Tuesday, April 10, 2018

How is God asking you to testify to His Son's Resurrection in your life?

      With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.  – The question that seemed to resonate with the Easter crowd was the “Which disciple are you/Which believer are you?”  I had quite a number of conversations with Adventers over their perceived answer to that question, plus I had some conversations with those outside the parish who . . . let’s say . . . wanted to argue a bit about whether they were more doubting than Thomas or any of the other disciples . . . at first.  I had other conversations after the first service, so this will be one of those weeks where, if it works, you should give thanks to them.
     How do you testify to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus?  I know . . . it’s horrible.  I’m barely 30 seconds in and the Holy Spirit is giving out wedgies.  Relax.  Everyone is here on Low Sunday.  I am not here to accuse you or berate you.  I am glad that you are present.  More importantly, though, God is glad you are here.  I cannot say for certain whether we all get an extra gem in our crowns, but, in the end, it does not really matter as we throw them at His feet.  But, like those disciples 2000 years ago, He is working to transform you, both on high days and low days and on every day in between.  Nothing, of course, changes us like the Resurrection.  If we believe it, if we truly believe that God has raised Jesus and has promised to raise us because of His cleansing or sanctifying work in us, it ripples throughout our life.  Our life should become a living testimony, as the liturgy says, to the truth or reality of that redeeming power.  So let me ask you again: How do you testify to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus?  How do you evidence the great grace that is upon you?
     We live in a culture saturated by denominations that used to proclaim on street corners.  Most don’t any more, but they have that kind of reputation.  Everything is about Jesus to them.  Our friends and co-workers derogatorily call them Jesus Freaks because they make everything about Him.  In one sense, I admire their strong belief and desire.  If God truly raised Jesus from the dead, then He really is the focal point of history.  Of course, I have my issues with our brothers and sisters.  They are so passionate and confident that they assume everything is part of God’s plan, even the bad things.  They counsel those who are suffering by telling them “this is part of God’s plan,” as if that somehow comforts the one hearing it, and worse, drives those who do not yet believe away from God.  This, the world around us, is not what God intended.  We live in a post Genesis 3:14 world.  It’s impacted by sin.  Now, God will redeem all things, but He did not plan for us to lose jobs, to get cancer, to be bullied, to be harassed, to end up divorced, to in any way suffer.  We rejected His plan way back in the Garden.  Heck, who are we kidding, many of us reject His plan day in and day out in our lives!
     I suppose this particular sermon’s seeds were scattered in my brain last Wednesday or Thursday of Holy Week, but Rich and others did some watering earlier.  If you were here between the services, you heard Rich give an incredible testimony to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus and evidence the grace of God that should be present in all our lives.  It’s Rich’s story to tell, but he tells one of  . . . if not outright disobedience, one of delayed obedience.  He tells a story of lots of objections and, even worse, of having to listen to the correct words of a little brother, of all people!, that God will provide whatever is necessary to do His will.  He tells a story of unending need, hunger, in a community that lacks some of the benefits of metropolitan Nashville.  He tells a story of how believers in the Lord Christ, to use John’s language, are unified in their effort to meet the need of food in their community.  He shares, with some humor, how God has met their needs, be they volunteers in a small community, financial resources in a community that lacks the big bucks of Brentwood, of how their work has drawn in those of other faiths to fight the need.  And, if you ask Rich, he may even tell you of another need in his community and his vow to make sure he does not fight God too long this time!  In short, Rich shares a story that would be right at home in our lesson from Acts today.
     But, before I turn Rich loose on you this Outreach Sunday, I spoke of the seeds for this sermon being sown last week.  Keep in mind, last week is Holy Week.  There are a lot of services for clergy to prepare.  In some ways, of course, it’s the most important week in the life of a parish.  Certainly, tons of visitors show up.  So we put pressure on ourselves to make it a memorable one.  We clergy love the full pews; Vestries and treasurers love the potentially full offering plates.  Most of us clergy probably want to preach THAT sermon that causes visitors to become members.  Many of us probably want the liturgy to be done just right so that moderately active members determine to become active members.  You all are laughing, so you know what I am talking about.  It’s for that reason, I’m assuming, that God caused this to happen. 
     Now, in truth, those seeds I mentioned were sown several years ago in a community that is some distance from us.  As those on the search committee know, my previous parish gained a reputation for feeding people, much as the good folks down at Church of the Messiah, Pulaski are getting now.  Anyway, one of those ladies that we helped feed was a foster mom.  Linda took in foster kids for weeks or months in preparation for their forever homes.  I learned last week she took in 64 kids during the course of her life.  That sounded like a Jane gasp?  She’s nodding.  Imagine this for a second.  Linda was an older (though she would be young around here) woman living by herself.  I never asked if she was widowed or divorced or whatever, and she never said.  But she determined as a part of her life’s ministry to take in foster kids for the purpose of caring for them until their adoptive families came along or were approved or whatever.  That act alone is worthy of praise, but that’s not what her foster kid wanted to share.
