The Soul of Our Nation is at Stake: A Sermon for June 3, 2018

The sermon, offered by the Rev. Andy Jones at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church on June 3, 2018, is built around the readings for Proper 4, Track 2, 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, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.

Please be seated.

Some legal conflicts get settled in the court of law, some however get settled in the court of public opinion…  Sometimes they get settled in both, and the resolution of those trials are different.  Here this morning we hear of a legal conflict which is being resolved in a grain field, but it is no less in the court of the public opinion and the court of law than if it were being played out on the evening news and in the Supreme Court today.

There have been briefs filed.  We just heard the statute that is at stake here.  You shall do no work on the Sabbath day.  Keep it holy to the Lord.  Neither you, nor your children, nor your slaves, not even your animals may work on the Sabbath.  And yet here is Jesus walking through the grain fields with his disciples, traveling, which would have been contrary to the statute, when his disciples start to harvest, plucking heads of grain as they go because they are hungry.  If this were being played out in the court of public opinion on the evening news I can just hear the Pharisees now…  “Look I don’t write the laws and I don’t interpret them.  It’s just my job to enforce them.  And if they didn’t want to be charged they should have just stayed home.  Because that’s the law.”

So we’re wrestling with this case, wondering how Jesus will make his way through this conflict and this challenge, when Mark offers us a second story that’s even a little fuzzier.  A man who was born with a withered hand, unable to work, unable to support himself or his family, to participate in the economy… he might has well have been exiled in his own land; is there in the synagogue when Jesus enters on the Sabbath.  And the Pharisees are watching to see what he’ll do.

Jesus knows what’s in their hearts and he calls the man forward; and then asks the Pharisees is it permissible to heal or to kill, to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath?  The Pharisees recognize that the cameras are on them, the nation is watching, and they’re afraid to answer Jesus’s question.  That’s because they know, they already understand what Jesus said to them in the grain field.   And that is that the Sabbath was made for humankind.  Humankind was not made for the Sabbath.

It’s not as if the Sabbath and its attendant regulations are some goal in and of themselves.  Even here in Deuteronomy we hear that people are supposed to do no work, they’re not allowed to work on the Sabbath, so that they and all of their household, even the aliens sojourning in their land, may have a day of rest.  God gives us this commandment not because it accrues some benefit to God for us to obey it, but because it accrues benefit to us!  So the Sabbath and all of its attendant regulations are for our benefit not for God’s!  That’s the spirit of the law!  But in these two challenges that Jesus faces in today’s reading it is the letter of the law it’s being thrown in his face.

Clearly, if the Sabbath is made for us, then if you’re hungry you need to eat.  And if you have been cast into the margins because you are unable to work, being healed on the Sabbath is in line with the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.

Now it’s important, I think, for us to know that biblical scholars believe that the first books of the Torah, including Exodus, and including the book of Deuteronomy, were written down and formalized when the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon.  So all of their oral traditions, all of the stories they had been telling about themselves: who they are, and their relationship with God, were codified during that period.  They thought that the soul of their nation was at stake.

There in Babylon their children were marrying Babylonians.  Their traditions and their customs were being ignored.  They could feel their very identity beginning to dissipate.  And what was worse, the stories they heard from back home said that people had taken over their property, they weren’t worshiping anymore…  They were terrified that they were lost.  And so they wrote down all of these laws, and rules, and regulations as a way to make themselves distinct from the people around them.  In an attempt to save their identity as a people, strict adherence to these laws became incredibly important.  But here they are now back at home, in the land, and that strict adherence to the letter of the law is still the rule of the day.

They thought that the soul of their nation was at stake when they were in exile in Babylon.  What Jesus is telling them in these two passages is that the soul of the nation is still at risk, because we are no longer a nation that’s identified, that’s set apart, by its compassion, and its love for God, and his love for God’s people; no longer a nation ruled by the spirit of the law; laws which are established to uphold everyone; to make sure that the slaves, and the resident aliens, and even the animals get a day of rest; laws that are meant to nourish, and sustain, to make us all whole, and to allow us flourish.  In this moment of conflict Jesus is saying we are becoming a nation that is focused on the letter and not the spirit the law.

I think that this is a lesson that stands out and rings true across time, and across the waters.  Our laws, we are a nation of laws, are designed to hold us all up, to hold us together, to give us an identity as a people.  And if God’s laws are all about compassion, and relationship, about nourishment, flourishing, being whole, then the laws of this land need to be focused on those same goals.

