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The Day of Pentecost: June 9, 2018
“In our own languages we hear them, speaking about God’s deeds of power.” So goes one description from the book of the Acts of the Apostles in Luke’s account of the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh. Apparently it was a rather noisy event, what with the wind and the utterance of various languages. More often than not what is first noted is the speaking, the expressions of the tongue. Yet, is this a day we celebrate a miracle of the tongue, or could it be more a miracle of the ear? If we give more attention to the miracle of the ear, the listening, even engaging the ear of the heart, we might discover more the depths of the Spirit who “prays in us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
Consider this account from a then 17-year-old, someone dear to me, preparing for Confirmation. We’ll call her Mary. This is a part of her story in her words:
“One Tuesday afternoon on the porch my grandfather sat reading to quench his intellectual thirst, and I sat a couple of feet away desperately clinging to my homework and not the nice day. My eyes, through with staring at my sunlit physics problems, gave in and looked up at the woods in front of me.
“I saw a sleepy wood grazing in the sun pick up a gust of wind and throw it at my face, causing some of my papers to fall askew. I saw three birds leap up from a tree and scatter into the distance. I saw the pollen rise into the air, the very particles that would keep me irritated for the next three days. I saw three ants trail through the condensation made by my grandfather’s water glass and create a swirly pattern on the table. I saw, what I believe to be, God at work.
“I could not explain it to you, but I do believe that the woods behind my house that day spoke God to me. The weekend before I had been dancing to my heart’s content at a local theatre. I was performing a duet and three minutes into that dance, the other dancer and I stare each other down. In her eyes I saw the fire from performance, the understanding two people have from working with each other for nine years, and a love for dance. Through those eyes, I believe, I saw God at work.
“A good while ago for me, not so long for some, and an age for others, I was sitting in the car with Mom. I had asked some question about God and we had a long chat. I specifically remember her telling me that when she was confused or lost she would look down at the palm of her hand and feel comforted. She then asked me how could something so intricate, so unique to herself, could not be made by God? I looked down at my own palm and I could not see God in it. I tried three more times, each failing. I can see it now, however.
“When I signed up for Confirmation class the motivation at the time was convenience. I did not know when else I would get the chance and I liked church, so why not? Now I know I can be confirmed, because I have confirmed that I believe what I say. I know that the gate of which Jesus spoke is the gate through which I need to walk, because when I look outside, when I perform, when I listen to music, read a book, go to a museum, or look at the palm of my hand, I see the imprint of God there, and I love it.”
A gust of wind from the woods was this young woman’s Pentecost, a manifestation pointing to every Pentecost in all of creation occurring every second of every day. It rose up unannounced and took her to new places. It filled her and everything around her, witnessing to the promise that the Spirit has been poured out “upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17). She became aware of the language of the forest and it empowered her to hear with new ears and thus see with new eyes. God, pouring out God’s Spirit on all creation will bring forth, among others, her “daughters to prophesy,” even to dance in union with the Holy One. We hear of it in Mary’s account. What we receive from this young woman is a glimpse of the Spirit witnessing to her spirit and ours. She awakened when the Wind blew from the wood that day, “because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:17).
Through such intimate experiences of the Spirit, we know ourselves to be, in the words of the Confirmation prayer, strengthened, empowered, and sustained for mission. Today on this Pentecost, the Spirit invites us once again, to live and breathe the story of God so that everyone, of “every race and nation” (Collect for Pentecost) may have the opportunity to hear of the wonderful works of God. We are invited to dream God’s dream for all flesh. It is the only reason St. Anne’s exists, it is the only reason to find land on which to build (and you will find land!), so that this place can continue to be where the dream of God is lived and can take root in us “to the ends of the earth” (Collect for Pentecost) and for the sake of all.
As we seek the language of our own life, the ways we are to speak the story of the wonder of God in us and for us, we celebrate in joy the promise of our baptism that in the Spirit we are sealed forever. So deeply held in love’s embrace we never have to be troubled or afraid. Bob Dylan told us that the answers are “Blowin’ in the wind.” Maybe, just maybe, they’re right in the palm of your hand.
The Seventh Sunday of Easter: June 2, 2019
Have you ever had a moment when you had made plans for something, thought you were going in one direction, and then everything around you changed and you ended up in a place you never expected? It can happen in a day when the list you made that morning never gets attended to, or it can happen in one’s entire life-picture when circumstances around us take us in directions we never thought we would go, positive or negative. I recall a movie some years ago, although the title escapes me, where the main character is shown how her life unfolds when she chooses to go through one door on a subway train, and then how her life would have been radically different if she had chosen a different door that morning.
All of life is a constant transition, a time of in-between, that is, leaving what we think we know and moving toward something new or different and yet to be. We see this scene played out in the Book of Acts as it describes a moment in the life of a Roman jailer in Philippi. I am guessing that when he went to work that day he did not expect anything different from his usual duties guarding prisoners, in this case Paul and Silas. But an earthquake occurs, not only shaking up the jail and popping open the doors, but shifting the ground of his entire life. The jailer ends up becoming a follower of Jesus, he and his family are baptized, and his life is never the same again as a whole new unexpected future unfolds.
