We already know

Preached on Sunday, 14 July 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, Year C (thematic track)

I’m going to give the lawyer the benefit of the doubt.  I’m going to take him seriously when he calls Jesus, Teacher, and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

I take him seriously; I think he’s sincere because isn’t that the heart of what we all ask, over and over?  Not “I want to live forever” eternal life, but “I want to live well” eternal life.  What should I do to live a life with purpose and meaning and integrity?  To be able to look in the mirror at the end of the day and to feel good about who we are and about all of our interactions during the day.  To know ourselves and feel comfortable in our own skin whether we’re home alone or with our family or at work or out in public; no matter who we’re with or what we’re doing.

I take him seriously because Jesus takes him seriously.  He doesn’t brush him off.  He engages him in conversation; deep conversation.

“You already know the answer,” Jesus says.  “What does Torah say?  How do you read it?”  And the lawyer proves Jesus right.  “Love God with all of your being and love your neighbor.”

Isn’t this what we hear in our Deuteronomy reading this morning?  The passage is taken from the author’s account of Moses’ final discourses before the Israelites enter the Promised Land after their 40-years in the desert.  Moses has reminded them of the law and the promise of a good life and prosperity in the land, but he has also warned them that they will disobey the law and be scattered amongst the nations.

Then the Lord will gather them again and return them to their home; the Lord who loves them; the Lord who gives them the Torah so that they can live and live well.  “This Torah, this teaching, this law, it is not too hard for you.  It is not hidden or obscure or too far away.  No, it is very near.  It is within you; it is written on your heart by the God who treasures you and wants you to prosper.”  You already know.

The lawyer presses further, though.  He asks who counts as a neighbor; who’s inside that sphere and who’s outside.  Jesus shows him that he already knows that answer, as well.  He responds with one of the most well-known stories in the whole Bible – the parable of the Good Samaritan.

It’s been said that the whole gospel can be summarized in two parables:  The Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.  One shows the nature of God; the other shows us the implication of God’s nature on how we live.

In his response to the lawyer, Jesus teaches, not who is his neighbor, but rather how to be a neighbor.  Since the Samaritan is never described as “good” within the text, perhaps a better title would be “The Neighborly Samaritan.”

Where do you find yourself in this parable?  Jesus holds up the Samaritan as the example of the neighbor, and we want to earn his praise, so it’s understandable to want to be like the Samaritan.  Except, of course, that the Samaritan is despised by everyone else.

Of course, there are the respectable folks, the priest and the Levite.  Then there’s the innkeeper who is paid to care for the man.  And there are the unmentioned characters.  Imagine being the parent of the man who was beaten and robbed and left for dead, or his spouse or his child.  What must they be going through, wondering why he hasn’t come home?  Wondering, where is he?  Is he ok or is he hurt or maybe even dead?

This is precisely the scenario my mother always told me she imagined when one of us stayed out late – that we were lying half-dead in a ditch somewhere.

And what about the man?  We know nothing about him.  How old is he?  Where is he from?  Who is his family?  What does he do for a living?  Is he a Jew? A Samaritan? A gentile?  A foreigner?  What is his social status?  Is he rich or poor?  An upstanding member of society or a scoundrel or a criminal?  Jesus tells us nothing about who he is because none of those details matter.  All that matters, is that he is a neighbor and needs help.

When have you been in that kind of situation?  Not robbed and beaten, maybe not even injured, but in need of help from a neighbor?

I remember the time when I was lying on the side of the road, a long way from home, bleeding from a gash on my face. I guess a mother’s fears aren’t always unfounded.  I was eighteen and on a bicycling road trip with a friend, riding along the Oregon coast on our way to California.
My wheel slipped off the edge of the pavement and down I went.  My glasses were broken, my bike bent and un-ridable.  I needed stitches.  My friend could offer first aid, but I needed transportation and an E.R.

