Friday, April 21, 2017

Are we ready for resurrection?

Sermon for Easter Day
Preached at St. Matthew’s Church 2017

John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

Today marks the culmination of our journey from Ash Wednesday through lent and Holy Week ending with the crucifixion on Good Friday and Jesus in the Tomb on Holy Saturday. Or as our tradition teaches – and we recite in the Nicene Creed – that on Saturday Jesus went to the dead to break open the gates of hell and to break the chains of sin that bind mankind.  And today we find the tomb empty.  An empty tomb just as Christ promised.

On this Easter Morning are we like Mary Magdalene ready to confront whatever is in the tomb – expecting to find the tomb sealed?  And expecting a body – no matter how many times Jesus said he would rise again on the third day.  Running to tell the disciples that someone stole the body.   Or are we like Peter?  Going to the tomb only after Mary reported it was empty – wanting proof that she was telling the truth.  Or are we more like the other disciples who on that first Easter Morning where not ready to leave the security of the locked room?  They were not ready for resurrection.  On this Easter morning are we ready for resurrection?

When I went on the pilgrimage to the Holy Land about almost a year and a half ago we ended the main part of our pilgrimage by walking the way of the cross.  The way of the cross ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  The site that tradition tells us contains the place of crucifixion as well as the garden tomb.  Walking the way of the cross –with the sounds of the people going about their daily lives.  With the smells of people cooking and getting ready for the Sabbath.  Walking the walk of Jesus’ final footsteps is intense and exhausting.  When we reached the place of the crucifixion I was in tears.  My emotions where stronger than I could have ever imagined – being the rational scientist that I am!  I expected to be calm and composed. Knowing that the story does not end on Good Friday. Yet I found myself broken and in tears.  It was hard to leave the site of the crucifixion.  So hard.  In fact I could not bring myself to visit the empty tomb that afternoon.  I could not shake the crucifixion. 

I did not go back to the empty Tomb until early the next morning. And like Mary’s first visit to the tomb it was still dark.  And the empty tomb for some reason did not have the same emotional toll that Calgary did.  Not then.

And sometimes that is where we all are.  We are not ready for the empty tomb.  Our lives may get stuck in places of crucifixion.  In places that are dark and where we think God has abandoned us.  Places where we have trouble letting the Love that refused to die into our lives.

That is when we need a Mary.  When we need someone to run up to us and say, “I have seen the Lord!”  To remind us that there is resurrection.  That Love will not die.  That is what we remember this Easter morning.  That God’s love will seek us out – just as Jesus sought out Mary in her despair in the garden, and call us by name.  Will call us out of our deepest despair.  And that is what our world needs to be reminded of.

On this Easter Morning we are called to see Jesus in the most unlikely places.  We are called to see Jesus in the person who out of necessity lives in the sheds on our property.  To see the risen Jesus in the people who such amazing things to make this space one of prayer and love. 

We are called to – like Mary recognize that resurrection will change us.  When we can get past the crucifixion and onto resurrection we will be able to recognize that we are called to be disciples’s.  We are called to be crazy Jesus people – as Bishop Curry likes to remind us. Jesus told Mary not to hold on to him.  God’s time of walking with us in human form was coming to an end.  And Mary – in that moment recognizes her call.  Her call to be an Apostle to the Apostle’s and announce the Good News to the disciples locked in the upper room.

That first Easter Sermon we heard today ““I have seen the Lord”  Was from a changed Mary.  And we are changed when we see Jesus.  When we see God in all of God’s creation. 

Easter is about change.  Jesus changed with crucifixion and resurrection.  Mary changed when she met the resurrected Jesus.  The other apostles changed when Jesus met them in the locked room – which we will remember again as we go through this Easter season.  And when we- like Mary  - recognize our call we will be changed and then we can change the world. 

Our world is certainly in need of change.  It seems that we can only focus on the bad in the world.  And perhaps that partially is caused by our newer way of accessing instant media attention.  Facebook, YouTube on-line news sources all assault our senses with what is wrong with the world.

However, in the midst of all of the assaults on our senses we will find Jesus. We may – like Mary – mistake him for the Gardner but it will be Jesus.  Coming to offer us healing, forgiveness and Love. 

