Through Easter Colored Glasses: A Sermon for Easter 3B

This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 15, 2018, is built on the reading for Easter 3B in the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here.

 

Here is a recording of the sermon

 

And  a transcript of the recording:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our Redeemer.

Please be seated.

So here it is the second Sunday after Easter, mid April, happy Spring!  It’s a little hard to believe.  All the evidence points to the contrary.  Spring isn’t here yet.  And I think maybe the disciples were having similar problem this morning, or this evening, there with Jesus.

Now it’s been two weeks for us.  It’s really just still the day of resurrection for them.  The women went to the tomb and found it was empty.  Peter raced to see, came back and told the disciples what had happened.  Cleopas and his companion were on the way to Emmaus and Jesus appears to them and they know him in the breaking of the bread; and now they’ve come back to the rest of the disciples…  And suddenly, all in the same day, Jesus is among them.

So, I just have to hear it this way, and I hope you’ll indulge me for a minute.

Peace be with you.

Oh no!  Wait! Wait!  It’s really me!

Here.  Here.  Go ahead, touch me.  See?  I’m real!

Yeah, I know!  But it’s me!  See the wounds?

Ok.  Ok.  What do I have to do to convince you?

Hey, I know!  How about if I eat something?

You know… he had told them three times.  He told them that this was what would happen.  So, you’d think they’d be expecting him here in this moment.  I have to feel like maybe he’s a little frustrated or exasperated with them.

In chapter nine of Luke’s account we hear,

“The Son of man must suffer many terrible things…  He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law.  He will be killed. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”

Just a little later in that same chapter,

“Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of man is going to be betrayed into human hands.”

And then in chapter 18 Jesus puts it all on the line

“…he will be handed over to the gentiles; and he will be mocked, and insulted, and spat upon.  After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.”

So here we are not very long after Jesus spoke these words, and the disciples see Jesus, and they just can’t believe their eyes.  All of the evidence would point to the contrary.  Jesus with dead.

Now I guess maybe, maybe, we can cut the disciples a little slack here, and maybe in fact we should.  Because the disciples, living where and when they did, new all about rejection, betrayal, mocking, and insults.  They knew all about spitting, flogging, humiliation, and torture.  And they knew full well that speaking truth to power, working for justice and peace among all people, and demanding the dignity and respect due to every human being… could very well get you crucified, dead, and buried.  They didn’t need to be convinced that Jesus was dead.

But here he was standing among them again!  It took a lot of convincing for them to believe that this wasn’t the ghost or an apparition.  They knew all about Good Friday, but they weren’t prepared for Easter: for Jesus standing amongst them, clear proof that death is not the end, love triumphing over hate, God still with us even after all that we have done.

Nothing in their world, nothing in their experience, not even Jesus telling them that it would happen, could have prepared them for Easter.  And that’s why they couldn’t see it even when it was standing right there in front of them.

So, two thousand years later, after having had lots, and lots, of time to rehearse, and reaffirm, to re tell this story… I have to ask how prepared we are to see Easter.

Everywhere we look the focus seems to be on rejection, betrayal, humiliation, torture, and death. The world around us and knows all about, is always trying to teach us about, seems to want to live forever… in Good Friday.

That’s a dangerous thing for us because when we are constantly bombarded with Good Friday, we begin to expect Good Friday.

And then getting the Good Friday that we expect, Good Friday starts to feel “normal.”

And when Good Friday becomes normal we stop expecting, stop looking for, may even stop being able to see Easter when it’s standing right in front of us.

We might even start to act as if Good Friday is the only possibility, the only way to be in this world…  And the darkness threatens to overwhelm us.

Now that sounds pretty awful, but I have to tell you that it gets worse!

Jesus says to his disciples, and to us this morning, “You are witnesses of these things.”  You are witnesses of Easter, of resurrection, of new life!  Jesus is expecting us to proclaim the truth, the reality of Easter, in opposition to Good Friday, to all nations.  But if we’ve stopped expecting, looking for, or even seeing, Easter in the world around us… we are going to make pretty poor witnesses.  If we are going to be an Easter people, if we’re going to stand up against the narrative, the posture, the suffocating oppressive weight of Good Friday, then we have to have some Easter to which we can point.

The world around us isn’t on our side.  But I have to tell you that there’s good news.

When our eyes start to fail us, when we can’t see, whether it things in the distance or things up close; we go to the optometrist, and they examine our eyes, and they give us a prescription for new lenses through which to see the world.  We put those glasses on and we see the world, not in a new way, but in the way in which truly is.

Jesus is here, all around us, all the time.  God is here with us offering us new life.  That’s real, that’s the way it is.  We just have to be able to see it.  So what we need to do, I think, is to re grind our lenses and, maybe see the world through Easter colored glasses.

