Monday, April 30, 2018

Prayer, day 1920: For Sustenance and Healing


Holy One, we praise you: guide us as we seek to do your will today.
Give us strength to carry your light into places of darkness.
Give us hope for those who are in despair or sadness.
Give us endurance for those who are ill and facing a long path to healing.
Give us gentle compassion for those who are angry and hurting.
Give us wisdom for those who are filled with rejection and denial.

Help us to love God and each other in the way of Christ:
fiercely, patiently, and completely.
Consecrate the hands and minds of doctors and nurses as they seek to use the gifts given by you, O God, to bring healing to the hurting.
Blessed Savior, shine the light of your countenance upon us, and bless especially those for whom we pray.

Amen.
1257, 1565

Photo: Our dog Brinkley has become very ill and is undergoing surgery today to have his spleen removed, which has a mass on it. We are praying it is not an angressive cancer called hemangiosarcoma.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Abiding in Love: Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Easter, Year B


“There's nothing you can do that can't be done;
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung;
Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game;
It's easy!
Nothing you can make that can't be made;
No one you can save that can't be saved;
Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time; 
It's easy!
All you need is love. All you need is love.
All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.”(1)

Our readings today remind us that John the Beatle’s message overlaps heavily with John the Evangelist’s message. Both were trying to address the question of how we live our best life—our most authentic life. And our readings today remind us that they both arrived at the same conclusion:
Love IS all you need.
John the Beatle just added catchy music. But the message remains the same. Love is all we need. And all we need is love.

In both our epistle and our gospel from John the Evangelist, we see two words used repeatedly: “love,” and “abide.” “Abide” is an old word; in the Old English, it means to remain, to wait for, and to dwell. As the word developed over time, its meaning broadened, to mean to live with and remain in the service of someone. The repeated use of these two words reminds us that, in God, the way of life IS the way of love.

What does this mean for us? To put it plainly: As children of God, we are made to love, to abide in love, as present as each breath we take. To “abide with,” as we see it here, is to open ourselves to trust in God’s love, fully, and without fear. It is to be able to depend upon God completely, as in the words of the old hymn, number 662 in our hymnal:
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

The next verse of that hymn makes clear how much we can depend upon such as enduring sense of love and presence with God dwelling in us, and with us dwelling with God:
I need your presence every passing hour.
What but your grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like yourself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.(2)

Our epistle states it clearly: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” And we hear almost the same phrasing in John 15:4-10, much of which is covered in our gospel passage today: 
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

This is where we turn from our personal relationship with God, to our relationship with others. We aren’t meant to simply absorb God’s love for ourselves, but to reflect that love so that our lives are a testimony for the world Jesus came to save through love. We are made to abide with God, and open ourselves so that God abides within us, but that love also changes our orientation from an inward direction to an outward direction. We are not meant to try to keep that love for ourselves, but to share the joy that it brings us with those around us. Through this sharing, God’s love becomes most visible to the world, especially to those who do not know God.

Again and again, Jesus reminds us that love is the core of our mission in the world. The full expression of the love we experience in God empowers us to fully participate as partners in the life of God. That’s what we mean when we live fully into the Eucharistic life we celebrate together, all of us together as ministers of Christ. Every time we gather around this altar, we are empowered to act as Christ’s body in the world. All for love.

And that love is not a passive thing, not just an emotion or an attitude. The love we are called to embody is rooted in action. Concrete, deliberate, self-giving action that is the foundation of the life that is fully human and fully faithful, which perhaps could also be pronounced “faith-filled.” Because it’s also important to remember that the love that draws us to be sustained by God also calls us to sustain each other.

The Christian life is not a life lived for ourselves, but a life lived FOR God and FOR others. If we are to abide in God, we are made partners with God in the work of bringing God’s creative power and love alive for those who do not yet know it.

Our readings and our experience with God through Christ convince us of this: that sharing in the love of God is sharing in God’s very being. That means that what we do and how we love or do not love will be the most visible means for those who do not know God to see God in action.

As Christians, we ARE the branches of Jesus, the true vine. That’s a heady responsibility. We are made branches of the vine through the love that God has for us through Christ, who is fully human and fully God all at once. Jesus is the Incarnation of God in human form to try to show us the way in which we are called to go to get back to our true natures as children of the Most High.