Easter is not a single event.  We are a resurrection people.  Called and sent into the world to be bearers of resurrection.  To show the world that death does not win.  That Love cannot be killed.  And that love brings healing and forgiveness to all - and will keep offering healing, forgiveness and love to us and to all of creation until the end of time.

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

We Want Proof!

Sermon for Eater Vigil

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 2017

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

Tonight we come to the culmination of our Lenten journey.  We have gone from being reminded that we have been created out of dust ant that to dust we shall return.  Hopefully we were able to find some way to set aside the 40 days of lent to do something different so that we could hear God.  But no matter God was and is calling each and every one of us – and even through the noise of our everyday lives can break in.  Its just easier for us if we can set aside our business to listen occasionally!  And that is- at least in part – what Lent is about.  Last Sunday we had the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and the first reading for the year – and for many the only reading – of the passion narrative.  Holy Week is a blur for me.  The service here at noon on Wednesday followed by Maundy Thursday – when we are commanded to love one another as Christ loves us ending with the stripping of what little adornments where left in the church – to Good Friday and the remembrance of the cross, and Holy Saturday – when remember that nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God.  That there is no place, not even Hell, where God forgets us and there is no place – not even hell – where God will not pursue us and offer his love and forgiveness. 

And we come to tonight.  The church is resplendent in all her finery.  The lighting of the new Paschal Fire.  The singing of the Exsultet, and the wonderful reading of our Salvation history.  A reminder that from the very begging of creation God saw, and continues to see all of creation as Good.   But we sometimes don’t see creation or each other as good so we sometimes need to be reminded –and sometimes even rescued in dramatic ways.  Israel delivered from Egypt,  Isaiah reminding us that God economy isn’t like our economy.  That God offers over and over again salvation.  That God desires nothing more than to see his joy filled and love filled dream come to fruition in our time.  And that even as we can be nothing but dry bones that God desires to put life back onto our dry bones so that we can continue to work to bring the Good News to God’s people. 

And that brings us to the reason we are here.  The empty tomb.  Something so hard to try and explain and understand.  How can death have been defeated.  Hoe can something that seems – to us – to be so permanent be defeated. 

Matthew’s Gospel account of the empty tomb is different  that the other Gospels in that he wants to provide proof.  Proof that this thing we call resurrection really happened. In the part we read this morning at our Holy Saturday service – the just precedes this evening’s reading Matthew tells how the Pharisee’s remembered that Jesus said that three days after his death he would rise again.  So they ask Pilate to set a guard at the tomb to make sure that the body is not stolen.  Matthew wants to prove to us that this really happened.  That it is not a hoax. 
So today we come to the setting of that first Easter Morning.  The tomb – guarded against any potential body snatchers. And God making a big entrance – accompanied by earthquakes and Angles – enough to strike the guards into a coma-like stance and to roll away the stone. 

The Angels see the women, Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles, and “the other Mary, and tells them – do not be afraid – that Jesus has indeed risen – and to tell the men – you know the ones still hiding in the upper room for fear that they would be next on the Roman’s list for crucifixion – to tell the other disciples that Jesus indeed is risen.   And then as they go Jesus pop’s up and greets them and reinforces the message from the angels.  Provides the proof that indeed Jesus has risen.

Proof.  Matthew offers us proof.  Guards making sure the body is not snatched, earthquakes to get our attention, and then Jesus suddenly appearing in front of the women.   This seems to be just the type of Gospel we need today.

Our modern world is one that demands proof.  We want to see with our own eyes – or at least hear from an eyewitness before we can accept an event.  And with all of the technology literally at our fingertips we can get that proof.  We can see the devastation of natural disasters as they unfold around us.  We can see and witness the horrors of a chemical attack on children and other civilians in Syria.  We can find the proof right on line.  On the daily news and in whatever form we consume news.

But proof is not what resurrection is about.  We are the proof.  We don’t need to walk around asking if people have found Jesus because resurrection changes us. We are the recipients of a love that will not die.  A love that will follow us into our darkest corners – the ones where we sometime want death – or that feel like death to us and that Love keeps offering to heal our wounds over and over and over again.  It’s the story of our creation and the story of our creator. And it is what our world needs so much right now.

We don’t need more proof.  We need people who can say yes to Love.  Say yes to a Love that refused to stay in the tomb.  And once we do we will be changed.  We will be able to see the goodness that is still all around us – even when the “proof” of mans inhumanity to man also seems to take precedence in our technology filled world.