I’ve got a way for us practice.  So here’s the deal.  Today, and today only, when the baskets come around, you to take something out!  In these baskets are some little notebooks and some little labels that you can affix to them that say “Easter Sightings.”  There are 50 days in the season of Easter we’re two weeks in… now my math isn’t great, but we’re somewhere around thirty six, thirty eight if you’re counting Sunday, days left in the season.   Fifty pages on which to write down something every day that witnesses to God’s continued presence in the world, that manifests love triumphing over hate, the tells us that new life can come out of death; a way to practice seeing Easter in a world that only wants to pay attention the Good Friday.

Now if you’re really courageous you might bring these books with you to church, every Sunday between now and Pentecost, and share your sightings with the people seated next to you in the pews.  Because they probably won’t have seen the same things that you have, and they’ll have new things to share with you, and I’m sure that show both need to see and hear one another’s testimony, and witness.  And then, if you’re really brave, you carry this around in your pocket or your purse, it’s small enough, and when you’re somewhere else, not here, pull this little book out and thumb through it, let people see the pastel colors on the cover, and hope that they’ll ask you what’s in it.  And then, you will have a chance to witness to all nations the truth of Easter: that death is not the end, that love triumphs over hate, that new life comes out of things that were old or being cast down, and that we are God’s beloved, and God will never abandon us.

Jesus is here this morning saying you are witnesses of these things.

Amen

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Bearing the Wounds of the Risen Christ: A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

This sermon, offered at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 8, 2018, by The Rev. Andy Jones, is built on the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter  in Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find hose readings here.

 

May words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength, and our Redeemer.

Please be seated.

Evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the disciples have gathered to try and to process, to make sense, of the events the last three days.  It has been a tumultuous ride.

On Thursday we gathered with Jesus and he washed our feet and gave us the gifts of bread and wine.  Then we followed him out into the garden where we couldn’t seem to stay awake while he prayed.  And then the soldiers came to arrest him and we fled.  We deserted him and left him there alone.  The next day we watched from a distance in horror as he was nailed to a tree and died.  And then this morning some women from among us came to us and told us that they had seen the Lord.  So we’re here now trying, trying to understand, filled with confusion, doubt, grief, and some shame.

The doors are locked because we’re afraid that the same fate that befell our master, our teacher, our friend, might befall us if people recognize that we are his followers.  We are afraid.

Suddenly, even though the doors were locked, Jesus stood among them.  The first thing that he does is to say to them, “Peace be with you.”  That makes a lot of sense to me. I mean, in the midst of all of that Grief, confusion, and guilt, and shame; suddenly the person they thought was dead, the person they thought they had abandoned is standing there in their midst.  They were probably climbing all over each other trying to be the first ones out the back window!  Jesus says, “Peace!  Peace be with you.”

The next thing he does though is harder understand.  He says peace be with you and then he immediately shows them his wounds, the marks of the nails in his hands, and the wound in his side.  Well, maybe he was trying to prove to them that he was the same person that had been nailed to the cross and died.  Maybe was trying to show them that he was not a ghost.  Still… wouldn’t his presence in the room, there with them have been enough?

And then there’s Thomas.  Thomas wasn’t there that day.  Thomas was always late and he missed out on this event.  And so when the disciples go to him and say, “We have seen the Lord,” he says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand, and put my fingers in the marks, and my hand in his side I will not believe.”

Again, it’s the wounds!  There’s something about the wounds that seems to be awfully important here.

I think that there’s something really important here.  It’s been a week since Jesus appeared to the disciples there in that locked room before he appears again; and just imagine them continuing to process this event, already trying to make sense and understand…

Surely, surely, God rising from the dead would come back with trumpets and angels, and a heavenly chorus, with lights shining, cleaned up, sanitized… powerful, strong, ready to finally enact God’s agenda.  But that’s not how God comes back.  And there’s more going on here than the need to prove that he’s not a ghost.

Jesus is once again manifesting, making real for us to see, something important about God nature.  God comes among as one of us bearing our own wounds, bearing his own, claiming them, sanctifying them, making them holy.

Now that may sound a little strange but think back for a minute to the beginning of this story.  God doesn’t enter the world in the person of Jesus wrapped in purple cloth, in the throne room of Kings.  God enters this world in the person of Jesus a vulnerable naked infant, born in poverty, in a manger in a cave.  God doesn’t come into the world with a sword in one hand and lightning bolts in the other.  God comes into the world vulnerable, broken, and hurting.  Just like us.

That’s a pretty powerful thing to ponder.  It’s a great comfort to us, I think, to know that we are not alone in our pain and suffering, and that God understands them in such a profound and deeply personal way.  God bears our wounds, and walks among as one of us.

But there’s another aspect of this story that I think often gets overlooked in our rush play with the name Doubting Thomas.  That is that this passage from John’s Gospel is the place that the Holy Spirit is given to the disciples.

Jesus comes among them in the locked room, says peace be with you, shows them his wounds, the disciples rejoiced to see the Lord, and then Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.  As the father sends me, so I send you.”

