Sunday, April 04, 2021

Sermon; Easter Day 2021

 Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

I love saying that. I love saying it even more when there are people in the pews.

This is a day two years in the making. Easter 2019 was the last time we celebrated Christ's victory over death as a physically-gathered group. Easter 2020 was online only and had a much different feel. So after two years, we once again get to cry out together, “Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!”

As we progressed through the COVID pandemic we experienced a variety of emotions and thoughts. As a priest, I watched a number of discussions and scenarios play out among colleagues and/or other people about what COVID is doing to our churches and how we might come out of this pandemic. Probably the #1 concern of people was/is, “Will our people come back to church?”

The fear was/is that people would get so used to watching a service online in their comfy pj's and hot mocha skinny latte w/extra vanilla and whipped cream that they would never again rush to get up early, get dressed, and head out to sit in an uncomfortable pew. The fear was that people would find other things to fill their time. The fear was that people would find they didn't need “church” or organized religion and simply wander off, leaving clergy behind to shutter the doors.

There are a few thoughts I have about all of that. First, what those people miss is the desire for community. Sitting at home in comfy pj's watching the service is one thing. But it doesn't compare to being part of a worshiping body. It doesn't compare to singing together (which we get to do outside for our closing hymn, and which we will eventually get to do again inside). It doesn't compare to hearing people respond to, “Alleluia, Christ is risen . . .”

We have worshiped together separately for a long time now, and it is not the same. When we worship we need to be part of that whole group of angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven who sing TOGETHER.

The second thing that group of people forget is that this is home base. This is where we gather to worship, yes, but it is also where we gather to feed people both physically and spiritually. It is where we gather to support a variety of outreach programs. It is where we gather to learn. It is where we gather. People I've talked to want to regather most of all.

And third, those thoughts assume people have a low opinion of their faith or their parish/church. They seem afraid that people won't tell other people about their church. They seem afraid that people won't invite other people to come with them to church.

As we watch the COVID numbers and case rates, which are beginning to rise again, as we advocate for people to get vaccinated and continue to wear masks, as we work to understand this ever-changing world we live in, we also need to understand the opportunity before us. Because right now, more than at any other time in our lives, we are living the end of the Gospel of Mark.

Right now, with regards to our faith and our faith-community here at Saint John's, we have the option of choosing between two types of people.

We can choose to be like those who constantly worry about the decline of the church. We can be like those who are afraid the church won't survive the pandemic. We can be like those who are afraid people won't come back. We can be like the three women depicted in our window over the high altar – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome – who, after being told to tell the disciples about Christ's resurrection fled from the tomb in terror saying nothing to anyone because they were afraid.

Or we can choose to live in the hope of the resurrection. We can choose to see COVID as a time when life was changed, not ended. And I certainly don't mean to minimize the awful toll COVID has taken here, but we can choose to live with the hope of the resurrection even in the midst of death. We can choose to understand that Mark's gospel ending isn't a condemnation of those three women, but an invitation to the readers of that gospel, to the hearers of that story, to us.

Question: Does anybody here (other than Dcn. Sue) know the first sentence of the Gospel of Mark?

It is this: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark's gospel ends abruptly: The women went away and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. Notice that Mark's gospel doesn't have a nice, tidy ending, like Matthew, Luke, and John. Mark's gospel ends on an unfinished note because it is the BEGINNING of the good news. It doesn't have a nice, tidy ending because it is up to us to keep the story going.

All Easter's are special. But after all that we have been through in 2020, this Easter seems more special than others. We have come through a time of separation. We are slowly regathering. We are looking at new ways of being – of being us, of being human, of being the church.

On this day Christ was victorious over death. On this day life was changed, not ended. On this day the tomb was empty.

Like the three women who went to the tomb expecting one thing, we have discovered something else. Today we have rediscovered our sense of place. Today we have rediscovered community. Today we have rediscovered resurrection.

So let us heed the words of the angel. Let us be not afraid. Let us understand that this is the beginning of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God. And let us go from here and proclaim that good news.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Sermon; Holy Saturday 2021

Every year I give pretty much the same sermon on Holy Saturday. I do that because it's so appropriate to the day.

I've followed a blog called Slacktivist since I was in seminary. To be honest, I follow it much less often now than I used to, but that's neither here nor there. Years ago he published a post on Holy Saturday which, for the Slacktivist community, has become required reading every year on this day. So, crediting my sources, this whole sermon has that post as its basis.

