Repentance and Love

The above is a detail of John the Baptist by El Greco.

the Second Sunday of Advent
8 December 2019

Today’s readings were:
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Click here to access these readings.

        This morning we get the story of John the Baptist. Not the whole story – we don’t hear about his later career and how he was killed – but a part of the story. And unlike most people in the Bible, we get a description of how he dressed and what he ate, each of which links him to promises of the Old Testament and a very ascetic way of life. We also get a taste of his preaching style, which is fiery and stirring and seems to begin with an insult. I mean, if a sermon begins with “you brood of vipers!”, you kinda know what sort of sermon it’s gonna be like. John is passionate, forceful, and in-your-face about the state of the world and the lives of the people around him. “Repent!” he calls out, and he means it, and he demands people listen.

        Now, I don’t know about you, but all the yelling and anger and frustration kinda turns me off. When I hear people scream and yell angrily about something, I tend to turn the other way. And I think that’s true for most Episcopalians. We don’t have and usually don’t want fiery sermons. If I got up here and said to you all, “You brood of vipers! Repent!”, you’d probably wonder what’s going on with me. Episcopal and Anglican preaching tends to be meditative, thoughtful, and read from a page on a pulpit or music stand. And that’s cool, that the point. Episcopal preaching isn’t supposed to get you all fired up; it’s supposed to work God more deeply into your hearts and then lead you to the sacraments and the sacramental life outside the church doors. We Episcopalians are a bit more quiet about our preaching.

        Which, like I said, is fine, but if we tune John out, if we ignore him because we don’t like that kind of loud preaching and pushy character, we lose something really important in our tradition and we miss a really important message. Now, when I was growing up, each time I heard the word “repent!” I had a very specific image. And that image was of a guy standing on the street corner with a sign around his neck yelling and screaming out the end of the world. And I saw this image when I went to college. Someone came to campus, stood in front of the student center, and proceeded to harass the students with words like ‘repent’, ‘sin’, ‘hell’, and ‘hatred.’ Two guys came to Sewanee, too, when I was in seminary, and they did the same thing. And the things that these guys said to the students, and especially to the female students, were truly horrible. I can’t imagine the damage and pain that these men inflicted on those students, and, at the time, I wanted nothing to do with words like ‘repent’ and ‘sin.’

        And I still want nothing to do with such words – as those men meant them, that is. Such anger and such hatred are foreign to God. It’s not our jobs as Christians to break people and expect God to clean up the pieces. We do wrong, however, in ridding ourselves of the words themselves, because they mean quite a bit less, and quite a bit more, than when used by angry people to shout down those who aren’t like them.

        But what is sin other than a swear word to throw at people? What is ‘repent’ other than a demand that you scream out without actually looking at the person you scream at? Well, let me tell you a story. While I was teaching abroad in Japan, I fell into a bit of depression. It happens with everyone who travels. It’s called homesickness. And the awful thing about being home sick is that it finds its way into every part of your life. Things depress you and you don’t know why. You get happy and often over-happy when you see things that even hint of home; once I became ecstatic when I found a bag of peanut butter M&Ms being sold at a convenience store. But, really, it’s about depression and having nothing to settle your sense of self on.

        I was home sick a lot of my time in Japan, but this one time was the worst. My family dog, who we had had since I was a kid, had died, and I wasn’t there to be with him. I had no where to put my grief. I would go for walks, travel to the city and see sights, or even spend time with friends, but nothing worked. I couldn’t find a way out of my grief. But all this time there was this odd nagging feeling. It was like someone was yanking me to look at something, and that something was my bookshelf. But reading books and being depressed don’t go well with one another, and so I ignored that yank. And it kept pulling, every morning, every afternoon after I got back from work. At last I just got tired of it and said, “Fine, what!?” I pulled off the first book I saw, which was one by C.S. Lewis, and, miracle of miracles, it was exactly the book I needed.

        I won’t get into how the book helped me in my grief. If you want to hear me rattle on and on about C.S. Lewis, grief, and my dog, ask me after the service. But what I do want to talk about is that yanking feeling. You see, the word “repent” in Greek is metanoea, which means “to turn away, to change one’s heart.” But often, repentance really means a turning to something. You see, God is always with us. That’s what Jesus’ traditional name, Emmanuel, means: God is with you. God is with us in our joy, our hope, and our love, but also in our grief, our sorrow, even our depression. And in these latter moments, God is always calling to us to turn to him, to turn away from the darkness of despair and turn to the light of Jesus Christ. Sometimes God is a voice in our heart or a feeling of being yanked, literally being pulled and turned towards something. At other times, God is a word from a friend or family member or even (this is true) a word from an enemy. And God’s word to us is always, “Turn to me.” Turn to Life, turn to Love, turn to Hope. Turn to God, whose face is Jesus Christ, whose breath is the Holy Spirit.

