What does Easter mean to us, today?

Easter 4-21-2019

Readings:  Acts 10: 34, 37-43; Ps 118; Colossians 3; 1-4; John 20: 1-9

One Easter, Several years ago, I was sitting in a church aptly named Holy Trinity in Glen Burnie, MD. Just across the aisle from me sat an older woman and a younger woman.  The older one leaned over and said to the younger, “You know, Jesus didn’t really die.”

I have wondered ever since what people think Easter is. But Jesus left us (all) in charge of spreading “The Good News” which includes telling the triumph of the resurrection.  Maybe preachers aren’t talking about the Gospels as much, and maybe the parishioners don’t tell their friends and family either.  But we’ve moved into an age of easy, wide-spread, and instant communication.  We can talk about making ourselves know, or we could make it a goal and actually do it, make it real.

If we did that- I mean really reached out in an informed, decisive way with intent to reach a goal of just 3 new people a month, still, sooner or later we will put ourselves in the awkward position of having to explain Easter to someone. By the way, Fairfax county has more than 1,200,000, so 3 people would be .00026% of the population.  Naturally, doing this means explaining what resurrection is and how Jesus died and what brought about his death, and what he did that made certain people so angry.  And what the results are for us.  Not just a history lesson, but something that has an impact on our lives.

Like something that brings about a change of circumstances for every single human being on the planet for all time; something bigger, way bigger than Easter eggs and bunnies and, of course, chocolate. But chocolate companies know how to advertize, effectively, and they do it, and all they get out of it is grubby old money. Yuk.  They have to hire tax lawyers and have high stress levels and fair trade issues, paying their farmers sustainable wages and all kinds of things that keep them awake at night. Explaining how Easter impacts us personally is nothing next to all that hassle!  We’ve got it easy!

So, let’s start with the easy stuff. I figure if anyone knew about death, Roman soldiers knew. Their job at the crucifixion was to kill Jesus. First they beat and flogged him so badly that he was bleeding to death long before they nailed him to the cross.  It was a process designed to end in death.  Then they thrust a spear into his heart and lungs to eliminate any possible doubt.  It’s a no brainer.  Now, some of the parables and stories of Jesus have been arranged by Gospel authors to teach a particular lesson.  But, who would make up stories of Peter “the rock” betraying Jesus 3 times?  Lesson # 1: when we read Biblical eye witness accounts, full of details, about known historical events, like crucifixion, confirmed by all 4 Gospels, we really don’t have any reason to doubt it.

St. Paul evidently was sick and tired of answering this type of resurrection questions, because in his 1st letter to the church at Corinth, he really goes off on it.  He tells them to “Hold Fast” to what he had taught – that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried (because he was dead), and raised on the third day, as the scriptures had foretold, and he appeared to Peter, then to apostles, and then he appeared to more than 500 people at one time, and some of them were still, in his day, alive and talking about it. Then Jesus appeared to James and finally Paul himself.  He’s clear about it.

You know, unexpected things happen when you wear one of these collars. I’ve had people (plural, men and women, sane) tell me about Jesus appearing to them, and they describe him to me in the most personal of terms.  Jesus rose from the dead.   Lesson # 2: Jesus is alive.  Jesus is more alive than the cultures in my active and alive yogurt. You don’t get weirded about out that, you don’t go buy a microscope when you hear that, why is it so hard to accept, why should you be amazed for me to tell you that the same Jesus that raised Lazarus and the little girl and the widow’s son from the dead is alive?

Well, if this still troubles you, don’t feel bad, even St. Peter had some issues with it, even after spending years with Jesus, even after seeing the empty tomb and the burial cloths, with one rolled up and deliberately set aside. The problem was that he couldn’t open his mind up to it.  It can be a big jump from reading the text book (in this case, the scriptures), and understanding on a personal level.  We use cars, machinery, and electronic devices all the time and many of us have no real idea how they work or how they’re made.  We use them because they work, “believing” in them in a way, without understanding.

We’ve probably all been duped by a slimy salesperson, yet we don’t stop shopping. Do I ask too much when I say, “Believe, trust, pray”?  I don’t ask you embrace everything whispered in your ear at church, or every bit of church dogma or what you think your 4th grade religion teacher said; that might be a mistake.  Faith must be questioned and explored, and there is a learning curve involved if your want your faith to grow.  Lesson # 3 – open yourself to the possibilities -not just a historical Jesus on the pages of your Bible, but a real, living Jesus.

Finally, don’t get hung up on the “born again” thing. You were “born again” when the water was poured over you at your baptism.  If you weren’t baptized, come see me, I can fix that.  But approach it like a physicist.  Every action (baptism) must have an equal and opposite reaction.  And what is re-action to baptism?  It is Behavior filled with Belief!  (Makes me think of that great lemon cream in donuts – you can come up with your own image of Behavior filled with Belief, until it oozes out.) That is the authentic re-action to Baptism!