I don’t know anything about the people who didn’t stop.  I don’t really even know much about those who did.  I do know that it seemed like a lot of people offered help.  One was a nurse who checked me out and said I should see a doctor.  Another said she was praying for me.  In the end, someone with a motor home drove us to a hospital and someone else loaded our bikes into the back of their truck and followed.  They stayed until the doctor finished taking care of me and then invited us to spend the night at their home and fed us some dinner.  In the morning we took very welcome showers before slowly heading off.

You know, I don’t remember even seeing any of their faces, but I will always remember their compassion; how eager they were to help, to do whatever they could for us.

They knew the answer to the lawyer’s question.
The lawyer already knows.
Jesus asks him, “who was a neighbor to the man?”
“The one who showed mercy.”
“Go and do likewise,” Jesus tells him.

What more is there to say?
We already know; it’s written on our hearts.
Go and do likewise; go and be merciful.

 

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Be about God’s work

Preached on Sunday, 30 June, 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8, Year C, (thematic track)

Be about God’s work.  I think that’s the message for today.

This gospel lesson is something of a pivot point, too.  Up to this point in his gospel, Luke has been focusing on Jesus in Galilee.  He has been preaching and teaching, using a lot of parables.  And there are many, many instances of healing and casting out demons.  Jesus raises the dead and feeds the multitudes.

Not long before we come in today, Jesus goes up the mountain with Peter, James, and John, where he is transfigured before their eyes. They see him talking to Elijah and Moses and they hear the voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”

When they come back down the mountain, Jesus sets his sights on Jerusalem.  That’s where we are today, Jesus and the disciples have set out for Jerusalem.  For the next the next ten or eleven chapters, they’ll be traveling.  In these chapters, Luke focuses on Jesus’ teaching with only three stories of healing.

While it’s known as the travel narrative, it’s not like a journal or a diary.  The stories don’t come in sequential order, either geographically or chronologically.  In these chapters, Luke reveals the character of Jesus, the nature of God, and the mission of God.  He also demonstrates the shape of discipleship.

Today, we find that a few of the disciples have been sent ahead to make preparations for Jesus’ arrival with the rest of the group.  They have left the familiarity of Galilee and are entering Samaria.  One village refuses to receive him because he is bound for Jerusalem.  He’s an outsider, a stranger, the Other.

The response of James and John seems a bit extreme, though.  How dare they reject us!  Of course, we are bearers of the Truth.  They should be punished!   James and John were the ones who were with Jesus up on the mountain at the transfiguration.  I wonder if that makes them feel a little self-righteous?  In any case, they suggest that they call down fire from heaven to destroy the village!

Now, many commentaries draw a parallel to Elijah calling down fire on the prophets of Baal.  But, this reminds me of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah when they failed to extend hospitality to the angels of God who arrived as strangers.

Jesus rejects their suggestion.  Don’t worry about them, just move on.  Let go of needing to convince them that you’re right.

The next section shows us a series of potential disciples.  The first is a volunteer, so to speak.  Jesus’ response is odd, but I think he’s trying to convey that the life of a disciple may not be what they think; following Jesus is not an easy way of life.

The next two are invited by Jesus to follow him.  Each has a very reasonable request.  They have something to attend to before they can join him.  Each says, “yes, but first…”

In each case, Jesus’ response sounds like an admonishment, like he’s chastising them for doing what seems to be the right thing to do; for not instantly dropping everything, turning their backs on their family and their responsibilities, in order to follow him.

But I wonder if that’s what’s really happening.  Maybe Jesus is pointing out the nature of his own journey, his own calling.  He must be about the work God has given him to do.  He can’t lose focus.  He can’t be distracted or delayed, no matter how worthy it seems.  He can’t wait for them.

So, what is our takeaway?  What can we learn from this?  In one sentence:
Be about the work God has given you to do.
Don’t worry about those who reject it.  Let that go.  Move on.  It’s not about you.

