did (he sort of gets it wrong by the way), and are we supposed to know what that’s all about?

It’s a difficult set of texts.

So the podcast host discovers in re-reading Harry Potter, that, “The same questions of love and fear and death and even resurrection that were showing up in the Bible class were showing up in the Harry Potter text. And the difference was that the Harry Potter books felt like they were mine. I could claim them in a way that I never feel like I could claim the Bible, because this was a text I had grown up with.”

Now I don’t know if we can make the bible feel like its ours in the same way that Harry Potter might be, or the Star Wars movies, or whatever your go to thing is (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) that really helps you make sense of the world.

We all have sacred/secular texts…our beloved books, and movies and TV shows…the albums…the songs…the plays…all of those words…the narratives that we go back to time and time again to help us make sense of a world that really doesn’t make sense.

And one of the wonderful things about this podcast is they show us how to take these secular texts seriously as more than just a great story, but as a kind of mythology that helps us learn what kind of people we want to be…what kind of people we’re being asked to be…how to respond to the really desperate needs of the world.

“Treating a text as sacred,” says one of the hosts, “is […] giving ourselves permission through rigorous practice to really see ourselves through the text,” and therefore it become intentionally instructive.

And it does require some rigorous practice…it requires some curiosity…and some willingness to be open to change. Part of the challenge and the fun of treating any text as sacred and applying a rigorous practice to the reading of it is learning new things.

So we have these readings this week. The story of Samuel’s call. Portions of this Psalm. Part of the second letter that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. And these episodes in the Gospels of Jesus doing things on the Sabbath that some people are not sure he should be doing.

What themes stand out?

The theme that really stood out for me this week was “acceptance,” particularly in the character of Eli. Every time I read this passage in Samuel, I often imagine the first part of it as sort of a Monty Python routine…”you called.” “No, go back to sleep.” I love how Eli, gradually comes to this awareness…after the third time “he perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.” Eli is perceptive…sometimes. He’s the one who hears Hannah, Samuel’s mother, praying for a child (Hannah is barren). Eli hears this prayer and perceives that God will fulfill it.  He’s not, however, able to control his two sons. And God warns him that both of his sons will die, and his house will be cut off. Eli knows this, which makes his final conversation with Samuel so poignant.

First, he has to help Samuel have the courage to reveal what God said to him. Remember, Eli is essentially the only father Samuel has ever known. Hannah had no children before Samuel. And in her prayer to God she swears that if God gives her a son, she will dedicate him as a Nazarite (a specially dedicated class of priests), and sure enough, almost immediately after Samuel is born she gives him to Eli to raise. Which is an incredible act of acceptance on Hannah’s part.

So God tells Samuel that, “Eli and his family are done.” But it is through Eli that Samuel learns not hide anything God has said, even when it’s bad news. Eli is teaching Samuel how to speak truth to power…truth to power in love…which he will continue to do for the rest of his life. It’s an important lesson for Samuel…it’s how he learns to be a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

And then there’s Eli’s final response: Imagine that you’ve just heard what Eli hears: “God is about to punish the house of Eli for ever.” I would probably immediately start bargaining….what about this…what if I did that…couldn’t we arrange…

But no. Even the first time Eli hears this, he remains silent, and with Samuel…having confirmed that it was God who spoke to him, Eli simply says, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

Every week we pray the Lord’s prayer here. And we say the words: Your  kingdom come…your will be done.”

We pray that so easily…so nonchalantly…each week. How often do we let what that really means sink in? That’s what Eli says here. It’s what Jesus says in the Garden of Gethsemane… “take this cup away from me.” “I don’t want to do this… “yet not my will but yours be done.”

Wayne Muller, in his book on the Lord’s Prayer says, “This is the essence of prayer. The first part of prayer is the work we do each and every day, work with our hands and hearts to make the world safe and good, to heal those who are sick, to feed those who are hungry, to comfort those who are lonely, to create justice, to preserve the earth. Then, having brought our heart’s desire and our offerings to the table, we prepare ourselves to gratefully receive WHATEVER is given as a gift…The spiritual life is a life of surprises. We never get just the parts we want. When we are asked to accept something unexpected, when we are given something we had not sought or wanted, how do we meet it? Do we greet it with anger, frustration, impatience, (why are you doing those things on the Sabbath?) or do we welcome it as a gift, an opportunity to become more spacious, a dancing lesson from God?” (Muller, Wayne, The Lord’s Prayer: How We Find Heaven On Earth loc. 756, Kindle).