How do we live a good life—an authentic life? By understanding that Jesus calls us to remake our lives so that we are focused outside ourselves, but that in conceding everything that we believe matters, we gain all that actually does matter.

It starts with turning rank and privilege and honor and prerogative upside-down.
It starts with embodying kindness when we could respond with disdain; listening when we could turn away; honoring the dignity and worth of those society casts aside.

And it starts with not kidding ourselves that this is easy. We begin this journey of love by understanding that we can’t take the hand of Christ until we unclench the fists and the hearts that world sometimes scares us into making, and relax into the light and love of God, for our sakes, yes—but for the sake of the world as well.

The greatest way the world will come to know Christ as we who call ourselves Christians do is through our actions. Our actions, especially as Christians, as those who “wear” the name of Christ out into the world, is often the only testimony the world has as to who Jesus is. This is the challenge facing us each day.

What, exactly, DO our actions tell the outside world about who Jesus is, and how Jesus forms and shapes our lives? Jesus shows us, again and again, that we understand who we truly are as children beloved of God by loving beyond ourselves. By loving each other, and thereby loving God. Love is the ultimate act of bravery and faith, because it requires so much of us.

And yet it requires so little of us, because God has given us God’s utmost first. God has made the first move for us, by holding nothing back. That’s made clear when we hear this: “God’s love is revealed among us in this way: God sent God’s only Son into the world so that we might live and know God through Jesus.” It is God’s love first that draws from us the response of love. Just as the song says, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.” In calling us to abide in love, God doesn’t ask us to do anything we aren’t made to be capable of. We are reminded of that in Matthew 11:30 when Jesus assures us: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Since “no one has ever seen God,” but “God is love,” the only way for people to actually see God is to see the visible acts of love we Christians bear not just for each other, but for people beyond our own circle.

As we know, that circle seems to keep constricting and getting smaller and smaller in the last several decades here in the West. One wonders how much Christian infighting has had to do with that, or, even, worse, since it is more visible, what role Christian condemnation of those we perceive to be outside the circle of salvation has played in the alienation of so many from belief in God. If God is love, and we can’t be loving to those who do not know God, how can we be surprised if the number of people who confess belief in God is not also contracting rather than growing?

The wonderful words of Madeleine L’Engle bring this issue into sharp relief when she wrote,
“We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong the are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”(3)



As we were reminded a few weeks ago, Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it through love, mercy, healing, and compassion. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to imitate our teacher and Savior, who showed us there is no one who can’t be saved through love, right now. Jesus embodied love in action. We are therefore called and charged with the holiest of charges, to do exactly the same, in our speaking, acting, and the way that we see each other. God’s abundant love and mercy, that we taste and see and share here around this altar, does not exist merely to comfort us, but to fill us to overflowing so that we then show the world in our own actions a light so lovely that those around us want with all their hearts to know that light too.

This community exists to prepare us for discipleship. The mission of the Church is not just to take care of our own needs and concerns. The mission of the Church is, as the motto of our diocese so succinctly puts it, is to “make disciples for the life of the world.” No limits. That love we embody can have no boundaries.

William Temple, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the last years of World War II, composed a beautiful prayer for love, even as the world was engulfed in the rise of fear, unrest, and even terror. It is times such as that that it is good to be reminded that love IS all we need. Will you join me in praying this prayer?

O God of love, we pray thee to give us love:
Love in our thinking, love in our speaking,
Love in our doing, and love in the hidden places of our souls; 
Love of our neighbours near and far;
Love of our friends, old and new;
Love of those with whom we find it hard to bear,
And love of those who find it hard to bear with us;
Love of those with whom we work,
And love of those with whom we take our ease;
Love in joy, love in sorrow;
Love in life and love in death;
That so at length we may be worthy to dwell with thee,
Who art eternal love.(4)

Amen.


Preached at Christ Episcopal Church, Rolla, on April 29, 2018 at 8:00 and 10:00 am.


Readings:
Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:24-30
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

Notes:
(1) "All You Need Is Love," by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, written for the Our World program, the first live global television link, 1967.
(2) "Abide With Me," words by Henry Francis Lyte, hymn 662 in Hymnal 1982.
(3) Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, 1980, p. 112.
(4) William Temple, 1888-1944.