Now if this story about Jesus’s wounds isn’t so much about the physical appearance, the manifestation of Jesus… if the wounds aren’t there to convey that he’s not a ghost, but are there to convey something profound about God’s nature…  then the way that God sends Jesus into the world, and the way that Jesus is sending us, is broken, wounded, hurting.  That’s how God comes to us, and that’s how God sends us into the world.

That’s really, I think, great news!  How much time do we all spend trying to clean up and sanitize ourselves, trying to hide our brokenness and our woundedness?  That effort leaves us defensive and afraid that we might be found out.  And when we go out into the world trying to disguise, or mask, our own woundedness we are likely to show up with a sword and with lightning bolts.  We’re likely to show up with all of the answers, with the textbook show others how to do it.  We’re likely to show up and push our way into the center and tell everybody else what do.

But it’s our vocation in the church to participate in God’s reconciling love, to reconcile all people one to another and to God through the love of Christ Jesus.  And the only way to do that, is to show up, and to be willing to be vulnerable.

We need to do that whether we’re working with our friends and partners at St. Paul’s AME, whether we’re serving at the soup kitchen, whether we’re working downtown to help the homeless… we need to show up in that way here… to one another.

Look around this room for a moment, if you will.  There are people here who are bearing the same wounds that you are.  How likely are you to share your woundedness with them if they are doing everything they can to hide their own wounds?  How willing are you to be in relationship about the places where you hurt and are afraid and need help if the person standing before you looks perfect, sanitized, cleaned up, all of their wounds gone, with the trumpets playing, and a fanfare going in the background?

Relationship, reconciliation, is dependent upon the willingness to be vulnerable.  That’s what this story is about today.  It’s not so much about Thomas’s doubt.  It’s about Jesus’s wounds.

So, as we go out into the world to proclaim the good news of the risen Christ, we are proclaiming the good news of a Jesus who comes among us wounded, and broken, and who shares our pain, and is willing to enter into that place in our lives in a way that can heal us and make us whole.  We are called to carry the words of the risen Jesus into the world.  But we can’t do that unless were willing to bear our own, to let our neighbors see that we hurt too.  To let the people who are afraid know that share that fear.  Somewhere in the midst of that sharing we’ll find space to come together, to be one, and to be reconciled.

Jesus comes among us this morning and says, peace be with you, and then he shows us his wounds, and then he says, “As the father has sent me, so I send you.

Amen.

The Risk of Bared Feet: A sermon for Maundy Thursday 2018

This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in Madison Wisconsin, on March 29, 2018, is build around the reading assigned for Maundy Thursday in the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here.

Here is a recording of the sermon.

Here is a transcript of the recording.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer.

Please be seated.

Thirty-eight days of Lent are enough to heighten anyone’s sense of the holy, to attune us to the ebb and flow of the divine and moving around us.  But even without this preparation, even without the season that lies behind us, it would be hard not to miss the tension this evening.  Jesus knows that he is about to leave and go to his father.  The authorities have made their plans.  The soldiers lie in wait to arrest him.  And here in an upper room, Jesus gathers with his closest disciples to share a meal.

In the midst of the tension and anxiety that we feel all around us, it’s natural to long for something, anything to do.  And thankfully, Jesus had some very clear instructions for us this evening.  As we heard from our epistle reading this evening, this is the setting where Jesus institutes the sacrament of the last supper; telling us to remember him, do this in memory of him, every time we break this bread and drink this wine.  Then Jesus washes his disciple’s feet and tells us that we should love one another as he has loved us, that we should love one another as he has loved us.  That could be a scary moment. Here as the dark is gathering outside the walls of this place, waiting to crush in on us, loving one another as he has loved us can lead us to some very scary places indeed.  But he’s but he’s given us a way, I think, to imagine, to proceed, to participate in that love here in this act in which we are about to participate.

Jesus calls us to a life of service, to loving one another through acts of kindness and support.  Washing someone’s feet was a task that was relegated to slaves and servants in a household.  And here Jesus, the master the teacher, gets down on his hands and knees, with a towel tied around his waist, and washes the filth from the streets of Jerusalem, from the feet of his disciples.

Peter seems shocked by this reversal of status and rank and power.  “You will never wash my feet!”

I think that there’s something very important for us to hear in the humility that Jesus calls us to in this moment; to wash one another’s feet regardless of rank, or status, or position, to serve one another.  But there’s something else going on here too.

I’m not sure what it was about feet.  Jesus tells us that you may be bathed and clean but you still need to have your feet washed.  I was told earlier this week that another sermon about corns, and warts, and bunions, and twisted pinky toes, was not the thing for this evening.  So I won’t go there.

But I also imagine that it is, see that it is, our feet that carry us into all the places that we’ve been in our lives.  Our feet bear the scars and the infirmities of the wrong steps that we have taken, the rocks that we’ve stubbed our toes against, the obstacles with which we have collided, as we’ve blundered around in the dark.