During Lent we read how Isaiah was so critical of people who performed the rituals of the church, yet they never lived their faith. In St. John’s letter (3:17-18), John wrote, “But if (we) have the world’s goods and see (our neighbors) in need, yet close (our) heart against them, how does God’s love abide in (us)?…Let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” St. James (2:17) is even more direct.  He wrote, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  Last Lesson#4: The reaction to Easter is actions of love, mercy, and generosity.  Our minds must open, but so must our time, our wallets, and our compassion. That is what the Jesus of the Bible did, and the living Jesus does now, and what we as Christians are to do.  “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” Jesus said. (John 13:35)

So let’s recap what Easter means to us, and this is how we will do it: On Easter, our Tradition is to renew our baptismal promises. If you were baptized as a baby, you might not have known the words, so you get a chance to say it today.  If you need to be baptized, this is a great chance to practice for your big day.  We do this in a question-answer format, which starts on the bottom of page 65 of your Missal.  If you listen to what you are saying, it sounds very much like the Creed we usually say at this time, and I will sprinkle you with blessed baptismal water afterwards.   So please stand and turn to page 65.

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Homily by Deacon Al

Homily and Scripture Readings for Baptism of the Lord, Jan 13, 2019

Reading 1  IS 42:1-4, 6-7
Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Responsorial Psalm PS 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10.

  1. The Lord will bless his people with peace.
    Give to the LORD, you sons of God,
    give to the LORD glory and praise,
    Give to the LORD the glory due his name;
    adore the LORD in holy attire.
  2. The Lord will bless his people with peace.
    The voice of the LORD is over the waters,
    the LORD, over vast waters.
    The voice of the LORD is mighty;
    the voice of the LORD is majestic.
  3. The Lord will bless his people with peace.
    The God of glory thunders,
    and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
    The LORD is enthroned above the flood;
    the LORD is enthroned as king forever.
    R. The Lord will bless his people with peace.

Reading 2 – ACTS 10:34-38

Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered
in the house of Cornelius, saying:
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.
You know the word that he sent to the Israelites
as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all,
what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.”

 

Alleluia CF. MK 9:7

  1. Alleluia, alleluia.
    The heavens were opened and the voice of the Father thundered:
    This is my beloved Son, listen to him.
    R. Alleluia, alleluia.

 

Gospel LK 3:15-16, 21-22

The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”

My Homily

If the definition of “Epiphany” is the manifestation of the Divine, this morning’s reading is the 3rd of many extraordinary Epiphanies in the four Gospels.

The first is in St. Luke, when God comes to Bethlehem of Judea, manifesting Himself as a vulnerable infant among the poorest of the poor, namely the shepherds. He comes as a Shepherd just like them but as a Shepherd of women and men – not of sheep and goats; He also comes as their Savior who will head an army of angels in the fight for justice and peace on earth. The Scripture tells how the shepherds were engulfed by a Heavenly Host of Angels – but the actual word in Greek is στρατός (stratios) – which means “an army.” They were encircled by an army of angels.  The infant Jesus comes as a Davidic warrior who is head of this army that will do battle for good. He also manifests Himself as Food for the world, literally laid in a trough where animals eat. He comes so that he can relieve the suffering of all humankind and satisfy our hunger for God.

Then in Matthew God is manifested as King and worshiped as such by the Magi who bring him royal gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. On that day He joins them not only as King, but as the Wisest of Wise Men – because he embodies the divine Wisdom and kingly power of the Almighty.

Today God manifests Himself yet again – this time as THE Prophet – the One to whom all the prophets of Israel pointed – including this last among the long, long line of Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist. John came to prepare the way of the Lord through a Baptism of repentance, but now the Lord is actually here – and HE will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He also comes as Son of a Father who declares His pleasure in Him by opening the heavens and having His Holy Spirit descend on him.

Following today’s Gospel many more “epiphanies” follow. God manifest Himself as Master of the Elements starting in St. John’s account of His first miracle at the marriage of Canaan where he turns water into the finest wine. Then He manifests Himself as Teacher in His parables and in the Sermon on the Mount; then as Priest and Victim on the cross; then as Redeemer and Conqueror of sin and death at His Resurrection; and in the final epiphany – he manifests Himself as Eternal Ruler and Judge at his Ascension.

Our God is in a constant and eternal process of Epiphany – of manifesting Himself to the World and to each of us.

The question for us this morning is, are we vigilant enough? Perceptive enough? Wise enough?  …to see God when He comes?

John the Baptist knew when God came into his life. Remember a few weeks ago, when Mary came to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the baby John leapt in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice and the approach of His Savior.

And here today Luke tells us that John points to his cousin as One mightier than he…one of whom John is “…not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.”

John’s baptism was one of repentance …and he knew Jesus had no need of repentance…but Jesus embraces Baptism as a model for us. Or, as the gospel teaches, the one who had no sin to repent of, takes his place among those who had sin to repent of…just as the one who was sinless takes on the sins of all on the Cross to make reparation to the Father. Jesus starting now at his Baptism, becomes the walking example for us all of how to live in total obedience to God.