     Funds were always tight for her, so she was thrilled to learn of our feeding ministry.  She was a typical Midwestern hard working woman.  She did not want handouts.  But our ministry allowed her to stretch her dollars and to get food that she might otherwise be unable to afford when caring for one or two or three kids.  As the leaders of the ministry came to know her better over the months and years, she was one of those who got the “extras.”  Rich talked about the peppermint ice cream between the services.  Linda would have been one that the leaders made sure she got a couple containers.  So impressed were some with her work that they would buy her food to help her.  They bought extra food to give to me to give to her, all under the guise that we’d received too much.  Y’all get the idea?
     Last week, in the midst of all the Holy Week preparation and stress, I received a call from one of her foster kids.  Linda had died last week.  He was thrilled my cell phone still worked, as he had heard I had moved on to another church.  He asked if I would say a prayer for her and if I had a minute or two for him.  Y’all know me now.  I took the time.  He wanted to thank me for all the help my church had provided them.  Momma Linda always made us give thanks for you folks at your church before we ate.  She reminded us over and over that you guys were the hands and feet of God in the world, and that if we liked what we were eating, we owed you all a special prayer of thanksgiving.  He went on to share how so many of those 64 kids weren’t Christian when they entered the care of Momma Linda, but her life made it a bit easier to believe in God and the simple fact that God loved them.  I won’t bore you with the details, but some of you have heard the stories of kids in the foster system.  Jane’s gasp gives you an idea how hard it is to find good foster homes.  Heck, the first slaver I met was a product of a bad foster system.  Yet this woman lived her life as a living example of our reading from Acts today.  And you all, some 9-10 hours to the south and east and however many years distant are hearing her story alongside that of the apostles and disciples.
     Now, it’s Low Sunday, so I know there are no cynics here today, but I can well imagine a cynic’s response that Rich’s example and Linda’s example are not really evidence of “a loving God in our midst working to redeem all things.”  We live and work for the expansion of God’s kingdom in the same diocese as Rich and wonderful saints of Church of the Messiah.  It makes sense that we hear and learn of their work.  And, the Vestry called me from that church in Iowa to live among you and encourage you to do the work God is giving is as Adventers and you as individuals the work He has given us to do.  But what are really the odds?  It’s not like Pulaski is in Alabama or anything, but we in Nashville are not known for our love of trips to see that wonderful town to our south.  Why are they laughing, Rich?  Churches have not earned a reputation of being willing to work together in the South, let alone willing to work with people of other or no faith, yet think of the work Rich has shared with us.  That kind of unity is not often in evidence in our world today.  Lastly, and perhaps hardest to explain, Rich had to recognize that a little brother was right.  C’mon, how many of us have little brothers or little sisters?  What would it take for you to admit they were right and you were wrong?  I know, I have a little sister, too.  Such admission for some would be harder than accepting the truth the Resurrection or the parting of a Sea!
     Back to Iowa for a second.  How many of you wondered whether anything good could come out of Iowa?  Be honest now.  We’re in church and I have, in some cases, simply affirmed your conviction that nothing good can come from there.  Yet here you all are, hearing the story of Momma Linda.  Like the woman who washes Jesus’ feet or the woman who asks for the crumbs from the Master’s table or the Samaritan woman who encounters Jesus, there is nothing from a worldly experience that would commend Momma Linda to you or to anyone outside those 64 children she fostered over the years.  Yet, like those other seemingly inconsequential women, even like the women who first saw the empty Tomb, you have heard the amazing witness of a woman in Iowa who, by the testimony of those whom she served, was full of grace and a living testimony of a Father in heaven who loved them and us all dearly.  Assuming 8000 clergy and 8000 churches, there’s what, a 1 in just under 64 million chance we, you and I, end up together, never minding other variables like timing.  Ugh!  It just dawned on me that in the midst of this I just redeemed statistics for Sarah.  I remember telling her in January that I never use probability in the pulpit, that Stats is just one of those classes you suffer through.  LOL.  Now, in the midst of this sermon, God has redeemed all those horrible Stats classes in our lives!  What are the odds of that?!  Go ahead.  Laugh.  We are supposed to be full of joy, even when we reflect on Stats!