        In our world, in our community, and in our very lives, we do have to be very serious about sin. Sin – being turned away from God and demanding that the darkness is more real than the light – sin is a very real and present danger. Now, there was no sin in my home sickness, and there was no real sin in my despair. Despair is something we suffer, and Jesus Christ came to help us out of that despair and enter into true and open healing. We sin, instead, when we use our frustration, or confusion, or our anger against others, when we forget that God is love and that that love is calling inside each and every person we meet. And this is reflected in our baptismal promises, where we promise to renounce all sinful desires that draw us away from the love of God and, instead, promise to turn to Jesus Christ.

        It is often good, however, to define something with its opposite, and so I’ll end by doing this for the word “sin.” I just told you a story about two men who came to Sewanee and said some rather horrible things to the students there. They stood on the street corner and yelled at anyone they saw. I wasn’t there myself, and I only heard about it later. I can’t imagine how those students, especially the female students, felt when they heard those things. But here is the grace, and here is the turning. Those students, who were the target of all that hatred and anger, those students who had every right to be insulted and angry themselves, turned away from that anger. They approached these men, and they spoke to them in love. They denied the accusations that were made against them and their ways of life. They defended themselves gracefully, and defended those who did not feel they had a voice. They did not use violence, or hatred, or resentment, and showed themselves, instead, to be strong, hopeful, and full of compassion even in the face of those who hate and slander them.

        And I am proud of those students. They may not have changed the minds of those two men, but they did something else. I think they gave their fellow students hope. They showed them, and us seminarians and the professors and the administration as well, that the way of Jesus, what presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls the Way of Love, is possible. It gave me, at least, hope and sight that love is not some weak, pliable thing, but that it has strength and goodness, for it stands on something firmer and deeper than any sin, and that is Jesus Christ. This, to me, is an example of true turning, true repentance, for it is a turning away from anger and hatred and a turning to life that never, never ends.

St. Matthew and Renewal

the first Day of Advent
December 1st, 2019

Today’s readings are:
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Click here to access these readings.

        Happy New Year! Well, for the Church anyway. In the secular world, we’ve still got a whole ‘nother month before the end of 2019, but for the Church, our new year begins right now, the first week of Advent. And so, in celebration, we’ve pulled out all the purple vestments and hangings, put up the Advent wreath and candles, and gathered together some readings about the end of days (nice and happy).

        As I said in a sermon a week or two ago, the readings at the tail end of Ordinary time and at the beginning of Advent are all about endings. As we end one year and begin another, we reflect on all the deaths we face in life: from the little deaths of having to share that last piece of pie with your sister to our own deaths as we breathe our last – and even to that last great death of the world, when Jesus will come again and make the whole Creation new. But, this morning, I don’t want to talk about what is ending or what will end but what is beginning, and that is the excitingly named Year A of the lectionary (it’s actually cooler than the name implies).

        So a bit of info up front: the readings we have here in church are part of what’s called a lectionary. In our tradition, the priest or pastor doesn’t choose what we’ll read each week. Instead, scholars from many different parts of the Church came together and designed what’s called a lectionary, or a plan of readings. This lectionary pulls from how the Bible has been read traditionally to help us hear God’s Word to us in Scripture most fully. The lectionary is designed to work the Bible into our lives like a baker kneads dough, pulling us further and further into a life lived in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

        This lectionary is on a three-year cycle, each of which focuses on one of the first three gospels. In the first year (or year A) we read through Matthew, then in Year B we read Mark, then Luke, then back to Matthew again. John gets sprinkled around through each of them. If you noticed, all last year (which was Year C), our gospel readings were from Luke. Now they’re from Matthew, and they will be until next Advent, when we’ll start reading from Mark. And the idea, again, is that we as a community of the faithful, as a church, read through as much of the Bible together, in worship.