Don’t be distracted or delayed by the million and one “but firsts…” in your life.  And that’s really hard.  How do you figure out what’s a distraction and what’s the mission?  Because the truth is, the distractions are also, often, good works.  Among clergy, there’s a saying that our ministry is in the interruptions.  Often we find that the real work God is calling us to is not in our plans or on our calendars, but in the unexpected.

What about the work God has given you to do though?  What is that work?

Scripture gives us a pretty clear overview in the Great Commandment: Love one another. Just as Jesus loves us.  Or a little more specifically:  Feed the hungry, Clothe the naked, House the homeless, Free the captive, Visit the sick.

The church articulates the work God gives us to do, as we have discerned it over the centuries, in our baptismal covenant:

  • Be part of a community of faith; pray and break bread together, study and learn from the scriptures and teachings together.
  • Persevere in resisting evil wherever we find it and when we sin, repent and turn back to God.
  • Proclaim the Good News through how we live our lives.
  • Seek and serve Christ in every person; love our neighbors.
  • Strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.

This is what it means to be about the work of God.
To be a disciple, a follower of Jesus.
To be a Christian.

We do the work of God right where we are.  Sometimes it’s in our interactions with another person.  Often, maybe most of the time, it’s in our homes, with our family or friends, or in our workplace.

And sometimes – probably more often that we like to acknowledge – it’s Public work.  Being about the work of God; resisting evil, loving our neighbor, respecting the dignity of every human being, striving for justice and peace is Public.

It’s speaking truth to power.  It’s advocating for and defending those whose dignity is not respected, those who are in need, those who are suffering from injustice.  It’s doing everything in our power to dismantle the structures of injustice in our society and in our world.  It’s not allowing the million and one “but firsts…” in our lives to distract us.

Does that seem just too overwhelming?  Well, here’s the thing.  We’re not doing it alone.  It’s not up to any one of us to do it all – just a manageable piece of it.  And what’s more, well, I’ll tell you a story.

I ran into an old friend the other day.  She told me about how her church is giving sanctuary to a refugee.  She told me about what it’s like to work for social justice in the holy space of a community of faithful people who are all motivated by the steadfast love of God.  She says it’s lifegiving!  And I have to tell you, she positively glowed as she spoke about it.

In a few minutes, we will baptize a new disciple and welcome her into the Body of Christ, the community of the faithful.  You will vow to do everything in your power to support her in her life in Christ; just as you vow to support one another.

It is up to all of you to tell her the stories of our faith.  More important, though, it is up to you to show her, through your lives, how to be a disciple of Christ; how to Be about the work of God.

Discipleship isn’t easy, it doesn’t shield us from hardship.
It is, however, the way of abundant, fullness of life.
It is the way of love.

 

 

Jesus and the Legion

Preached on Sunday, 23 June 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7 Year C  (thematic track)

There’s a lot of detail in this morning’s gospel.  It might be interesting to dive in and explore all the intricacies.  But it’s so easy to get lost in the details that we can miss the big picture.  So, I’m going to start by zooming out to see how this morning’s story fits in.

Luke tells four stories in quick succession, each demonstrating the power of God in Jesus.  The first comes immediately before the one we hear today; in fact, it could even be considered part of this story.

Jesus is in Galilee, it’s near the beginning of his ministry.  Late in the day, he says, “let’s get in the boat and go to the other side.”  So, they set out and there’s this terrible storm; they think they’re going to die.  Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves and storm is calmed; they’re saved.  The disciples are astonished and wonder who this could be whom even the forces of nature obey.

The second is today’s story.  I’ll come back to it in a bit.

The third is when they get back to Galilee and a woman who has suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years is healed by touching Jesus’ robe.

And finally, the president of the synagogue comes to Jesus for help because his daughter is at the point of death.  While still on the way, they learn she is, indeed, dead.  Jesus goes to her anyway, and raises her back to life.

So, we see this arc of demonstrations of God’s power through Jesus.  Power over the forces of nature.  Power over physical illness.  Power even over death itself.  And in today’s story, power over demons, the spiritual forces of evil.