In John the Evangelist’s account of this same story, the Baptist is heard to say, “Behold the Lamb of God” …and later, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” The word “Baptism” itself comes from the Greek βαπτίζω (baptiso)  meaning to “submerge and resurface” or better yet to “take a plunge” into something. The Baptist is saying we must take the plunge into God. To allow God to take over …to increase in us.

This is the perfect response for when we meet God – and it mirrors what we did at our own Baptism. At our Baptism, we were “submerged” in water to cleanse us so that we could plunge into Grace. We were arrayed in a new white garment to symbolize our re-emergence into new life as a child of God infused with the Holy Spirit.  And every time we say in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy will be done…” we are aligning ourselves with the Baptist and saying, “increase in me oh God. Let my will decrease and your will increase.”

Today Luke manifests Jesus to us as The Christ, as God and as Savior – but we also witness an announcement – an Annunciation.  Luke after all is master of “Annunciations.” Today we hear the 4th such annunciation in his Gospel.

Several weeks ago, we heard the first Annunciation when Gabriel announced to Zechariah that his elderly and barren wife Sarah was to have a son…Then we heard Gabriel’s BIG Annunciation to Mary that she was to conceive and bear a Son who would grow up to rule His people Israel. The Messiah was coming!

Then to Joseph when an angel announced to him that he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife for she was bearing the Son of the Most High.  And now “. . . A voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Baptism, the heavenly voice says, “This is my beloved Son,” making it an annunciation to others. But in Mark, and here today in Luke, the Annunciation is: “YOU are my beloved Son …with YOU I am well pleased.” In the baptism story of both Mark and Luke, it is that Jesus who discovers WHO HE IS. This is an Annunciation to Jesus Himself.

Today’s first reading hints at how Jesus will please His Father. He will be a different kind of prophet. The first reading is from a part of the Book of Isaiah known as the Song of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh. Isaiah is reflecting on the implications of responding to Yahweh’s call. He never doubts God has called him to ministry; but he’s to be a prophet like no prophet before him, certainly not a “fire and brimstone” preacher – “Not crying out, not shouting . . . a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench . . ..” Isaiah quickly learns he’s unique, with almost no role models on which to fall back.

Jesus is also to be unique – a prophet and teacher like none who had come before him. Jesus is also no “fire and brimstone” preacher, not a foreteller of “doom and gloom” as John the Baptist was. Instead, Jesus will show us by his life how we are to serve God. That is why at his baptism, the gentlest of birds – a dove – descends on him – to mark his commission as our Savior. Jesus is a Savior who will ask us to “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.”

By His baptism Jesus identified with the people, the sinful people He came to save. And by His baptism Jesus submitted to the will of the Father, beginning His service as the Suffering Servant who would die for the sins of the world.   And God the Father approved it …and sent God the Spirit to empower it …and John witnessed it.

God desires each of us to make a commitment to do His will and doing that will means sacrificial service–to God, and to others. That is what the Christian life is all about. It is connected with Christian baptism, because the ritual of baptism was a tremendous sign of commitment to the Christian way. The Christian life is not natural; it is supernatural. Many of us are still realizing what that means. We know that it will not be a natural or easy way of life…and we will need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit–far more than Jesus did.

Let us ask God today, that through prayer and study and by participating in the sacraments – especially the Eucharist – that we will find the courage to take the plunge into God that our Baptism called us to do.

May God bless you…

A Meditation and Spiritual Communion on a Snowy Day, the Baptism of the Lord.

First Reading Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11

“Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem;
And call out to her, that her service has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received of the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”

A voice is calling,
“Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
“Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of good news!
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Cry out, do not fear!
Say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
10 Here comes with power
the Lord God,
who rules by his strong arm;
Here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
11 Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
Carrying them in his bosom,
leading the ewes with care.

Psalm 104: 1-4, 24-30

Bless the Lord, my soul!
Lord, my God, you are great indeed!
You are clothed with majesty and splendor,
    robed in light as with a cloak.
You spread out the heavens like a tent;
    setting the beams of your chambers upon the waters.
You make the clouds your chariot;
traveling on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers;
flaming fire, your ministers.

24 How manifold are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 There is the sea, great and wide!
It teems with countless beings,
living things both large and small.
26 There ships ply their course
and Leviathan, whom you formed to play with.

27 All of these look to you
to give them food in due time.
28 When you give it to them, they gather;
when you open your hand, they are well filled.
29 When you hide your face, they panic.
Take away their breath, they perish
and return to the dust.
30 Send forth your spirit, they are created
and you renew the face of the earth.

Second Reading Titus 2: 11-14, 3: 4-7

11 For the grace of God has appeared, saving all 12 and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, 13 as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.