We are in the midst of the season of graduations and although it is a time of great excitement for many, including the parents, there is an element of the unknown of what life will bring that must be faced. Varying levels of anxiety arise. We experience this in our personal relationships and in our jobs. We certainly experience this in the life of our Diocese as we wait for decisions to be made over which we have no control. Rectors come and go. Bishops retire. In ultimate times of transition, loved ones die. Yet, in the midst of all those life-changes, we hear the great promise in the Gospel today as we listen in on Jesus’ prayer to God as he prepares the disciples for their big transition in the face of his impending execution: “The glory you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one…so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” That’s you and me and Maya, being baptized today! The promise is that he is with us always, sealed forever in his love.
Yet, even with that great promise of presence, we know that parts of life can be excruciatingly difficult. We see the horrifying scenes of destruction from the floods and tornadoes moving across our country. A cursory reading of today’s news events, locally and just yesterday in Virginia Beach, will hand us glaring pictures of death, literal and metaphorical. Just as the disciples and Jesus did, we discover betrayal, broken relationships, violence, language of hatred, bigotry and the drawing of lines in the sand, war, degradation of the beauty of mother earth, and the list goes on. We also know, however, that it is right in the midst of what we find most threatening and fearful that we promise in our baptismal vows to work against everything that corrupts and destroys God’s people and God’s earth – all that conspires against God’s love for the entire creation.
So it is that on this same earth we also discover life and goodness: the beauty of a mountain vista or a piece of art, re-creation in communities restored, possibility, hope, healing, forgiveness and love is renewed. It’s why we like that last good story on the evening news. We may be part of restoring a polluted stream, challenging the systems that keep people in poverty, or assuring interfaith dialogue that deepens relationships and opens the possibility for God’s justice to take root despite the fear mongering in our political environment. It is the ongoing presence of God who promises to restore the earth and establish his reign of love, but it only happens through us. We commit again today to be such followers of Jesus.
We have work to do. Prayer and action go hand in hand. In case we have forgotten, we have been baptized into Jesus’ death in order to be raised with him even now, in this life. Big transitions – it is what we are about, moving from death to life, with Jesus, and trusting the God who promises presence with us no matter what it may be with which we are wrestling. We become the answer to Jesus’ prayer on this earth.
As the Body of Jesus, we go into the world vulnerable, suffering, praising, praying, sometimes misunderstood, misjudged, yet vindicated and celebrating. Sealed by the Spirit through your baptism, you go bearing in your body the dying of Jesus to all that opposes God’s love and justice, so that the life of Jesus may be evident in your life in transforming you and the whole creation. We have the joy of co-creating with God the future God desires for us. We get to do that with you, Maya!
This day reminds us as we hear Jesus’ prayer for unity and love, that our lives are caught up in something far more grand than we can imagine. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Even as Jesus is no longer among us as a man, he now dwells in each of us. We are now Jesus, the ongoing presence of Christ in the world. It is that for which the Church exists. It is what defines us – Christ’s Body now.
The Sixth Sunday of Easter: May 26, 2019
From Jesus in the Gospel of John just read: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and” – get this – “make our home with them.”
Some of you know I like to fly fish. Connecting to God’s creation in this way makes me very attentive to how ecosystems operate. To oversimplify for a moment, if anything in the system gets out of kilter – if the water flow significantly changes or its quality degrades; if the invertebrates that live in the water, the bugs, are harmed in any way; if the aquatic vegetation that is supposed to be there is damaged or invaded by exotics; everything else in that system is compromised, including the fish. Likewise, if each and all those things are healthy the entire system is healthy. This teaches us that the way God has created the world is the most diverse systems are the ones that are the healthiest. It also teaches us that each part of the system must work for the benefit of the other in order to be healthy.
Or ponder two protons. If two of them are in close proximity, as in within the magnetic field of the other, and both are spinning in the same direction, say clockwise, but then one is sent off several million light years away from the other in a neat device called a cyclotron, and then receives an electrical charge to start spinning in the other direction, counterclockwise, guess what happens? The other one, millions of light years away ALSO starts spinning in the opposite direction.
Or maybe you have heard of something called the butterfly effect. There are a lot of variations, but essentially it says something like if a butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo, you will feel the breeze on your cheek here in McClellanville. It’s a poetic way of saying what the other two examples are saying – that everything is connected. The way that God has created the universe is that everything is in relationship with everything else and one thing cannot happen in one place without it in some way affecting another. We are inextricably linked together in this creation, sometimes in ways in which we are not immediately aware.
And then, what God does, in the midst of this splendid, beautiful, diverse, sometimes puzzling or even cruel universe, is send Jesus, perfect love, right into the middle of us. Jesus says he and the Creator of the universe, through the Spirit, “make our home with them!” We celebrate this truth in our confirmands today as well as in the renewal of our own baptismal vows. Jesus is saying that our relationship with God is being totally redefined by him. As a sign of our connectedness, the Holy Spirit, in whom we are sealed forever, is sent as an Advocate, a continual reminder of God’s love that binds us to God and one another always and everywhere. We are held in the truth that connects and holds the entire universe together—God’s love. God has created the universe in a way that it is all connected.