In essence, he says that today, Holy Saturday, is all we've got. We are perpetually living into this particular day. Good Friday with the execution and burial of Jesus was yesterday. The resurrection of tomorrow is yet to happen. Today Christ lies dead and buried in the tomb. Tomorrow's resurrection is promised and hoped for, but is yet unrealized. All we really have is today, a day surrounded by the tragedy of yesterday and the hope of tomorrow.

We can't live in the past. We are unable to live in the future. We can only live in the present, in the moment of today, this Holy Saturday.

In previous years, and thanks to a former parishioner, today has been dubbed the day of the dash. If you go to a cemetery, any will do, take a look at the tombstones and grave markers. There will be two dates – one of birth and one of death. In between those two dates is a dash. It is in that dash where the person lived. Today is the day of the dash for Christians. The crucifixion happened yesterday. The resurrection of tomorrow is promised but unfulfilled. So we live in Holy Saturday.

2020 has been called a lot of things. With respect to Saint John's, I've called it both an extended Lent and a never-ending Advent. In Lent we are often asked to give up something. COVID Lent forced us to give up a lot of things, and for much longer than 40 days.

By the time we got to Advent with its focus on preparation and waiting, I said that the Season of COVID may be more Advent than Lent. That is, we were waiting for the end of the pandemic and preparing for the arrival of better times. Advent is a both/and season. COVID has been both Lent and Advent.

But the other thing that people experienced during COVID, especially during the lock-down period, was time distortion. Someone asked me what the date was once. I said, “I could be March 83rd, or maybe it's April 47th, I don't know.” I talked about the 117th day of Lent. At some point I came to realize that there were only three days of COVID – yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

On this Holy Saturday in the midst of the Triduum, there are also only three days – yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Yesterday we participated in the execution of Christ. Yesterday we watched him die on a cross. Yesterday we saw where he was buried. Yesterday we hid ourselves away from fear of those in authority. Yesterday was a day of violence, hate, and sacrifice.

Tomorrow is Easter. With the hindsight of 2000 years, we know tomorrow is a day of celebration. Tomorrow is the day we celebrate Christ's victory over death. Tomorrow is the day life is changed, not ended. Tomorrow is the coming of the promise of new life. But for all that, tomorrow is not guaranteed.

For now there is only today. For now there is only this Holy Saturday, sandwiched between the certainties of yesterday's death and the hope of tomorrow's promise. This is the way it has always been – between yesterday's memory of what was and tomorrow's promise of different, there is today. There is only today. There has only ever been today. There will only ever be today.

Ever since the crucifixion we have been living in Holy Saturday. We live with the knowledge of Christ's death and the hope of the resurrection. As we move forward, let us remember his death, proclaim his resurrection, and await his coming in glory. Let us not wait passively, but let us wait actively in the knowledge that today the kingdom of God has come near.

Today we live in the dash. Today we live between the certainty of death and the promise of resurrection. Today let us proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God because today is holy. Today, like every day, is Holy Saturday and we have much for which to prepare.

Amen.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Sermon; Good Friday 2021

Today we participated in both the Stations of the Cross, or the Way of the Cross, as well as the reading of the Passion Gospel.

For years there has been an ecumenical Prayer Walk in Hagerstown during the noon hour with various stopping points and reflections. Like last year, it is again being done virtually or individually, with Dcn. Sue offering a mediation for one of the stops. When I was in Montana I instituted a city-wide Stations of the Cross which stopped at 14 locations around town and involved people from several different churches. When Joelene and I were in Prague I saw a very large monument which I later learned was one of the Stations of the Cross that were scattered throughout that city. This solemn procession is done all over the world in a variety of ways, including here at Saint John's. Traditionally that journey takes us from Jesus' condemnation to his burial, with several stops in-between.

The Way of the Cross is most often walked from station to station. This, as the Rite I Eucharistic Prayer says, “is meet and right so to do.” We say it is meet and right so to do because in this way we follow in the steps of our Lord and Savior. But what does it mean to follow in his footsteps, or to walk the Way of the Cross?

The Collect for both Monday in Holy Week and at the doors of the church following the procession of palms reads in part, “Almighty God whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified . . .” reminds us that walking the Way of the Cross is painful. It reminds us that we can't get to Easter without going through Good Friday. Walking the Way of the Cross reminds us that there is a world full of suffering, hate, and death. But it can also remind us that there are moments of compassion and hope.