But when the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
he saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Gospel Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

15The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

21When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Meditation –   The Many Baptisms of Life by Mactep Teoprhh (edited for space)

When an adult chooses to be baptized, what are they hoping for? What thirst took them to those waters? I wonder if there were parts of their life that needed to go, needed to drown and die, so that something new could arise.

I remember a trip down the Frio River with friends and we came to a water fall where the water comes over the rocks like a curtain, and you can get behind the water in the hollow of the rock. We sat back there, the three of us with our arms around one another laughing and splashing. I don’t think we had ever smiled that big before. We were being baptized into each others lives.

I remember standing here in this church the day I married my son and his wife, and I remember the day we buried him, and how those experiences in such different ways baptized me into being a dad in ways I could never have imagined.

And I think about the people that have called me or come to my office and said, “Can I talk to you about my life?” And every one of them baptized my priesthood in the waters of their life, inviting me to be more myself with them.  And I often return to that day, long ago, when I called my priest and said, “My life is a mess and I don’t know what to do.” I sat in his office and he baptized me into the truth of my pain and my brokenness and into a different way of living.

I can’t count the number of times that the waters of baptism flowed out of my eyes and down my cheeks as I once again realized how real life is, how beautiful it is, and how fragile and painful it can be.  Every one of those was a baptism. Every one of those was an experience in which I opened myself or the world opened to me, and my life was deepened and I was awakened. I was enlarged and forever changed. Those baptism were as real, holy, and life giving as that day a priest poured water over my head in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

What if we began to look at the people in our lives, our relationships, our experiences as baptismal water? How might God be enlarging, awakening, transforming, or deepening your life?

 

Prayers of the Faithful 1-13-19  Baptism of the Lord.

Priest: The love of God our Savior has appeared among us. Let us offer our prayers to God, not trusting     in our own good deeds, but God’s love for all people saying, “Lord hear our prayer.”  (Response)

Reader: For Holy Trinity and all of CACINA: that we may recognize we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and sent to share God’s Good News with others, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For understanding: that we may learn from Jesus how to be fully human and place all of our gifts and talents into God’s service, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For the human family: that we may recognize as sisters and brothers all who seek to serve God and renounce all forms of discrimination and prejudice, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For a renewal of the gift of the Holy Spirit: that God will stir up the gift of Spirit within us, make us strong in our faith and dynamic in love, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For a deepening of prayer in our lives: that, like Jesus, we may grow in our relationship with God through prayer and listening, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For all who have responded to God’s call to ministry: that God will strengthen them, make fruitful their service, and empower them with the Holy Spirit, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For all who are in need of a shepherd’s care, for refugees, the ill, those unjustly detained and those who lack heat or food: that many people will reach out to them, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For all victims of abuse and their abusers: that they may hear God’s affirmation that they are beloved and experience healing for their bodies, minds, and spirits, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For a new dawning of peace: that those who strive for peace may not tire and that God will open new opportunities for us to recognize the good in one another, we pray to the Lord.        (Response)

For all who have asked for our prayers, especially: Serena Rush, Elaine Rosen, Kevin Long, Rob Southard, Katie Boulware, Bishop Carl and Mark, Myles, Meryl, Nicole Lamb, Joy DeSalis, Chad Davis, Leona Franklin, Walter Berry, Ben & Stacie Tolen, Denise Borgatti, Richard Harrell and Renee Starret, Janet Decker, Amanda Pittmon, Delores Deal, Darrell Williams, Harold Deitrick, Fr. Michael Dakotah, Ted Marshall, and Fr. Dante’s sister, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

For the intentions of Mary Vavrina, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

Please add any intentions you have now (Pause……………………….)  And for all our unspoken intentions, we pray to the Lord. (Response)

Priest: May God’s blessing come upon this New Year, may the Spirit’s flame glow brightly within us, and may we find new desire to share the goodness of God, we pray in the name of Jesus our Lord. AMEN.

Closing

Lord,    Send your light upon all who read this and upon all your family.  May they continue to enjoy your favor And devote themselves to doing good. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

May almighty God bless you, The Father, and the Son + and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Pray for Joy

3rd Sunday of Advent 12-16-2018

Zephaniah 3: 14-18a, Isaiah 12: 2-6, Philippians 4: 4-7, Luke 3: 10-16, year C

Today’s readings work together unusually well to give us reasons to experience Joy. We start with one of the Minor Prophets, Zephaniah.  The book is only 3 chapters long, and most of it is dire warnings of disaster:  “Woe to you”, it says, “who have turned away from God; a day of wrath, of distress, anguish, ruin and darkness is near.”  But we read from the very end of the book, when God forgives the people for their disobedience.  God’s presence returns to them and God rejoices over the people, God sings joyfully because of his people. God saves them from their enemies and makes them famous among the nations for their good fortune. That’s interesting, isn’t it?  Generally it’s the people who sing joyfully about God!