And even as science shows the connectedness of all things, it is clear to me that the binding agent of a stream ecosystem, or the protons of matter, or the flap of a butterfly wing, is the Spirit of God’s love holding it all together. When there is life and evidence of God’s new Jerusalem, the re-created world of God’s vision breaking in among us, there is the resurrection hope of God’s love holding it together.
We find that we are made for relationships with God and one another, for connection. St. Paul’s vision contains the plea, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” We have heard similar words in our own Diocese. “Come over to Walterboro and help us. Come over to Cheraw and help us.” Come over to Denmark, or Florence, or Myrtle Beach or Summerville, name a community, and help us. We even are to risk going “outside the gate,” as the disciples did in the Acts 16 account, looking for and open to wherever God is present and active.
Jesus teaches us that the connecting agent is love, shown forth in the way that we live on this earth. If God has told us once, God in Scripture has told us a thousand times, the answer is love. Not mere tolerance, not just patience or kindness, not only being nice. Those things are great, but they are only of Christ if they are rooted in love – passionate, dancing-with-our-arms-wide-open love for everyone and everything God has made. The love Jesus shows in making his home in us calls us in life to be an offering to God and one another in thanksgiving for the gift of life we have in this amazingly connected world. As a follower of Jesus all of life is to be an act of thanksgiving. When we do so, lives are changed. This is what the confirmands are boldly professing with us as they come forward.
I leave you with these words from an American theologian way back in the 1950’s named Reinhold Niebuhr:
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true, or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context in history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.” “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27), for we boldly proclaim today that Love has made a home in us.
The Fifth Sunday of Easter: May 19, 2019
Have you ever had a dream, a vision, a new awareness, which dramatically shifted how you saw the world or your own life-circumstance? Some years ago a person told me of a dream that had such an impact on her. By tradition and some theological reasons, she was opposed to the ordination of women. Her dream was of herself in church, standing and singing the processional hymn.
This particular day asperges were being done, that is, the priest was sprinkling the congregation with lustral water, blessed to remind them of their baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus. All was as usual until she glanced at the procession in anticipation of the priest coming closer to where she stood, but all she saw was the hood of the alb pulled up in a manner not to be able to see the clergyperson’s face. Just as the priest coming up the aisle turned toward her to snap the aspergillum and cast through the air the blessed holy water, she looked at the priest and saw her own face staring right at her, as in a mirror. Hello Dr. Carl Jung. Here comes the punch line: A few years later she was ordained a priest of The Episcopal Church.
This woman’s dream enabled her to consider the possibility of moving beyond the limits of religion that she and others had imposed on at least half of the human population of the earth. We hear in the Acts of the Apostles today a vision that came to Peter that dramatically challenged his religious sensibilities. He accepted the centuries old teachings of the Torah, the laws and guidelines of his faith as found in the Hebrew scriptures, which specifically banned certain items of food as unclean. Shockingly, and we really must appreciate how world-rocking this new vision would have been to Peter and the rest of “the circumcised believers” around him, those dietary restrictions are now set aside. His whole religious system was blown apart.
It went further than food. It was also about the company he kept. The criticism leveled upon Peter came quickly. “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” He explained that it was while he was in prayer that the vision came to him. He objected, still seeing unclean animals. Then came the words that changed everything: “What God has made clean you must not call profane.” A moment of fun with words reminds us that the word profane literally means “outside of the temple.” All that was previously kept out of the temple, deemed not worthy of the temple, was now understood to be welcome.
As you might imagine, it took Peter a long time to bring his own life and actions into line with this new understanding. And as is often the case, it can take years, centuries even, for theology to catch up to an experience of the Holy Spirit. Jesus in his teaching, and now Peter, were blowing the doors off and throwing up the windows to allow the Wind, capital “W,” to blow. To the contrary, centuries of religious dogmatism has too often tried to put the doors back on and slam shut the windows. Two-thousand years later a lot of what we deal with in the Church and right in our own Diocese reveals this struggle.
Like with Peter, if I may be so bold, much of our work has been helping people claim for themselves their God-given cleanness, made in the image of God and of inherent worth, for no other reason than that they were created. Our desire is to respect the dignity of every human being for that exact reason. We hope and trust that in the power of the Spirit we are proclaiming a word of hope for many who have been told by the Church that they are profane, even an abomination, causing incalculable harm to God’s people whether it be because of race, economic status, origin of birth, sexual orientation, gender, perceived disability, or any other way we have and still do declare people as “other.”