Walking this path also does something else: it slows us down. We have a general tendency to move fast. We want to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. When traveling, we generally look for the most direct and quickest route. That's why we jump on the Interstate. But by doing that we miss those slow blue roads of Charles Kuralt.

Because of this tendency to move quickly, we are also often advised to slow down on a regular basis. Doctors tell patients to slow down for health reasons. We are told to take time to stop and smell the roses. And Ferris Bueller told us, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

Walking the Way of the Cross makes us slow down. Walking the Way of the Cross allows us to see things we might not have seen had we been speeding on our way.

As we walk the Way of the Cross we can see people struggling with their burdens. We can step in and offer to help carry those burdens. Simon of Cyrene carried the burden of the cross for Jesus. Had he been galloping by on a horse instead of walking along the road, this wouldn't have happened. As we walk, we can learn to walk with people, get to know them, and offer comfort to them when needed – like the woman who wiped the face of Jesus as he struggled on his way to Golgotha. As we walk the Way of the Cross, hopefully we can begin to see people, meet them where they are, and reflect God's love.

When we see people, we are given the opportunity to serve them. We can take time to see their needs and offer assistance. From seeing the person who needs a meal or clothing or assistance in finding a job, to seeing children who need tutors and adult role models. Walking the Way of the Cross opens us up to serving others.

But serving others, while sounding nice and worthy of doing, also comes with its own set of complications. Working to feed, clothe, and shelter people is one thing. Doing that in the face of public resistance is quite another. There are too many people who see helping those in need as enabling those who are lazy or who are a societal parasite. Too many people say, “Get a job,” while not enough people offer jobs. And yes, it's all complicated. But walking with people will lead to greater possibilities than speeding past them.

Among other things, it was Jesus' insistence that the outcasts of society – the sick, the mentally challenged, the poor, the hungry – be treated with dignity and respect that got him in trouble with the religious and political leaders of the day. This good news of the kingdom of God was seen as very much bad news for the empire. It still is.

By walking in Jesus' footsteps, by walking the Way of the Cross, we are able to slow down. We are able to slow down and meet those in need where they are. We are able to slow down and offer assistance. We are able to slow down and tell the story of the Good News.

None of this is easy. It's hard work offering ourselves and our resources to those who need it. It's hard work telling the story of the Good News to people. It's hard work confronting our own weaknesses and prejudices. It's hard work seeing our abundance not as something we might lose but as something we can share.

I think it is this very commitment to slowing down, to seeing others, to opening ourselves up to serving as Jesus served, to walking the Way of the Cross, that Jesus was referring to when he said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.”

You see, it's easy for us to speed by in our busy lives and assume that the person on the street is lazy or a parasite using government subsidies to avoid working. It's easy for us to speed by in our sheltered lives and assume that the person being detained did something to deserve it. It's easy for us to speed by in our privileged lives and think somewhere in the back of our minds that people must have done something wrong, therefore they deserve the mistreatment they are receiving. And that can happen so fast. I think of the Ohio State basketball player who at one moment was lauded for his skill and the next he was receiving death threats because he had a bad game in the NCAA tournament.

For all intents and purposes, we just did that. We got caught up in the speed of events. We got swept away with the tide. We allowed others to create the narrative of a person arrested and executed by the authorities. We were more than willing to sing the praises of this man one day, and the next cry out for his crucifixion.

This one is on us.

If the last year taught us anything, may it have taught us to slow down and enter more deeply into relationships of all kinds. If today teaches us anything, may it teach us that walking the Way of the Cross is the path to life and salvation. If we learn anything from today, let us learn that, not listening to others, not seeing people as people, not taking the time to be open to serving others, not slowing down, can have deadly consequences.

On this day when we remember the speed with which Jesus was arrested, condemned, betrayed, and killed, we must also remember those who were killed because people refused to listen, to not see them as people, to not be willing to serve them, to not slowing down. People like John Elliot Neville, William Howard Green, Mannie Ellis, Breonna Taylor, Daniel T. Prude, Michael Ramos, Sean Reed, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, AJ Crooms, Patrick Warren, Sr., Tamir Rice, and too many others.