Now, let’s go a little deeper into this story.

They cross the Sea to go to the land of the Gerasene’s; this is Gentile country.  And if you didn’t catch that earlier, the swine make it clear.  As soon as he steps out of the boat he is confronted by the demoniac.

Luke uses the language of military occupation to recount the story.  This man has lost everything, though he is “a man of the city.”  Now he has lost almost all sense of humanity.  He has no home and lives in the graveyard; no clothes; no dignity.

When speaking with Jesus, it seems that he can’t even use his own voice; it’s as if the occupying demons are speaking.  Even his name is lost.

He is chained, shackled, under guard.  The demons seize him, like a prisoner under arrest.  All of these words are usually used in relation to prisoners; those who have gone against the authority of Rome.

When Jesus asks his name, he says, “Legion.”  Now, to Luke’s audience, Legion has only one, very literal and fearful meaning.  A Legion is a unit of about 6,000 Roman soldiers – the occupying army.

The location, the land of the Gerasenes is the site where the Romans committed an atrocity during the Jewish revolt of just a short time before – families were slaughtered, towns destroyed.  The graveyard where the man lives contains the tombs of the slaughtered.

The language of this story accentuates the immense power that Jesus is facing.  Just as we see in the other stories, God has power over the spiritual powers of evil.  Jesus drives out the demons.

In this story, Jesus goes out of his way and at significant risk (remember the storm?) into Gentile country, apparently for one purpose: to seek out this man who has lost his identity, his humanity and to save him and restore him to himself and to his community.

Here we see a dramatic instance of what Paul is preaching in his letter to the Galatians.

Don’t get mired in the details.

All of you are beloved children of God.  All those details that you may use to describe yourselves and others, to distinguish one from another – they all fade in importance before the grace and love of God.

For the church in Galatia, those details are male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free.  The details in today’s world may be different, but what Paul is teaching is still relevant.  All are beloved children of God…

Even those on the other side politically, the pundits on the other cable news channel.  People who labor physically for a living and those have lives of leisure.  Children, millennials, and retired folks – and folks who will never be able to retire.  PhDs and high school dropouts.  Those whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower and those whose ancestors arrived on slave ships. Those who arrived as immigrants and those who were here before the first boats ever arrived – and everyone in between.

Those whom you think should not even call themselves Christian – and those who never would; and those who don’t believe in any god at all.

Even they, all of the “theys,” are beloved of God.
And Jesus would go out of his way and risk everything to save even one of them.

Just as he would for you.

Thanks be to God.

 

Mother Tongue

Preached on 9 June 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The Day of Pentecost, Year C

My grandmother passed away over thirty years ago.  Still, my ears positively pricked, a couple years ago when I was standing near a reception desk in a building in Glasgow.  I heard someone speaking with my grandmother’s accent; it was almost like hearing her voice again.  You see, she was from a place just outside of Glasgow.  She left there with her family when she was just a little girl, maybe eight years old; they came and settled here – on Beacon Hill.  That’s where my dad grew up.

My heart knew that accent like a baby knows their own mother’s heartbeat.  It was as if I was again in her presence.  Somewhere in my soul, I felt I had come home.

One of our family stories is about my grandfather, who died before I was born.  Now, unlike my grandmother, he was a highlander – from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland.  His mother tongue was Gaelic – and so was his mother-in-law’s.  Well the story is, that he used to pick a fights with my grandmother just so he had an excuse to go up to the “big house” where his in-laws lived, so that he could chat with his mother-in-law in Gaelic, the language of home.

I wonder if that’s what it was like on that day in Jerusalem – to hear the message, the Good News of God in Christ, not in the common language of trade and travel, the language of the head that they might have to work to translate, but the language of their heart, the voice of their grandmothers, the one that speaks directly to their soul.  The voice that welcomes them home to comfort and rest.  This is the language that God chose to tell them, each of them, about Jesus.