To be an Easter person is to be daringly open to the ways in which God is breaking in with new life. In Christ we are liberated to be co-creators with God of the “new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:1) that God is always seeking to establish among us and through us. This is not mere optimism that just hopes for the best. It is joining the Jesus movement that sends us forth to confront the lies that perpetuate dignity-denying death, rather than embracing the way of Jesus and the Realm of God he inaugurated. The assault of manipulations of fear and anger must not take the place of our Gospel priorities. When the world attempts to seduce us with the expedience of violence or war we say no, even drawing on the historically proven reality that civil resistance is at least twice as effective as armed struggle. We choose the way of life and confront intransigence and small-thinking, not falling again into the trap from which St. Peter was set free by the risen Christ. We stand on Jesus’ words: “Love one another. As I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This love is costly. It is sacrificial. It is grateful. It is how people will know that we are his disciples (see John 13:35).
If we are to boldly sing “alleluia,” we must do so with the same kind of integrity born in Jesus’ resurrection and manifested in Peter’s vision. Our “alleluia” must remain connected to the real issues of our world and the transformation of all the ways we limit God’s love, having a sometimes convenient amnesia of our baptismal vow to renounce evil in all its forms and claim the way of Jesus, the way of love. Pray, remembering that God has “made of one blood all the peoples of the earth” (BCP, p. 100, second Collect for Mission). God’s embrace is big. It is wide. It is global. It is universal (catholic). What God has made clean we must never, ever, call profane.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter: May 12, 2019
I am intrigued by the vision given us in Revelation today. It speaks of God’s people as a great multitude, “that no one can count.” It is an amazingly diverse multitude of every nation, tribe, people and language. All worship. All are robed in white. All.
Then there is that huge word, “salvation.” It belongs to the Lamb. We throw such words around in church assuming everyone knows what they mean. Here, salvation is more than personal experience. It is about restoration, renewal, re-creation, and it applies to individuals yes, but even more to all of heaven and all of earth. Who in their right mind, living on planet earth, doesn’t long for a new creation, “on earth as it is in heaven?”
And yet it does often come down to the personal, doesn’t it? Do any of you recall a song called “Tears in Heaven,” written by a musician named Eric Clapton back in 1991? The song is a memorial to his son Connor, who at four years old, fell 50 stories to his death from a New York City apartment building. Working through his pain, Clapton’s lyrics ask questions from a heart-broken, grieving father: “Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven?” “Would it be the same if I saw you in heaven?” “Would you hold my hand if I saw you in heaven?”
Listen to how Revelation responds. The multitude spoken of is not merely a nameless blob. They have identities. A few verses before today’s Gospel reading Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” They are Tabitha and Paul, Lazarus and John, Peter and Simon, yours and my mothers and fathers, our and other’s loved ones, refugees, immigrants, martyrs, people of the disassociated diocese, Connor, and all the company of heaven. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me…they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” These are some possible responses to Mr. Clapton’s longings expressed in his song, even echoing Revelation today when he sings, “Beyond the door there’s peace I’m sure; And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven.”
Whatever salvation means, including the realization of a new heaven and a new earth, it is apparently not stingy or limited. We cannot control it or set boundaries on it. Again, it belongs to the Lamb and is for a great multitude no one can number.
The Jesus we discover today is the shepherd. He knows us. He calls us and our life of prayer and worship helps us to recognize his voice when he speaks. This same shepherd is the one who kept telling stories of the unlimited nature of God’s love. It is an intimate longing by God for each of us, mirrored in Clapton’s longing for his own child.
Death is powerless to dissolve God’s love of us, again Jesus saying, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” Nothing and no one is beyond his embrace. Jesus was kind of annoying that way as he was constantly saving people nobody thought could be saved or was worth being saved. He was relentless, even dangerous, in his kingdom vision where he was always expanding borders, forever gathering the great multitude. Caroline, I hope you know that’s part of what you’re getting yourself into today by coming forward to make your vows. We promise to go with you on that journey.
Claiming Jesus’ vision as our own, do we find ourselves disturbed that not only the rhetoric, but also many of the actions of the world seems to be increasing in volume and frequency that is anti-black, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, ant-gay, anti-Semitic – language that constricts us and makes us smaller? Jesus, in his teaching about the Reign of God, over and over again holds up a possibility that is dramatically different. He teaches of a God who is like a careless farmer throwing seed about with abandon leading to miraculous growing and reckless harvesting with no sorting out of the good from the bad. He is the shepherd who leaves the 99 to find just one who is lost. It raises for us the question of what kind of community we are building, what kind of faith we want others to see in us, “seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” The multitude.
In the first century church the distinctions of the day for rights and privileges among Gentile/Jew, male/female, were done away with, destroyed in the embrace of Christ. We are called again today to gather around Jesus, not ideologies, not our fear. It might make us a bit nervous. Seemingly reckless and extravagant love got Jesus killed. What if someone gets loved or included who we think doesn’t deserve it? But this is the kind of God we have.
Let’s go back to the vision in Revelation. “A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages,” that huge, without-limit throng before the throne of the Lamb, embraced by the promise of eternal union with God. The world is hungry for this kind of love and we are to be making it real even now.