        So, one of the really cool things about reading the Bible this way is that you come to a great understanding of each gospel writer. Now, we Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God, given to us through grace and love. And that grace and that love was given to us through a person, each of whom was a human being like the rest of us. Each gospel was written by a particular person who cared about different things, who thought differently, and who thought different things were important. They were all of them, each of them, deeply invested in the love of God in Jesus Christ, and they wanted to communicate that love to others around them, but they didn’t do it in the same way.

        And so, before we dive into a new gospel, it’s important to pause for a moment and think about whose gospel account we’re reading. Because the gospel according to Matthew is a bit different than the gospel according to Luke. Luke is a pretty formal guy. His Greek is pretty complicated. He cares about the great movements of history. His gospel, and the book of Acts, which he also wrote, is highly structured. And this all makes sense: Luke is supposed to have been a physician, a doctor. He’s a very educated man writing in a very educated sort of way.

        Now, Matthew is both different and similar. There’s an intensity to Matthew that is always apparent to me. It’s not like the rush of Mark, whose favorite phrase is “Then immediately after that!”, nor the slow, deliberate intensity of John, who really seems like a baker to me as he works methodically and slowly and lovingly through some really deep theology. Matthew’s intensity comes from a love of his tradition, of his community, and of Jesus Christ, but also a realization that something new has happened in Jesus, something so new and so beautiful that it can barely be contained in words.

        You see, Matthew’s gospel is often called the “Jewish” gospel. And that’s not because Matthew was Jewish where Luke and Mark weren’t, but because Matthew must have spent a lot of time in prayer about the past. Some of his most used phrases are things like “as it said in Scripture” and “to fulfill the promises of Scripture.” Or, to put it another way, Matthew focused in on a very important thing that Jesus said: “Do not suppose that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets; I did not come to abolish but to complete.” And that “completeness” is one of the specific themes for Matthew.

        It is, also, one of the themes of the Christian life, and it’s an important one to consider, well, really at all times, but especially at beginnings and especially at endings. Now, when we Christians talk about “completeness” and how Jesus came to complete the law, we mean that Jesus did what Gwendolyn’s godmother did when I tried to cook dinner for her family once. I’m a decent cook, but man, I messed up this dinner. And the worst part was that I was making them dinner as thanks for letting us stay with them. I was trying to make a rue, and it just kept falling apart. Then, swoop, in comes Isabella with a whisk and wisdom from her mother on how to cook well. And the dinner, which risked failing miserably and turning into delivery pizza, turned out well. Isabella helped me complete something that was barely edible.

        This is kinda how Jesus comes into our lives, but while Isabella came to help me with my awful dinner, Jesus comes to help us with our wayward and confused lives. That said, Jesus didn’t come, and Jesus doesn’t come, to some slip-shod world and a messy life, shove us out of the way, and do it himself. Jesus doesn’t look at us and at the Church and say, listen, all this, all this, it’s…it’s just…it’s no, just stop and let me do it. Jesus looks at us, us broken and wayward people, and he says, I can work with this. For we are broken, not ruined; we are lost, not beyond hope. And Jesus comes right into our lives, right into those things that we think are most ruined and furthest beyond hope, and he breathes new life into them and makes them whole. And, importantly, this completeness is not complete in us alone, but is then brought into the whole community, so that Jesus may heal more and more fully those who are lost and think themselves beyond hope.

And this is what healing is. This is what “new” really means. It doesn’t mean a new phone because the old one is out of date or a new jacket because the old one is ripped a little. “New” for Christians really means “renewed” or “made whole beyond all hope.” And for Matthew, as well as for the other gospel writers and authors of the letters, this renewal isn’t just for some but is for everyone and all things. Heaven, then, isn’t just a place where we can be with those who have died, which sounds good enough; it’s even better than that. Heaven, residing with God for all eternity, is where all things are made new, renewed, brought into completeness beyond all hope.

There’s a great short story by J.R.R. Tolkien about this, and sorry if I’m giving away the plot. The story is of a painter who wants nothing more than to paint a great tree to a fine detail. But he is too busy to ever do much painting, and he dies before he can barely begin it. He finds, however, when he comes to the afterlife, that his tree is completed; and not only that but that God has made it into a real tree, set within a real forest, for God has made it alive. All this man had ever wanted to create was just a painting, and what God did for him was to give his painting life. And seeing that tree, seeing it alive and thriving by God’s own hand, it helped turn that man into a real man himself.

Just so, God works on our own hopes and our own dreams, and even we ourselves, so that they – so that you – are living trees. So, as we come into this time of Advent, have hope. All that you do, all that you love and cherish in the depths of your heart and through the Spirit, will be made new in Christ. Truly we have nothing to fear; God is with us, and God is with us always.