Speaking of unusual, our Psalm today is actually from the very end of the first section of the book of Isaiah.  The Assyrians have destroyed much of Israel, and all of King David’s descendents appear to be dead.  But Isaiah writes of the “shoot from the stump of Jesse”.   Jesse was the father of King David, and one descendent is eventually found alive.  So Isaiah gives us the prophecy of the Messiah.  Our reading today is parts of two songs of praise for the promise of the Messiah and that God has preserved the future of Israel.  “My strength and my courage is the Lord, and (God) has been my savior…Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously.” Coincidentally, these songs of praise echo the song of Moses’ sister Miriam, as the Israelites escape from Egypt, “The Lord is my strength and my song, for he has triumphed gloriously.” (Ex15:1-2) This time the people do sing joyfully about God.

Our 2nd reading likewise is a song of joy from the end of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  He writes from prison, awaiting execution.  But Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  The Lord is near.”  So, all three of these readings tell us that at the end of painful, difficult times, God makes joy out of fear and sorrow.

In our Gospel, the pattern changes slightly. We read from the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, signaling something new is happening.  John the Baptist has baptized people in the River Jordan, and God has forgiven their sins.  The people have experienced a real change of heart, and are anxious to change their ways.  They ask “What should we do!?”  John tells them to share their clothing, share their food.  He tells the tax collectors not to over charge people and tells the soldiers not to falsely accuse the innocent or extort money from them.  John the Baptist ties all this up neatly by saying that the Messiah is coming.

So, we have an encouraging message, filled with forgiveness, the good news of a bright future, and lots of singing and joy. But, what do we do with it?  Well, I promised you to look at the nativity story during Advent in some new ways, and I think our readings today lead us to the characters of the Angels and the Shepherds.

The shepherds had little to rejoice about. For the most part, they were uneducated, poor men who had a dangerous job of fighting off large predatory animals who might kill the sheep.  They worked 24/7 shifts, outside, and slept on the ground.  Temperatures near freezing are common in Jerusalem this time of year.  A boy scout might find that fun, but I wouldn’t. Shepherds had all the fun of modern-day garbage collectors, very low social status, and a distinctively bad smell clung to them.  They bring a very humble and “earthy” aroma to the Nativity Scene.

Luke tells us that an angel of the Lord appeared to- of all people- them. If you read scripture carefully, you find most angels appear not as winged creatures, but as strangers, which is why Luke tells us the shepherds were “filled with fear”.  Can anyone here tell me how many times we find the expression “Be not afraid” in all its various forms in the Bible?  Well, this is one of the 365 times.  Then we hear those words of joy: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people (even shepherds): to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord” (2:10-11).  Then a “host” or “army” (the idea is so many you can’t count) of angels sing Glory to God.

I wonder how long it took for those shepherds to breath normally again. But it didn’t take them long to decide what to do.  Luke makes it sound like immediately they agreed to go to Bethlehem and see for themselves what had happened.  And they didn’t have to think about who to tell or what to say.  Once they had seen the infant in the manger, they “made know” the saying which had been told them.  That means they told everybody.   They “returned (to the fields), glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen…” They, like the people baptized by John, were changed.

So here is the pattern. Life is hard, daily living is difficult.  Then God appears; in some way we see the hand of God in our lives, or we hear God’s words, and something shifts within us, and joy appears.  The joy is real, and stirs us to some action, and things in our lives change.  The change is clear to people around us, for our behaviors change and our thinking is altered.  In a moment of despair, I once cried out loud to God, “I don’t even know what to pray for!” And the response came back to me, “Pray for Joy.”  So today, I say to you all, “Pray for Joy”.  You will find God when you find joy, for God is the source of real rejoicing.

Inside/ Outside

22nd Sunday Ordinary time 9-2-18

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8;  Psalm 15:2-5; James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23

After reading from John’s Gospel for more than a month, we need a re-orientation to the Gospel of Mark. John wrote to help established Christians deepen their understanding of their faith, while Mark wrote to a non-Jewish, or “Gentile” audience new to the faith.  One reason we know this is that Mark has to explain hand washing, and other Jewish traditions.

We’re not yet half-way in Mark’s Gospel, but the Pharisees are already plotting how they can destroy Jesus. They have already tried to shame and discredit Jesus by pointing out that the Apostles did not fast (which was required), and that they had picked some grain to eat when they were hungry on the Sabbath (which was forbidden).  Meanwhile, Jesus had raised a little girl from the dead, he had walked on water, and wherever he went, the sick were brought to him, and he healed them.  He had taught great crowds and did the miracle of multiplying the fish and loaves; it must have been an exhilarating and amazing time for the apostles.  If ministry was always like that, everyone would want to be a priest!