So to Mr. Clapton, speaking a question to his son and perhaps, also to God, “Would you know my name, if I saw you in heaven? Would you hold my hand, if I saw you in heaven?” Yes, a thousand times yes. For Jesus is risen, and “no one will snatch us out of his hand.”
Third Sunday of Easter: May 5, 2019
Acts 9:1-6; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
“Feed my sheep.” We hear these words of Jesus to Peter in a specific context. We are in the midst of our Easter celebration of the Great 50 Days. We hear them in the context, as always, of our personal life situation and whatever we carry in our hearts as we walk through the doors. We hear them in the context of the life of this magnificent Cathedral Church as you continue to fulfill your ministry as a center of prayer, worship and mission in the service of Christ’s people. We hear them in the context of those receiving the laying on of hands from the Bishop, and through the apostolic office reminding all of us of our connection to the Church of all generations, past, present and future, each of us joined to Jesus by our baptism into his death and resurrection.
“Feed my sheep” comes too in the context of today’s readings, where we discover two amazing encounters with the Risen Christ. One is where we find Paul on a business trip riding a horse to the city of Damascus. Along the way his life of violent persecution of Jesus’ followers is challenged. Knocked to the ground and blinded, he was completely undone. His entire worldview died right there and like scales falling from his eyes, he was raised to see a new possibility, a new truth. He is baptized and Christ becomes his new identity.
The other occurs on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, back in Galilee, where the fishermen disciples return to work at their former livelihood after the events of Jesus’ execution and resurrection. They are catching nothing (I hate when that happens), only to come into an amazing abundance of fish when the Risen Jesus shows up and Peter himself, after denying Jesus 3 times during Jesus’ trial, is beautifully restored to the community, healed and forgiven by a 3-time call to love.
Both events speak to God’s power to change lives, to redirect them for God’s purposes on the earth and yes, even our lives, which occasionally get off-track. Yet be aware that what we see in Paul and Peter is not a mere realignment of thoughts and emotions. This is about death to life. This is about liberation. It is about an entire new identity where “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Notice too that the life-changing events were not only for the benefit of the individuals receiving the gift. Even more it is to bear witness to the work of God for the sake of others, bringing new life into their midst, seeing even in the present moment the new creation, the new heaven and new earth God seeks to make real in his vision of love that ushers in justice, peace and dignity for all people. That’s the business of “feeding sheep.”
Let me tell you of a disciple not unlike Paul or Peter, who in her own life, witnesses to the life of the Risen Christ. Her name is Allouise Story, who does not allow fear or even the status quo define her or her world. Allouise is elderly, widowed, and the only occupant of a magnificent, dazzling white house in the midst of an urban ghetto. Her home has polished oak moldings, furniture covered with plastic – neat and tidy. She’s thought about moving away.
Outside, across the alley, is Doc’s Liquor Store. Patrons are found slouched against tree trunks and get into no-good. This infuriates Allouise. In her house are two pianos and an organ that she plays every day and when the weather is nice, she has the windows open so that music can escape to fill the neighborhood with an alternative sound, a feast of the ears. Outside she sees the children of the street and worries for their future.
She, if anyone, has the right to panic and weep. She has watched the rotting of the neighborhood. But she maintains that house as a sheer act of the will to show that not everything or everyone must succumb to decay or leave the city in order to survive. Her very presence is a symbol of life despite the odds. Ordinarily one might see an elderly woman in the city and think of her as powerless, but not Allouise. She is full of power.
It is said she prays the Lord’s Prayer so clearly and firmly that when she says “Amen” it makes people jump. She fights for good education and good teachers. She maintains the struggle with signs of defeat all around: just like in the Bible events today of no catch of fish, betrayals, acts of violence against people; but, she never descends into self-pity. Allouise sings the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” so powerfully that someone said, “No one should be able to sing it like that.”
When asked why she hasn’t followed up on her plans to move, Allouise responds, “I don’t see it the same anymore. The people outside my windows aren’t my enemies. Gosh, they’re not even my project. They’re God’s beloved children. The Lord says ‘feed my sheep.’ I am his, and this is how he has called me to do it.” Plans change. Paul was on a horse to Damascus. His plans changed. Peter and the apostles were looking to return to what they knew, fishing. Plans changed. Three years ago I thought I was retiring. Again, plans changed. Saying one’s prayer can be dangerous – plans can change if we’re listening. We are all being prepared, just as all of you coming forward are, to be ever more clear of the call to love by feeding the sheep Jesus gives us. Allouise, you, me, we are called to live this truth, to be this truth.
It has been said that the great Easter truth is not so much that we are to live newly after death, but that we are to be new here and now by the power of the Resurrection (Philips Brooks, 1893). And Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”
The Second Sunday of Easter: April 28, 2019
Today in Acts we read, “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” As witnesses we proclaim Christ is risen, exalted by God as “Leader and Savior,” and today we have the great joy of renewing this truth through Barbara and Bonny as they reaffirm their faith.