Something about his feet, whether it was that bunion or the scars from the places he’d been… Peter didn’t want to reveal them to Jesus.

But here’s the thing.  If we are going to love one another as Jesus loves us then we need to be prepared serve.  We also need to be prepared could be served.  Love doesn’t exist without the willingness to be vulnerable.  love doesn’t exist without the willingness to reveal who we truly are, to reveal our faults, to reveal our past, to reveal our fears and dreams.  If we keep those things hidden under our shoes and socks then we might always doubt that the other really can love us.  Because if they knew us for who we really are, with all of our warts, and bunions, and ingrown toenails exposed, surely they wouldn’t love us.

So loving one another as Jesus loves us comes in two parts.  Love is reciprocal.  Love goes back and forth, flows from one to the other.  And purely pragmatically speaking, if no one’s willing to have their feet washed and we can’t watch anybody’s feet.  We need to be willing to be vulnerable.  We need to be willing to risk in order to love.

That may be the most important thing that we take away from this evening; that when we encounter people, when we encounter people we like, people with whom we get along…  when we encounter people whom we don’t like, with whom we disagree, with whom we don’t get along…  we need to be willing to risk taking off our shoes and socks. We need to be willing to risk vulnerability.  We need to be willing to let our guard down and enter in to a reciprocal relationship so that there’s some opportunity for us to come together and move forward.

Jesus says it is by your love that they will know that you are my disciples.  And so I ask you if we’re not willing to take that risk… then who will?

Amen.

It is Written on Our Hearts: a Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison Wisconsin, on March 18, 2018 is built on the readings assigned for the Fifth Sunday in Lent in Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here.

 

 

It has been a difficult week.

Yesterday we said goodbye to Betsy Greene, a longtime member of St Andrew’s, Betsy was 68 years old and died after a two year struggle with a brain tumor.

On Thursday we said goodbye to Joan Smith, another longtime member of St Andrew’s.  Joan’s husband Jack died just about a year ago.  They had lived in a memory care unit for about a year and a half prior to Jack’s death and Joan has lived there by herself since he died.  Joan was 85.

 

But on Wednesday, on Wednesday, Mother Dorota and I stood right there, in the gate of the altar rail, at ten o clock in the morning, and we rang the Sanctus Bell seventeen times as we read seventeen names.  One sounding of the bell and one name a minute, for seventeen minutes.

A minute is a long time… ring the bell, wait about 15 seconds for the sound to fade, read the name, and spend the next 40 seconds in silence, remembering, or looking forward to, your own kids when they were 14.  Fourteen years old.  Just like

Alyssa Alhadeff

Martin Duque

Jaime Guttenberg

Cara Loughran

Gina Montalto

Alaina Petty

Alex Schachter

or when they were 15 like

Luke Hoyer

Peter Wang

or 16 like

Carmen Schentrup

or 17 like

Nicholas Dworet

Joaquin Oliver

Helena Ramsay

or 18 like

Meadow Pollack

A minute is a long time to think about their teachers:

Scott Beigel

Aaron Feis

Chris Hixon

and to wonder what you would have done in those horrifying 6 minutes….

 

We stood here in this space on Wednesday morning, ringing that bell, reading those names, as tens of Thousands of students walked out of over 2,800 schools across this country.

Children!  Your children, my children, our children, confronting us with the fact that we have not done enough to protect them and demanding change, demanding that we do something.  That we do… something.

It is the season of lent so those seventeen minutes, and the time we spent here later that evening in a service of Lament for our Culture of Gun Violence, were pent of time for us to hear these words…

“We confess that we have sinned against you, in thought word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole heart.  We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves” (BCP page 360).

If we weren’t careful we also found ourselves confronted by the words of the confession from Enriching Our Worship…

“We repent of the evil that enslaves us,

the evil we have done,

and the evil done on our behalf” (Enriching Our Worship 1 page 56).

It is the fifth Sunday in Lent.  We have been on this journey for a while now.  And the pain of this past week…  It’s pretty understandable that we would arrive here this morning exhausted, struggling, seeking some comfort and assurance.

The beginning of the Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent begins…

“Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise…”  (BCP p. 219).

Deep, deep longing and desire that the world might be changed; that our hearts, that everyone’s heart, might be changed so that we might, as a community, love God’s command and realize a world where God’s dream, that we might all live as one.

And then we hear from the Prophet Jeremiah, speaking for God when the peole of Israel are in exile in Babylon; their nation being dismantles so that they no longer recognize a home in the reports that come to them; their identity as a people being snuffed out; their customs and way of life restricted and denied…

The Prophet Jeremiah promises on God’s behalf

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33b).

God promises us – I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.

And we hope, we long for that day when hearts are opened and god’s desire for us to love our neighbor as ourselves flows into and out of us and we live as one, in peace.

It is perhaps that hope for the realization of God’s dream and vision for all of creation, that gets us through moments like this past Wednesday.