Images:
(1) Vineyard, Paso Robles.
(2) John, Paul, George, and Yoda. Of course.
(3) The Communion of the Saints.
(4) The front line in the march to Selma.
(5) Chapel of the Apostles, Sewanee.


Prayer 1919: The Fifth Sunday in Easter


Almighty God,
we gather around your altars to sing your praise,
giving thanks for your mercy and loving kindness,
uniting us in love as your children.

May we set our hearts on bearing good fruit
as branches of the True Vine, Lord Christ;
may we walk in love and compassion,
virtue and mercy,
that the world may know Christ in our actions.
May we open our hearts and hands to the world,
that healing and reconciliation can spring up as a result of our actions
and testify to the power of God's love in our lives.

Abide with us always, Blessed Savior;
lead us into a deeper knowledge of you
as we seek to imitate your example
and live lives that shine your light for all.

Spirit of Love and Healing,
we remember before You our joys and blessings,
and place before You our cares and concerns.

Amen.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Prayer 1918


We bow before You, O Lord of Life, and open our hearts,
in gratitude for your protecting hand
that has brought us to this new day.

Grant us deeper knowledge and love of You, Blessed Jesus,
Our Shepherd and Guide,
leading us into pathways of holiness.
Let our love and compassion be our witness
to your abundant mercy and grace,
that the world may see and know your truth, O God,
Source and Ground of Our Being.

Spirit of the Living God,
Create within us a thirst for wisdom,
that we may grow in faith and reflect God’s love to all.

Holy Trinity, Eternal One,
we ask your blessing upon us,
and upon those whose needs we now remember.

Amen.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Prayer, day 1917


Our praises rise before you,
O God Most High;
Our prayers rise unto You,

O Redeemer, Our Lord Jesus Christ;
Our fears we lay before you,

O Holy and Eternal Abba, Father and Mother.
Our hopes we breathe in from your Eternal Love,

O Savior;
Our resilience we draw from you,

Abiding Holy Spirit,
who lifts us and prepares us for our work in your kingdom today.
O Creator,

we turn into your embrace for solace and strength,
and lay before you those needs for whom we pray.

Amen.

820

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Prayer 1916


Most Merciful God,
we thank You for your loving kindness,
for giving your angels charge over us
to keep watch as we rested during the night.

As the rising sun gilds the eastern horizon,
burnish our hearts, O Savior,
and set them ablaze,
that we may shine forth with your love
and testify to your manifold blessings.

Teach us to walk in compassion and humility, Blessed Redeemer,
that we may embody your healing presence in the world.
Strengthen our intention to serve You, Lord Christ,
that we may love each other as you love us,
overflowing with the radiance of your peace.

Spirit of the Living God,
make us instruments of peace and healing,
that we may testify to God’s grace and mercy with joy.
Place the seal of your blessing over all who call upon You,
O Lord, our Advocate and Friend,
as we bring the cares and prayers of our hearts before You.

Amen.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Prayer 1915


Most Merciful God,
the morning breezes carry the song of rising light:
the Earth awakens to sing your praise,
and we make our prayers to You in gratitude.

Throughout the night we have rested, O Lord of Life,
secure within your unfailing embrace:
guide us in paths of gentleness and truth this day.
Open wide our hearts, O God,
that they may receive the blessings you scatter abundantly;
let us give thanks and rejoice,
for the steadfast love of God never ceases.
Let our love be testimony to your grace, O Holy One,
and our lives bear witness to your great goodness.

Give relief and healing to those in pain, Lord Christ,
and uphold all those in anxiety as they await resolution,
for you are our comfort and our stay.
Renew our hearts in faithfulness and hope, O Redeemer,
and grant your peace and comfort
to those whose needs we bring before You
as we humbly pray.

Amen.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Prayer 1914: Being the Light of the World




Holy One, we make our prayers to you,
offering our hearts in humble submission before your will:
purify and anoint us to your service this day,
that we may be light in the world
and disciples in your truth.