Again and again in the courts of law, and in the court of public opinion on the evening news, we see the letter of the law being upheld over the spirit of the law.  And if Jesus’s heart was grieved at the hardness of heart of the people he confronted in these stories, I shiver to think what his heart is doing in response to the stories that we are seeing on the evening news.

Here in this moment of conflict there is a choice to be made.  Jesus is threatening the rule and the authority of the most religious people in the land, people who are set up to guide, and to govern, to rule and to make decisions, to interpret, to discern.  There is a choice to be made.  Will the people follow leaders who are focused the letter of the law, enforcing the strict reading of those texts, or will the people follow leaders whose hearts are focused on the spirit of the law; the spirit that flows from God into each and every one of us; telling us that every person, every one of us, every one of us, is beloved and has value and is worthy of respect; should have what we need to flourish, and to be a whole, and to thrive.  Will we follow leaders who are functioning out of a mentality of scarcity and the need to control for fear of losing something, or will we follow leaders who are calling us to a better vision, to a theology and a mentality of abundance, of love, of grace, of sacrificial giving in order that we all might be whole?

This morning, buried within this text, there is a question for each and every one of us.  The soul of our nation is at stake.  Who will we be?

Amen.

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The Discovery of the Power of Fire: A Sermon for Pentecost 2018

This sermon, offered by the Rev. Andy Jones at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin on May 20, 2018 is built around the readings for the Day of Pentecost 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.

What a powerful, and rich, and exciting day.  During the prelude you could feel the Holy Spirit brooding over the water, waiting to create all that is.  And then we process in to the glorious sound of the organ and the saxophone.  We hear the story of the Holy Spirit enlivening the bones of the people of Israel in their time of desolation; sinew upon bone, flesh upon sinew, breathing breath and life back into a people lost in exile.

We hear Jesus and his discussion with the disciples after the Last Supper preparing for his departure, talking about sending the advocate, the comforter, the Holy Spirit.  And then with a sound like the rush of a violent rainfall…  I mean wind… the Holy Spirit fills this room where we are gathered.  Flames light on top of our heads, and the church, the church is born.

We the disciples are filled with power, and grace, and the ability to proclaim the gospel in ways that will change the world.

There’s so much to talk about this morning, so much that we have already heard…  I want to focus our attention for just a minute on words that we haven’t yet heard this morning.

In a few moments we will stand and we will baptize Sean Patrick Fedler Campbell into the body of Christ, making him a full member of the church. And once we have completed that act, we will say this prayer.

In the first half of the prayer we are thanking God for something that God has already done…

Heavenly father, we thank you that by water and the holy spirit you have bestowed upon this your servant the forgiveness of sin, and have raised him to the new life of grace (BCP page 308).

We’re celebrating and thanking God for something that God has done forever, is doing in this moment, and promises to do for the rest of his life.  But then this prayer changes, and instead of thanking God for something that’s already happened, we’re asking God for something more.

Sustain him, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit.  Give him an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works”     (BCP page 308).

An inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works…

Those are powerful, powerful words.   But they’re powerful, or just as powerful, for what they don’t say as what they do say.

They don’t say “help him to memorize this list of theological assertions which bind us all together.”  They don’t say “get him to walk in lockstep with all of the rest of us so that he’ll know that we are a community bound together by the things that we proclaim and declare.”   They don’t say “help him to know all the answers so he’ll be safe and find his way every single day…”   These words actually talk about a journey, a process, discerning, inquiring, continuing to learn, to wrestle, to engage, to find a way forward.

These words also say that it won’t be easy.  It asks for the courage and will to persevere and there will be times when the lack of clear answers will be dismaying, and frustrating, and may even bring tears.  A spirit to know and to love you, to remember our goal, to remember where it is that we are going; always seeking, striving to come ever closer to the heart of God; to know that we are beloved, and to feel that love in the way changes us and changes the world around us.

And then, the gift of joy and wonder; awe reverence, surprise, delight.  The world is a fantastic and beautiful place, filled with God and God’s revelations.  And sometimes, even though they may be hidden, we will need these words and God’s help to see the good, what is light, and what is beautiful.

This is who we are as a church of people bound together by the struggle, by the journey, by the commitment to finding our way forward together as a community led by the Holy Spirit into a future that is filled with God light.