How might Thomas inform our witness as he is presented to us in today’s Gospel? He refused to believe the testimony of anyone else, even that of his closest friends. Then Jesus appeared to him and Thomas was challenged by Jesus’ invitation to touch the wounds still visible in his resurrected body. Thomas yielded with perhaps one of the greatest statements of faith in the entire New Testament: “My Lord and my God!”
But, not so fast. Let’s go back to those wounds. What do we make of the marks of crucifixion on the resurrected body of Jesus? The Gospel writer is seeking to portray the Jesus in the closed up house as the same Jesus who was crucified. That part is clear. I think it’s more than that, however.
One of the glad burdens we are to bear, along with the whole Church, is the one of prayer, interceding for the needs of God’s people locally and around the world. Right now my intercessions, perhaps yours too, are heavy with great need and longing expressed by many. There are a number of folks I am holding before God’s mercy who are struggling with varying stages of cancer. I have been holding in prayer a mother whose son went missing for several weeks. I hold before God places of war and conflict, our parishes and our sad divisions in the Church, suffering children in Myanmar, hopes of justice for refugees fleeing the violence of their countries, the unending attacks on innocent people in the name of religion as in the latest horror in Sri Lanka, and just yesterday in California a killing out of anti-Semitic hatred. You have your list.
These and all so many others you can name are the wounds of the world. Jesus’ invitation to Thomas to touch the wounds on his body is an invitation to stare straight into the woundedness of the world through his wounds. We are not only to enter the world’s pain through our prayer, as important as that is, but Jesus invites us to touch the places of pain, to go where the pain is and confront it, sit with it, cry with it, and bring Christ’s breath of peace, “Shalom,” by our very presence. We do this because the Spirit has breathed on us and we are witnesses.
Today’s Gospel teaches us that it is in solidarity with the world at the margins that we come to the opportunity to believe. We are called to faithfulness not merely when everything is perceived to be okay, but at the place of deepest hurt and longing. There, in Christ’s wounds is the brokenness of the world. We are to be treating the most vulnerable of our world as we would treat Christ himself, not causing harm to those Jesus calls the least of these.
Perhaps Thomas’ proclamation of “My Lord and my God” is not only a statement of faithfulness. Maybe it is also a plea, a crying out of hope against hope that in the midst of the wounds of the world all around us that somehow, even there, we can meet God. The Gospel does indeed want us to understand clearly that the One risen is also the innocent One who was executed. We are being invited to adore him who made himself supremely vulnerable in bearing the brokenness, the sin, of the world. Looking at Jesus, we see the worst that humanity can dish out, and yet believe.
Thomas then is a bridge, a bridge for all future believers, us, who may find it difficult to make the leap from death into resurrection territory. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” The account gives us mistaken turnings, confused demands and puzzled longings. Such is our experience of life. The struggle of faith is not a smooth, level road to perfection. Misunderstanding and a bumpy ride are par for the course. Thomas represents us in our humanity and the Gospel hopes we will identify with him.
And look how Jesus responds. The first thing he does for his companions locked in that room, holed up in death and doom: death by fear; death by guilt; death by alienation; is offer them empowerment and invitation – unconditional, open arms, lavish love, welcoming us to new life and new possibilities.
Rather than savoring alienation, Jesus responds with complete acceptance. Note that he comes into the room with the traditional Jewish formal greeting, “Shalom Aleichem,” “Peace be with you,” shalom not being merely the absence of conflict, but well-being, wholeness, completeness, that encourages one to give back and create just relationships.
Christian community is rooted in that love offered in the upper room that night as it continues to show up in seemingly impossible situations. Alienation is ended. Released from cowering behind locked doors, we are empowered to go forth and be servants of Jesus. We are now set free from all of our locked rooms, whatever they might be, to be God’s person in God’s world, witnesses of the One raised up. Go ahead. Go into the world and face its brokenness with resurrection hope. He’s already there, waiting to receive you with a word of “Shalom,” “Peace be with you.”
Easter Day: April 21, 2019
There is a curious thing about the various biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. We hear about an empty tomb, the appearance of angels, linen burial cloths, visits by disciples, women and men. Yet even with all of that, the Easter Gospels, any of them, seem much more interested with what happened to Jesus’ followers than what happened to Jesus. Incredibly, none of the Gospels describe the specific moment of resurrection, even as all of them proclaim in some way “He is Risen!” What I see is that it is in the lives of his followers where we discover that, “…God raised him (Jesus) on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses…” (Acts 10:40-41). Today Xavier, in Confirmation, you affirm that you stand with us as a witness.