May our joy and love within the world
as your Beloved Community, O God,
make visible the wonders of your grace
and steadfast tenderness in all creation,
O Giver of All Good.
Blessed Jesus, make us a blessing
for the sake of your gospel,
that the breaches and wounds of the world are healed
for the life and hope of the world.
Holy Spirit, move within our hearts and minds
and set our spirits aflame with goodness and mercy,
compassion and charity,
our lives a testimony to the power of love.

Almighty One, shine the light of your countenance upon us,
and pour out the balm of your healing and reconciliation
over all for whom we pray.

Amen.


Photo: Abandoned Lighthouse, Barbados.

Inspired by Matthew 5:14-16:
"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to the whole house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."

Monday, April 23, 2018

Prayer, day 1913: For Healing


Merciful One,
we lift up our hearts to the glory of your radiant love,
and give praise that we dwell in your presence forever.

Lord Jesus,
in your ministry among us you were a healer:
may we reach out to you now to heal us.
Heal us of our anger and thirst for vengeance,
     remembering all the times we ourselves have received mercy.
Heal our wounded spirits,
     that the pain of the past does not cripple us today.
Heal our mourning hearts,
     as we remember those who have died and what they meant for us.
Heal us of our distracted ways,
     that we may remember your mercy
and dwell in your presence in each moment.

O Guardian of Our Souls,
seal us as your own forever,
and renew and revive our strength
through your compassion,
especially for those for whom we now pray.

Amen.
826

Photo: My dear friend Joanie, godmother to our children, is having surgery today, and I will be going home to help care for her. Prayers for a speedy recovery.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Prayer, day 1912: For the Fourth Sunday in Easter, also Earth Day


Creator of the Universe,
who is making Heaven and Earth,
let all that lives tell out your glory.
Rocks and hills,
ocean depths and craggy peaks,
the wind that caresses them,
all join to sing out your Holy Name.


You planted your holy song, O Lord,
in laughing brook and rambling river
fed by rain before time.
Murmuring grass and field of wheat
whisper "Alleluia!"
as the beauty of the Lord passes by.
Thunder and rain, summer sun and shadow
work together with soil and seed
to prepare a table in the wilderness by your will.
The works of your Hand, O Mighty One,
testify to your steadfast kindness and mercy:
You crown all you see as good.


Forgive us for our trespasses against each other,
and against the Earth, our mother,
for seeking to hoard her riches
and denying her integrity.
May we walk gently upon this Earth,
that bears us like a chariot through space,
upheld by your wondrous Love.
May we care for all creation,
being dedicated and blessed by You,
called to serve its renewal and guard its unity.


By the power of the Holy Spirit,
that moved over the waters of creation,
renew and recreate in us
a reverence for the Earth and all her inhabitants.
Lord Christ, center us in your wisdom,
and pour out your healing
over all we remember before You.

Amen.
1519


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Prayer 1911: A Prayer of Peace, Yielding, and Union in God


In peace, we bend the knee of our hearts to You,
O Merciful One,
O Dancing Trinity,
tuning our hearts to sing your praise,
that we may come to abide and rest
in your holy truth, O God.

Yield:
May we joyously yield
to your will in our lives, Lord Jesus,
and delight in our common life together as your children,
in trust and assurance of your tender love for us.
May we pause in all our striving
to turn our hearts to your light and wisdom,
O Spirit of the Living God.
May we give up our self-absorption,
our drive to exploit the wounds or needs of others,
and renounce the destructive obsession
of our power against each other.
May we produce abundantly
from the seeds of charity and compassion
You have planted within us,
that we may rejoice and be at peace,
at play in fields of mercy, justice, and hope.

Union:
May we nurture the common bonds
of kinship and affection,
and recognize the holy light of God in each face we see.
Let us seek deeper union within your grace, O God:
for You are our home and our rest,
the very source of our breath:
let our breath return to You as praise and devotion.
All our loves,
all our cares,
all our needs,
all our aspirations:
You number and know them, O Creator,
and encompass all within your peace.

Amen.



Photos: Stairwell and interior wall in La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Prayer 1910: Living a Christ-shaped Life


Almighty God, Creator and Sustainer,
we gather before You in gratitude for your love.
Let us awaken the dawn with our praise,
and lift the curtain of night with our song!

God of Mercy, inspire us to be renewed and reconciled
by being faithful to our covenant
with You, and each other.
May we embody the peace of Christ,
and care for each other
as beloved members of the household of God.