Christ the King Sunday
November 24th, 2019

Today’s readings are:
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

Click here to access these readings.

            Now, I want to do something different this morning for my sermon. Which hurts me a bit, because it’s the last day of Pentecost, which is Christ the King Sunday. This is the Sunday when it’s okay for the sermon to be about King Arthur and Lord of the Rings. It’s when we priests get to explain why we still talk about Christ as a king and about the kingdom of heaven when we live in a democracy. But I’m going to be talking about something else this morning. If you want the sermon about kings, ask me about it at coffee hour and I’ll be happy to tell you about Aragorn and why in order to be a king (a real king, and the only real king), Jesus needed to be born in the squalor of a stable and hang around with people who were quite far from royalty.

            Instead of all that, though, I wanted to talk to you about one of my ministries here in Coquille. Some of you know that I am part of a Bible club here at Coquille High School. We meet each Wednesday during lunch time. It is a student-led group, but each year they invite local pastors to come in and talk to them about the Bible and what it means to live a Christian life. Right now, it’s me, the Four Square pastor Sam and his intern, and a Baptist pastor. Each day we have a verse and lead the students through discussing it. We also bring them pizza from Denny’s, and so we call the club “Jesus Pizza.” Each week we get about thirty or thirty-five students, which is pretty cool.

            This past week, though, we did things differently. Last year, just before Thanksgiving, Sam and I came up with an idea based on the Eucharist: I’d bake one of those loafs of bread we sometimes use for Communion (you know, the ones with about a pound of sugar in them), we’d pass the loaf around the group and each take a piece, then say what we’re thankful for. It worked well last year, and this year, this past Wednesday, we did it again.

            The students were really heart-felt about this. They gave some amazing answers. I won’t repeat them, because they’re the students’ stories, not mine, but I’ll tell you what I said. As a priest, I got to give a longer story, and I told them a time about, when I was in Japan, I almost died. I was out on a hike with a friend of mine named Salem. We were hiking up in the mountains behind where I lived. The hike followed a river, and there were a number of really beautiful waterfalls. Now, for one of these, the path climbed up right next to the falls. And we, brash youngsters that we were, challenged ourselves to some free-style climbing up the cliffside. I mean, what could go wrong?

            Well, I looked down, and I freaked out. Terror caught me, and I couldn’t move. Below me was a drop of about forty feet into some jagged rocks, and it was all I could do to hold on. I called out to Salem in fear and told him I couldn’t continue. But he didn’t panic. He calmed me down as much as he could, then talked me through the rest of the climb. He was above me, and he even let me use his leg and his shoulder to grab onto. If I had fallen or slipped, he might have gone down with me. But he was calm, and he got me out of danger.

            Now, I told the students this story, because it’s an example when I said “thank you” from the bottom of my heart. And, like I said, while I can’t tell you what the students said in class, many of them told short little stories, or gave thanks, from the bottom of their hearts as well. They opened up a bit, they shared a part of themselves, and for high school students, that can be really tough.

            And that sort of openness, that sort of risk the students took in sharing a part of themselves with a random group of their peers and a few pastors from around town, comes a lot from their being good kids, but also, I think, from us pastors being there and working with them. It’s really good for us to be there with them. It’s good, partially, because the students can see that four disparate church leaders can come together and work with one another. There’s quite a bit of fighting in the Church, and it’s good for the students to see that some things are more important than disagreements.

            It’s also good because we get to remind them of something very important: and that’s that life and love are the centers of reality. It’s something I preach to you all often, and it’s something that I preach to them whenever I get a chance. Growing up in this world is tough, and it seems that, whenever you look out your door or on the news, there’s some new tragedy of hatred or new reason to be afraid. That’s gotta be a scary thing to see when you’re preparing to enter the adult world.

            But being there, we pastors can remind them that that fear, that hatred, that sorrow, and even depression (something one of the Four Square pastors talked about the other week), that those things aren’t the true things of this world, but that the world is founded, deep down, on love, on hope, and on life, because it’s founded on Jesus Christ. We can remind them that those times of healing in their lives, those times when they encounter life, or those times, even just those small moments, when hope seems stronger than any darkness, that those are the things to trust in, that those are the things to put their faith in. And that that life, that love, and that hope is not just some energy out in the world but God, who created the whole world and cares about the world enough to stick with us through our troubles, or waywardness, and even our own frustration. We can remind them that God loves them, and that that love is healing and bears a hope that can never be shaken. It is a good thing to say these things to you all each Sunday morning, and it’s good to tell these things to these students each week. I pray that the darkness is a little less dark for them, and the light shines brighter in their lives, after each time we all meet.