But now the Pharisees return to verbally attack Jesus again. When the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples don’t keep the tradition of hand-washing, their question isn’t a request for information. It’s a challenge to his whole ministry. From the point of view of the Pharisees, a person couldn’t be from God and not wash his hands before dinner in accordance with the tradition. (Remember “germs” hadn’t been discovered yet.) Now, there is nothing wrong with cherishing Traditions that have been handed down to us, tried and true. But if we cherish tradition, we must also be careful that we are clear about what it is that we’re cherishing. Otherwise, the focus on things like clean hands and cups could threaten the whole point of God’s Law—and that is to have right relationships among people and between people and God.

The Pharisees challenge Jesus’ disciples’ failure to observe what Mark calls the “tradition of the elders” (7:5). It’s described by modern anthropologists as “The Great Tradition,” a set of practices defined, maintained, and practiced by urban-living elite Jews of Jesus’ day.   Peasants, travelers like Jesus, fisherman, and those who raised sheep and goats simply weren’t able to maintain these traditions because of the realities of their living conditions and their jobs, as well as the scarcity of water.  The Pharisee’s criticism was, from the start, very unfair and unreasonable.

So where did the tradition of hand washing start? Like many Jewish rituals, it began during the Exodus (30:19-20) from Egypt.  God told the priests they must wash their feet and hands before they entered the tabernacle (temple) tent.  The spiritual reason for this was to enter the presence of God with a pure heart.  So God gave them a meaningful symbol (hand washing) of an important spiritual truth (purity of heart).  To pray, to worship, to enter sacred space, we must prepare ourselves, as we do when we say our confession and be absolved of sin at the beginning of our service each Sunday.  We try to begin with a pure heart, with open ears and mind.

But we humans often have a way of making required spiritual exercises out of meaningful symbols. The Jews turned God’s request to begin worship with a pure heart into an elaborate and highly detailed bureaucratic, burdensome procedure of ritual cleansing with strict regulation of the amount of water, the way the hands were held, etc., etc. for which the priests received payment.  Sadly, it reminds me of my grandson’s baptism, which was so openly void of spirituality that my son and his wife never went to church again.

Anyway, before long, the Jewish ritualized cleansing replaced the spiritual exercise that it had represented in the beginning. The outward symbol of washing was no longer a sign of an inward grace of purity, but the ritual had become an end in itself.  Why was it done?  Because it was required; it was “what we do”. Religion had lost its spirituality; instead ritual controlled -rather than enriched- life.  The cleansing ritual caused people to lose sight of the goal: purity of heart.  Thus Jesus says, “Their heart is far from me, and in vain they worship me.”  He calls the Pharisees “Hypocrites” they have replaced heart-felt religion with lip service, and turned God’s symbol of washing into a type of theater.  In fact, The Greek word hypokrites means “actor.” An appropriate way to read Jesus’ insult in English would be: “You actors! Scripture may be the lines you quote, but is it not the script by which you live.”

Jesus tells the crowd that a little dirt – or anything else- on the outside of a person has nothing to do with how pure their heart is. Instead, he charges, our hurtful words and evil behavior come from inside of us. It is those muddy thoughts we do not control, those dirty images we keep in our heads, those horrible greedy and evil things humans do which destroy our purity of heart and separate us from God.

In our 2nd reading, James, always the practical preacher, gives us this definition: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God… is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Pure religion is not necessarily done in a typical sacred space. Pure religion is caring for the innocent and helpless, helping the destitute, the starving, the sick, and those who have lost hope. There is an incredibly urgent need for pure religion in this world.

James warns us, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” We must keep our focus on the goal of love, and not become lost or stained by the divisive, angry, bickering, backstabbing world. So every time you wash your hands, think of having a pure heart, with your heart, soul, and mind always ready to be in the presence of God.

4 gifts from John the Baptist

Feast of St. John the Baptist 6-24-18

This is the last Sunday in our old location.  Next Sunday, we will have Mass at 11:30 at St. Timothy Episcopal Church, 432 Van Buren St., Herndon, VA 20170

Isaiah 49:1-6; Palm139: 1-3,13-15; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66,80

 

Today I would like to look at 4 aspects from John the Baptist’s life which should be familiar and which are relevant to us as we leave this space and face new beginnings for Holy Trinity.

#1 Luke  1: 39-44 (John leaps for joy when The Blessed Virgin met her cousin Elizabeth)

“Elizabeth exclaimed to Mary, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! For…when (your) voice…came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.’”

John is a reminder to us that having Jesus in our lives is a great and wonderful gift – so great that the yet unborn John leaped for joy. When is the last time you felt the urge to leap for joy?  When were you last so filled with the Holy Spirit that you were moved to act out your faith in a new way?

John was the one who bridged the old and the new periods in human history – before and after Christ. John is the icon of new beginnings.  Holy Trinity is in a wonderful God-given period of new beginnings.  Let us feel the joy of a fresh start, a new chance to grow in love of the scriptures, and love of our neighbors.  Let us grow in the ability to share our faith.  Let us become people that are recognized as Christians because of our love.  May God bless us with the ability to grasp new ways to be church, in leadership, in outreach, and in worship. May we find joy in creativity and change as we are moved by the Holy Spirit.