The Easter story is one of human beings becoming empowered by Christ’s resurrection to find ways out of apparent failure. Then and now disciples find the courage not to stand impotent in the face of systemic evil, not giving into inclinations to betray what we love most. We are being set free, liberated, to overcome all that holds us imprisoned, and living into the promise of hope when we are bombarded by the lies that diminish human beings and refuse to celebrate who God has made us to be. As St. Paul says today, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (I Corinthians 15:25). It is the story of all of us as we rediscover our deep longing for healing, forgiveness and restoration to fullness of life. It is about real life, life that makes a difference and is deeply connected to God and one another. “Love God. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
The great panorama of the Bible is full of people who share this story. Peter has moved from his act of betrayal to the sermon of faith we heard in Acts today. What happened? The truth is the life you and I live, like Peter’s, is full of betrayal and faith; death and life; absence and presence; emptiness and fullness. What we often experience at first glance as polar opposites are not so at all. Death and life as well as absence and presence are not opposites, but twins. They are a part of one story, our human story, not different stories. We find this is so in John’s Gospel account of the resurrection, noting that absence precedes presence—empty tomb before recognition.
Mary Magdalene comes upon the tomb and the stone is already removed – a kind of absence. “The Lord has been taken from the tomb,” Mary says. Absence. Even when she reports that, “we do not know where they have laid him,” her unknowing is another kind of absence. Then Peter and the other disciple arrive at the absence, yet Peter as the account goes, hesitates before the absence as he gazes in from the outside upon the remnants of the burial clothes. The arranged pile is a gloriously tantalizing hint of presence in the midst of absence.
Then what do Peter and the unnamed disciple do? They go home! I have a fear for myself and all of you, that today, after hearing the greatest Good News of God’s liberating love for all humanity, we will go home and be content with the status quo and the same old way of living for ourselves and the world around us – that nothing will be different.
But, and this is exciting, look at Mary Magdalene. Thanks be to God for her! She dares to return to the absence and through the splendid lens of her tears, a prism to her soul, she recognizes two angels occupying the absence. Now there is presence, the angels and Mary. The conclusion to which I come is that her heart had been nurtured by absence, which became a longing that enabled her to recognize Jesus in the beckoning gardener when he spoke. Love drew here there and it is in love that God’s resurrected Love was recognized. The movement is from fear to love. Then Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus proclaims, “I have seen the Lord!”
Perhaps this is where we start today. Recognizing our fear. Christian faith is honest about that. We name the brokenness of our own life and that of the world. We dare to look straight into it, the tomb of death, that is. We see the violence of our cities, war that continues to devastate children in places like Yemen and Myanmar, the scourge of the new Jim Crow in prison industrial complex, the lack of basic human rights of food, shelter, medical care, right in the midst of the richest country ever to exist, our dear United States.
Yet staring into the tomb of absence, we find that love can break in and is present even there. There is nowhere God is not. It looks like a neat pile of burial clothes. The presence and fullness of God cannot be obliterated, even by death. It can be seen in all the gardeners of the world as well as all the gardens, in all the pain of the world as well as its beauty. And what we discover, perhaps most of all, is that death can never again be the end of the story. Love is.
The resurrection of Jesus as God’s supreme gift signals that the new outpouring of life has begun. Like a row of standing dominos set up in line with each other, it starts a chain reaction that leaves nothing, no-thing, no person, not one part of the creation outside God’s embrace. That includes you Xavier as you come forward for the laying on of hands. All the seeming invincible forces of death, enslavement and separation are extinguished, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:22).
A place has been prepared for us ALL. Don’t go back to the status quo. God raised Jesus. God raises us, even now. Nurture the power of Christ in you so that you can be a presence of the transforming love of Christ for the sake of the world. The gardener waits to be recognized anywhere and in anyone.
Dear People of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,
In 1979, the General Convention of The Episcopal Church endorsed the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would add to the U.S. Constitution these words: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The 76th General Convention in 2009 renewed the Church’s support for the ERA. As a Bishop I was present at that General Convention and voted in favor of the resolution.
As you may know, constitutional amendments require at least three-fourths of the states, 38, to ratify by legislative action before they can be adopted. This year, South Carolina has a historic opportunity to become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. A bill has been introduced in the South Carolina House of Representatives, H.3391, for ratification of the ERA, and other legislation is likely to be forthcoming. Many people in our communities, including members of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, are playing important roles in supporting this effort both locally and in the Statehouse in Columbia.
I fully support the Equal Rights Amendment, and I encourage you to learn about it, study the issues carefully and prayerfully, and consider contacting your state Representatives and Senators about legislation to ratify the ERA. Resources for doing so are included at the end of this message.
The Equal Rights Amendment, and all efforts aimed at ending discrimination based on sex, are in keeping with what we believe as followers of Jesus. Genesis 1:26-27 teaches us that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Throughout the Bible, Jesus teaches us about the inherent dignity and worth of every person. As Episcopalians, we promise in our Baptismal Vows to “respect the dignity of every human being,” and to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.”
As your Bishop, it is my joy to work among people who are called and committed to seeking justice, combatting oppression, and proclaiming God’s love for every human being. I am grateful for that shared ministry and hold all of you in my prayers as we seek to be witnesses to that love in our communities, our state, and our nation.
Faithfully in Christ,
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III
The Episcopal Church in South Carolina
CLICK HERE to read and download information and resources compiled by the League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area.