            And I tell you this, well, one because it’s good for you all to know what I’m up to all week between Sundays, but also to say, “thank you.” You all support me in this ministry. Talking with you all and seeing the way this community supports and cares for one another, you give me hope. You help remind me that the beating heart of this world is the life of God and the love of Jesus Christ. And I take this love with me throughout the week, and I bring it to those students who are hungry for goodness and hope in a world so broken and dark.

            So I want to say, in this week before Thanksgiving: thank you. Don’t stop loving. Don’t stop seeking out life and hope. Even if it’s a struggle, don’t stop. Because God is always there for you, hoping in you and loving you, forever.

Living death and beyond

the 23rd Day after Pentecost
Proper 28
17 November 2019

Today’s readings are:
Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Click here to access these readings.

        Goodness, those were some grim readings, weren’t they? There’s a bit of fire and brimstone in our readings this morning, and though they were tempered a bit with the beautiful psalm, there was some grim stuff there. And it’s not just grim stuff like on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, but some gut frustration and anger and destruction. When I read these readings at the beginning of the week, I thought, man, how are the kids going to hear all this? Maybe I should ask Tina to keep them in Sunday school the whole time so they don’t have to hear any of it.

        But, but, that wouldn’t have been a good idea. It’s important to hear the whole of the Bible. It’s important that we Christians read and hear, in our own study and here in the gathered congregation of the church, the whole Bible, not just the nice, happy, and joyful moments, but those moments where the sins of the human heart and the world are laid bare. Someone once said that the Bible is like a map of the human response to God – the whole human response, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And we need to take it all as God’s word to us in Scripture. It’s kinda, in a way, like marriage: if we want only the good parts, we’re going to have a pretty rocky marriage. But if we are with our spouses through sickness and in health, in joy and sorrow, through those nasty fights and those times when our hearts are lifted together in joy to the very gates of Heaven, then maybe that marriage will last. The Bible is kinda the same.

        And now, in the darkening time of the year, we read some of the tough parts of Scripture. And the lectionary is designed this way. Starting around All Saints, when we remember those of our beloved who have entered into the joys of Heaven, our readings focus more and more on the end. Or, perhaps it is better to say that Scripture, through our lectionary, asks important questions: what do we do with endings? What do we do with death? What do we do with little ends and little deaths, like the end of the year, or the parting of friends, or the ending of a relationship? And what do we do with those big ends, the death of loved ones, our own deaths, and that day when all things will end, and the world turns to look God face-to-face?

        Now, we humans can get pretty caught up in endings, be they small ones or big ones. And some of us Christians can get really caught up in the end times. We can worry about when, or how, or where, and who. We can take the Scriptures and work out the math to figure out when Jesus will return. And this sort of thing has been done with our Scriptures since the beginning of Christianity, but Jesus’ word to us is this: do not worry. Don’t get all caught up in all this calculating, because I am with you. I will guide you and remain with you, whatever may come to pass. I will love you and hold you, Jesus tells us, even when you try so hard to forget I’m there. Rest in me.

        Now, this sort of talk, I think, can easily lead to a “don’t worry, be happy” sort of theology. If we don’t have to worry about bad things, if Jesus will be with us and, hey, how can things go bad with Jesus as my co-pilot? We can just sit back and let the chips fall where they may, because Jesus has our backs. But we Christians don’t really have a “don’t worry, be happy” theology. Our God, our beloved Jesus, was crucified on a cross, a fact we’re reminded of every year during Holy Week, each Sunday at the Eucharist, and every time we ourselves die to our own sin and are lifted by God’s grace into his presence. We can’t get away from a bit of tough thinking, and that’s one of the reasons the lectionary prepares us for such thinking at this time of year.

        There is a difference, though, between a happy-go-lucky, all’s right with the world kind of attitude and the attitude that God calls us to through Scripture and the Holy Spirit. We are called not to throw up our hands in grief, nor to throw up our hands in shallow joy, but to live. We are called to be present with the joy of the world and its suffering. We are called to be present to hatred and grief, calm moments of peace and deep, deep anger, and all the range of human emotions and actions. We are called to be followers of Jesus – Jesus, who did not turn his eye from the despair of his people, but walked straight into it, eyes wide open, because his love was so great and his life so grounded in God the Father, that he could do nothing else.