What are your sacred texts? The ones that teach you how to live and love, and be generous? And how can you apply some rigorous practice to them? So that God’s will might be done?

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Posted on May 7, 2018

Preparing to be sent out—sermon for 6 May 2018

Preparing to be sent out

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Book of Common Prayer, p. 855

May 6, Sixth Sunday of Easter:

Psalm 98
Acts 10:44-48
;  1 John 5:1-6John 15:9-17

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

Turn to page 855 of the BCP, An Outline of the Faith or Catechism

What is the Mission of the Church?

“The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

Ok. That’s pretty broad and all-encompassing, but then so is God.

Next question: How does the church pursue its mission?

Answer: “as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.”

The church pursues it’s mission as it prays and worships…so being here…participating in this service…no matter what that participation looks like—if you are here—you are carrying out the mission of the Church.

But the church also pursues its mission as it proclaims the Gospel…that one requires a bit more than just being here…but remember Gospel simply means “good news”…and remember that our baptismal promise is to proclaim the Gospel “by word and example”. We proclaim the Gospel as much by how we live, how we treat others, how we work together toward common goals as we do through the words we say. In other words, to paraphrase St. Francis, “preach the Gospel always, use words if necessary.” But the words are still important.

Being able to say, “I’m a Christian”…or it’s because I’m a Christian that I do X, or believe this…” That’s really important, and probably a lot scarier in this day and age, than just being a good person. It might require more courage.

The church pursues it’s mission as it prays and worships, as it proclaims the Gospel…and promotes justice, peace, and love. There you go…it’s about how we live in the world. How we live in God’s world as faithful people.

Next question.

Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?

Answer: The church carries out its mission “through the ministry of all its members.”

Through the ministry of all its members. That’s you…and me…and as our reading from Acts points out…All on whom the Holy Spirit descends…it’s foolish to think that God’s work can only be done by only a certain group of people.

The church carries out its mission “through the ministry of all its members.” Let’s talk about the laity (that’s you)—and a pro-tip about the way the BCP is written—things that are more important, or preferred come first. So if the direction says, “the people stand or kneel” it means standing is preferred. If it says “the people kneel or stand” it means kneeling is preferred. So, notice how the ministers of the church are laid out…”Who are the ministers of the Church? The ministers are “lay persons bishops, priests, and deacons.”

So what is your ministry? It’s to carry out the mission of the Church… “to represent Christ and his Church, to bear witness to him wherever they may be”…wherever you go, you are representatives of Christ… “and according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world;” So, based on the gifts given to you by the Holy Spirit—your natural skills and abilities, or even just the tasks that you are called into, you are to go out—as I try to remind you every week—to go out and do the work God has given you to do—be engaged in God’s mission of restoring and reconciling. Whether that is as a student, a teacher, a lawyer, a financial analyst, a doctor, a nurse, an administrator, a small business owner, a parent, a grand parent, a child, a sibling…whatever it is you do for the other 167 hours of the week…that’s the mission of the church.

What we do here…and what we do when we’re not here. I told you, it’s all encompassing.

The fifty days of Easter are drawing to a close. Thursday (the 10th) marks the Ascension…the day the risen Christ ascends to the Father…on Pentecost we receive the Spirit and are empowered to carry on his work. Jesus, today, is getting us ready for this. Today, he reminds us—just as Kathy did last week—to abide in him…to remain attached to him—like branches are attached to the vine—remain attached through worship, and prayer, and community…we can’t do this alone. Abide in his love. Remain in his love. Stay attached to his love. Live out his commandment, which is what? “love one another as he has loved us.” Abide in that…and live it out…carry it out to others.

“I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” The fruit of restoration, the fruit of reconciliation, the fruit of peace, justice, and love…the fruit of mission.

As Easter draws to a close, Jesus is preparing us to be sent out…to visibly be his followers in the world…and today we’ll have some practice. At the end of the service, all are invited to join in a Rogation Procession around the church…you can read about it in the bulletin…we’ll go out of the church and offer prayers for our neighbors, for our common life, and for all creation…which we are called to restore to unity with God and one another.

