Tuesday, April 28, 2009

They have eyes and can see . . .

     This week, there was a great deal of attention paid to our eyes. Our Collect began the day by asking God to “give us eyes of our faith, that we might behold Him in all His redeeming work.” From there, we moved to Acts, and to the response of those present in the Temple to the miracle just worked on behalf of the crippled man in the name of Jesus Christ. And Peter asks them “why do you stare at us, as though by our own piety or power we had made him walk?” John instructs us “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” Jesus, in Luke’s account this week, reminds His audience that “You [i.e. we] are witnesses to these things.” Even Nicole’s choice of music sang to this need for eyes of faith. The Gospel hymn was all about lighting our path so that we might see where we are going, but her choice for a processional song set the tone. “See the rivers four that gladden, with their streams, the better Eden planted by our Lord most dear.” Why the focus on the eyes and our seeing?

     In some ways, seeing is believing. But what we are asking to see are those things revealed only by faith. I used as a couple examples this weekend some of our ministry successes and failures. I say failures, but I mean that measure by worldly measures. In many ways, we as a church are struggling mightily like are neighbors, friends, and acquaintances down the street. But, look at what we have accomplished with our support of our assigned Food Pantry. And, as Shirley is so nice to thank us for our help, she is even more thankful for the opportunity to pass out steaks, or whole chickens, or other items from Angel Food which sometimes go unclaimed. She says the look of surprise and the utter joy expressed on recipient faces is a gift she can never repay us! We struggle; yet we not only feed, we provide the food worthy of a feast! Only eyes of faith can see that small tale of redemption and abundance.

     I shared that Bryan’s church held a tag sale this weekend (that a euphemism for yard sale). The church raised about $2100 Saturday from that sale. What can that little $2100 do for the world? Saturday night, the World Health Organization estimates that some 6000 people on the African continent died from Malaria-related diseases. The medicine used to treat Malaria costs a whopping $.35. Do the math. A small part of Christ’s body in CT gave and worked and loved that death might spare a continent for a night. That, brothers and sisters, is bringing life to the world!

     Even our financial expo, which seemed an utter failure, was definitely used by God. As I shared about my conversations, for those working the expo, they got a bit of insight as to the God we proclaim each and every time we gather. Like Him, they had something useful to offer those in need. Like Him, their offer of help was rejected by many. And how much more does He offer us? The participants at our expo offered to ease suffering; God offers eternal life!

     The eyes of faith are what allow us to see His redemptive hand at work in the world and to meet people where they are. You think you’re too stubborn for God’s grace? “Let me tell you about my brother St. Peter or Jacob” Too hoity-toity? “I have this brother St. Paul you might like to meet?” Too old? “I have this beloved sister named Sarah.” Too burdened by the concerns of the world? “I have these sisters Mary and Martha.” Too unlovable? “Let me tell you about me and what God has done in my life.” You are witnesses to these things. Why not share the stories and see what God does in the lives of those around you.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

So, about this resurrection thing?

I think Christmas and Holy Week are, by far, my most favorite times of the liturgical year. I know, you’re thinking “of course they are, you’re a priest. Christmas is Jesus’ birthday; and Easter is what His life and work were for.” Both statements are true, and, while I do understand their importance, I love those times of the year for different reasons. So many unchurched or forgotten churched decide it is a safe time to ask questions about their faith. Sometimes, they come in off the street to order AFM and ask if they can ask a question. At other times, I am told they have asked someone at work who goes to our church. And that person has, in turn, told them to come ask me because I really enjoy those kinds of conversations (thank you to all who do that because I do really love it!). At other times, I think the teenager in them is just trying to get a rise out of a priest. They think they are being shocking and unnerving by asking a (in their minds) rhetorical question and finding themselves in the middle of a fundamental theological argument. Easter’s questions naturally tend to center around the atonement and the resurrection, but this year questions of the resurrection dominated discussions.

Do you believe it? Was it real? How can we know? What kind of resurrection was it? Why is it important?--These questions and many like them were repeated for the past 10 days or so. And they are questions that not just priests, but all Christians should be prepared to answer as they find their way into the mainstream press from time to time. You see, much of the world is like us and our beloved St. Thomas. Many in our world want to believe, they want to hope. But to do so they need to see the scars, to witness the wounds, to touch the risen Lord. And lacking that sensory perception they so desperately want, they flounder in their faith just a bit.