That gets us through moments like this past Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day!

It is perhaps that hope that gets us through the aftermath of tragedies like the ones in

Las Vegas

Dallas

Orlando

San Bernardino

Colorado Springs

Roseburg, Oregon

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Charleston, South Carolina…

That is a horrifying list… and that only gets us back to June of 2015!

And there it is again.  Right there.  That sick feeling in the pits of our stomachs that just won’t go away, even when we turn our backs, when we try to pretend it hasn’t happened again…

Our hope might sustain us for a while…

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

But hope, by itself, isn’t enough….

Because my brothers and sisters…  God has already written that law in our hearts!

That’s why we are here.  That’s why these stories hit us so hard…  Because with God’s law written in our hearts… our failure to act, to protect our children, strike us as sins of commission and omission –   things that we have done, and things that we have left undone; as a failure to love God with our whole heart and our neighbors as ourselves.

Here in the season of Lent we cannot but see these events as

the evil that enslaves us,

the evil we have done,

and the evil done on our behalf.

God’s laws, written on our hearts offer us hope, but they also call us to act!

 

In a Letter to the Diocese of Milwaukee, written four days after the shootings in Parkland Florida Bishop Steven Miller writes:

Lent 2018 will forever be for me marked by this tragedy not only because it occurred on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, but also because one of those killed was a member of our faith community. Her name was Carmen Schentrup a young woman who was a leader in the youth group at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church.  I ask you to join me when you remember all the victims of this tragedy, the living and the dead, the physically and the spiritually wounded, in praying especially for Carmen, her family, and the people of St. Mary Magdalene Church

On Ash Wednesday we prayed these words, “Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty.” Hearing these words in the context of the events of the day is for me a call to action.

Lent is the season in which we prepare to reaffirm our baptismal vows and identity. At baptism, we renounced the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. We will reaffirm that identity at the Great Vigil of Easter.

I believe I cannot be faithful to that promise unless I stand up to the growing gun culture in our society and those who perpetuate it. My baptismal identity requires me to confront those evil powers and ask others to join me in calling them to account. My citizenship in Jesus’ kingdom requires that I make that way of living the model for life here on earth. If God’s will is life, not death, and we desire that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven, how can there be a place for weapons in everyday life? I think the only thing God wants us to be armed with is his word, his righteousness, and his salvation.

Please join me in working to reduce gun violence by working to make it harder to commit.

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Steven Andrew Miller, Bishop of Milwaukee

 

This Saturday, March 24, all across this country, and abroad, the Bishops of the Episcopal Church will join with our children as they “March For Our Lives.”  There will be a march in Washington DC and there will be sister marches in major cities in every state of the union.  Bishop Miller will be marching with parishes from this diocese and we will be walking with our brothers and sisters here in Madison.

Right now the march is scheduled to begin on Library Mall at 10 am.  We will march to the Capital where we will hear a series of speakers and then we will march around the capital, joining our voices and standing in solidarity with the children, your children, my children, our children, we are begging, wo are demanding, that we do something, something, to protect them and to make us all safe.

I ask you to pray and to consider joining us as we march.  We will send out an email to the parish list serv later this week with details about how you can join us as we gather to march as a community, as Jesus’ hands and feet in this world; as we allow the law that God has written on our hearts to move us to action; as we work to bring about God’s will for us; as we choose life over death.

Amen.

Despite the Evidence to the Contrary: a Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

This sermon, offered by the Rev. Andy Jones at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin on February 18, 2018, is built around the readings assigned for the First Sunday in Lent in Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here.

 

Here is a recording of the  sermon

 

And a transcript of the recording

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

Please be seated.

So here it is the first Sunday in Lent, a penitential season, and so it’s probably a good time for me to make a little confession to you all.   Every year about this time, as the season of Lent approaches, I, Mother Dorota and I, and clergy all across the country, start to think about and look for ways to make you all uncomfortable in church.  We stop saying Alleluia, we take away the flowers, change the words of the liturgy that we’ve been using…  We try really hard to make church feel strange and just a little bit unsettling starting on that first Sunday of Lent.

But this past week as I pondered the limited resources that are available to me as I seek fulfill this goal, it occurred to me that we probably didn’t need to do anything special at all to make you all feel like you’re in the wilderness.  All you have to do is turn on the television, turn on the radio, and you see things that we use as guideposts, as markers along the way, being obliterated.  We see people hurting one another.  We see people screaming and shouting at one another and fighting over things that we would never have imagined that people would argue about in the first place.  People whom we know and love are falling sick.  People whom we know and love have died, just in this past week.  And so we are already in the wilderness.

In fact, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that life in this world is life lived in the wilderness, because this world is broken and hurting, and people all over, even we feel lost.

That, I think, can make it really difficult to remember the words that were spoken to Jesus in his baptism and the words that are spoken to us in ours.  “You are my beloved child.  With you I am well pleased.”

It’s easy, I think, to lose track of those words and that truth with all of the evidence to the contrary that’s thrust upon us every single day.  How do we remember we are God’s beloved?  I think in Jesus knows full well how difficult it is to keep track of that reality.  As he come out of the wilderness and strides purposefully in to the region of the Galilee he is proclaiming “The time is fulfilled. and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”

Jesus was walking in to a world, having just left the wilderness, that was no less broken hurting or lonely than our own. it is the human condition and his people were being oppressed by an invading army.  People were being marginalized.  People were hurting one another and fighting over details that seemed insignificant in the face of those words – you are my beloved.  With you I am well pleased.   So he knew that he was called the claim and proclaim the truth of God love.

Listen to what he says.  “The time is fulfilled…”  so all of our Scriptures, everything written, everything handed down, everything treasured by our people are pointing to this one moment when God will break into the world in a new way and set all things right.  We will be restored to right relationship with God and with one another.  And all of creation, and all people will be reconciled one to another and to God!  That’s what Jesus is proclaiming as he walks into the Galilee!

He’s also saying that “the kingdom of God has come near.”  It’s not something far-off, something up in the heavens.  It’s not something to experience after you die.  The kingdom of heaven is here and now, and we can experience it together, as a community.

Pretty radical things to say.  And especially radical in light of all of the evidence to the contrary.  How do we cling to those truths?  How do we remember those things that have the power to give us the “peace that passes all understanding” when all we have to do is walk out the door and be reminded the world is still a broken, hurting, and a lonely place to be?

Jesus says “…repent, and believe in the good news.”   Now the word repent carries a lot of baggage because it gets misused a lot.  But what it really means is to turn away from the things that are distorting our nature; that are stealing our joy, and our life. and our love.  To turn away from things that alienate us from one another, and from ourselves, and from God, and to turn back to the God who wants us to live life abundantly, joyfully, boldly, and lovingly.

Jesus says turn back to God and believe the good news, believe a better word here is trust.  Believe is a verb.  Believe means embrace, internalize, accept, know.  Trust the good news.

Trust that you are beloved of God and that with you God is well pleased.  Trust that the time is fulfilled and God’s promises are coming true.  And trust that the kingdom of God is here and now, for you and for me, and for all of us.  And do all of that despite all of the evidence to the contrary.  Not an easy thing to do.  Jesus knew that.  Jesus shows us a way to hang on to what is at the core of our being.

Before Jesus strides purposefully into the Galilee proclaiming that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near, Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.  Now I’m not suggesting that any of us do that.  That would be a difficult thing, I think, for any of us to endure.

And I also want to point out that in the other gospel accounts of Jesus is like there’s a lot of detail about what that temptation looked like and the conversation that Jesus had with the tempter.  But here in Mark’s gospel it’s very spare, a few short lines, which leaves room for our imaginations.  And in fact, I think, leaves room for our own stories.  So if we were to step into the wilderness to be tempted what would that look like for us; to be tested, what would that look like for us?

Just a couple of days ago, on Ash Wednesday, we stood in this place and listened to the Invitation to the Observance of the holy Lent, and in that invitation we hear,

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance…”

We are called during this season to look for the obstacles that we have erected between ourselves and God; the things that keep us from turning back to God; the things which we carry around in our past and in our memories that leave us hiding behind the bushes and sewing clothes out of fig leaves for fear of encountering the God who loves us.

The invitation goes on,

“I invite you to the observance of a holy Lent… by prayer and fasting and self-denial…”

to engage in a conversation with God that’s stripped of its distractions.  To find a place to be quiet, to be alone with God, to speak what’s in our own hearts and to listen.

And then finally the observance of a holy Lent

“…through reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

Going back to those promises.  Remembering what God has said to us.  Remembering what God has said to us through the person of Jesus Christ, and claiming them as truth.

We are God’s beloved and with us God is well pleased!

This season of Lent is a time for us to resource ourselves.  To build ourselves up, to claim those promises for our own, so that when the world tries to counter that truth with evidence to the contrary we can be strong in what we know and what we believe.

This season is a time for us strengthen and fortify ourselves with the truth; time for us to focus on what is holy, and true, and life-giving, and the beautiful, so that when the world floods us with images that aren’t any of those things we have something with which to balance them.

The world can very quickly take away the peace that passes all understanding and this season of Lent is about building ourselves up in that Peace, finding it again and claiming it for our own. I have to tell you that that’s not the end of the story.

This season isn’t so much about us, as it is about the world that would try to steal this peace from us.  Jesus hears his identity proclaimed in his baptism, and he goes out into the wilderness, and he successfully resists the temptation.  He’s strong in who he is.  And he’s also strong in what is called to do.

And so he walks out of the wilderness into a world that would deny everything that he says and is, and begins to proclaim,

“The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news.”