That’s one way we’ll practice. Another is a “listening project” The Mission and Outreach Committee, with the help of many others in the Parish and a team from Episcopal City Mission, are undertaking. Over the next few weeks, a group of about 14 of us will be going out and inviting 3 or 4 people one at a time into conversation about what “mission” means here at All Saints. How are we living out God’s mission in this time and place? The goal is to hear your stories, your passions, and your questions about mission and outreach, so that the Mission and Outreach Committee can be more responsive to the  work that matters most to you. So that we can understand where God is calling us as a community to be focused in the next several years. To listen for those places that are longing for reconciliation, and reconnection. We won’t be able to get to everyone before the Mission and Outreach retreat on June 9th. But I hope these types of conversations can and will continue.

We are being prepared to be sent out…every Sunday…it is an all-encompassing mission…but it’s not an impossible one…these commandments are not burdensome…and we have each other and a great cloud of witnesses—saints and apostles—to rely on. And we have Jesus, the great High Priest…the good shepherd…the Alpha and Omega…the one who is and is to come…our brother…our friend…

Abide in him…and love one another…and God’s mission will be fulfilled.

Amen.

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Posted on May 5, 2018

The Vine Abides-homily for 30 April 18, Easter 5, Rite 13

 

The Vine Abides

Kathleen O’Donoghue, Family Minister

Homily for April 30, Easter 5 and Rite 13

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 John 15:1-8  ”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 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. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

This morning I have the honor of speaking to our Rite 13 youth…Charlotte, Riley, Lucas and Nora. This is their day when we celebrate a rite of passage of sorts. It’s not Confirmation, that will come later, but an acknowledgement that becoming a teenager, becoming 13, is a time that you need support and encouragement and nourishment of the spiritual kind. It can be a scary time, filled with exciting possibilities for the future, but still tethered by the roots of being dependent on parents, teachers, community and church to help point you in the right direction and support your growth.

Now even though these words are specifically for our four teens today, they’ve assured me it’s OK if you all listen in and think about your own spiritual growth too.

When I saw the gospel text for the day I had to smile. I know that Becky Taylor really loved these verses and structured church school last year around the verse, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” When one thinks about nurturing and support of the children and youth of All Saints, Becky immediately springs to mind, as she was such a faithful source of nourishment and tending of their spirits.

I also had to smile because this is also MY favorite image of God and God’s people. As a very young child, I read these words weekly, as they were carved into the wood surrounding the chancel at St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Dorchester. At 7 I didn’t know much about growing vines, but each week I tried and tried to understand what Jesus meant by “I am the vine and you are the branches”. It was in fact a kind of prayer or meditation that I engaged in for years and I can’t help but think it shaped me as a follower of Jesus.

Finally I had to smile because I really can’t think of a better gospel lesson for our Rite 13 youth and this celebration today. 13 year olds in particular are in this magical place when they, where you, imagine they are invincible, can plan to be and to have anything they would want in the world and most of all, feel they can accomplish all this on their own. I say this to you all today, thirteen year olds, because I of course used to be 13, (can you imagine?) and I thought exactly the same thing about my future, my life and my own ability to navigate the world without the help of those annoying adults who kept telling me what I needed. Anybody else have this experience when they were 13? Look around you for a moment and see in what good company you find your selves! If there were ONE SINGULAR THING I would wish for you, one thing you would learn as you become older teens and young adults, it is that YOU SHOULD NOT TRY TO GROW UP ALONE. Our culture encourages individualism and following our own paths and making a mark based on our capacity to be entertaining (YouTube videos) or to get as many “likes” as possible on our Instagram pictures. None of these things is BAD in and of itself, but you just need MORE than this. We ALL need more than this, to flourish, to grown, to produce fruit in our lives.

Mentioning “producing fruit” brings us back to the vine and the branches. Thinking about that picture, Jesus being the vine, the large supportive structure of the grape plant, and we being the branches, the off shoots of that vine, is exactly right. We depend on Jesus, the vine for our spiritual nourishment, for our support, for our community surrounding us as we will surround you during your time of blessing here today. Thinking we can bear spiritual fruit without the vine is simply a mistake. Have you ever seen fruit that has begun to grow but then fell off the tree or plant and is lying on the ground? What does it look like? Its growth has stopped, it is not ripe (think about a green strawberry or tomato), it wouldn’t taste good if you picked it up off the ground and bit into it. Fruit needs the continued nourishment and water and sun that staying attached to the vine provides.

Maybe this all sounds pretty obvious and what control does a strawberry have if it gets detached from a vine anyway? Well, this is the thing about Jesus. You and I know and I think those listening to him that day knew, Jesus isn’t really talking about grapes on a vine or strawberries on a plant. He says “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” AH HA! Once again Jesus catches them, Jesus catches US, by talking about something they understand in their own lives and then makes a CONNECTION to his own purpose of helping them get ready for his departure, start to tell the Good News of the Gospel in the early church and most importantly, remain nourished and cared for in the presence of the Holy Spirit, which will sustain them, feed them, help them to produce fruit in their lives. Do you get it?