        Now, our collect this week reminds us to do something very important with Scripture, and I want to add to it that we should do the very same thing with life. Our collect reminds us that holy Scripture was written so that we may learn from it to understand more fully and more deeply the world around us and the very lives we lead. And we pray through the collect that God might grant us to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest all that we encounter. And this is all to say that we should not take the joys in our lives, nor the sorrows or griefs or deaths, however little or however large, for granted. For deaths should not just be endured with gritted teeth but should be lived.

        This might sound strange, that deaths should be lived, but it is true. Whatever the ending we are brought to, be it the gentle fall of the year or the end of our own lives, we are to live them, as Jesus lived his own death. And to live them is to see them, to mark them and know what they are. For our Lord God leads us through many deaths in our lives, through many endings. And we can shut our eyes and ignore them, we can grasp and covet those things that should have been laid to rest, we can forget the passing of those who have gone before us – or we can open our eyes to the love of God.

        For me, it works like this: I think of all those people who I never said good-bye to. Helene and I have moved around a lot in the past ten years, and we’ve met a lot of good friends. And those who, when we parted, I was able to say good-bye, many of us have remained friends, and if nothing else, they’ve remained a deep and abiding part of me. I learn from them, if they’re still around, I seek them out for their council, their advice, and their joy, and I am sought out for the same.

        But there are those, for whatever reason, be it that I didn’t think they were important or because of a hardness of heart, who I did not say good-bye, or at least said it poorly. There is a grief in my heart about them. There’s something unfinished. There is a hole in my heart, or a tearing, or a sore. And rarely, at least for me, is that sore healed by not thinking about it.

        This is, at least, where my mind goes when I think about endings, both good and bad. Your mind might go elsewhere, to hopes you’ve had that you have said good-bye to well or poorly, or even how you’ve been able to work through the troubles that come with aging. But whatever the case, our word from Scripture is not to look away in grief and despair but to see those deaths, however small, however large, as they are, and to walk through them with endurance and with hope.

        And we can do this, we can pass through these deaths because Jesus, who came before us, who passed through the great death on the cross, Jesus is with us in every death, every grief, and every sorrow. By dying on the cross Jesus broke death, destroyed it, and remade it to be something that, through him, leads not to despair and darkness but to new life. For death is not, not ever, the last word. Life, is the last word, and it is an eternal word.

        And we know this from our own lives, don’t we? When we have come to an end, and we have come through it, by the grace of God, with our minds and hearts open, and Jesus within us, there is new life on the other side, isn’t there? We are still in this world, where darkness and sorrow run rampant, and there is often still grief on the other side of death. There is a sense of loss for what has died. But above all there is a newness of life, a rekindling of something deep within us, a rebirth and a resurrection of something essential and free. This is something we see in the natural world, where the fall of leaves in the autumn and the bare branches of winter lead to the renewed life of spring. And we see it in our lives in our healing, be it in mind or body or spirit, as we are led through the small deaths of life by the hand of God, until we come to that last and final death, our own death, when Jesus will carry us on his back, like a shepherd carrying a lost lamb, into the eternal glory of Heaven. And then, there, will all deaths finally die, and we will live the life eternal.

Jesus is Alive!

the 22nd day after Pentecost
Proper 27
10 November 2019

Today’s readings are:
Job 19:23-27a
Psalm 17:1-9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

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        I want you to take out your service bulletins again, even though you probably just stowed them nicely away. Take out your bulletin with all the readings on it, the one with the big green bar at the top that says “22 Pentecost.” Now, the first part there isn’t a reading from the Bible (though most of the language is straight from our Scriptures); it’s a collect. Collects are prayers, and they’re always said at the beginning of our worship time on Sundays. There are collects for each Sunday of the year, and for each of the days after Easter, and for each saint’s day, too. They’re called “Collects” because they collect us, they bring is all in from each of our disparate lives and focus us, collectively, as the Body of Christ, the Church, on what we’ll be thinking about and praying about on each particular morning. If you have some time, read through some of these Collects in the Prayer Book; they’re beautiful, short prayers, and many Christians (and not just Episcopalians) use them in their own, private worship.