All of the peace that we find this season and in one another, and in this place, is preparing us to follow in his footsteps… and to go out those doors into a world that is broken, and hurting, and lost, and proclaim a different narrative in the one year on the evening news; to tell one another, to tell everyone we meet “You are beloved, and we are one.  And we can live together, respecting each other’s dignity, recognizing what is holy in one another, and working to serve each other and to serve God here in this place.

The season of Lent, it’s like boot camp!  We are being prepared to be sent out.  In the process of that we will find a peace that passes all understanding, and then we’re called upon to jeopardize and to risk that by going out that door.

Thanks be to God that we have one another and this place to which we can return; to be strengthened, to be filled, to be taught, to listen, and to teach one another, so that together we can bring those prophecies to realization and fulfillment.

The kingdom of God has come near.

Amen

A Moment of Shocking Clarity: Honoring the Life, Work and Ministry of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This sermon, offered on January 14, 2018  by the Very Rev. Andy Jones at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin is  built around the Lessons Appointed for Use on the Feast of Martin Luther King, Jr.

You can find those lessons here.

 

Here is a recording of the sermon:

 

The following is a transcript of the recorded sermon:

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Please be seated.

It catches us up short.  Startling, sometimes even frightening us when it happens.  We’re making our way through life.  Maybe we’re not paying attention.  Maybe we’re making excuses.  Maybe we are in denial.  But then a moment of clarity strikes us. Something happens and the truth becomes too obvious and to plain to ignore, and we have to finally deal with it.  We had just such a moment here in this last week.

Just a week ago, as we celebrated the Baptism of our Lord, we stood here in this place and we promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.  We promised that we would strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.  All people.  Every human being.  That’s a tall task for anyone.  It’s easy to love the people who love us, who look like us, who dress like us, who believe like us.  But these vows don’t give us that option.  We have to go beyond that and love all people, respect the dignity of every human being.

Now we renew these baptismal promises all the time.  Every time there’s a baptism in this place we stand and renew our baptismal vows.  We do it when we celebrate the feast of the baptism of our Lord.  But I wonder how many of us walk out the doors of this place really thinking about what those words mean… All people.  Every human being.

I think it’s possible that we walk around ignoring the implications, pretending that we haven’t said those words, or even in denial about the words all and every.

And here we are today with this moment of clarity.  Jesus tells us that we have to go beyond all of that, and love our enemies.  It can’t be more explicit.  It can’t be clearer.  Love your enemies.  And the difficulty of what we signed up for becomes absolutely, undeniably clear.

Jesus even acknowledges that.  He says anybody can love the people who love them.  Anyone can do good for the people who do good to them.  Anyone can lend money if you expect to get it back with interest.   But you, you, we, God’s children, followers of Jesus Christ, are expected to do more!  We are expected to love all people as we love ourselves and to respect the dignity of every human being.  It’s a terribly difficult thing to do but it is our calling.

So how do we, as the church, as followers of Jesus, accomplish these tasks?  We spent some time this morning in the forum talking about ways to gather community, to draw people together, to make sure that people feel welcome and loved, so that we might link arms and work together to bring about God’s vision and dream for all of creation.  And I think all of those are powerful witnesses and testimony to the narrative that we uphold.

For a long time, I’ve held to that narrative as a chief way for us to love all people.  To proclaim that countercultural narrative to the world; that we are all created equal, that we are all one, that we are all beloved of God, is to speak against the voices in this world and this culture that diminish, demean, and denigrate.  I have thought that maintaining that narrative and proclaiming it was a great way to stand against the powers that the oppress, and dehumanize, and destroy God’s creatures.

But I had this great conversation with a very wise person whom I respect very much this week, and that person helped me to recognize that in today’s world there are so many narratives being spoken, there are so many stories, there are so many ways to interpret this world, being promulgated through platforms that we might not have imagined twenty years ago, that it’s hard for that narrative to reach people.  It’s hard for that narrative to stand out against all of the narratives that are being voiced, and people are holding, so we need to do something more.  Because anybody can tell a story.

So what is it that we need to do?  I think that when we hear people speaking in ways that diminish, demean, and denigrate, we need to speak up in that moment.  It’s not enough to acknowledge that those words are wrong.  Anybody can do that.  We need to take the extra step and say “No this is wrong!”  We need to speak up against systems that oppress, and marginalize, and destroy God’s creatures, and say that those systems are wrong.  We need to make sure that all of God’s children have what they need to flourish, and to be whole.  We need to work for reconciliation!   So when we see that there are systems in place that aren’t upholding that dream and vision for creation that God has entrusted to us, we need to work for change, to lobby for policies that uphold us all.  We need to carry our values, and our belief, and that narrative, into the voting booth.  We need to stand up and proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ and no wait for someone else to take action on our behalf.

Today we are using the proper’s that are assigned for the celebration of the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who was assassinated for daring, for daring to take action against these very systems, and these very words, fifty years ago.  We may have told ourselves in the past years that we have come a long way.  And that may be true.  But we are in danger of sliding backwards.

The narrative that we uphold is being over shadowed, and it’s not being proclaimed in ways that are effective.  And so we, we, each and every one of us, this community here in this place, this city, this nation, needs to speak.  To speak.  To name what’s wrong when we see it.  To hold up what is good, and right, and life-giving.  To seek and serve Christ in all people, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We, we need to be active and strive for justice and peace among all people.  And respect the dignity of every human being.  It’s hard, it’s scary.  And we may have spent a lot of time in denial, and ignoring that responsibility, but my brothers and sisters this is what we have promised to do.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we have promised to walk in his footsteps, and to walk in the footsteps of prophets like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and call for peace and justice, for equality, for life giving systems and policies that govern and rule us in this community, and in the nation, and in the world.

Tomorrow at the capital we’ll celebrate.  We’ll sing songs.  We’ll hear powerful speeches.  And we’ll remember something that happened a long time ago.  But if we don’t step into that vacuum and continue that work, then that celebration is hollow.  If we don’t step into that vacuum and continue that work, then what we’re doing here this morning is just as hollow, because we are called to hard work.  We are called to do more and everybody else around us.  Because we’re not allowed to opt out of the promises that we have made.

Amen.

In the beginning was the Word: A sermon for Christmas Day

This sermon, offered on Christmas Day 2017 by the Very Rev. Andy Jones at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin is a slightly updated version of a sermon offered on Christmas day 2015.

It is build around the readings assigned for Christmas III in the Revised Common Lectionary.  You can find those readings here.

 

What a difference a few hours can make.  It’s hard to believe that we are in the same place.

Just last night we were gathered here in a dimly lit stable, resonating with the sound of donkeys, sheep, heavily breathing cows, and softly wuffling creatures.  The air was sweet with the smell of hay and of straw.

And there was a baby lying in a manger, a child whose coming had been foretold, and about whom a multitude of the heavenly host sang  “Glory to God in the highest!”

This morning, in the bright light of day, we leave the stable, the animals, the familiar and comforting smells, even Mary, Joseph, and the baby far behind.

This morning the powerful poetry of the Prologue to the Gospel according to John sweeps us up and propels us into that swirling chaos when

the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).

John says:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”

(John 1:1 – 5).

This is John’s version of the infancy narrative.  No stable.  No manger.  No shepherds, sheep, angel choirs…  Not even a travel weary couple and their newly born child.

Coming here expecting Christmas this morning this Gospel reading can feel pretty disorienting.  Maybe it is supposed to.  Maybe that’s the point…

Think about it.  This isn’t the first time this has happened to us this season.

We came here on the first Sunday of Advent, a time of anticipation and preparation for the coming of Christ, and the crèche was empty.  Instead of hearing about the child that was to be born in a manger we heard about the Christ who will come again.  Instead of hearing about events of 2,000 years ago we heard about… the end of all time.

Today, on Christmas Day, we come here again, the crèche is full, the baby is lying right there in the manger, and instead of hearing about the child who is “good news of great joy to all the people…” we hear about…  the beginning of all time and all things!

Maybe the framers of the lectionary have chosen this reading for us today because they understood that there is a danger in focusing too closely on the familiar… sheep and shepherds, straw and hay, mothers and babies… things we can touch, smell, hear…

The story that we know and love so well; a story remembered in painting, song, and made for TV specials is so familiar, so sweet, so gentle… so domesticated that, on this day when we gather to mark the birth of Christ, we are in danger of forgetting the rest of the story…  the part of the story that had the shepherds trembling in fear.

That’s why the writer of today’s Gospel has brought us here…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good;”

In the beginning was the Word,”

 “And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’….   And it was so. God called the dome Sky.”

In the beginning was the Word,”

And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so.”

In the beginning was the Word,”

And five more times, eight times in all, the word of God was spoken… and through him all things came into being.

“Through him all things came into being and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

We need to remember that what we are talking about, what we are celebrating; the moment that leads us to sing “Glory to God in the highest,” is too big, too expansive, too much… to fit into a story, the elements of which are comforting, recognizable, and familiar.

We are talking about the beginning and end, the alpha and the omega, the very breath of God forming the Word, bringing order to the chaos, and giving life and light to all people!

But that’s the real beauty of the story that we tell.  It is a simple story, one that brings us great joy and comfort, filled with things that we know and understand and at the same time… all of that enormity, the breadth and scope of all time, from the beginning to the end of all things, rushes together, as if it is swirling through a funnel, and ends up right here, in a stable, in a manger, enfleshed, one of us.

Last night was a time for tenderness, for love; a time to press our cheek to the soft, downy head of a newborn and breath deep the sweet smell of new life, a life that comes to us with a story that will change the world.

Today, today is a time to lie in solemn stillness, a time for awe, for the wonder that comes from the realization that in the coming of this child

“the Word has become flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

“Glory to God in the highest!”

Amen