     We have laughed a good bit this morning, and I think that a great thing.  It is a hard thing to drag oneself to church when it is cold and rainy.  It’s a harder thing to come on Low Sunday in the Episcopal church.  The brass players are gone.  The pews are empty.  The mimosas and Bloody Mary’s have all been drunk.  The lilies and hydrangeas have begun their decay.  We are treated to this bare foretaste of the glory we are promised last week, and it is followed up with, in a sense, the Sunday of “meh.”  It is harder still to laugh when political discord rages, when people in our communities are suffering, when the need is so great and the powerful care so little, when the threat of war hangs like a malaise over us, when all the things in the world are happening around us . . . or to us.  Today is even Healing Sunday.  Some of you will come forward for anointing and prayers.  Some may experience healing; others may wonder if God heard our prayer and honors our requests and intercessions.  I recognize it is tough sometimes to believe in God’s love.  More importantly, so does God! 
     We are, though, a people who believe!  We are a people who are called by God to live as if we do believe, even if our unbelief sometimes threatens overwhelm our belief.  How do we do that?  Through our obedience and His grace in power in our lives.  The template is simple.  We bear those crosses He asks us to bear, and He takes care of the rest.  Time and time and time again He has proven His faithfulness to us.  He proved it throughout the Old Testament, through that amazing Resurrection, and even through the gift of the promised Holy Spirit.  He has proven it in those favorite Sunday school stories you and I still remember even to this day!  And that we might know that we have a share in that inheritance He promises, He gives us these amazing stories.  We read about many of them in the book of Acts and throughout the rest of the New Testament, but we see and hear them in our lives today. 
     How does God ask you to testify to our Lord Christ’s Resurrection in your life?  Where is He asking you to trust in the sufficiency of His grace and His redemptive power?  As sure and certain as that tomb was empty all those years ago, He is longing to create in you a redemptive story that the world needs desperately to see and to hear, that it might be pointed toward Him by you.  Scoff?  Snort?  Before you dragged yourself out of bed this cold, rainy April morning, how many of you ever thought you would be encouraged in your faith in Christ by a bearded guy from Pulaski or an anonymous foster mom from Iowa?  Just as God ached to glorify them for His Son’s presence in their lives, He is aching to do the same in all our lives!  How is He asking you to testify to His Son’s Resurrection in your life?

In Christ’s Peace,

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Which disciple are you?

      If you are strolling into Advent today for the first time in a while, I may make some statements which, if heard in the context of the last couple weeks, make a lot of sense; but if they are heard as “one-off’s,” may leave you scratching your head.  So let me encourage you now: if I say something that causes you to scratch your head or wonder, ask me.  Grab me in the parish hall after the service, shoot me an e-mail after you have enjoyed your Easter feast, or give me a call next week.
     John’s Gospel has the reputation of being the “high theology” Gospel.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke give an account of the vents of Jesus’ life and death and Resurrection from particular perspectives, but it is John who often gets the credit for the needed theologizing.  I see confused faces.  So let me explain.  How do the other Gospels begin?  They speak of the birth of Jesus.  They may include other details, but the essential story begins with the birth of the Child placed in a manger.  How does John begin his account?  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  Right off the bat, John is teaching us that Jesus is part of the Godhead.  He existed before creation and is, to use fancy-speak, co-eternal with the Father.  It is also part of the reason that you and I will come to know Jesus as the living Word.  Better.  I see the nods of understanding.
     It is unfortunate, of course, that we divide the Gospels along those lines.  I think we try to create categories that don’t really exist.  Certainly, John’s Gospel differs from the Synoptics, but he is also giving quite an account and telling a story with a purpose.  Adventers who have attended these last few weeks and managed not to fall asleep during my sermons or Bible study classes can speak to one such purpose of John.  He may write the “theology” of the Gospellers, but he is an ancient predecessor of Dick Wolf or Stephen Bochco.  I know, it’s crazy.  I watch tv and read the Bible.  Who knew?  For those of you who cannot place those names, they are famous for writing crime drama series on television.  In a way, that’s what John is doing for those who read or hear his Gospel.  He is laying out the evidence regarding Jesus in a courtroom setting.  We get to see the deliberations of the Sanhedrin, the high priest, and the Roman governor-- those who sat in judgment of Jesus—and we are called to decide for ourselves.  You and I and all who read John’s Gospel are not passive viewers like we might be on one of those iterations of Law & Order; we are called, instead, to decide who we think Jesus was and is.  And, contrary to the gross oversimplifications you may accept, John’s account is full of a number of details with which we must grapple.  You may cynically accept the claim that the Gospellers were mere propagandists, but, if they were, they sure went about it a stupid way.