        And if you looked at all the Collects, you’d notice that they all end pretty much the same way: “where he (that’s Jesus) lives and reigns with you (God the Father) and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” Hooray for the Trinity. And while all the words in here are important, there is one that’s very, very important: lives. Jesus Christ lives, with God the Father and with the Holy Spirit, as one God. Lives. Jesus is alive. Jesus Christ is alive.

        Now, this might seem a little obvious to us, maybe. I mean, Jesus isn’t dead, right? That’s what we talk about every Easter: Jesus died on the cross but was raised from the dead three days later. But for the early Church, this idea that Jesus was alive was of utmost importance. Everything kinda hinged on this. The Good News that they were to proclaim was that Jesus was alive, that he was resurrected, and that this made all the difference. And with Jesus, the one who Jesus himself called “father”, God, who created the universe, is also alive. And the Holy Spirit, sent on the day of Pentecost to form and sustain the Church, is also alive and present with us, even now, two thousand years later. As Jesus tells the Sadducees in our gospel reading this morning, “God is not of the dead, but of the living.”

        And on this morning, two thousand years after the Resurrection, two thousand years after a small group of women, one morning, found an empty tomb and an angel sitting around just to tell them that Jesus wasn’t here, that he was Risen, on this morning this is all still Good News. Jesus is alive. The whole Trinity is alive. But what does this mean, alive? We can understand, surely, the excitement and confusion and utter joy of the disciples that the tomb was empty and that their beloved friend and God wasn’t dead and that they could still talk to him and hold him and break bread with him and hear his voice again. Surely we can understand their excitement, but what about us? Is this still Good News to us, or just old news? Is it news that fills us, or is it news from a long time ago that’s great, but, really, what about now? What does it mean that Jesus is alive?

        Well, I mean, there’s theology for you. If you want to know the answer then read all the works of Thomas Aquinas, come back and listen to ever sermon I give until I retire, pray unceasingly until your last breath, and feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Then maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of what it means for Jesus to be alive. But we don’t have to know the full reality of God (as if we could) for us to step towards him, and for that Good News, that Jesus is alive, to have meaning for us today.

        Let me tell you a quick story: this past summer, Gwendolyn spent a bit of time in a small, blow-up pool we have. It really was small, not much more than something to get your feet wet, but Gwen liked splashing around it in to cool off. We emptied it each evening because we didn’t want the grass beneath it to die or the pool to start to mold, and then filled it up when Gwen wanted to use it again.

        And to fill it, we usually just stuck the hose in the pool and let it fill. And when the water got to a certain height, the end of the hose dipped beneath the surface. It was still filling up the pool, of course, but you couldn’t see the usual rush of water the comes out the hose. And Gwen kept asking, is it on? Is it filling up? Is it on? Yes, it’s on! Jesus is alive kinda like that hose is on.

        Poor analogy maybe, and it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story of Jesus, but I think it’s important. Often, when we think of “alive”, we think of exuberance. When we think of someone who’s alive, we think, maybe, of someone out running each morning, or someone who laughs easily and heartily, or someone who’s fresh and open and just in love with life.

But, often, life looks a lot different than that. Life can look worn and dirty, like a baseball mitt that’s seen a lifetime of games. Life can look like a cookbook that’s covered in grease and cookie batter and grubby little fingerprints because it was used to make food that fed people. Life can be present in a hospital room, and it can be present at the grave. For we believe, we Christians believe, that Life Itself was hung on a cross and died, but that even such a death wasn’t strong enough to hold him back from rising to Life again.

Over the next week, from this Sunday to next, I want to give you a challenge. We all have things that fill us up. Some of us are gardeners, some of us love reading. Some have children or grandchildren who touch us deep in our hearts. Some of us may be filled by going to meetings, who knows, but we’ve all got things in our lives that we see as refuges, places of peace and comfort, of grace and love.

I want to challenge you, however, to seek out life elsewhere. Open your eyes and open your heart to life elsewhere as well. Reach out into places of your life that make you tired, or frustrated, or that rattle your nerves. And in these places, ask the question, Jesus, who was raised from the dead two thousand years ago, and who lives even now, where are you in all this? Holy Spirit, help me see the face of my Redeemer, because my Redeemer lives.

And if the answer is, Jesus isn’t here, then ask “How can I bring you more fully into this place? How can I make you, who are Life and Love and Hope, how can I make you more fully known in this place? How can I walk more fully as your disciple, as one who has been given Life by you? Help me see you, help me live you.”