YOU are the fruit of the vine! Your parents or grandparents or your guardians have raised you and cared for you throughout your life, all thirteen years of it, to help you become the best fruit you can be! Ripe and full of life and nourishment for the world. And now it’s coming to a time in your life that you will start to decide if you want to remain, to abide, in that place where you can continue to be nourished and tended to or if you think you’re good and you can take it from here. I wonder what effect that decision will have on your fruit?

I’d like to make sure you know I’m not saying your family, your church, your school has to do everything for you. That’s not nurturing, that’s suffocating!

Here is however what all of those, family, school, sports, music groups, theatre and to me very critically CHURCH, can continue to do for and with you as you continue to grow and flourish into your life.

  • First is CARING. We at All Saints LOVE YOU and your changing teenage self. We want you to participate in worship, have a sense that prayer is powerful and know you have people here to whom you can tell anything, ANYTHING, without fear of judgment or laughter.
  • Next is CONNECTION. The people here will be here for you all through your teen years and as you enter adulthood. When you feel that you are absolutely and utterly alone in the world, and you will feel that way, call or text someone you know at All Saints.
  • Maybe most importantly, we offer COMMUNITY to you. In the past we have celebrated your firsts, listened to you sing with Schola, watched you acolyte and cheered when you didn’t set anything on fire! We celebrate you today at 13 and as you develop and create your own way in the world and we’ll do the same at your Confirmation, at your Graduation, when you send updates from college, when you marry and have your own family. Does all that sound fake or that we can’t promise this? It’s what the church has been doing for years, decades, centuries, millennia. The Church continues to abide in Jesus (the vine) and it will continue to do so into the future, forever. We are your community, we will offer you nourishment (physical and spiritual as a matter of fact), tend to your hearts, pray for your sorrows and celebrate your joys. Abide in us here and abide in Jesus. V5 “I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me, you can do noting” v8, “My father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Stay in your church community. Remain and develop connections with each other, older teens to show you the way and adults who have been through it all before.

Abide with Jesus. Go to him in prayer, ask for help, share your joys, grow and mature in your faith.

Take that fruitful faith and share it with others. With family, with friends and perhaps most importantly with the folks you don’t know, the desperate, the hungry, the lonely. Show them Jesus in all our interaction with them and help them to see that He is the vine and that they may also abide in him. Become his disciples.

Amen.

 

 

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Posted on Apr 11, 2018

Where was Thomas?—homily for 8 April 2018

Where was Thomas?

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By Caravaggio – http://www.christusrex.org/www2/art/images/carav10.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6804893

April 8, Second Sunday of Easter:

Psalm 133;
Acts 4:32-35;  1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

I wonder where Thomas was.
That first night…
John’s account says, “When it was evening on that day…(that day being Easter)…the day that Mary Magdalene returned with this incredible story of seeing Jesus…Alive.
(She thought he was the gardener, but still), she saw him and ran and told the others, “I have seen the Lord.”
And they do what? Go into hiding. All except Thomas
That evening they are locked in, and afraid.
But not Thomas.
He’s not there.
I wonder what he was doing?

John’s gospel account gives us a picture of Thomas as one of the boldest disciples.
Thomas is willing to go with Jesus back to Bethany near Jerusalem after they hear that Lazarus has died. Everyone else is terrified that returning will result in them all being stoned to death.
But not Thomas. He’s the one who says, “Let’s all go so we can die with him!” (John 11:16)

In the non-biblical stories…the tradition that grew up around Thomas, he was the apostle who ventured the farthest. Legend says that he set off through Syria, and Persia, and made it as far Kerla along the west coast of India, and established a number of churches among the Jewish diaspora there. He may have traveled into Indonesia.
There are other legends, recorded by Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, told by tribes in Paraguay, that a holy man—“Father Thomas”—one of the apostles, had lived among them, preached the gospels and performed miracles.
So maybe on the evening of THAT day, Thomas was hiding out somewhere else…but give what little we know about him, that seems unlikely. Thomas never appears to be a cowering sort…he’s a hands-on kind of guy…a doer.
So what was he doing?
We don’t know—I have some theories—but all John says is that he’s not in the room with the rest of them.
And what about that doubting….he doesn’t appear to be someone who lets his doubts—his skepticism—or his fear get in the way of actually doing something.
But this one incident gets him this unfortunate nickname—“Doubting” Thomas.
But come on…
Would you believe that group?
These are the same people who just a couple of days ago fled…deserted Jesus…publicly denied knowing him…
and now Thomas is just supposed to trust them again?