#2 Acts 13: 22-26  (John’s humility, self knowledge & recognition of who Jesus was)

“One is coming after me; I am not worth to unfasten the sandals of his feet.”

I find John’s confession that he was not worthy to kneel down and untie Jesus’ sandal one of the great realizations of human history. Do you realize the implications?  If we understand what John said, it would be impossible to pollute or waste our natural resources because of the profound respect we would have for God and God’s creation.  There would never be wars, for we would obey God’s word – we would not kill or covet or steal; for wars are really fought over wealth and land and resources.

What if we admit our vulnerability and dependency on each other? Then we would know how necessary our neighbor is to us, and really value children, immigrants, and the elderly.

What if we knew Jesus when he came to us sick or hungry or a victim of violence? I can hardly image the change in our society if we knew ourselves and Jesus.  Humility, self-knowledge and recognition of Jesus are the keys to being true church where no one is greater than the other.  Everyone who comes in our door is seeking God at some level.  Our attention must always focus on the Divine in each person.  Outward focus on others can make our problems fade in importance.  Focusing inward, on ourselves, make us a barrier to God’s love.

#3 John 1: 35-42 John directs his disciples to follow Jesus

“(The day after John baptized Jesus) John was standing with 2 of his disciples, and as he looked, Jesus walked by; he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples, Andrew and John the son of Zebedee, heard him…and they followed Jesus.”

John was an extraordinary man. He was not owned by his possessions or his prestige.  When Andrew followed Jesus, he also brought his brother, Simon Peter.  So John deliberately sent his followers to Jesus.  John was not concerned about counting his followers.  He was concerned with freeing people from their sins, with baptism as the symbol of their forgiveness and fresh start on life.  He knew his job was not the main event, but rather he was a messenger, to prepare the way of the Lord.  He taught that we are to “bear fruit that befits repentance.”  John reminds me of the old Methodist preacher who told me, “I’m not in administration, I’m just in sales.”  John knew that he was just bringing the faith to people, and was not in charge.

Most churches need fewer people who think they are in charge and many more that are out in the trenches of life, knowledgeable about their faith, focusing on love and the Good News of Jesus. We need to act like Christians!  John was working for God, and everything he said and did was for the glory of God, and not his own glory. The Holy Spirit is not bound by rite or ritual or human doctrine, and the church is not ours, nor is the space nor the possessions, nor the people, nor the future. It all belongs to God.

#4 Matthew 11:2-19  When John was imprisoned by King Herod & sent his disciples to Jesus

“John sent word by his disciples (to ask Jesus) ‘Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”

John was in prison for nothing more than telling King Herod that he should not have married his brother’s wife – he confronted immorality of the kind that tears the fabric of society. The letter that Bishop Ron has issued about asylum seekers coming into the US over the Mexican border is a present day example of how the Church must confront injustice and evil. John is our model for speaking out when leaders overstep their authority and damage the church or nation.  For that, John died a martyr’s death.

Consider that John, the last prophet of the old age and Jesus, the one who began the new age, both preached repentance and God’s love, and both died fulfilling their rightful place in God’s Kingdom.   John knew that Herod murdering people on a whim, and John had every reason to be fearful.  He had put his faith in Jesus, witnessed to his divinity, and, in a moment of despair, he needed reassurance that he had chosen well.  He had not lost his faith, but had serious questions, and he turned to Jesus for answers.

How do we respond when life is hard, when we are fearful and losing hope? Let us be a church where people can express doubt and fear.  Let us be a place where people are never silenced, but where people can express themselves and their opinions; a place where we can learn together and support each other, where we take care to listen before speaking and when we speak, we tell the truth.

John the Baptist has a great deal to teach us. John would be a good patron saint for this time of transition.  The real questions that face us are not Mass times or attendance.  John gives us the real questions: “How do we bring the message of love and forgiveness to our neighbors so that we all experience the joy of knowing Jesus?”  “How do we know ourselves so that we bring God’s Word to others with the gentle humility that comes from knowing God?”  “Have we identified what is really important instead of being stuck in the past or pretending ownership of that which belongs to God?” Finally, “Can we grow past fear and doubt by learning from and supporting each other with the truth Jesus gave us?”  I believe we can do these things, and we must, to fulfill the role we have in God’s kingdom.

“Do This”

Sunday of the Body and Blood of Christ 6-3-18

Exodus 24:3-8; Psalm 116:12-18;Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-26

 

In the largest sense of human history, the Solemnity we celebrate today is the story of God’s relationship with all of creation; an intimate relationship of The Creator with the creation. Without the soil and the sun and the rain, the plants do not grow, and there is no food.  Without food, there are no animals.  Without God, nothing exists.  It is a good day to pause and remember our interrelationship and the necessary balances God established in creation to sustain life.