      Take for example the beginning of his account today.  It is John who tells us that the events began before dawn.  More amazingly, it is women, we are told, who confront the empty Tomb first.  In a society where women could not testify in court, why would you ever begin a propaganda piece with that detail?  It should have been the men who discovered the empty Tomb; in truth, if it was mere propaganda, it should have been men who expected the empty tomb!   We will talk about their responses in a moment, but they are not exactly presented as super human figures of faith in the Scriptures.  They are normal, everyday human beings like you and me.  Most had families.  Most had jobs.  They had normal interests and hobbies.  They were, in a word, like you and me.
     These women, we are told, risk the darkness to go to the tomb.  Living in modern and well-lit Nashville we may skip this detail, but it is important.  These women felt compelled to leave the safety of the city and journey to the tomb.  Were they motivated by grief or depression because their Lord had been killed and could not sleep?  Were they motivated by love because the men had rushed to prepare Jesus’ body on the Day or Preparation?  Did they not know that bandits preyed on pilgrims during those Holy Days of Obligation?  Of course they did!  But they head out, and they find the tomb empty.
     If you were writing this as propaganda, how would you write it?  Probably, Mary would expect to meet the Risen Jesus or be ecstatic at the surprise of finding Him.  Instead, she heads back to tell the men, convinced that someone has hidden Jesus’ body.  And she is distraught.  If we are writing propaganda, she is filled with joy proclaiming things happened just as He said they would!
     The men hear Mary’s story and accept it as true, right?  No.  They have to go to the Tomb and see for themselves.  After all, she’s just a woman.  Peter and the disciple who loved Jesus, though, are the only two who go.  Presumably, the rest of the disciples roll over and go back to sleep.  That they do not come does not make for good propaganda.  Should not they all have gone?  Did they not all expect this?  Again, it seems insignificant detail, the men’s response, but when we slow down for a second, when we take a moment to notice that none of these “superstars of the faith” are acting like we think they should, we realize that these accounts are not propaganda.  They are accounts of what was seen, what was heard.
     The two men race there and, as we might expect, the younger beats the older to the Tomb.  Though he was the disciple whom Jesus loved, the younger disciple stands outside the tomb.  It is Peter who first enters the tomb, even though he arrives after the ladies and after the disciple whom Jesus loved.
     Notice what Peter sees.  The strips of linen and the burial cloth are lying there.  That’s weird for those of us raised on Law & Order, right?  I mean, if someone carried off Jesus’ body, would they not have kept it in the burial wrappings?  That would have been easier, right?  Or, conversely, if one was going to unwrap Him and then carry off the body, should not the wrappings be set off to the side?  Or, if they carried off the body and the burial cloths fell off, would they not be on the floor?  Odd details, to be sure.  Even the face cloth, which was used to keep the mouth closed seems rolled up and by itself.  What’s weirder is that John has not talked about such a cloth since the raising of Lazarus way back in chapter 11.  It is a scene which does not seem chaotic or rushed.  It is a scene which conveys to us a sense of purpose.
     Now, the skeptics among us might want to stop me for a second and raise the objection that the crime scene has been staged, that these details have been arranged to convince the disciples that Jesus was raised from the dead.  We’ve all seen those plot twists in movies and on television, right?  If the disciples did not expect the Lord to be alive that Easter morning, who is doing the staging?  Why?  Is it a classic version of Punk’d?  People do stupid things; I get it.  But who would be willing to risk the wrath of Rome to punk some followers of the recently crucified?  Would you?
     Then come the responses, and this is where I want you to focus this Easter.  The disciple whom Jesus loved enters the tombs, sees the details I just mentioned, and believes.  If it was propaganda, such would make sense.  His faith was so great, the disciple believes Jesus.  Then comes the next verse: They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.  How can this really be propaganda if the paragons of the Church are confused?  Worse, what exactly is the disciple whom Jesus loved believing, if he does not understand from Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead?  And what about Peter?  Why is there no commentary on his faith, if this is mere propaganda?  And, should he not believe as much as the other disciple, if not more, since he is to be the leader of the Church?
     The men, having now verified the veracity of Mary Magdalene’s account, head back to the other disciples to share what they have seen.  Mary is left alone in her grief . . . except for the two angels who now appear to her.  Two things, at least, should be noticed now.  One, the presence of the angels indicates that God is at work in this.  Whatever has happened is supernatural in origin.  They sit on either end of the preparation table.  One asks a kind of rhetorical question in the Greek.  Woman, why are you crying?  The implication of the question is that this is not a time for sadness or mourning, as if her response with tears and worry is somehow out of place.  The second piece we should notice is that God is not involving the so called “inner circle” of Jesus in this revelation.  If anyone was going to get the supernatural confirmation of the miracle that is taking place, it should be the Eleven.  Yet, here is God blessing a woman much as He did the shepherds during the birth of His Son.