Now, all language is symbolic.  Words are symbols of something that exists, something real.  And all language is limited.  How often do we find that words fail us, particularly when trying to describe our most profound experiences?  We use language to attempt to share our experience, our understanding and knowledge, our ideas – to transfer, so to speak, what is in our mind or heart or body, to that of another human being – despite the limitations of our words.

So, that’s one of the ideas I want to talk about today – the idea of God speaking to us intimately in the language of our heart.  Another theme, I’d like to touch on is that of Scattering and Gathering.

The story of the tower of Babel is often linked by Christians to the story of Pentecost.  Some interpret Pentecost as undoing the confusion of languages introduced in the story of Babel; others, however, disagree with that interpretation.  So, let’s take a brief look at our story from Genesis.

It comes right smack dab in the middle of the list of the generations of Noah, after the flood.  It tells of the sons of Noah and their sons; of where they went, who they became.  God instructed them to multiply and spread over all the earth.

But that list is interrupted by this story. Here we have them all gathered together in this city, building an immense tower into the heavens, trying to make a name for themselves.  They’re sure that there’s nothing they can’t do.

God’s not having it, though.  Before they can finish it, God scatters them, giving them different languages so they can’t understand one another.

Now, digging into the many possible interpretations and explanations of what God is doing and why; exploring why this particular story is preserved and placed where it is would be better explored in a Bible study than in a sermon.   So, I’m just going to talk about the gift of languages and the theme of gathering and scattering.

This story is just one instance of God scattering the people.  I will grant you that when God does, it is often understood to be a judgement or punishment for wrongdoing by the people.

So, here we have Babel – the people are scattered, perhaps because of their hubris, or perhaps because they didn’t spread over the earth on their own as God commanded them.

In the next chapter, the saga begins of the patriarch Abraham, son of Harran.  He and his family travel to Canaan where they settle and grow into a large clan and a whole people is formed.

Eventually, they are scattered when a famine comes and many of them go to Egypt where they live for many generations.  They are gathered again under Moses to return to the land of their ancestors, to the land of Canaan.

They are scattered when the Assyrians conquer the northern kingdom and again when the Babylonians attack the southern kingdom and take them into exile.  They are gathered back to Canaan when the Persian king, Cyrus, takes over and as the prophets promised, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Then I will gather you from the four winds and take you to your own land and you will be my people and I will be your God.’”

On Pentecost, we find believers from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem for the festival, the celebration of the gift of the Torah at Sinai.  And on this day, they receive a new gift from God, they hear the good news of God in Christ.  They each hear it in their mother tongue, the language of their home, the language of their soul, the language of comfort and rest.

And what happens next?  They scatter again, each going to their own home, their own country, where they can give what they have received; they will share the gospel they heard.

It has been said that it takes the whole world to tell the Good News, the gospel.

What happened on that day of Pentecost, was not a matter of overcoming a problem of a multitude of languages.  Rather it used the gift of the many languages, the diverse peoples gathered together in one place to expand the message of Christ beyond any one language.

What we say about the Good News is a limited symbol or metaphor for the reality of the good news, the reality of God with us, of God’s overflowing, unmeasurable, steadfast love and grace; a reality that cannot be contained or expressed in any one language.

It takes every language, every people, every culture, every era, every kind of human experience, every kind of human being to tell the Good News.

It takes each and every one of us.

 

 

 

Raise the Dead

Preached on 12 May 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle Washington
The fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C

My closet is overflowing with clothes.  And with just a few clicks on the computer, even more clothes will arrive at my door.  In fact, I’m expecting some in the next few days.

That’s not what it was like for Tabitha and her community, though.  For them, it took an enormous amount of resources and time to produce clothing.  You would begin by shearing the sheep and preparing the wool.  Then you had to spin the wool into thread, and the thread into yarn; weave the yarn into cloth, dye the cloth, and finally, sew the cloth into a garment.  You might own only what you were wearing and a spare.  Maybe.