Through your Word, O God,
may we be led to living a Christ-shaped life,
nurtured and nourished by love and hope,
benevolence and compassion.
Borne up by your abundant grace,
fill us with a Spirit of holiness and truth, O Holy One,
we humbly pray.

Let us dedicate this day You have given us, Lord
to be bearers of your light into the world.
By the power of Love Incarnate,
bless and protect those whose hope is in You,
especially those we now name.

Amen.


Image: Wall decoration from a third-century house church

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Prayer, day 1909: On the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing


Holy One, we worship You in heart, mind, and body,
and praise your glorious wisdom
as we study your words in the rising light,
as dawn illuminates your handiwork,
reminding us of your love and care, O God of All.

Awaken us, who dream of peace,
to see your glory spread across the sky,
to sing out your Name to all people.
Teach us to walk in love with each other,
and root out the callousness and contempt we embrace,
that we may turn from the way of death and destruction
to embrace the way of light and life.

You know our suffering and our sorrows, Lord Christ:
in the midst of sorrow You are there,
and your hand of healing comforts us.
Give ear, we humbly pray, O Beloved Savior,
to the whispered prayers and remembrances of your people,
and soothe the hearts of those who worry or weep.
Give your peace to those who miss lost loved ones,
especially at the hands of terror and violence.

Lead us to a deeper fellowship
with You and one another, Blessed Redeemer,
and bring our hearts to rest in You.
Lord Jesus, open our eyes to see You
as You stand before us:
in the face of friend and beggar, seeker and saint.

Merciful One, pour out the balm of blessing and recovery
on those we now name.

Amen.
818, adapted



Photo: Panoramic view of The Survivor Tree on the grounds of the Oklahoma City Memorial.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Prayer, day 1908: Upheld by Grace


We rise from our night rest
with your praise on our lips, O Holy One:
let us walk humbly and gently upon the earth,
giving thanks for your glorious creation.

Blessed Redeemer, make our hearts a sanctuary
for your never-failing Love,
and turn our hands to bringing that Love to the world.

Heal the divisions among us, O God,
and unite us in our common life together,
that we may live in justice, peace, and charity
with each other.

We thank you for preserving us
through the trials we encounter, Spirit of the Living God,
for You are with us always,
and uphold us by your grace and mercy.

Send your Presence as a healing balm, Merciful Healer, especially to these for whom we now pray.

Amen.
827, adapted

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Prayer 1907: In the arms of the Good Shepherd


Shepherd of Our Souls,
we gather to You in praise,
one flock, one people,
made to worship You and care for each other
throughout the whole Earth.

Your love, O Lord, is neverending:
You have sought us out even when we stray, Holy One;
You search our hearts and guide us
with a loving, tender hand.

We thank you for the green, abundant pastures You offer us,
for the rich feast of mercy and love
You spread before us always, Beloved Jesus.

May we remember your abiding Spirit
ever within our hearts,
and live and move according to your call, O God.

Secure beneath your loving gaze,
keep us within the lea of your protection and grace, Almighty One,
safe within your loving arms,
and rest your hand especially on those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Based on John 10:7-17, in the daily office

Monday, April 16, 2018

Prayer 1906: Enacting God's Shalom on Earth


God of Abundance, we turn to You in gratitude,
for you have watched over us through the night:
may you guide us each moment today.
Show us the ways you intend for us, O God:
renew a right and humble spirit within us,
that we may reveal your truth in the world,
and testify to your mercy and reconciling power.

In you, Lord Christ, we find compassion and healing:
may we welcome your indwelling presence,
and seek the Spirit's guidance to hallow our days,
dedicating our lives, soul and body,
to the imitation of your grace and hope.

Help us enact your shalom on the earth, O Most High:
in joyful service, in your name,
may we sow the seeds of justice and peace
both within our hearts and in the world.
Through your lovingkindness, Lord,
produce in us an abundant harvest
to restore and renew the face of the earth
and the fabric of our souls.

Uplifted in faith and reconciled by your love,
we ask You to bless our journey and witness this day,
O Lover of Our Souls,
that we be woven into the Beloved Community of God.
Accept the prayers of our hearts, O Merciful One,
and pour the balm of your peace and comfort
over all those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Resurrection Faith: Sermon for the Third Sunday in Easter, Year B


As is fitting and proper during the season of Easter, we again have readings this Sunday that all deal with belief, doubt, and unbelief.

You might think I am being redundant with those last two. Aren’t doubt and unbelief the same thing? I would argue that the answer is “No.” And that’s because we often get too squishy with our language. First, unbelief is a refusal to open ourselves to the possibility that something can be true. Unbelief is what Peter is addressing in our reading from Acts today. Unbelief can be as inflexible as bone, but it can also be a reasonable response to something that is just “too good to be true.”

Doubt is a way-station between belief and unbelief—doubt is an acknowledgement that certainty may not be attained, and yet a willingness to wrestle with the unknown. Doubt is an openness to conversation, a doorway into relationship between what we know and what we may not trust yet trust.

Finally, “faith” and “knowledge” are not the same thing at all, and although they can be complementary, they certainly aren’t opposed to each other. One of the things that I love about the Episcopal Church, and that drew me to it when I was twelve, is that here we can have our faith and our scientific knowledge, too, unlike some of the churches which I attended as a child. In a religious context, faith is trusting in something even if we may not have knowledge of it. Faith is often married to the future, looking forward to what seems ephemeral, or even impossible. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews explains.

Yet the path we take to get to faith is rarely straightforward. Most of us do not stay in any one position in our spiritual lives, but often swing like a pendulum from faith, to doubt, to unbelief, and back again. Jesus’s patience with the disciples reminds us of how normal that is.

Singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman beautifully describes what faith is like in the first verse of her song “Every December Sky:”

Every December sky
Must lose its faith in leaves
And dream of the spring inside the trees.
How heavy the empty heart,
How light the heart that's full.
Sometimes I have to trust what I can't know;
Sometimes I have to trust what I can’t know.




Now, I am no fan of winter, but there’s some deep wisdom there. The dead leaves have to be released, and when they are, the bare branches are then revealed, reaching for the sky with a naked longing that is all too often obscured under the cloud of green they wear for half the year. By December, even the bell-shaped leaves of the blackjack oak that have rattled overhead for months in the forests around here begin to get ready to give way so that the new buds can push their way through. By April, we STILL have faith that spring will come-- come on, Spring!-- even as we shiver-- AGAIN!-- today. It's gotta come, right?




Those leaves have to give way, in faith that there WILL be spring stirring inside those trees, stirring even in December, so that the forest can shine out with new life and growth again. The trees unfurl their leaves in faith of the warming spring, and they shed their leaves in faith even in winter’s grip.


The sap will rise in the pines, and the buds will break out on redbud, hickory, and oak, revealing what seems foolish to be instead a thread of the deep wisdom that binds creation together. Autumn is not an ending, but is instead an act of faith—spring is its fruition, a slow turning fueled by hope and approaching joy.

Having to trust what we can’t know is a challenge. That’s the problem the disciples faced as they had their first encounters with the risen Christ. They are clinging to the dead leaves of heartbreak, disbelief, and fear, because they think they have been left bereft, and those leaves are all they have left. It is there that the risen Christ appears among them, reassuring them and preparing them for the next phase in their ministry.

The gospel passages of these last two weeks especially are held in complementry tension with each other. Both gospels have Jesus appear to the fearful disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday. Both gospels have Jesus addressing the fear of the disciples with an offering of Christ’s peace. This week’s version from Luke omits Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on them (Luke has that happen on Pentecost in the Book of Acts). Instead of Thomas doubting, we get a flat statement that, even after seeing the wounds of Jesus’s crucifixion, all the disciples are filled with wonder—and unbelief. They are so caught up in the events of the previous few days that they cannot accept at first what is happening to them right now in the present. And if the apostles themselves have problems moving to faith, what a comfort that is to us, living 2000 years and a half of the world away!

Jesus’s first words here in Luke this Sunday, just as we saw in the gospel of John last Sunday, is to bless them with peace. Just like in John’s gospel, this is in response to their fear, which Jesus understands. He then commands those present to look at him- to truly see him, and to know that he is real. Of course, the first tendency is to think that they are looking at a ghost. Yet Jesus eating and drinking is meant to underscore that this is a living, breathing Christ that they encounter—ghosts have no need for food or drink. This also directly addresses the doubts of those who attempted to understand Jesus as never being fully human—an argument that has divided Christians throughout the history of the Church.

Passages such as the ones we have heard the last two weeks help underscore the humanity of Jesus, risen and fully alive, breathing and enfleshed, hungry and thirsty. “Have you anything here to eat?” he asks—apparently in their joy they have forgotten how to be good hosts. Perhaps they did not believe that Jesus really was alive, even though they have seen the wounds. We are reminded that, even in their joy, they were “disbelieving” and “still wondering.” Asking to be fed emphasizes that Jesus is real flesh, fully one of us.


We also are called to see the risen Christ in our midst, especially when he is where we least expect him. He is there in every person asking us for something to eat or drink. He is there in every person who asks us for shelter, or for refuge.

He is there, in every person, asking us to really see him and to welcome him.





Jesus then “opened their minds” to the full understanding of how he was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets—the same claim Peter was making in our first reading from Acts. To be fair, given Jesus’s penchant for teaching using parables, especially obscure ones, he doesn’t seem that frustrated to be having to explain everything plainly now. They have all, after all, been through a terrible ordeal. And the resurrection IS an incredible thing to believe. Those of us living two millennia later can take comfort in the fact that those who knew Jesus best during his earthly ministry had to overcome a huge amount of doubt themselves. And that reminds us of our calling.

We who are disciples— lay and ordained, doubting as we all are at one time or another—are tasked with carrying that witness out into the world. In last week’s passage from John 20, that was made explicit when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, which for us recalls our baptism.

We live in a world in which cynicism, faithlessness, and self-centeredness have been raised to art forms. We tell ourselves that this is the way of the world. We tell ourselves that “looking out for Number One” protects us and makes us stronger. But as Christians, we are repeatedly reminded that these kinds of things are dead leaves that prevent us from the dream of God for our lives. Placing our faith in those dead leaves prevents us from making room in our hearts for the welling up of the love of Christ within us, that leads to true peace, contentment, and joy. Like those disciples, we are called to witness to how we have encountered the risen Christ in our midst, or in our hearts.

We are called not just to witness, but to LIVE Resurrection, right now. As an act of faith, and an act of being.

Jesus—risen, living, one of us—calls us to rededicate ourselves to a Resurrection Faith-- a faith that responds to God’s grace by seeking to living out the love of Christ into the world. A faith that drops the mask of cynicism that we often adopt to protect our fragile, broken hearts. One that calls us instead to open ourselves up to the joy of life that rises like dawn from the deepest darkness that we allow to settle over our souls.

We worship a living Savior—one who endured all-- all for the sake of love, as our epistle reminds us, love that makes us God’s children too. That love leads us to resurrect our faith in ourselves, and in others, to be more perfect, more loving, more compassionate.

A Resurrection Faith is one that calls us not to just love God out of fear of the terrible punishment we think we deserve for our manifold sins, but calls us to love God through living out the Great Commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your strength, and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."

A Resurrection Faith calls us to the work of building up rather than tearing down. A Resurrection Faith raises us all from the dead, and calls us to be alive in each moment and in each other. A Resurrection Faith calls us to be, not just profess.

A Resurrection Faith that calls us to lose our faith in the dead leaves of fear to which we cling, so that we stretch toward the light of Christ, knowing that the spring of faith is inside us, waiting to rise. 

Amen.

Readings:
Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

Notes:
(1) Beth Nielsen Chapman, "Every December Sky," from her album Deeper Still, 2002.


Images:
(1) Duccio di Buoninsegna, Appearance While the Apostles are at Table, 1308-1311.
(2) Leslie Scoopmire, "December Sky/ Bare Branches, Rising Birds," December, 2011.
(3) Blackjack oak leaves.
(4) Leslie Scoopmire, "Budding joy," May, 2013.
(5) Leslie Scoopmire, "Asleep in a La Rambla Doorway, Barcelona," Barcelona, May, 2016.
(6) A copy of "Homeless Christ," a scultpture by Timothy P. Schmalz, located outside Catholic Charities in Washington DC.


Preached at Christ Episcopal Church, Rolla, at the 8:00 and 10:00 am services, April 15, 2018.
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