We mark this day, the day when the church finds its birth in the coming of the Holy Spirit, a day when we baptize people into this body, we mark this day with fire; red balloons to symbolize the flames of fire that lit on the heads of the disciples as they gathered in that upper room… fire…

So a little aside for a minute.  My alarm clock is set for 4:30 in the morning every Sunday.  But it’s not often that my alarm is set for 4:30 on a Saturday.  How many of your alarm clocks were set for 4:30 in the morning yesterday so that you could get up and watch Michael Curry preach at the Chapel at Windsor?  That was why we got up… right?   To hear our Presiding Bishop preach!  Yeah, Harry and Meghan were there too.  Bishop Curry did us a great favor yesterday.  Well and I guess actually it was Harry and Meghan that gave us the favor.  They were the ones that chose the reading from The Wisdom of Solomon that Bishop Curry used as his text.  Here’s that part of that reading which was read by Princess Diana’s sister The Lady Jane Fellowes:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.

(Wisdom of Solomon 8:6,7)

In the wisdom of Solomon love is described as a flame, as fire, a fire that cannot be quenched, even by the rain that we’ve had for the last several days.  And as Bishop Curry talked about that flame he quoted Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French idealist philosopher, Jesuit Priest, who was trained as a paleontologist and a geologist; who talked about fire as the thing that changed and advanced humanity and our civilization.  It is our ability to manage, and control, and Channel fire, he said, that allows us to cook food, to preserve food, to warm cold climates.  Controlled fire moves our cars, our airplanes, our ships on the sea.  Controlled fire gives us electricity to light the room so that we can read at night, and have leisure time to read and explore, and to think.  It is fire that changed the world.

 

And Pierre de Chardin says”

“Someday after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

Fire.  We mark this day, the birth of the church, when we the disciples are given the courage, the strength, the power, to go out into the world and to proclaim the good news God in Christ Jesus; we mark this day with the coming of the fire of love; unquenchable with flashes that flare like a mighty flame.  We mark this day when we baptize people into this body, into this fellowship, with the fire that will change the world.

The candles are lit.  The flames are dancing.  Sean Patrick, we’re about to set you on fire.  But don’t worry.  We’ll rescue your hair with the water of baptism!  As we go forth from this place singing the songs, praying the prayers, and celebrating the life to which we are called, don’t forget that we are on fire too!  We are called to carry that flame with us into all the dark places of the world, shining that light, God’s love, so that others might see the lantern that we are, placed upon a hill; that the world might be drawn to that flame; that the world might be changed once again by the discovery of the power fire.

Amen.

The Challenge of Becoming “Woke,” Addressing Issues of Race and Racism in Madison, Wisconsin

Over the last couple of years Saint Andrew’s has put a lot of its time, attention, and energy into addressing the racial disparities here in Madison and in Dane County.   We have offered book studies.  We have offered class and conversations around whiteness and black history.  We have worked to partner with the people at St Paul’s AME church on the east side of town.   And we have had well over a dozen people attend the Justified Anger’s Black History for a New Day course at Fountain of Life Covenant Church.

I had enrolled in the class at Fountain of Life a year ago but was only able to attend the first three classes before life got too complicated and other commitments and responsibilities forced me to drop out.  I was eager to enroll this spring, and to finish the course, because between those three classes last year and the Conversations on Being White class here at St Andrew’s, I had begun to get a sense of how deeply racism is embedded in our constitution, our legal code, and our economy.  I get a lot of push back from people when I start to talk about institutional racism and I wanted a deeper history and understanding to buttress my arguments that the deck is stacked against people of color in this country.  I got that education and more…

For instance, I didn’t know that while most slaves were held in the south where cotton farmers needed a large labor force to work the fields, most of the ships that carried kidnapped peoples across the Atlantic were built, maintained, and sailed out of Rhode Island and other northern states.  I didn’t understand that the cheap cotton harvested in the south was shipped to mills in the north where huge profits on the finished goods were only possible because of the artificially low labor costs.

I didn’t know how the laws of this country were written, and then changed, over and over again, to withhold citizenship and the vote from black people.  Nor did I understand the ways that black people were, in accordance with the laws of this land, exploited after the civil war, often being forced to labor under conditions worse than they endured under slavery.

I didn’t know about the long, sordid, history of lynching as a tool of terror in this country; and was shocked by the picture postcards that were produced, sold, and sent through the mails; with crowds of smiling people standing around the bodies of black people who had dared to become successful, to raise their eyes, or to speak in their own defense, thus offending those in power.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t learn any of this history in the many years I spent in American history classes.  And the fact that I had never learned these stories is just as upsetting as the stories themselves.

I didn’t know… but now I do.  This history, our history, helps us to hear differently the stories that are being written today, right now, here in Madison and in Dane County.  Knowing this history, when our African American brothers and sisters tell us stories about getting pulled over on a regular basis for “Driving While Black”; about being followed by store employees and security, about being stopped by the police for walking in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time of day;  about being denied equal access to housing, jobs, and positions of leadership in Madison and in Dane County, we have to see them as part of a larger picture, a system that is set up to benefit one group at the expense of another.  We can no longer dismiss these stories as anomalies, as the work of a few bad actors but must see them as the ongoing legacy of a system that is unjust, inhumane, and immoral.  A system that has benefited most of us in ways that we have never been forced to see, believe, or confront.

I didn’t know.  And perhaps we didn’t know.  But I, and hopefully we, know now.  And therein lies the challenge.  If you don’t know, you can’t be faulted for not acting.  Once you know, once you are “woke” to the reality, a failure to work for change moves from complacency to complicity.  Once you know, once you find yourself aware, once you see the truth, inaction ceases to be a moral and ethical option.  Our Baptismal vow to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human
being,” calls us to action (BCP page 305).

So what will we do?  This year the Diocese of Milwaukee will be reading Waking Up White: and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debbie Irving.  Last year the Diocesan Read was Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson and we had some great discussion and conversation around the book at our Diocesan Convention.  We will have that same opportunity to discuss Debby Irving’s book at this year’s convention.  I have five copies of Waking up White on my desk and would love to give them to people who are interested in leading a book group, either in their own home or at the church between now and our convention in October.  I’d like to see us offer several groups and then come together as a larger community to discuss what we have learned.  You will find an article elsewhere in this edition of the crossroads with a review and more information.  Please email me at rector@standrews-madison.org if you are interested.

There are lots of other options:

Sign up for Leanne Puglielli’s class “Conversations on Being White” the next time it is offered.  We will give you lots of notice that it is time to sign up.  Sign up for the “Black History for a new Day” class next spring at Fountain of Life Covenant Church.  Go to Netflix and watch 13th and learn how the Thirteenth Amendment shifted slavery from the cotton fields to the prison system.  Log into Wisconsin Public Television and watch the PBS documentary Slavery by Another Name and learn how the peonage system perpetuated slavery in this country, often under worse conditions that existed on the plantations.  Read “Just Mercy” by Brian Stevenson or “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  None of these are likely to be easy reads or easy movies to watch.  They will challenge us to check our assumptions, to be willing to believe some things about ourselves and our society that are uncomfortable, and to be willing to recognize the benefit we have accrued, even without knowing it, through a system that is stacked in our favor.  It will cost us something.  But the cost of complacency becomes complicity when we know that there is work to do.

Finally, keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to get to know our friends at St Paul’s AME.  I am working with Pastor Joe to create more fellowship opportunities and to find a project that might allow us to work side by side as we get to know each other better.  You will be hearing lots more about these opportunities as the summer progresses.

Peace,

Andy+

Too Good to be True? A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

This sermon, offered on April 29, 2018 at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison Wisconsin, by the Rev. Andy Jones, is built around the readings assigned for the Fifth Sunday of Eater 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.

I want to talk a little bit this morning about rituals.  Rituals.  The world is filled, our lives are filled, with rituals.  Just yesterday we experienced one of our annual Madison rituals the crazy legs run here in downtown Madison.  The streets were filled with people.  It was difficult to get where you wanted to go…  and if that wasn’t enough, the other ritual that was happening on Mifflin Street, just sort of made everything a little cloudy and obscure…

Rituals, we all have them; whether it’s what we do with the family at Christmas time, or Thanksgiving, things that both reflect who we are and what we believe; and shape us, and who we are and what we believe.

I have a little ritual that I do almost every day and I’m guessing a lot of you have the same ritual in your own context.  I drive home at the end of the day. I pull into the garage. I walk back out to the curb.  I get the mail out of the mailbox.  On my way back in I stop at the recycling can, just outside the kitchen door, haven’t even gone in the house yet, and I start going through the mail.  Ooooh!  Somebody’s offering me a free dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, a free vacation in the Caribbean… all I have to…  oh… a timeshare….