The widows who showed Peter the garments Tabitha had made for them weren’t pulling them out of the closet, they were showing him what they were wearing.  They wanted him to know just how important she was to this community of widows.  They depended on her for the clothes on their backs not to mention the good works and acts of charity that Luke tells us she was known for.

I wonder why they sent for Peter.  What did they expect from him?  You notice, they didn’t send for him when Tabitha became ill, hoping he could heal her.  While Peter was known for some miraculous healing, he wasn’t known for raising the dead.  Yet, they waited until after Tabitha was dead and they were preparing her body for burial before they sent for him.  And when he arrived, they showed him everything she had done for their community.

Did they want him to send them another disciple like Tabitha?  Did they want him to help them with other resources?  Or did they just want him to understand their plight?

This story is about Raising the Dead.  And I don’t mean the miracle God did through Peter.  I’m talking about the work God did through Tabitha.  We hear in Luke’s story about Tabitha about how God brought vitality to her community.

In her, we see a picture of discipleship, of following Christ’s lead.  Luke offers us a lot of detail about her, unlike most healing stories.  She has two names: Tabitha, her Aramaic name, and Dorcas, her Greek name.  Perhaps she was a bridge between the two communities, with two cultures, two languages.

We see how God works through her “good works and acts of charity” to bring vitality to people who are intimately acquainted with death, giving them hope and dignity.

I want you to think about clothing for a minute.  How what someone wears shapes how we think of them.  Just as an example, how television shows and movies identify a character as poor by putting them in costumes that look like old, worn-out clothes.  Think about how the way a person dresses affects their employment prospects in real life.  And think about that in terms of someone living in poverty, trying to work their way up, but not having access to “appropriate” clothing.

Now think about the other end of the spectrum, the red carpet on Oscar night.  Everyone talking about what and “who” the stars are wearing.

We attach honor and shame to clothing.  And so, imagine what it would be like for Tabitha to offer the dignity of new clothes to widows and other poor people in her community.

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that as we listen to these stories from The Acts of the Apostles during Eastertide, that we ask ourselves, what does this tell us about the “contours of an authentically Christian witness?”

In Tabitha, we see that Christian witness is not about abstractions.  It’s not about holding the right doctrine or saying the right words or even having the right intentions in your heart.  Authentically Christian witness is about what we do.  Good works and acts or charity aren’t spiritual abstractions.  They’re real, concrete, tangible, and they make a real difference in the lives of people.

Raising the dead was not just about Jesus and an empty tomb.  It’s about God breathing new life into what seems lifeless.  God bringing vitality to situations that seem hopeless.  God did it through Tabitha and God continues even now.

Even in the miracle of God raising Tabitha from the dead through Peter, it’s not about Tabitha and it’s not about Peter.  Through the miracle, the community is strengthened in their belief and in their faith.  The witness to God is spread throughout the region.

How is God breathing new life into yours?  Into ours? How is God strengthening belief, discipleship, witness?

I wonder if we ever try to put restrictions on how or how much God can use us to breathe new life into a community or a person.  Or if we try to choose the beneficiaries of God’s care – or on how much they may benefit.

Authentically Christian witness is in what we do –
that we care and how we care for one another, that results in wholeness and flourishing and upholding human dignity.  It’s about new vitality.

It’s about raising the dead.

Seeing Christ in You

Preached on Sunday, 5 May 2019 at Church of the Ascension in Seattle, Washington
The Third Sunday of Easter, Year C

Jesus sightings.  That seems to be the theme of the gospel readings in the Easter season – Jesus sightings; encounters with the risen Christ.  But have you ever noticed that in most of these “Jesus sightings” not even his closest friends recognize him, at least not at first?

Now these Jesus sightings are not like celebrity sightings in Hollywood or even at the mall.  Not like saying, “Was that Bill Gates?”  or “I saw Russell Wilson buying candy at the concession stand last night!”  It’s not even like not recognizing your high school sweetheart at your 30-year reunion.