The Way of the Cross shouldn't just be a liturgy we participate in once a year. The Way of the Cross should be a daily reminder of the suffering and death many people face in the here and now.

May we learn to slow down, walk the Way of the Cross daily, and open our eyes to the world around us.

Amen.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Sermon; Maundy Thursday 2021

For me, Maundy Thursday has always been the most difficult day of Holy Week.

Certainly Palm Sunday is hard, with its whiplash kind of effect when we move from shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” to shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” in a matter of minutes. It seems hard to comprehend how that could happen. But then I think back to January 6 and the gallows that were erected and the mob that shouted, “Hang Mike Pence!” It doesn't take much to go from adoring fan to rabid zealot. And if you think I'm cherry-picking examples, think about the sports fans who eagerly and rabidly cheer for their team and then scream obscenities or send death threats when that team doesn't perform as expected. So, yes, Palm Sunday is a hard day as we move from one extreme to the other in the reading of the Passion. It's a hard day as we sit with that whiplash event and contemplate how we also might be moved from one extreme to the other in our own lives today.

Good Friday, tomorrow, is Palm Sunday without the whiplash. We have moved from adoration to spite. As we move through the liturgy, our focus is less on, “How did this happen?” or, “How did we get caught up with a bloodthirsty mob?” to recognizing and admitting we were part of the reason for Christ's death. As the hymn says, “Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee: I crucified thee.” This day is hard because this is the day we contemplate our complicity in the killing of an innocent man.

But I find today, Maundy Thursday, to be the most difficult day of Holy Week. It's difficult because we share a meal with both Jesus and Judas. It's difficult because as Jesus washes the feet of Peter, he also washes the feet of Judas. It's difficult because we can all relate to being in a close relationship with someone only to have them betray us and abandon us. It's difficult because not only have we been betrayed and abandoned, but, if we are honest with ourselves, we have betrayed and abandoned another person. And if you think that's not true, later this evening you will sit there and watch as the altar is stripped of any and all symbols of Jesus and our faith. We will all participate in turning our backs on Jesus and removing him from our lives.

The fact that today is such an intimate and personal betrayal is what makes this day, this service, so hard. We aren't part of “the crowd.” We aren't wrapped up and carried away by the forces of a mob. This isn't some emotional event in which we've lost all control, being driven forward by forces we don't understand. Instead, tonight is calm. Tonight is premeditated. Tonight is a shared meal among friends. Tonight includes an intimate moment in the washing of feet. Unlike Palm Sunday or Good Friday when the mob rules, tonight we listen to Jesus tell us to follow his example and love one another as he loves us. And then we hand him over to be executed, hide away in fear, deny knowing him, and remove everything from our sight that ties us to him.

“Thank you for your time with us, but your services are no longer needed.”

Like a terminated employee, his things are boxed up and security escorts him from the building.

We will spend the next three nights wondering about what we just did. Our premeditated actions lead to his arrest. We are the ones who turned him over the the authorities. We may not instigate the mob, but we certainly won't try to stop it. And we hide. Instead of stepping up to claim the body and bury our friend, we will hide ourselves away fearful of being associated with him, and thankful that somebody else will do that for us.

For the next three nights we have to live with the guilt of handing Jesus over to be crucified. For the next three nights we have to live with our decision to remove him from our lives. For the next three nights, we have to live with the last words spoken to us from a man we condemned to death being, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Love one another as I have loved you.

Lofty words from Jesus, and certainly a goal worth striving for. But right now I can't think about that. Right now all I can think about is how the man with whom I shared a meal and who gently washed my feet asked me to follow him. Right now the only thing I can think about is all the ways I say, “No, not now.”

Right now, I wonder if I am as alone as he is.

May God have mercy on my soul.

Amen.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Sermon; Lent 5B; John 12:20-33 (34)

Last week I began my sermon by relaying a piece of advice from my homiletics professor about preaching on John. That advice, in a word, was, “Don't.” One commentator on John writes, “The Fourth Gospel continues to baffle, enrich, infuriate, and console as it has done for centuries. It has been written about voluminously, but it is preached and taught selectively.”

The Gospel of John is filled with long monologues, cryptic sayings, metaphor, irony, and competing (sometimes contradictory) theologies of who God and Jesus is. For these and other reasons, it's no wonder my professor advised against preaching on John. But here we are. And here I find myself ignoring the professor's advice while also taking note of the commentator and being selective. My selective focus from today's gospel is, as fate would have it, the same as today's bulletin cover – verse 24: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

This is the paradox of Christianity: in order to live, you must die.