(Audio from Holy Cross Faith Memorial can be found here)
The Fourth Sunday in Lent: March 31, 2019
Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
If all of Scripture were to be lost to us and I could choose only one piece to keep, today’s Gospel is the one I would have remain. I believe it is THE Gospel parable. Let’s do some exploring.
In our readings over the past few weeks and including today, Jesus is consciously and deliberately on his way to Jerusalem, the place of his execution. Along the way he comes upon a group of religious and political leaders in Jerusalem who will not accept a Messiah who works by dying. To be sure, Jesus desires to gather all people under the banner of God’s love, but it is becoming increasingly evident that it will only happen through his death. The human race’s attempt to get its act together has not worked. This is true corporately and individually. The evidence is clear enough by simply gazing at the news or even our own life if we are honest. Our only home is Jesus’ self-offering on the cross and the radical forgiveness it offers, for like the lost son in today’s parable, you and I, on our own merit, are no longer worthy to be called son or daughter; although, as we will see, the father begs to differ with that assessment.
Our “lostness” is not the focus of this parable. We can get caught in an inappropriate and overly exaggerated sense of our unworthiness to a degree that it is spiritually damaging, even abusive. I recall a woman some years ago with whom I was doing spiritual direction. She recounted to me that as a child, she would practice going out to the family car and jumping for the steering wheel, for her Christian upbringing had so convinced her of how awful she was, she was convinced that when Jesus returned her parents would be taken by God and she would be left. She had to be prepared to grab the wheel to avoid a horrible accident. That’s spiritual abuse.
Many non-churched people out there think that is what we all believe inside these walls and will never darken the door much less stay. Poll after poll tells us that the primary way Christians are seen by the un-churched world is that we are mostly a people of judgment. Jesus, however, would have us look more closely at the behavior of the father, who is really the focus of the parable. If we read it closely, what we find is that rather than a parable of the prodigal son, the emphasis is on the generous, welcome-home, beyond-all-bounds-and-reason, gracious father.
Look at what happens! When the son who had run off in “dissolute living” found all of his resources depleted and decided his only resort was to make his way home, “while he was still far off,” he hadn’t yet got home, his father “ran to him, put his arms around him and kissed him.” All the father could see was his lost, even dead to him son, and in a moment of completely undignified glee completely inappropriate for a proper first century Jewish man, the father “sprints,” the actual word here for “run,” in absolute, self-abandoned joy. He does this because raising dead sons, or daughters, to life and throwing fabulous parties for them is his favorite thing to do.
Somehow, in that incredible moment, the son realizes that being the father’s child is who he is. He is not a hired hand – the father wouldn’t hear of it. The welcome is overwhelming. In the embrace and kiss he discovers that he is a dead son who is alive again, all because the father was willing, out of love, to allow the risk of the possibility that his son would never come back. It can be the hardest thing a parent can ever do, as in when a dear friend of mine recently had to allow her severely addicted daughter to walk away as she watched her daughter’s self-destructive choices ruing her life and that of the family. She never stopped loving, but her heart was breaking, longing for the day when she might welcome her home.
Jesus’ point here I trust you see, is that God is like the father of the story. That’s why the story is really about his behavior. Not until we are confronted by the unqualified gift of someone who died to forgive us no matter what, can we see that confession really has little to do with getting ourselves forgiven. Confession is not a transaction, not a negotiation in order to secure forgiveness. Instead, confession is the last gasp, like in the son, that acknowledges and accepts the need for new life. The father had already forgiven the son who was still far off. My friend has already forgiven her daughter and has never stopped loving her. The gift is already there and waiting, looking out the window, longing and waiting for us to come home so that love and kisses and hugs can be offered and the party can begin.
This is the kind of God we have Jesus is telling us. We are forgiven not because we have made ourselves forgivable or even because we have faith. WE ARE FORGIVEN BECAUSE WE HAVE A FORGIVER! The parable reveals the way God is toward everything God has made. My son was dead and is now alive. So just like God, the father throws a party. The story goes right to it. Notice – no testing of behavior first to see if the son means it or has integrated the learning into his life. We see the best robe, best ring, best shoes, best calf – so let’s eat, even if we do have a kill-joy of an older brother who like us sometimes struggles with this kind of life-giving grace. We’re so afraid someone will get something they don’t deserve of haven’t earned.
This is about God’s party of love. It’s all grace! And note it is not cheap. A calf, the best one, is sacrificed for the meal. It costs something, just as it cost Jesus his life and it costs us our life as we place our life on this altar for this Eucharistic meal. We are offering our life to God who welcomes us home, who sprints to meet us in our far off places and even before we get home on our own, embraces us with love and kisses all around. And note here, that the most frequently used word in the NT Greek translated “worship” is “proskuneo,” which means, “to kiss toward.”
The whole Gospel story today turns on the kiss, the kiss extended by God to us even at this table. We dare to approach the Holy Table because we have first been kissed. The kiss does not mean that anything goes, but it does mean that God’s radical welcome of you and me is a call to offer our own kiss to the world that so desperately needs it. Kissed by the Christ is who we are.
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.