No, it’s more like not recognizing your best friend that you had lunch with just a few days ago.

Remember these stories?

Mary Magdalene, weeping at the entrance of the tomb on that first Easter morning, thinks that Jesus is the gardener.

Along the road to Emmaus, the Disciples wonder at this “stranger” walking with them, who doesn’t even know the news that EVERYBODY in Jerusalem is talking about.  And yet this stranger knows all about its meaning.  They spend the whole day in deep discussion with him, but don’t recognize him until he breaks bread at dinner.

In the story we heard last Sunday, Thomas doesn’t recognize Jesus until he touches his wounds.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are out fishing and when Jesus calls to them from the shore, at first, they don’t know him, but they do as he says.  Then, when the beloved disciple says, “It’s the Lord!” Peter, in true Peter fashion, jumps in the water and swims to shore.  But even on the beach, it says that they were afraid to ask “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.

Now why would it say that?  It’s the third time they’ve seen Jesus since he was raised and they spent years traveling with him in his ministry.  Of COURSE they would know him, but for some reason that wasn’t assumed by our gospel-writer.

And then, of course there’s Saul.  Ironically, Saul doesn’t recognize Jesus until he’s blinded.

Is it any wonder that we have such a hard time “seeing” Jesus when even those who knew him intimately couldn’t recognize him?  And yet, it is our deep desire to see Jesus.  We pray it, we sing it.  It is even in our baptismal vows.

In fact, isn’t that what resurrection is all about – seeing Jesus?  Listen to what Clarence Jordan (a noted New Testament scholar and the inspiration for the Habitat for Humanity organization) has to say about resurrection.  He writes:

The resurrection of Jesus was simply God’s unwillingness to take our ‘no’ for an answer. He raised Jesus, not as an invitation to us to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that he himself has now established permanent, eternal residence here on earth. He is standing beside us, strengthening us in this life. The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers with him.

I want you to think about that.  I’ll read it again.

Maybe that’s a clue as to where we should look for Jesus.  Remember how the angels ask those who come to the tomb, “Why are you looking for him here among the dead?  He is alive.”  They’re looking in the wrong place.  And even when he appears, he’s not what they expect and so they don’t recognize him.  So, where do we look for Jesus?  And how do we recognize him?

Now the church teaches us to look for him in our worship; that Jesus is present in the proclamation of the Gospel – that’s why we stand.  That Jesus is present in the bread and wine of communion.  That Jesus is present in the body gathered – all of you.  We recognize Jesus, not with the eyes and ears of our brain, but with the eyes and ears of our heart; the eyes and ears of our soul.

So let’s start there.  When you greet each other at the Peace, take the time to reverently listen for Jesus with the ears of your heart, to see Jesus with the eyes of your soul.

See if you encounter Jesus as you receive the bread in your hand, the wine in your mouth, as you receive Jesus into your body and soul.

Of course, Jesus is not confined within these walls.  Clarence Jordan said, “Jesus has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers [and sisters] with him.”  Jesus will be found among the least, the lost, the rejects of society.  Maybe we miss seeing Jesus because we look away too quickly.  We look in the wrong places.  He isn’t the way we expect him to be.

In our baptism, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons; All Persons.   Maybe we miss seeing Jesus because we don’t expect to find him in certain people, or maybe even in most people.  And so, we only see them with the eyes of our brain.

Now, I want you to listen carefully, because this is important.

Remember that just as you seek Christ in others, others find Christ in you.

Just as you seek Christ in others, others find Christ in you.
Hold that awareness gently with love, with care, with reverence.
For it is truly Holy.