     Mary’s grief, though, is apparently unassuaged by the angels’ question and appearance.  Jesus Himself comes to her.  She is so focused on the Tomb and the perceived loss that she pays no real attention to the figure that approaches her from behind.  Jesus repeats the angels’ question, reaffirming the idea that grief should not be expected here, and He goes deeper by asking her who it is that she is seeking.  John tells us that Mary presumed that the man was the gardener, that he knew where her Lord’s body was, and she answers Him as such.  Then Jesus calls her name, and it is only at that point that this sheep knows her shepherd’s identity.
     In another curious detail, how does Mary address her Lord?  Does she call Him God?  Lord?  Christ?  No, she calls Him Teacher.  The most significant event in human history has just occurred.  If Mary truly understood the significance of that event, what should be her response?  Let me put it to you like this: if you were there that Easter morning and Jesus called you by name, how would you address Him?  I know we have a number of educators in this congregation, but I doubt many of us would turn first to Teacher.  I would bet great money on the fact that the honorific chosen by Mary would be far down our list of titles.
     We get yet another curious detail at this point from John.  Mary literally clings to Jesus, and Jesus tells her to let go.  Theologians have wrestled with what happens in this.  Why does Jesus tell her to let Him go?  Is He not yet finished resurrecting?  Is He radiating in some way that may damage her?  Heck, does her presence in some way defile Him?  If you have read John, you understand that what remains is to explain the new way that Jesus’ disciples will relate to Him.  Before they walked and talked and joked and argued and cried and partied and all those things with Him physically present.  Now, He is getting ready to ascend to the Father.  Now, He is preparing to send the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit.  God will still be with them, just in a different way.  But, in a curious command for those who like to argue against women serving as bishops, the receivers and inheritors of the go and proclaim instructions, Jesus tells Mary to go and tell the others that He is alive, that she has seen Him!
     I bring out all these details for a couple reasons this morning.  First, I wasn’t to remind us all that the details really happened in this world.  The world has become so cynical, so rejecting of things that it cannot accept or understand, that there is a huge effort to reject the Resurrection as a historical event.  I have harped a bit this morning on propaganda as I watched a couple shows on cable this week that presented the Apostles as geniuses.  There is an argument in the wider world that the Apostles plotted taking over the Roman Empire through all this, that they, a bunch of fishermen and other country yokels from Judea, had an idea which would bring power and authority to their disciples, not their families but their disciples, three centuries later.  What’s sad is that those folks think that clergy who believe the Bible are gullible!  But that cynicism has made its way into the Church.  There are too many theologians who agree with the world.  Most of us gathered here today have heard people speak or read the writings that claim the disciples were overcome by grief, suffered from mass hysteria, or “thought of Jesus as risen in the minds.”  Part of the reason for my highlight of these details is to remind you that it was not propaganda to those early disciples.  The Resurrection was, in one way, messy.  No one expected this!  Yes, Jesus taught it, but they did not understand it . . . yet.  It really was the most significant event in human history!  But it was so far outside the bounds of rational thought that it took time for people to process it.  And God, gracious as always, gives you and me reason to be faithful disciples and grace to understand that not everyone comes to faith in Him in the same way.
     Put in clearer language, this account of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was written for you, and for you, and for you, and for me.  It was written for every human being who ever existed and will exist.  And it is important because it allows us to see ourselves in the response of other, earlier disciples—disciples who lived and spoke and ate and travelled with God Incarnate Man Divine.  And if they had their struggles, should we be surprised that we sometimes struggle with our faith?
     Perhaps you are like the disciple whom Jesus loved.  Perhaps you have come to faith in an unexamined way.  Maybe your parents or grandparents raised you always to believe and you never questioned what they taught, even though you were not sure what you were believing.  The outside world may think you a simpleton or living a life unexamined or gullible or some other such nonsense.  Our Lord calls you His own, one whom He loves.  Such folk may not be able to articulate the reason why they believe or a systematic theology that arises as a consequence of that belief, but they know they are loved by God and can trust Him in all things.  It is a simple faith, but often powerful and encouraging to others.
     Perhaps you are like Mary.  It’s not until He utters her name that Mary recognizes the identity of who it is that is speaking to her.  She may not have recognized His presence at first; but when He speaks her name, she knows that voice.  If I asked a show of hands, some of us may have encountered Jesus in a personal way.  Some of us present, no doubt, have been on the receiving end of God’s grace and experienced that call of our name, that bestowal of peace, that sense of belonging and belovedness that we cannot explain sufficiently to others.  It is our mystical experience with God!  That’s not to say it’s merely spiritual.  We have simply experienced God in there here and now in an intimate way which causes us to realize He is Risen.
     Although the other two responses fall outside our readings, I think it important for you to see yourself in that account.  How do the bulk of the early disciples respond?  Do they consider the words of Mary and then the two who entered the tomb and come to understand the Resurrection?  No.  Next week we will read that they are in a locked room for fear of the Jews.  They are afraid that the same people who conspired to kill Jesus will now turn their wrath on them.  If they understood the Resurrection at this point, why should they be afraid?  If they trusted Peter and Mary, why should they worry?  But Jesus appears to them as a group.  Naysayers will discount Mary’s experience because she was a hysterical woman deeply grieving and there were no witnesses to her experience.  The group has the added support of being able to ask each other if they have lost their minds, if they are seeing things.
     My guess is that most of us fall into this group of disciples.  Why do we gather at various times during the week?  Part of it is worship—in our tradition we give God thanks for the saving work He has done in Christ for us.  It is our bounden duty and service to use familiar language.  But we also gather to share stories of what God is doing in our lives or what we hope he will do in our lives.  One of my chief responsibilities as a priest in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is to point out to us where God is at work in our lives!  Sometimes, like in the case of miracles, it’s obvious; much of the time, though, God works through the normal and every day.  One week I may be sharing a story of how after more than a decade of work, legislative minds have finally decided to work to help law enforcement protect those enslaved and marginalized in our midst.  Politicians fighting sex slavery.  Wait, that’s more a miracle than a patient working out of God’s grace!  That’s a bad example of the slow drip of God’s redemptive power.
     You laugh at the example, and rightly so.  But think about the powerful sermons you have heard in your life.  Do we get excited about the discussion of Greek participles or historical context or budgets and tithing?  Of course not.  What we want to know is that God loves us, that He is still keeping His promises to us, that we truly belong to Him!  That’s the job of clergy.  We are supposed to show you where God is or wants us to be!  And then we encourage, equip, cheer, support, do whatever is necessary to help you live into the calling that God has placed on your life!  Yes, I am fired up.  How could I not be, this day most of all?  This day when we remember that God demonstrated His power to conquer and redeem all that afflicts us.  If He can raise you from the dead, what can He not do in your life?  That’s why we gather.  And yes, sometimes we gather to mourn with each other.  Life as a disciple is by no means easy—our Lord calls it cross-bearing.  But even in those tough times we remind ourselves of the hope to which we are called.  If He can raise us from the dead, we truly have nothing to fear.  If we believe in Him. . .
     The last faithful group revealed in the Resurrection is the one that gets the most grief in the Church, even though, in one sense, we all belong in it.  I’d like to think we Adventers do a pretty good job with and for this group.  If you are interested, speak to the guy in the choir who probably sneaked his mimosa or bloody mary in with us about Wrestling with Faith.  I cannot see Jim, but he and Robert are back there and would love for you to join them as they struggle with the questions of faith.
     Poor Thomas.  We do him such a disservice.  The disciple that encourages the other disciples to head to Jerusalem with Jesus and die there with Him is known as “Doubting Thomas” among us, his fellow believers.  Thomas gets to hear the testimony of Peter and the other disciple, of Mary, and of the group, and how does he respond?  Unless I see and unless I touch, I will not believe.  Thomas gets what he needs from the Lord.  Even though all those other disciples whom Thomas knows tell him they have seen the Lord, Thomas cannot bring himself to the faith so easily evidenced by the disciple whom Jesus loved.  He is in a real way at the opposite end of that faith spectrum.
     In one way, Thomas is no different than the other disciples.  They did not come to their faith until the saw Jesus. So, we who would be judgmental of Thomas and his lack of faith need to remind ourselves that Thomas was just like the other disciples in the room that day.  But because Thomas must have that proof, that ability to see and to touch, he misses out on the blessing given to us, to those myriads of believers who do not get to see the wounds or place our hands in them—in a word, all of us. 
     I compared John to courtroom drama writings at the beginning of this.  As frequent attenders can testify in the Parish Hall over food and drinks, John has presented each of us the evidence of Jesus’ Resurrection.  Now, the burden falls to us.  Will we choose to believe in Jesus, or will we reject Him?  The answer to that question, my friends, is the most important answer each one of us will ever give to any question over the course of our lives.  Our answer carries significant consequences.  If we reject Him, if we choose to trust in someone or something else, we have rejected the One who made us, who redeemed us, and who promises to dwell with us one glorious day in the future, the One who promises that nothing, not even death, can keep Him from fulling those wonderful promises to each one of us.
     But if we choose to believe in Him, life is no fairy tale, no idyllic world of make believe.  Bills will still need to be paid, relationships will still be strained and in need of repair, issues of health will plague us, and the sin will still hound us.  Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him—a call that presumes splinters, bruises, aching muscles, mockery, struggle, and even death.  In short, the path to glory is hard, is painful.  It’s full of potholes and washouts.  Heck, whose kidding, it’s full of other sinners, sinners who make other drivers in the Nashville rain seem competent.  You laugh, but think on those words later this week.  We have to navigate this world dealing with the consequences of the sins of not just ourselves, but of others, and worse, of the intentional evil inflicted by those who reject God.  It’s the craziest piece of propaganda or worst fairy tale ever . . . except for that remarkable claim that He is Risen.
     Who are you in His story?  With which disciple or group of disciples’ faith do you find yourself?  Are you the one for whom faith comes easily?  Are you like Thomas, who craves that certainty that seems visible and audible in the faith of others?  Are you like Mary?  Are you like the other disciples?  The great wonder of this ultimate courtroom story is not that anyone believes or rejects God.  It’s that He created a redemptive story that could graft in the story of a Mary, a Thomas, a John, a you, and a me and use it, overcoming the physical distance between that empty tomb and Nashville and the interceding years, to present His loving case to others and that His story would be conveyed, shared, across that distance and time, that people, ordinary people like you and me, might come to see and know that He is Risen, indeed!  Which disciple are you?

In Christ’s Peace,

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Easter 2018 Children's Message . . . April Fools

     Anybody know what’s special about today?  Good, it’s Easter, and y’all guessed that first.  All your parents are breathing a big sigh of relief now.  What makes this day special?  That’s right, we celebrate that Jesus was raised from the dead.  You guys are doing great this morning.  Anything else make this a special day?  Spiral ham?  Yeah, I like that, too.  Seeing your families?  That’s a special thing, too.  That’s right, there was a big egg hunt, wasn’t there?  I sometimes wish there were egg hunts every week, too.  I know.  I bet you’d all make your parents bring you to church more often for eggs filled with candy.  Anything else special about today?  There’s one more big marker for today, does anyone know it?  That’s right, it’s April Fools day.
     What do we do on April Fool’s Day?  That’s right, we try and trick each other.  Anybody do the “your shoe is untied” trick?  Hmm.  That might be too old for some of you.  True, some of you do not have shoelaces to tie, so that trick would not make much sense.  What are some tricks you play of the people in your family?  Oooh, I like that one.  You tell mom you want broccoli for supper?  Wow.  That’s a gutsy trick.  Tell me, what if mom makes it?  Maybe that should be her trick on you?
     Well, how many of you have friends who go to church?  Good.  I’m glad to see most of you have lots of friends going to church.  I bet a lot of them are going to hear April Fool’s sermons about God tricking everybody into thinking Jesus was dead.  Yeah, that’s a pretty good trick, except Jesus really was dead.  He was not pretending to be dead or mostly dead; He was dead.
     I have a soon to be colleague, well, assuming as we say in clergy circles God willing and the people consenting, who teaches at the school where I learned to be a priest.  I know, it’s crazy that someone not a priest can teach people how to be priests.  Anyway, this teacher was encouraging priests and seminarians this week not to compare the Resurrection of Jesus to an April Fool’s gag.  Everybody will be doing that gag, this teacher warned, so we might stand out by not telling it as a gag.  Does that make sense?  That’s right, sometimes we stand out by being good when everyone else is misbehaving in class, or sometimes teachers think we are good because we are quiet when everyone else is yelling and screaming.
     You know, this teacher had a great idea about how to talk about God’s big April Fool’s joke properly, and you all have touched on it a bit.  What does Easter begin to signify for Christians?  Why is this day really important?  Leave it to the priest kid to get that one right.  That’s right.  Easter is the beginning of the end of the restoration of the world.  Anybody ever heard adults talking about Jesus coming into His authority today?  Good!  It sounds like you’ve all heard He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Somebody’s parents are doing a pretty good job teaching you about God.  OK, maybe some of you are learning it from friends rather than parents.
     How did Jesus come into His glory?  Yes, God raised Him to it, but how did we get to this point?  That’s right, Jesus was abandoned by His friends and killed.  There’s a lot more bad stuff to that story, but I’ll let your parents share it as they think you should hear it.  How do we get glory today?  How do we get famous?  Yep, YouTube.  Yep, television.  Who does that work of promoting?  The people.  You guys are spot on today.  How did Jesus get His glory?  Did He start a Youtube channel?  Are you sure there was no internet then?  OK.  Did He star in a reality television show?  Really, there was no television?  Maybe there was reality radio?  Oh, you don’t think so?  Well, how did Jesus become the King and Lord that you just named Him?
     That’s right, He died.  I’m looking for a little simpler answer though.  When Jesus came into the world on Christmas, did He appear in a palace or in the center of the world, Rome?  No.  He was born in a stable in Bethlehem.  That’s weird, though.  If there was no television and no internet, how did Jesus get famous?  The miracles?  They sure helped.  Boy, you guys know your miracles.  What were the point of the miracles?  That’s right.  He was helping people.
     Now, I know Miss Anoosh and Miss Jane and Miss Tina and Mis Stephanie and Miss Ellen and Miss Martha all the ladies who teach Children Chapel have talked like this, but have you ever heard someone say that Jesus came to serve us?  Whew!  I’m glad to know they and I have said that lots.  True, we talked about that last week when I washed feet.  That’s really a great example.  Who washed peoples’ feet at big parties like that?  Slaves.  People who were not free and did the will of the people who owned them.  I know, it’s crazy to think that people try and own other people.  But how crazy is it that Jesus did the job of a slave?!  He was God Incarnate Man Divine and He washed all the crud off the disciples and off us!
     So, how did Jesus get glorified?  That’s right, by being a slave!  He served all His disciples, He served your moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas, He served me, and He served you.  Yes, He even served our little sisters.  I know that’s a hard one.  Little sisters can be brats.  Yeah, I have one, too, but she’s older now and a little easier to deal with.
     Back to God and Jesus, though.  Your friends will hear today that God tricked everyone into thinking that Jesus was dead or that God had lost on Friday and that that was the greatest April Fool’s joke ever.  In reality, though, God has been tricking the world about how to find glory and power since we left Him in the Garden of Eden.  God says if we love and serve Him and love and serve our neighbors as ourselves, what will happen?  That’s right, we will share in Jesus’ glory!  That’s a pretty crazy promise, isn’t it?  I know.  God likes to surprise us a lot, doesn’t He?  So, as much fun as those shows and YouTube channels are, do they give us the glory we seek?  No, indeed!  Who does?  That’s right, God!  And how do we get that glory?  Man, you guys are just the best.  That’s right, serving Him and others—even little sisters.  And how do we know He can keep that promise?  Because He can raise us, just like Jesus, from the dead.
     OK, you have been such good students today, I’m going to give you a head start on serving God and others.  That work for everyone?  I have two ways, one for God and one for others.  First, today or later this week when you run out of candy, ask mom or dad or grandma or grandpa or whoever brought you to church today why they brought you.  One of our jobs as adults is to teach our children, the next generation, about the saving work God has done in the world and in our lives.  So, ask the adults in your life why they bring you to church.  Now, some will squirm.  Some adults are a little bashful telling the stories of God in their life.  Some are so bad they had to come to the class I taught in Lent to learn how to tell their story and His story in their life.  That’s ok.  Just keep asking them.  The more you ask, the more they can tell.  Some may never even have thought about that question until you ask it, ok?  And in the end, is there anything better than talking about how God has helped and redeemed us?  No.  It’s the best story ever!  It’s like our own personal Easter.
     Now, that’s the loving God part, don’t forget to keep asking the adults.  Now, for the loving and serving your neighbor part.  Did any of you older kids notice the eggs in the courtyard between the parish hall and the glass doors?  Good!  I thought you might.  We had so many eggs the toddlers could not get them all.  Well, guess who has to get them?  Either me or my kids.  Now, Adventers think they are doing me a favor by giving my kids all that candy in those eggs, but did you see how many eggs they got in the hunt with you?  I know, tons.  Do you all have any idea what that sugar does to kids?  No kidding!  They get hyper and squirmy and almost ready to burst with energy!  And they outnumber me and their mom.  Well, to save them, I have to eat some of that candy.  But I have lost a lot of weight the last year.  I don’t want to eat all that extra candy.  So here’s my idea: y’all get the rest of those eggs when the service is over!  Is that a deal?  Good.  And if mom or dad or grandma or grandpa complain or tell you that you have enough, you can just say to them that you are serving Fr. Brian by keeping the candy out of his kids’ baskets and out of his mouth.  Sound like a good plan?  Awesome!  Thank you all for doing that for me.  Now head back to your seats, and, if you get really bored during my sermon, look out at the bushes and plot your plan of attack to get more eggs!

In Christ’s Peace,