So, what are we taught about Jesus’ resurrection? How can we know whether it is true? First and foremost, as we have been celebrating the past two Sundays, the Bible makes it clear that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. The tomb was empty that first Easter so long ago! Assuredly, His body is different, changed, transformed. He can enter locked rooms. He can travel great distances quickly. Yet, some things have not changed. He eats and drinks with His disciples; He makes physical contact with them (though He tells Mary not to cling to Him until He ascends to the Father in John’s account). And should we be surprised?

Many of us and our neighbors are closet Platonists. By that, I mean that we buy into the idea that the spiritual is better than the material. Yet, we as Christians are called to proclaim that this material is not what God intended. When He created everything and before we sinned, creation was good. To be sure, our sins and their consequences have marred the world, but God intended us to have physical bodies in the beginning, and He and called it good!

Yet each of the Gospel writers record that the tomb was empty, that Jesus’ body was not stolen or moved, that He appeared to His disciples and Apostles several times, and that He will return again at some future Day of the Lord.

This resurrection was not a figment of peoples’ imaginations. It was not a classic case of mass hallucinations. It was not something that became “true for them,” whatever the heck that means. It was a real and physical resurrection. They knew ghost stories, just like us. They knew about hallucinations, just like us. Yet they recorded what they saw and heard. This event, Jesus’ resurrection, was different! His resurrection was unlike anything ever before in history. Are there differences in the Gospels? Of course. But in a society that loves CSI and Law & Order, most of us know that witness testimony does not always align with all the details of what actually happened. But all the witnesses agree that they saw a resurrected Jesus.  How can we know that Jesus’ resurrection was real? How can our doubts, like Thomas’, be put to rest and our faith so enlivened? How can we believe the Scriptures and the Creeds?

The evidence is, by worldly standards, circumstantial, but consider:
Our readings from Acts this week begins to testify to those of us who want “proof.” Our story from Acts tells the tale of a group of people who “were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions.” Think of the transformation that occurred in the peoples’ hearts? What would it take for you to give up ownership of everything you now claim as yours? What would cause you to give freely of your financial resources, your talents, your time, your things? Something changed them in amazing ways. That something was was a someone, the resurrected Lord Jesus. Later, when Jesus speaks to Paul, Paul gives up everything to follow Jesus. He certainly was not grieving when Jesus was put to death before the Lord called him. Yet he gave up his standing in the community, his very life, to follow Jesus--the one whose followers he had been persecuting. Many of these men and women about whom we read in our stories each Sunday chose to die rather to recant their story. What could cause you and me to give up our lives willingly, knowingly? A hallucination? Perhaps if we really believed it? A great thought or idea? I don’t know about you, but I have never met an idea worth dying for.

Maybe they claimed it to get power? In a cynical age, the question arises fairly frequently. But remember the context. The early Christians were persecuted. The Jews considered them blasphemers against God. The Romans considered them a threat to national security. Members of the Church, for the first two or three centuries, knew that at any time they could lose their positions, their possessions, or their lives at any moment. Yet, the story of Jesus’ resurrection was passed on and on and on. What would it take for you to risk your job, your house, your car, your life savings, your life? A great idea? A lovely thought? A desire to participate in a mass hallucination? Yet these people were willing to give up everything. That’s how powerful His resurrection was to them. That’s what His victory over death did to them. That was the transforming life He promised. That was the hope He enabled.

Brothers and sisters, many in the world want to believe. They want to know that God loves them and that He can redeem everything, even death. They want hope. Of all the competing stories in the marketplace of ideas, only one story offers true hope. Only His story offers eternal joy and happiness. His resurrection reminds us and all who hear His story that He has the power to accomplish all that He purposes in our lives and the world. And best of all, He meets us where we are and, like He did for Thomas, tells us to look, to see, and to feel His wounds and His love.



Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Short, sweet and to the point!

The Feast of the Resurrection marks the end to the Holy Week experience. This year, for a variety of reasons, the midweek services were very well attended. Perhaps we are all just a bit more in tune with the suffering of the world.  Our friends have lost jobs, our neighbors have lost houses, many of us are suffering from diseases, death has touched many of our families--yes, we have any number of reasons to remember the need for the Savior, the need for the Redeemer.

We have spent a great deal of time together this week. We have watched the events that marked the end of Jesus' life with some great attention, so I will be mercifully sweet. In our reading from Acts this week, where is Peter and what is he doing? In our liturgical life, it was just Friday morning that the Roman soldiers were mocking, beating, scourging, crowning, and crucifying our Lord. To demonstrate their ultimate control, and their ultimate indifference to Jesus' seeming plight, they even gamble for His clothes as He was hanging on the cross! Upon His death, to make sure that Jesus is, in fact, dead, they pierce His body with a spear. Yet, where is Peter this week, and what is He doing?