Live like it’s True

Preached on Sunday, 28 April 2019 at Church of the Ascension in Seattle, Washington
The Second Sunday of Easter, Year C

I never thought I would see the end of apartheid in South Africa – but I did.
I never thought I would see the Berlin Wall come down – but it did.
Mary of Nazareth never thought she would see her beautiful baby boy one day die on a cross – but she did.
Mary of Magdala and the other women never thought the tomb would be empty – but it was.
Thomas never thought he would see Jesus again – but he did.
Peter never thought he would be freed from prison in the dead if night by an angel!
but he was.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ opens up the possibility of the unimagined.  God shows up in unlikely places.  God is proclaimed by unlikely people.  What seemed impossible, what was unimagined, just might be possible.

What does the resurrection mean for you?
What impact does it have on your life?
What if you were to live like it’s true?

Throughout Eastertide, we will be hearing readings from Luke, the sequel – also known as The Acts of the Apostles.  This isn’t “The heroic adventures of Peter and Paul and the early church.”  No, it’s an invitation to us in our church, in this parish, in our lives.  Each week, we will be invited to consider “what are the contours of authentically Christian witness?”

It’s an invitation to an Easter state-of-mind.
The story we hear this morning, for example – well, let’s get some context, first.

The apostles are still in Jerusalem after the coming of the Holy Spirit.  They’ve been teaching and preaching, proclaiming Jesus, and healing in his name.  They’ve gotten into trouble with the Temple authorities who have ordered them to stop using Jesus’ name.

Peter and John have been arrested and jailed overnight; they’ll be taken to court in the morning.  But an angel comes in the night and leads them out of the prison, telling them to go back to the Temple, where they were arrested.  In the morning, of course, their cell is found to be empty, but everything else is in order.  So, men are sent to find them and bring them back to answer to the Sanhedrin.  That’s where we come in today.

Peter and John are answering charges before the most powerful men in the city; perhaps in all of Judaism.  These are the same men who had Jesus crucified.  What is their answer?  “We can’t keep quiet,” they say, “We will obey God; we must proclaim the Good News.”

The life of the apostles isn’t easy; it’s downright dangerous!  They are imprisoned, flogged, threatened with death, and most of them do die for the sake of the gospel.  They proclaim the gospel despite the danger and darkness of the world.  God’s light breaks through the darkness.  No matter what the powers of the world use against them, the Good News can’t be silenced.  New, even unlikely expressions of God’s grace continue to emerge – even in the darkest times.

We see in these stories that nothing is hopeless.  Mercy, goodness, joy, light, LIFE shine through even the most awful stuff in the world and in our own lives.

It’s not that the resurrection of Jesus fixed the world – it didn’t.  Rather, it shows us that the world isn’t hopelessly broken.  God still has hope for the world; God still believes in us.

God doesn’t reach in and “fix” the world; neither does God rely on us to “fix” it on our own.  In our baptismal covenant, which we renewed last week, we are asked a series of questions – promises or vows about what we will do.  Our response is always, “I will, with God’s help.”  In the last few years, we’ve added a promise to care for the earth, recognizing that in Scripture, God charges us, humankind, with the responsibility for the good of the earth.  It’s in our Eucharistic Prayers too.

I never thought, though, that we would face the kind of darkness that global warming presents.  I never thought people would be so blasé about such a dangerous threat.

A headline caught my eye this week, “The Christian case for embracing a hippie holiday.”  Of course, I had to read it.  It points out that creation, all of life, is prominent in our holy scripture.  Trees are mentioned more often than any living thing other than God and human beings.

Today, we commemorate Earth Day or Earth Month.  We celebrate and give thanks for the gift God has given us in Creation.  And we embrace our vow to lovingly care for it, to challenge the darkness that threatens it.

We have seen this morning that no darkness is beyond hope.  What shape would authentically Christian witness take in the face of this particular darkness?

We are invited into an Easter state-of-mind.
We are invited to live like it’s true:
Live like it’s true that God has hope for the world.
Live like it’s true that new expressions of God’s grace and love and creativity are always emerging in unlikely places through unlikely people.
Live like it’s true that the unimagined is possible.
Live like it’s true that the tomb is empty;
that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead.