Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Poem 2014

Death is done.
The victory won. 
With morning light
A new world dawned. 
In humble love
It has begun. 
Why do I weep?
He is not here. 
Just as he said.
No need to fear.
He calls my name
And dries my tears.
This day I'm changed.
It shapes my years.
This news to spread
To every land
That Christ is love,
I understand.
In humble love
In gifts of Grace
Serve every one
Of every race.
Let go the things
That cling too tight.
Embrace the good,
The true, the right.
As Jesus came,
I now am sent.
From former life
I now repent.
Death is done.
The victory won.

We Know His Voice

Year A Easter Morning 2014, 9 a.m.
“We Know His Voice”
St Thomas Episcopal, Richmond

Alleluia.  Christ is risen.  

[Response] The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

Thank you!  You proved my point.  Unlike us, they did not know the rest of the story.  Unlike us, they did not know what to look for.

Paul Harvey made a great deal of money telling a story in such a way, leaving out a key component for the suspense, “and now you know... the REST of the STORY.”  But we know what to look for.  We see the set-up, the foreshadowing, and anticipate the fulfillment alluded to in the telling.

Lazarus, and his raising which was the Gospel reading a few weeks ago, was an act of power to the disciples and followers, not a hint of things to come for them.  We read now with the end in sight.  As I mentioned Friday night, this is THE STORY of Christians.  All else is prologue.  Jesus was done and gone, and they wondered how to go on.  Could they?  Would they?

On that Easter morning coming on 2,000 years ago, it was unclear.  But because of their response to and empowerment from that day, we are all here this morning.  Thanks be to God.  We know, “the rest of the story.”

Mary Magdalene went early in the morning, just past dawn, and saw an empty tomb.  She concluded the only story that makes sense.  Someone took his corpse.  He had enemies galore.  The Temple officials, members of the Sanhedrin, Roman soldiers or officials, those that set up his death.  Any number of them would have reason to take the body.  To have “evidence” of his continued death if there were any preposterous claims from his band of radicals.  Jesus was not the only would-be Messiah that had been wandering around Palestine in that time.  In her grief, Mary ran back to tell Peter and the disciple Jesus loved.  "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."

Peter and the disciple ran back.  The disciple got to the tomb first, but did not go in.  Peter went in and saw the linens empty, and the head covering separate.  The other disciple went in and believed, it says.  But, then they went home.  Here they were, in what many believers point to as the pivotal moment in human history and they just walked on home.  

We can do the same.  Today can be a fun time.  Good, rousing music.  Pretty clothes.  Chocolate enough to put us all in sugar comas.  But what is it that we that we take with us?  When we see the empty tomb, do we acknowledge its emptiness without its significance?

How do we go back, whether walking or driving?  

Curious?  Confused?  Depressed?  Exultant?  

Do we see the implications and the ramifications, and the joy?  The absolute joy?

As the no-longer-curious disciples slunk away, Mary stood there weeping.  Like the men, she went inside, and it says that she saw two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been.  “Why are you crying?” they ask.  It is very Socratic of them to try and teach with a question, but when someone is weeping, could there not have been a better way?  “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him,” is her reply.  She turns, and with her tear-filled eyes, gets smacked with the same question by the resurrected Jesus himself.  “Woman, why are you crying?  Whom are you looking for?”

She thinks him the gardner, so pushes, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Then in one of the most beautiful moments in the resurrection accounts, Jesus speaks her name.  “Mary.”  It is then that her eyes are opened and she sees, truly sees.  “Rabbouni!”  Teacher!

When I read this, I cannot help thinking of Jesus’ lesson from earlier in John.  John 10:  “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice...  ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Immediately Mary hears his voice.  Immediately Mary knows who he is.  Beyond her shock, she sees and believes.  Why?  Because Jesus called her by name.

I like that.  It is beautiful.  When Jesus knows our name, when we hear his call to us, we know who it is.  There is no question.  We are so attuned to the sound of the voice of those who love us.  Whether mother or father, child or friend, lover or spouse, when we hear our name in their voice, we know from somewhere deep within who it is.  Mary knew.  We all know.  It was her Jesus.

The Greek word that we still translate as church is ekklessia.  It literally means “those called out.”  Assembly or congregation is often used.  But, the idea that we are those who recognize our savior by him calling us out by name is a beautiful image.  We are the ones who Jesus calls by name.  With his resurrected body, his resurrected voice calls to us today.  “Beloved, whom are you looking for?”  Through the tears of Good Friday, we hear his voice, and we are found.