Again and again, things that seem too good to be true… aren’t.  All of these great offers that come with the catch.  And so as I throw all of those things into the recycling can there are a couple of things that sort of re cycle in my head.  One of which is “there are no free lunches,” and the other is “If it seems too good to be true it probably isn’t.”  So I think it’s with that backdrop, that ritual that both describes who we are and what we believe, and shapes in and informs who we are and what we believe that we hear this reading from the first letter of John today.

I want you to imagine for a minute that you’re standing there, just outside the kitchen door, in the garage, next to the recycling can, and you pull up an envelope that says “Love is from God.  God is love.”  And then again, “God lives in us and his love is perfected in us.  God is love.”  And then, in the biggest font of all, there on that envelope it says, “There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

So you’ve thrown away the envelope from Ruth’s Chris steakhouse.  You’ve thrown away the thing from the vacation resorts in the Caribbean.  And you’re telling yourself “if it seems too good to be true it probably…   How do you respond to this statement?

It’s really critical, I think to, examine our response.  Do we really believe that God loves us so much that God came to us, walked among us as one of us, before we could do anything to respond to that love from God.  Unearned, undeserved, no interaction yet on the table for evaluation, and God already loves us.

It’s really not that surprising if you look back over the biblical record.  God chose Abram long before he gave Abram any rules about how to behave.  Long before the Ten Commandments were handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai God chose a people as God’s own and loved them.  So before we do anything, God loves us.  I think that that changes everything.

Dr. William Self, a prominent Baptist leader and longtime Atlanta area pastor, writing in the Feasting on the Word commentaries on this passage from the 1st letter of John says, “Against the lovelessness of fear John sets the fearlessness of love.  No longer must we have the anxious self tormenting endeavor to placate God, but rather the response of a loving confident heart to a love already shown and shared.”

I don’t want to speak for everyone in this room, but I want you to just wonder for a minute, or think about, the amount of time and energy that we put into earning another person’s love, to meeting the grade, to measuring up, to doing the things that we believe we need to do in order to be worthwhile, to be seen as good, as strong and as capable, so that the people around us will value and love us.

If we feel the same way about God then we are going to find ourselves driven in a way that is bound to induce fear, because there is no way we can maintain any level of excellence, or productivity, or goodness, that will earn gift God is giving us and the person life death and resurrection of Jesus, and the love that God showers upon us all the time, before we can do anything to respond.

So if we can, if we can, get beyond the conditioning that there are no free lunches, and I’m sorry to any Keynesian economists in the room, if we can get beyond the conditioning that, if it seems too good to be true it must not be true, and believe that what happens in the life death and resurrection of Jesus is in fact representative of who God is and how God loves us, then we can be set free from the fear that something we might do will lose God’s love for us.

Just imagine for a minute how you will walk into the world, set free from that fear, liberated, knowing, that you are loved.  And then imagine for just a minute, what your presence will do for the world around you, if that’s who you are and what you believe.  Because in both his letter to us, and in the gospel narrative, John tells us to abide in God as God abides in us, and to love others in the same way that God loves us.  And that’s only possible if we really are willing to believe that God’s love is true.  So we can go into the world and love others unconditionally, the way that God loves us, and they will find themselves being set free by the love of God expressed in our lives.

Dr. Self, I love that name, wouldn’t you like to be Dr. self, goes on to say, “Fear cannot generate love, sympathy, tenderness, or compassion.  We cannot scare people into tolerance or terrify them into kindliness.  The fruit of fear ends up being distrust, suspicion, and resentment.”

If we can walk into this world loving other people the way that God loves us then the level of fear, suspicion, distrust, and resentment will go down.  The trick is, I think, for us to believe and recognize that God’s love is a true gift and not something that we’ve earned.  That’s why we gather here every week.

Rituals both describe who we are and what we believe, and form us in who we are and what we believe, and the principal ritual for us, as Christians, is to come forward and hold out our hands, and receive a gift; something that we can’t possibly have earned, something that we can’t possibly deserve, and this very posture demonstrates our attitude towards what it is that we need… a gift.

We don’t stand here waiting for our paycheck, for just compensation.  We don’t stand here waiting for our due.  Here in the season of Easter we do stand, but a lot of the year we kneel, and hold out our hands in deference and in awe, to receive a gift.  That gift is mirrored in our love for the world.  That gift comes from, springs from, God’s love for us.

So as you pass the recycling can on your way out the door this morning, don’t throw this in there.  It may seem like it’s too good to be true, but it is in fact God’s honest truth.

Amen.

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

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.