We see this in all kinds of ways. When we are baptized, especially as adults, we put to death our old way of being (our old life), and are born into a new way of being (a new life). Our post-baptismal life should reflect that new way of being. We know, of course, that it never fully does, but we are constantly working to live into the baptismal covenant and those baptismal vows.

In this season of Lent, we are reminded that it is not simply a season to be miserable. Lent is not a season of advertising our piety by showing off what we've given up. And it's certainly not a season of giving up something for 40-some days only to return to “normal” after Easter. Instead, Lent should be a season of allowing old ways to die in order to draw nearer to God, to grow into a new life, and to bear holy fruit.

I may have told this story before, but it bears repeating here. When we were in Montana, Joelene and I would visit parishes who were looking for direction or who found themselves at a standstill. One weekend we paid a visit to St. Mark's in Anaconda. Faced with an older, dwindling congregation and no real discernible hope for the future, I asked something along the lines of, “Why are we here?”

One lady answered, “Because we don't want to die.”

To which I replied, “Maybe you've already died and what we're doing here is resurrection.”

St. Mark's is across the street from the Anaconda Jr/Sr High School. They turned their parish hall into a computer lab/learning center, provided food, tutoring, and childcare for teen mothers, and began a vibrant new ministry. The old St. Mark's died and bore much fruit.

One of the things the pandemic has done is forced us to shut down our churches for awhile. As we begin coming out of the pandemic, a colleague of mine here in Maryland is taking the opportunity to “kill off” a few ministries and programs that haven't been fruitful for several years. In their reopening process they are evaluating ministries and programs that “they've always done” to see which ones should continue and which ones they should let go.

Both of these places, Anaconda and here in Maryland, needed to come to terms with a form of death. Both of these places need to recognize that just because you've done something for 10, 20, or 50 years doesn't mean that you must continue doing something. Both of these places needed to recognize that growth always requires a form of death. As the Proper Preface for the funeral service says, “For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended.”

For us Christians you would think this would all be self-evident. I mean, we follow a man who died on a cross and rose again. Every Sunday we say, “We look for the resurrection of the dead.” The Eucharistic Prayer we are currently using says, “In him you have brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.”

Resurrection is the whole point of all of this.

But despite this, Christians are probably some of the worst people at wanting to hang onto things. We have Sunday school flannel pictograms from 1952, just in case we might need them someday. When I was in seminary, we had a Canon 40/41 party: We've Always Done It That Way, and, We've Never Done It That Way Before. The Roman Catholic Church is still getting push-back from the reforms of Vatican II – and that was in 1962. We have people in the Episcopal Church who want to go back to the 1928 BCP. And other denominations have their own group of conservative traditionalists who decry any form of change. For whatever reason, Christians of all stripes want to hold onto the way things have always been.

But doing that, holding onto the way they've always been, isn't growth, it's stagnation. And in light of the resurrection, it might even be called heresy. As one of my favorite quotes goes: The only difference between a rut and a grave is how deep it is and how long you're in it.

We are, hopefully, at the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Things are starting to open up again, some places being more cautious than others. The topic du jour is, “Have you been vaccinated yet?” And whole conversations are geared toward where you can get vaccinated and what side effects you've had.

Among those conversations have also been things like, “I can't wait until we get back to normal.” Which is a little like people in the church wishing we could get back to 1957 again.

But I don't want a normal that pays people $7.50/hr and keeps people part-time to avoid paying benefits. I don't want a normal where people need to work 2, 3, or 4 jobs to stay afloat. I don't want a normal where insurance companies dictate who, what, and how medical care is handled. I don't want a normal that keeps minorities “in their place.”

We have an opportunity – personally, socially, and ecclesiastically – to not go back but to move forward. How you move forward personally is up to you. How we move forward socially is up to all of us. In the Church, especially here at Saint John's, we have an opportunity to evaluate what needs to end, what might need to change, and what works well.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Let us never be afraid of what we are losing. Instead, let us look forward to the strengths we share, the opportunities we have, and the new life that lies before us.