Let’s think about this doubt for a minute….
We live in a world that is seems to be simultaneously absolutely incredulous (disbelieving) and utterly gullible.
We both refuse to believe in certain things…and we believe in all kinds of other things with very little evidence.
We live in a world where: Show me…Prove it…Pics or it didn’t happen…
Operate side by side with truthiness, and fake news, and outright lies that no amount of facts can combat.
Everyday we are awash in “see it for yourself” images…raw, unfiltered footage of every manner of good and evil.
And we also awash in photoshopped, staged, promotional propaganda.
We’re all doubters (or we should be)…doubt, as they say, is not the opposite of faith…certainty is the opposite of faith. We all need to have a good deal of discernment about what we will or won’t believe.
And here’s one reason scripture is so powerful and necessary in a world like ours…because all that input…your favorite news show…all your subreddits and twitter and facebook feeds, your Netflix queue and all your Amazon recommendations…they all work towards encouraging you to believe that the world really does work exactly the way you think it does. They are all about confirming the status quo…The gospel very, very rarely affirms the status quo. The Gospel is always a challenge to the way we think the world works. It is always there and ready with examples that run counter whatever the status quo is…and it’s important to have that.
But that doesn’t help us with where Thomas was.
There’s a long standing scholarly debate about whether the author of the fourth gospel is the same as the author of this letter we heard today. Maybe they were the same person…or maybe just from the same community…one thing they share in common is this insistence on “what we have heard, and what we have seen with our eyes.”
And do you remember what John’s letter says next? “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands.”
Now in the Gospel story, none of the other disciples touch Jesus…they see and rejoice…but apparently it’s not just Thomas who touches…”We declare what we have heard…and seen…and touched with our hands.” The resurrection is not just something to believe in…it’s something that can be touched…and felt…and known…not just intellectually, but known in a tactile…embodied…cellular way.
So here’s my theory…as to why Thomas wasn’t there that first night.
I like to imagine that he wasn’t there because he wasn’t afraid, and was out doing what Jesus had taught him to do…healing…reconciling…ministering…I like to think that he was the one bold enough to carry on with the mission even with the leader dead.
Maybe Thomas isn’t there because, as we can see, he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, so maybe he’s out continuing to care for those wounded by Rome’s brutality…bandaging the bloodied heads, the crushed hands, the bodies wounded by the violence endemic in society …
the hearts bruised by loss, twisted by fear…the spirits battered by the demands of trying desperately to keep up…or souls diminished by being unable to provide basic sustenance for their families.
In other words, maybe Thomas is out being an apostle…carrying out the hard, messy work of God’s mission…bringing reconciliation…pressing for peace…advocating for justice…embodying shalom…
Maybe…And maybe John, through this famous scene with Jesus is connecting the wounds of Christ, with the wounds of the world….
And reminding us…that following Jesus means something other than overcoming doubt and “believing six impossible things before breakfast” (Through the Looking Glass) it means getting your hands dirty…
It means being willing to reach out and touch the wounds that we inflict on each other…in order to bring healing…
It means risking your heart, and being willing to step into the messy, difficult, and scary places of hurt and grief that are always left in the wake of violence…in order to bring peace…

Maybe Thomas wasn’t there that night because he was out doing that….
And maybe he is here every year, on the Sunday after Easter to remind us that following Jesus means bringing your whole self…doubt and all…and standing with others in difficult situations…it means being willing to look at and touch the wounds we inflict on one another….it means going out to be with the vulnerable…to those places of greatest need and to proclaim, “peace”… It means going out and making those connection…those real…tangible connections…because that’s where we truly discover the reality of the resurrection, and where we proclaim “our Lord, and our God.”

Amen.

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Posted on Apr 1, 2018

The Ship of Faith—homily for Easter Day

The Ship of Faith

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Photo Credit: Adam Heitzman Flickr via Compfight cc

Principal Service:
Psalm 118:1-2,14-24
;
Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11Mark 16:1-8

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

They say, the ship of Theseus was preserved for centuries. Theseus, the legendary founder of ancient Athens, was so revered that the Athenians preserved his ship. They accomplished this by removing all of the old planks as they decayed and replacing them with new ones over and over again for hundreds and hundreds of years. Which creates this paradoxical thought experiment…if all the timbers have been replaced, is it still the same ship?

This same paradox gets told as “my grandfather’s ax.” This is the ax my grandfather gave me, the handle broke and had to be replaced several times, and the head wore out and had to be replaced several times, but I would never buy a new ax, because this is the one that belonged to my grandfather.

All Saints Parish was founded 124 years ago this November. I dare say, no here this morning was there at the time. Yes, the building is still here…lovingly tended to (we replace things periodically)…but the true timbers of this ship of faith…the wood…the warp and weft of this body of the faithful…have all been replaced…many times…over several generations…Is it still the same church? Are we still the same church?

Are we still part of the same Diocese that was founded in 1784, when Samuel Seabury was consecrated as Bishop of New England and New York, the first bishop in the Episcopal Church?

Are we still part of the same church that was reformed by Elizabeth I (and many other reformers) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries?

Are we still the same church of Gregory the great in the sixth century, Gregory who sent Christian missionaries into northern Europe, including the British Isles, and established Christian outposts there?

Are we still the same church that Paul writes to today? The church in Corinth…Which is (by the way) as close as we get to any actual witnesses at the tomb that morning. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth around the year 50, only a few decades after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus—his are some of the earliest writings we have…Mark and Luke (who wrote Acts) came much later. Are we still that church?

In many ways, the answer has to be…”of course not.” There are too many cultural and historical changes that happened between the first, sixth, sixteenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twenty-first centuries.

On the other hand…

“I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received… through which also you are being saved…(This is Paul talking to the Corinthians, but he might as well be talking to us). “For I handed on to you…what I in turn had received…that Christ died, and that he was buried…that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred, most of whom are still alive… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, he appeared to me.”

This is what I proclaim, says Paul, and “so you have come to believe.”

Paul had an experience of the resurrected Jesus. And so did many others. Which he then told others about.

And did you notice that all we heard today was someone else’s report about Jesus’s resurrection?

We didn’t actually see Jesus this morning…just heard about the resurrection from others. This young man in the tomb, Peter, Paul, the writers of our hymns…me…

Thousands of people down through the centuries. I bet there are some here who have had an experience of the resurrected Jesus…

This mysterious figure sitting in the tomb, robbed in white, tells us that Jesus isn’t here, and then says, “but go and tell the others…He is going ahead of you, and you will see him, just as he promised.”

Go and tell others, and you will see him. There’s a connection between telling others and seeing Jesus.

They must have done that, because not long after this people start telling stories about meeting strangers on the road. Strangers who open up the scriptures to them, and then when they invite him to eat, he takes bread, and blesses, and breaks it, and Jesus is revealed as real and present in their midst, which is just what we do today in the Eucharist…modified to be sure, but in essence very much the same as it was 100, 500, 1000, 1500, and almost 2000 years ago.

They must have told the story, because soon others see the Risen Christ in locked rooms, and on a beach, and on the road…wherever they are feeling lost, and hopeless, whenever their hearts are breaking, or sometimes they’re just going about their day…laughing with those who laugh, and weeping with those who weep…and in the midst of that daily existence…Jesus is revealed to them. And what we have inherited is their testimony…and these ritual practices…

This ship…this church…is the same, because these traditions…open us up to be able to experience of the Divine in our own lives…they help us see God acting in the world…they help us learn how to be human…(which is not as easy as it sounds)…they teach us how to live in community…how to truly belong…our traditions recognize that we are going to get it wrong…we’re going to mess up all of this up, and make mistakes…and so our traditions help us heal the wounds…and bind up the brokenness…And we’ve been at this…doing it very imperfectly…for a very long time.

Gustav Mahler is often credited with this quote. Apparently, he did say it, but he was quoting it from a German translation of Thomas More. I’ve googled it and can’t find the true origin of the quote, but that doesn’t make it less poignant, or less true…

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”

We are not here this morning, to simply commemorate something that happened some two millennia ago…we are not worshipping or preserving the ashes of some long deconstructed ship…we are the tenders of a flame… We are the keepers of a light that shines in the darkness…and the darkness cannot overcome. We are the tellers of tales, and the singer of songs…songs and stories that tell of the power of life over death, of hope over fear, of love that embraces all and never ends…

“You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.  He has been raised. He is and is not here. Go and tell others…tend the flame…shine the light…he is going ahead of you…you will see him, just as he told you.”

Amen.

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