Sunday, May 13, 2018

Year B Easter 7 2018 Marching Orders

Year B Seventh Sunday of Easter, 13 May 2018, Mother’s Day 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Marching Orders” 

Collect: O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. 

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, "Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus-- for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us-- one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection." So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. 

1 John 5:9-13 If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 

John 17:6-19 Jesus prayed for his disciples, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”  Friends, I want to start this morning with a hearty thanks to so many of you for coming out to Shiloh Baptist on Thursday night. I have never been prouder to be your priest. The Spirit was tangible, and your presence and the spirit you had brought honor to the Lord we follow. Your showing up made our talk real. 

We live in an age when so much bluster and swagger is taken as substance. Very few things “become” because of an utterance. A judge can make a decision from the bench, and it can shape reality. When I stand in a wedding service after promises are made, I have been given power by the state and as a minister of God to declare a couple married. But think about it, apart from Presidents and Kings, very few people have the power to declare reality. The rest of us have to put in sweat equity. We may say something, but it is not real until we make it so. 

We need to make what we hold dear external. Former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple put it this way, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” Better yet, Jesus put it this way this in this morning’s Gospel reading:  
...the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world… As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 
Just as Christ was sent to us, he sends us out for himself.  

Many of you have responded to the cards we handed out at the Annual Meeting asking for people to commit, or re-commit, to doing something tangible this year. As I said, everyone needs to be fed, and everyone needs to feed. I have held onto those cards and every so often I go through the ones I have received and lifted up those responses in prayer. And there are so many places for folks to plug in: Tom and Susan and all the folks in our Wednesday night clinic could always use another smiling face, our Sunday School is looking to grow if you feel called to serve there, and then there are a dozen outreach opportunities here alone, and dozens more here in Ashland. You have been blessed to be a blessing, and that is why you have been gifted so that you can be the hands and feet of Christ in this world. 

But I am the first to realize that that is not always the easiest. It is often hard to trust in that which we cannot see. It is called Faith for a reason. 

A story is told from World War II, during the awful bombing raids of the Blitz over in London. A father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb. In the front yard was a shell hole. Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow. Terrified, yet hearing his father's voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, "I can't see you!"  
The father, looking up against the sky tinted red by the burning buildings, called to the silhouette of his son, "But I can see you. Jump!" The boy jumped, because he trusted his father. The Christian faith enables us to face life or meet death, not because we can see, but with the certainty that we are seen; not that we know all the answers, but that we are known by the one who calls us by name to trust.  

The son could say all he wanted that he trusted his dad, but it did not get real until he jumped. Our faith is never real until we turn it outward, until we make that LEAP OF FAITH.  The boy believed not in where he would land, but in the one who called for him to jump. And his Faith showed it was real and worth it when he landed in his father’s loving arms. 

Stepping out into the unknown is never easy. For some there is nothing more terrifying. I promise you will be hearing many stories from my recent trip to England and Ghana, but one for today is how repeatedly we were shown that instead of hacking our way into a jungle of the unknown, God had already shown up and paved the way for us. Over, and over, and over, and over again. 

When we arrived in Accra, an amazing city of 2 ¼ million souls, we were told that our plane was cancelled just as we were boarding, and so we were put on a flight 6 hours later. The Archbishop of West Africa just happened to be waiting for us at the other end for a reception. Oh well. So like Westerners, we headed to the mall and ate in the food court. It had an Apple Store. Do not think of this in any way as Third World. When we got back to the airport, we found that our original seats were no longer where we were. 

Because my hip to knee bone is often the exact length in most airline seats, changing seats is often worrisome. But God knew better. One of the great concerns of our trip is being able to provide safe, clean, and affordable housing for the young people we travel with next year. Scoping and scouting was a huge part of what we needed to accomplish. My travelling partner, the Rev. Canon Malcolm Rogers, Canon for Race and Reconciliation at the Cathedral of Liverpool, was seated next to a man from Kumasi who inquired about why Malcolm was going there. Every time we tell our story of who we were and why we were doing the pilgrimages, people say how important and vital it is to be doing what we are doing. The Muslim tour guide at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. wanted our website so she could spread the word about our Christian pilgrimage. That is the power of this God we serve. Anyway, telling our story to this man, it turns out he is the financial controller for the University of Kumasi, and that he was the one who gave the final approval on outside parties renting dorms at the University in the break between semesters. The Diocese of Kumasi Cathedral, St. Cyprian’s, is three blocks from the University. It is gated, safe and secure. Now Africa World Airlines may have done the seating assignments, but I think God was directing some fingers to punch things in the way God wanted it done. God connected Mal and the Controller of the University. His pastor and the Archbishop are even friends. The morning after our flight, Mal had already received an email inviting us to reach out to him and line up our accommodations for next summer. 

As we were being taken around Kumasi, we were driven to the Ashante King’s historic residence, which is now a museum which looks at the history of the tribe as well as the history of Ghana. In the van ride we were discussing the need for a logo that spoke to all three Dioceses partnering our our work. In the Museum, we were walking along, and at the end of the first hallway we walked down was a poster with a three-foot big logo of the Ashante symbol for Hope. Now we are called the Triangle of Hope, and Mal and I looked at the Poster, and looked at each other. And I think God smiled. Sometimes you do get handwriting on the wall. Mene mene tekel. (If you are unfamiliar of the story of Daniel at Belshazzar’s Feast, see Daniel Ch. 5 link 

So many times, in so short a span, we were given open doors to succeed and to proceed on the path we were on. I know there was no planning done on our or our partners’ part to make things happen. And I do not believe in Luck, especially not repeatedly, and especially not as repeatedly as we saw it.  

We heard a voice calling our name in the dark. We knew the voice. We trusted the tone and timbre, and that we would be caught. But it was up to us to jump. It is up to each and every one of us to jump.  

When you hear God’s call, will you? 
...the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world… As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 

Today we celebrate all the women in our lives who have provided nurture and comfort and hope. Our mothers, or our mother figures. The women who love us no matter what state we find ourselves in. Like Christ likens Jerusalem’s children, he wishes to gather them like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37), so we celebrate all those who gather us under their wings. Thank you moms, whether by birth or huge hearts, you make us all better people. But that is not the only remembrance this week. 

On May 16, is the feast day of the second most famous Irish saint, a personal favorite. He is the patron saint of sailors, travelers, and whales. St. Brendan is one of a kind. He described things in tales which seemed like fables, but when it was actually re-enacted in the 20th century, his voyages proved accurate and doable in a small leather boat. He may well have discovered America, I think he did, but we will never know. In his adventures and misadventures, he always set out to bring glory to God, following Christ’s invective to go out into the world. Today as we have looked at our marching orders, I want to close with a prayer attributed to St. Brendan, as we head out as he did. 
“Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown. Give me the faith to leave old ways and break fresh ground with You. Christ of the mysteries, I trust You to be stronger than each storm within me. I will trust in the darkness and know that my times,  
even now, are in Your hand. Tune my spirit to the music of heaven, and somehow,  
make my obedience count for You.” AMEN. 

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Blessings, Rock