Amen.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Sermon; Lent 4B; Numb. 21:4-9; John 3:14-21; Lent 4 Collect

 

When I was in seminary, my homiletics professor had this piece of advice when it came to preaching on the Gospel of John: Don't. But then you get to days like today and run into texts with poisonous serpents killing the Israelites and Moses sticking a snake on a stick to heal those who had been bitten. This is paired with a gospel passage from John that picks up in the middle of a dialogue with Nicodemus and talks about eternal life, condemnation, light, and dark. Add to that a Collect of the Day which addresses none of the day's scriptural topics but instead is a Collect geared toward “Mothering Sunday,” the half-way point in Lent when people would celebrate with a feast and make offerings at the mother church (cathedral).

So what do do with readings that have poisonous snakes, light, dark, condemnation, and a Collect focused on a mid-Lenten feast? I don't know what you would do with all of that, but I began to look for similarities.

In Numbers the Israelites are traveling through the wilderness, and, like young children (or even older children for that matter) on a family road trip, become impatient. Cries of, “Are we there yet?” and, “Why did we have to take this stupid trip anyway?” and, “We don't have any food, and the stuff you give us is gross!” rise up through the camp.

God sends poisonous serpents which begin biting and killing the Israelites. Side Note: the story never states that it was BECAUSE of their griping that God sent the serpents. Anyway . . .

so they ask Moses to pray to God on their behalf. Moses makes a bronze serpent, sticks it on a pole, and those who looked at the serpent statue are healed.

In the gospel we break into that famous conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus – the one where Nicodemus is confused about the whole born again/from above thing.

In the passage today Jesus references Moses and the serpent. Like the serpent was lifted up so will the Son of Man be lifted up. He then goes on to say that God gave his only Son so that people would not perish, and that the Son wasn't sent to condemn but to save.

And the Collect for this Mothering Sunday acknowledges Jesus as the bread of life and petitions God for that bread so that he may live in us and we in him.

We may not see it at first, but the similarity between these three – lesson, gospel, and Collect – is that at their core they all have to do with healing. And not just any healing, but, as I read in a few places, a form of spiritual homeopathy in which like-heals-like. Or, in the physical realm, how vaccines work – where your body is introduced to a very low dose/harmless amount of a disease (polio, measles, mumps, COVID) in order to create antibodies and heal.

In the wilderness the serpent on the pole allowed for the healing of those who were bitten by serpents. The Son of Man is broken (crucified) in order to heal a broken world. We who are hungry are fed with the bread of life so that we ourselves may feed and heal others. For those of you familiar with Henri Nouwen, this is along the lines of his most famous work, The Wounded Healer.

There is something here to which we need to pay attention. Our society has built up this myth of rugged individualism and pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. That myth has been so ingrained into us that we often fail to see it's not true. America was built on the backs of slave labor, of uncredited women and minorities, and of working together, not separately. One way toward healing our nation might be in recognizing that the brokenness of the nation has in some way also broken us, and then as we begin to heal ourselves we might find ways to use those wounds to help heal the nation.

Personally we often try to hide our faults and shortcomings. In times of need or distress or hurt, we shut people out, often with a lame excuse of needing to walk this path alone. But we will never heal by walking alone. In the wilderness, those who tried to deal with their bites alone, or refused to acknowledge the need for help, died. The people who lived were the ones who recognized they needed help. In the same way, we also need to ask for help when we are broken or wounded, and we need to allow those who can understand our pain to step in and help heal us. This is why grief support groups or groups like AA, NA, OA, and others can be so successful.

The gospel tells us that God sent the Son to save the world, not to condemn it. According to the Gospel of John, those who try to save themselves, or who refuse to acknowledge the need for help, live in the darkness of their own judgment and are therefore self-condemned. Those who recognize they are broken can turn to the one who was also broken – crucified – and will be healed.

And on this Mothering Sunday, many of us have returned not to the cathedral but to our mother church of Saint John's. As a mother feeds and nourishes her children, we are fed and nourished by this church, our spiritual mother. It is here where we are fed with the bread of heaven that sustains and heals us. It is here where, by feeding on that bread, Christ lives in us and we in him. And like the bronze serpent healed those bitten, and the broken body of Christ heals our broken bodies, we can use our brokenness to heal others.

These passage and this Collect remind us that we are not rugged individuals, but that we are broken and damaged people whom God works to heal and who works through us to heal others,. It is our brokenness and faithfulness that will help bring healing and light to the world, not our attempts at perfection and self-reliance.