But meditating on the largest sense of human history can make us feel tiny, and we can feel too tiny to think about the enormity of it all. So, perhaps it is well to focus on the small parts of creation at a level where we can better grasp ideas that seem to impact our lives more personally.

Our reading from Exodus is about Moses sprinkling the blood of animals which have been sacrificed as peace offerings to God. Moses sprinkles the blood on the altar, as our rituals might have us incense the altar.   Then there is a reading of the covenant with God, and the people renew their vows to be God’s People and obey the commandments God has given them, just we renew our baptismal promises on Easter.

Then Moses sprinkles blood on the people, just as we sprinkle the water of baptism. But there is another side to this idea.  Our Eucharist speaks of “the cup of my blood”, the blood of Jesus which is shed for all so that sins are forgiven.  Today we have dozens of laundry products specially designed to remove stains.  Blood and wine are always first on the list of difficult stains to remove.   It is a startling idea that the blood of Jesus should not stain us and ruin us, but instead washes us clean of sin, removes all guilt and eliminates the need for punishment, allowing us to live eternally with God.

Our Psalm speaks of the “cup of salvation”. This Psalm could have been written by a contemporary Christian poet.  We take up the communion cup of salvation, calling on the name of the Lord, who has freed us from evil, selfishness and sin.  We remember our vows to God.  In order to give thanks to God, we must sacrifice our overinflated egos and all our “dead works”, as our 2nd reading calls our behaviors such as attempting to reduce God to an hour on Sunday.

So, like the early Christians, we experience the Body and Blood of Christ in the Mass as a sacrament, meaning an effective sign of grace, which works to give us divine life through the Holy Spirit. How did that look just after the first Pentecost? Well, in Acts 2:42 we find that (Christians) “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  The identity of Christians, then, was formed in unity, unity in belief and charity, both of which were founded in Eucharist, centered in thanksgiving for the gifts of Christ’s body and blood.

Some twenty years after Pentecost, The Church in Antioch left us a manual of liturgical prayers which we call the “Didache”, Greek for teaching.  In about the year 100, Pope Clement wrote a letter to the church at Corinth, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might!” Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the church to “Confess the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ.”  In about the 150’s Justin Martyr wrote a detailed description of the Mass as it was celebrated in Rome.  We have historical evidence of the Mass in letters & prayers.

What was the impact of this Mass on the early church? The church had a growth rate estimated at 40% per decade, and by the middle of the 4th century, there were 33 million Christians in an Empire of 60 million people.  The Church Fathers quoted Malachi 1:11, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, with a pure offering” –  as to say that always and everywhere in the Empire, the Mass was offered.

By then the Mass was called, “the Breaking of the Bread”, “the (once-for-all) Sacrifice”, “the Liturgy”, “the Mysteries”, “the Table of the Lord”, “the Lord’s Supper”, “the Altar”, and “the Communion.” But “the Eucharist” won out, because it was the Greek word for giving thanks, and Mark 14:23, Matthew 26:27, Luke 22:17, and 1 Corinthians 11:24 all used that word. Although great care was taken to keep the liturgy within Christian tradition, the spread of the Gospel from place to place included new and local ways to express worship, but the Words of Institution as found in 1 Corinthians 11 were kept intact. (“On the night when he was betrayed, he took bread and when he had given thanks; he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me…” Likewise the cup..)

We keep these words because Jesus commanded us to do so at a most solemn moment anticipating his death. St. Paul emphasized that this action is at the center of the church.  The cup “is the new covenant in my blood.”  Thus, all the subsequent generations have meticulously preserved the Lord’s words and actions as precious and divine.  The many ways that the Christian liturgy shares the prayers of our Jewish brothers and sisters is a fascinating study all by itself.

For early Christians, Mass was the meeting of heaven and earth. But the Mass was also preached as the unifying power of the church.  “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1Cor 10:17).  Ignatius wrote, “For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to show forth the unity of His blood.”  Great reverence and care were taken with the elements, which were regarded as more precious than gold or jewels.  Likewise, clergy were to give careful attention to the worlds of the liturgy, and great emphasis was placed on John 6:51, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, they will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Finally, the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Christ when he opened the Scriptures for them, but rather in the breaking of the bread. In the same way, many millions of people have come to know Jesus after he ascended to heaven.  It reminds me of a quote from Pope Benedict XVI – “Evangelization is…the opening of the heart…(we are) agents of the Holy Spirit helping people have a profound experience of Jesus’ love…a love that opens them to the Word of God and the sacraments…”

We have here a sacrament of depth beyond our imaging, a sacrament which has roots in the earliest moments of creation. We have a liturgy for this sacrament which opens the hearts of people to God with the same power that it did centuries ago.  We have words and actions which we share with those who have gone before us and which we are responsible for passing on to those who come after us.  May the Holy Spirit lead us in this journey, may you find the fullness of God’s mercy and grace, and may Jesus remain in you as you partake from his table.