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.”
Sermon at Calvary, Charleston
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.