As we begin the process of regathering, both in here in the church and in other places around our city, state, and country, may we understand that we have been broken, wounded, and malnourished, and then let us work to heal and nourish others as we ourselves have been fed, nourished, and healed by God.

Amen.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Sermon; Lent 3B; John 2:13-22

Today we hear the story of Jesus rampaging through the temple at a time close to the Passover. Today we hear the story when Jesus, filled with righteous anger, destroyed or damaged the property of a ruling class. So much for a meek and mild Jesus.

All four gospels record this event. In the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) it takes place on either the day of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) or the next. But in John it takes place early in his ministry and shortly after the wedding in Cana. And while the synoptic version is relatively short and calm by comparison, John's version is longer, more violent, more destructive, and contains a Passion prediction. All of this might be why people conflate the stories, placing the John version at the end of Jesus' ministry instead of at the beginning.

John's placement of this event at the beginning may seem to be a curious choice. After all, the synoptics record that this was one (big?) reason the chief priests wanted him dead. So why put a story that was a key factor in his death at the the beginning of the gospel where it doesn't carry the same consequences?

One answer is, “Because it's John, and he always does things a little different.”

Another answer is a bit more complex.

In this story we hear Jesus say, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews reply, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years and you will raise it up in three days?”

You can hear the incredulous, patronizing tone in their voices. But, as is typical with John, the readers of the gospel are given hidden information that will only come to light later: “But he was speaking of the temple of his body.”

I need to make a side comment here, especially as we are getting closer to Holy Week. In John's gospel he uses the term “the Jews” several times, especially as we get into Holy Week and the whole Passion story. Over the course of history this has led to Jewish persecution of all kinds, some worse than others, and none acceptable. One way to read this isn't as the Jewish people or an individual Jewish person, but as the political leadership. In other words, you can read “the Jews” in much the same way as we might say “the Republicans” or “the Democrats.”

So . . . back to the story.

Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” This is the first and only Passion prediction in John's gospel. But the more important part, I think, comes at verse 22. It's here that John says the disciples remembered these words after the resurrection and they believed.

Most of Scripture is a collection of stories that recounts the record of God's saving deeds in history, and how he saved his people in ages past. And we see, if we are paying attention, how God continually expands the circle, letting more and more people come within the reach of his loving embrace.

The gospels, while certainly recounting the record of God's most amazing deed in the resurrection of Christ, also ask us to reflect back on the life and death of Jesus after the resurrection. John maybe does this more explicitly than any of the other three. Today we hear that, after the resurrection, his disciples remembered and believed. And as the story moves into Holy Week in John, he writes that the disciples at first didn't understand these things but they remembered them after he was glorified, ie resurrected.

Like the disciples remembered and believed post-resurrection, we also reflect back on Christ's life and death, remembering how that story impacts us. It is through the telling and remembering of this story that we engage with Christ and deepen our relationship with him.

As we retell and remember the story of Christ, it is worth noting where we most engage with him. Our remembrance and engagement with Christ is most tangibly seen in the Eucharist. In the remembrance of Christ in the Eucharist, we remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection, we await his coming in glory.

There is a Greek word for this type of remembrance: anamnesis. Whereas amnesia is a forgetting, anamnesis is a remembering. But it's not simply a remembering of a past event, but an action in which an event is realized as present. At the Eucharist, this remembrance of Christ's sacrifice is made really present in the bread and wine become Body and Blood.

This very well might be why we Anglicans have had such a hard time during the pandemic. Our remembrance of Christ is played out in the Eucharistic feast. Our remembrance of Christ is tied to Holy Communion; that holy meal which is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet and in which Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” For us these are not just stories recounting God's saving deeds. For us, this is a holy remembrance of the life of Christ. For us, Holy Communion is a re-membering . . . a time when members who have been apart and/or separated are now re-membered, brought back together to be one body, one blood.

The cleansing of the temple drove out all that separated the people from God, and the disciples remembered his words about being raised on the third day. Lent is a time for us to cleanse our own temples and drive out all that separates us from God.

As we prepare to regather in limited fashion and once again receive the Body and Blood of him who died for us and is the bread of life, let us also prepare ourselves to once again receive the Paschal feast in remembrance of his sacrifice, death, and resurrection.

And may that remembrance, that anamnesis, be manifested in our present actions.

Amen.