To be sure, the events we read in Acts did not occur three days later. But it serves as an interesting juxtaposition. Peter, against His own expectation, and no doubt our own, finds himself in the home of a Roman soldier. Better still, Peter finds himself with a job to do. He finds himself in the position of having to evangelize the Roman soldier and the soldier's family. Imagine that! To the very people whom God and Peter must hate for what they have done to Jesus, Peter is sent to proclaim the Gospel. Naturally, if you know the story, Peter does a job worthy of His Lord. The centurion and his family come to believe and are baptized. Those who killed Christ are saved by His atoning work!

Brothers and sisters, if Jesus can save those who put Him to death. If He can find it in His heart to ask God to forgive those who are killing Him "for they know not what they do," what can He not redeem in your life? Yes, you have committed some sins which seem unpardonable. Yes, if people knew the real you, they might think you were unlovable. But guess what? Jesus knows you! He knows everything about you. And He walked that road to Golgotha last week that you, me, and everyone whom we meet might be saved. He even walked that road that His killers might be saved. Let's face it, if He can forgive men such as the soldiers, what of our past behavior can He not forgive? If He can redeem the lives and families of such men, what part of our lives can He not redeem?

Christ's Peace and Joy,


Monday, April 6, 2009

Whom do you worship?

Is it true? What? Is it true that you somehow used a Mr. Potato Head as a sermon illustration this past week? Why, actually yes. Can you explain to me how on earth you can justify using a Mr. Potato Head in a church service and not get nuked by God? I always know that a sermon has done its work when people who missed church on Sunday call to make sure the story they heard was correct or that I am going to include it in my message in the Bulletin. Yes, I did use Mr. Potato Head. Yes, I was making fun of us a bit. No, I do not think that God thought it blasphemous. Yes, we did have several visitors. Yes, they seemed to get the point. I hope we all did as well.

As I shared with both services this weekend, I was speaking with my evil twin. I was complaining to him that I felt that I needed to give a brief homily this past weekend. I had a sense that we would have some visitors. On major Feast Days, I am more inclined not to preach. What more can I say than God has so clearly spoken? Palm Sunday certainly falls into that category. We read the Passion Narrative and, thanks to the cooperation of so many in our midst, we never know who is going to get what part. In this way, each year, we are all reminded that we all had a hand in His crucifixion. Such is all well and good for a group of believers who gather consistently to hear God’s Word. But, sometimes, some of the teachings of such passages need to be explained better.

Why Mr. Potato Head? How does he relate to Palm Sunday? So often, you and I and other Christians are busy constructing a God of our own image. We may decide that God hates this groups of sinners more than this group, or that He loves that group of sinners more than this group. We make project our thoughts and feelings, flawed as they are and as tainted by human sin as they are, and create a “My god would never . . . “ or “My god would . . . “ kind of idol. We begin deciding what we think our King should look like. We begin to decide whom He would save. And in this, we are no different than those about whom we read this past weekend.

The rulers in our stories thought He would be like them. He would keep the status quo. Their authority derived from Moses (for the priests) or from the emperor (for Pilate). As such, He would choose to honor them for their positions. And the people had their own illusions. Their king would free them from the tyranny of Rome. He would be a king in the line of King David. A champion of the people! They would add and subtract to their vision as they saw fit, just as we might give Mr. Potato head angry eyes instead of startled eyes or smiling face instead of sad face. And that picture each one of us creates of Him looks as ridiculous to God as does that image of Mr. Potato Head does to each of us.

Yet our story this week serves to remind each of us that God’s King is radically different from our own idols. He came in humility, riding in on a donkey. Our King came in any way other than the world expected. And He came in fulfillment of the Scriptures! We do not have to guess at the mind of God. We know God because of Jesus! He went willingly to the cross, though He knew its pain and cost to Him, that we might be raised to new life in Him. Our readings remind each of us, as that wonderful song says, that Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who is saved. Before leaving us, Jesus reminded each of His Apostles and each one of us what leadership in the Kingdom of God is like. Each of us is called to a radical servanthood of others which recalls His wonderful work on our behalf. And so we labor, not for our glory but for His, and not for ourselves but for others, that the world might be drawn to His saving embrace. Does it look ridiculous to world? Perhaps, maybe even often. But you and I are called to labor not for the world’s opinion, but for the glory of God. So, as we prepare to remind ourselves of our Lord’s passion and death this Holy Week, do you find yourself worshipping the Christ? Or do you find yourself worshipping a figure every bit as ridiculous to God as Mr. Potato Head might be to you?

Christ’s Peace,