The thought of a God who knows us by name is not only beautiful, but a comfort.  In this day of nameless, faceless killing, where random strangers are terrorists, or home invaders, Jesus knows our names.  In this day and age where people take our names and identities to defraud and steal, we are not strangers to Christ.  In this day when someone half a world away can kill with the push of an anonymous button, Jesus knows me.  Jesus loves me, just as I am.  John 3:17 “For Christ came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”  We are not the nameless, faceless masses to Jesus.  He knows us by name.  Heck, he has a picture of us in his wallet.  He will call our name and we will know his voice.

And it would be so comforting to stay here and bask in that love.  To hold close, to cling, but Jesus knew that danger, and warned Mary that this was not over.  The story, neither his nor hers, was yet complete.

"Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"  Jesus goes before us, having conquered death, the enemy of us all, and leads us to life.  Real life.  Eternal life.  Life that begins in the call, and continues in the sharing of his love, and power, and grace.

We are called out of this world, not to forsake or leave it.  That is not what Jesus did.  Why would we think that we should either? Remember John 3:17. “For Christ came not to the world to condemn (reject, scorn or debase) the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”  He does that by his actions.  We do that by our actions.  That good work continues on to this day.  When we care for those that are hungry, or thirsty, or lonely, or lost.  We do that when we learn their names, and call out with the loving voice of Christ, and invite them in.  Christ said that when we have done it unto the least of them, we have done it to him and for him.  May we see Christ in all we serve.  And even more, may they see Christ in us.  As Paul said...

Colossians 3:1-4
1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

The Lord is Risen.  And in his rising, we also are raised.  Called out ones of Christ, today we feast; our fast is done.  We fasted in preparation for this glorious Resurrection Day.  We feast today in joy and celebration of his Resurrection.  We feast today, for the good work we have been called out to do tomorrow.  May you be abundantly blessed this day!  Amen.

Friday, April 18, 2014

"An Intentional Good Friday" A Sermon

Year A, Good Friday, 2014
“An Intentional Good Friday”
St. Thomas Episcopal, Richmond

We are a rushed and hurried people.  We race from one place to another, grabbing fast food on our way, devouring our calories in our hurry, so we can get to the gym to work them off.  God help our pace.  God help our lives.

There are many times to hurry.  When we feel unsafe or threatened.  When we need to lend aid.  When we need to get away from a trigger for us.

I think that is why we feel the need to not let our minds dwell on this day, this day of utter nonsense to the world.  Maybe we do not want to deal with it ourselves?  Maybe it is utter nonsense to us.

In the fictional work, The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, the title character Pi Patel is introduced to Christianity.  His family is on vacation.  Pi visits a church in his adolescent wanderings, and sees a crucifix.  There he meets a kind priest. When Father Martin explains the death of Jesus to Pi, he has the expected reaction.

What a downright weird story.  What a peculiar psychology.I asked for another story, one that I might find more satisfying.  Surely this religion had more than one story in its bag--religions abound with stories.  But Father Martin made me understand that the stories that came before it--and there were many--were simply prologue to the Christians.  Their religion had one Story [Capitol S], and to it they came back again and again, over and over.  It was story enough for them. (p. 53)

And later while contemplating this he comes up with some serious questions.

...But Divinity should not be blighted by death.  It’s wrong.  The world soul cannot die, even in one contained part of it.  It was wrong of this Christian God to let His avatar die.  That is tantamount to letting a part of himself die.  For if the Son is to die, it cannot be fake.  If God on the Cross is God shamming human a human tragedy, it turns the Passion of Christ into the Farce of Christ.  The death of the Son must be real.  Father Martin assured me that it was.  But once a dead God, always a dead God, even resurrected.  The Son must have the taste of death forever in his mouth.  The Trinity must be tainted by it; there must be a certain stench at the right hand of God the Father.  The horror must be real.  Why should God wish that upon Himself?  Why not leave death to the mortals?  Why make dirty what is beautiful, spoil what is perfect?  Love.  That was Father Martin’s answer. (p.54)

Lent is forty days for a reason.  A season of reflection and contemplation.  It officially ended last night, to prepare for Today, a day we call Good despite the overwhelming evidence against that idea, expect for one simple thing.  Father Martin’s answer, Love.  
When I survey the wondrous Crosswhere the young Prince of Glory died,my richest gain I count but loss,and our contempt on all my pride. 
See, from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrows and love flowed mingled down!  Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Do not rush this day.  Pause.  

The price was too dear for us not to linger.  Wait.  

The cost too high for us not to slow down.  Stop.  

Every precious drop of the Innocent’s blood crying out, not for vengeance, but for forgiveness.  “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he said.

Forgive us, dear Jesus, for we want to look away.  Forgive us, loving Christ, for we want to make it all go away.  Help us, sweet Lord, to slow down, and stand in awe of what you have done for us.  For me.  Thank you.  Amen.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Whose Story? Palm Sunday Sermon

Year A Palm Sunday
“Whose story?”
St. Thomas Episcopal, Richmond

[Today’s homily is short because of the particularly long Gospel reading, Matthew 26:14-27:66]

In the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Joseph Campbell, eminent mythologist of PBS fame, said that “Ritual is the enactment of a myth.”  Myth here being a story that shapes and directs our lives, not a falsehood.  We hear today the quintessential Jesus stories (Part I) that shape and direct our lives.  

We hear of the Supper with friends, the Passover Seder, where the righteous remembered God’s deliverance from slavery.

We hear of the Garden, and the innocent betrayals of sleepy eyes and foggy brains.

We see the betrayal of a trusted friend and disciple, with the most awful of weapons, a lecherous kiss.

We see political intrigue, and authoritative ennui.  We see illegal trials, and an Innocent condemned.

We see a murderer chosen over a healer, an insurgent over a man of peace.

We see a scourging, one blow less than what was considered lethal.

We see mockery and scorn.  We watch the way of the Cross, to the place of the Skull.  We see it all played out before us.

We see the crowd who had waved the palms in praise, morph into the crowd who cried out, “Crucify!  Crucify.”

We see it all.  We see Jesus hung high.  We see Jesus suffer.  We see Jesus die.

We see it all, but do we?  When we tell this tale, is it a long time ago in an empire far, far away?

Or do we see ourselves in the story?  

Are we the ones trying to stay awake?

Are we the betrayers for silvered palms?

Are we the ones who flog and mock?

Are we the ones who do not intervene when we have the power to stop this atrocity?

Are we forced to carry a shameful cross, imposed by brutes, for a perfect stranger?

Are we the executioners, worried more for our winnings than the souls we are dismissing?

Are we the fellow condemned, mocking still with our last breaths?

Are we there?

Is this then, or is it now?  Has the story ceased?  Or do we live it our still to this day?

When we come to Christ’s table to RE-connect and to RE-member, is it then, so far away and so long ago?  Or is it still horrifying and brutal, and real, more real than anything we know?  

What is it that happened then?  What is it that happens here, every Sunday, week in, week out?  

If our rituals are enactments of this life-changing story, then obviously we are trying to make the There-and-Then our Here-and-Now.  

How do you practice the Last Supper in your life?  How do you practice the Garden?  

How do you embrace being scorned and scourged?  How do you practice taking up a cross?  

How do you practice crucifixion?  How do you witness the injustice?  How do you experience the awe?  How do you make this story your own?  

What do you do with the rest of your story?  Do you see Christ’s story as a part of your own?

However you see it, my prayer for all of us is that we echo the words of that Roman centurion from our reading today.  May this story, and its enactment at this table and more importantly IN OUR LIVES, always drive us to say, "Truly this man was God's Son!"  Amen.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

3rd Time is the Charm

Enough time has passed, that now I can tell the full tale.  My one worry, not my nervousness, but my worry, as we went into my third ordination (1st Baptist in May of 1996, 2nd Episcopal Deacon in July of 2013, and 3rd Priesthood on February 8) was would the power stay on.  Yes, in the United States in Richmond, I had concern about the power staying on.   This was not a developing nation.  It was a capitol city in a State of the United States of America.

My first ordination was on May 19, 1996.  It was held at the University of Richmond Cannon Memorial Chapel.  It is a gorgeous space, simple, but beautiful.  Upon arrival, we noticed the heat soaring, and found that there would be no air that day.  Not a bit, in a space with no windows to open in the beginning of a stifling summer.  I still remember those on the podium, academic gowns open, fanning themselves to keep from passing out.  It was still a stirring and powerful day, nonetheless, and had not thought about the power outage until...

My second ordination was at my home parish in the Episcopal Church, St. Andrew's on the historic Church Hill.  In our tradition, one is ordained a deacon, and this servant leader commissioning continues on into our priesthood.  The Right Reverend Susan E. Goff was presiding, and the power went off during the service.  A few hours later we learned that a squirrel met its demise a few blocks away in a transformer, bringing out fire trucks and Dominion Power crews.  Bishop Goff's husband joked that the devil tried his best to foul things up, and it did not work.  At least there was laughter and joy when the lights (and A.C.) came back on.

On the day of my third ordination, the power stayed on.  St. Thomas where I serve stayed lit and warm on February 8.  And, it feels like it took.  I can honestly say that I truly felt changed in response to my third ordination.  Apostolic succession?  Bishop and Episcopal clergy laying hands on me?  Whatever it was, it was strikingly different.  I guess the third time is the charm.