We are called by resurrection to see the empty tomb.  Not for proof but to feel that the Love that came down on Christmas refuses to die – has always refused to die.  And if we can see that we can change the world.  If we can stop insisting that we have to have proof we can help bring God’s dream of love of creation to fruition.

If we can see the people who have no homes as beloved children of God – then perhaps we will begin to see Jesus in our midst.  If we can see those whom we disagree with as beloved children of God  then perhaps we can start making a change in our world.   I am not suggesting that we do not call out evil when we see it – but there are ways to call out evil and misdeeds without demonizing one created out of Love.  And I know this is not easy.  Especially when all we have to do is open any form of media – from computers to TVs for proof that evil is out there.

Love.  A love that refuses to die.  A love that calls us to help spread that good news that Love is always an option.  That Love will always surround us – even when we can’t see it or feel it.  It is there.  That is what we need to take away from the empty tomb.  God created this beautiful creation and called it good.  Again and again God comes into our lives and offers love. 

This Easter Season – Easter is not a single day but a season – 50 days long – this Eater season let us look for the moments of resurrection where we can recognize that the tomb cannot contain love.  That we are called to be changed by resurrection onto a people that can help spread that message of love into our work.  And when our world demands proof.  Proof of this crazy thing we call the message Christianity is real.  That we will be the proof.  We, as crazy Jesus people, have been changed by resurrection because we know that nothing, not even death – death on an instrument of torture – on a cross – will kill that love.  And that Love will follow all of us all the way to our deaths and beyond to offer us Love.


Sunday, February 26, 2017


Last Sunday after Epiphany
Year A

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Today is the last Sunday before lent.  And as is the tradition of the church we end the season of the Epiphany with the story of the transfiguration.  A story that is so familiar to me that I can tell it – in my own words – without opening a bible.  A story that in many ways I love because it speaks to me about both the divinity of Jesus but also about the humanity of the disciples – especially Peter. 

But I also struggle a little with how it makes sense for us today.  Do we need a mountaintop transfiguration?  Do we need to have a vision of Jesus both as human – walking down the road with this disciples, sharing meals, teaching – and as divine – with the light of God shining in and through him as on the mountain top?  Do we need to hear the message from God on that mountain top now?

This story takes place 6 days after Jesus asked the disciples who do people say that he is and then follows up with asking the disciples who they think he is.  It is six days after Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah – the Son of God.  Jesus has been telling the disciples that he is going to be a very different messiah from the one they were expecting.  That this messiah is going to willing walk into Jerusalem, will be arrested, killed, and will rise after three days.  And Peter is having none of it.  So off to the mountain top they go.  And when Jesus is transfigured and Moses and Elijah appear Peter wants to freeze the scene.  Peter and the other two, James and John, have just had the heavens open and caught a glimpse of what is to come.  A world transfigured.  A world changed. 

 Peter doesn’t want the moment to end.  He wants to build three shelters for these great people.  One for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah.  He wants to enshrine God, the Law and the Prophets and sit at their feet for eternity.

When we capture a glimpse of the divine we most likely have the same reaction.  Let us sit here for awhile – a long while.  Let us revel in our thin places and spend time with God. 

Last year when I, along with Deacon Sonya and other soon to be ordained or newly ordained folk where on pilgrimage there where many thin places that seemed to demand that I stay.  The site where we remember Jesus feeding the 5,000 on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of the Transfiguration – where this event is remembered – and where there is now a lovely church with three chapels – one to Jesus, One commemorating, Moses and one commemorating Elijah! 

And the one site that was nearly impossible to leave was the site of the crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  All places where the veil between human and divine seemed so so thin.  Places that caught me up short and made me want to stay.  I wanted to build a tent and to literally let the holy wash over me.  But that is not what God asked of me. And it is not what God asked of the Disciples and it is not what God is asking of all of us.

Listen to what God actually said on that mountain.  This is my son.  Listen to him.  Be raised up. And, Do not be afraid. 

Listen.  Something that I sometimes find hard to do.  I am so busy that I don’t make enough time just to listen to God.  What is God asking me to do? What is God asking the church to do?  There is certainly change afoot – just as Jesus was trying to tell the disciples in their time.  And we need to figure out what it means.  How do we respond as a community?  David Lose – another preacher who I follow said, “And while we may disagree on just what we hear – that’s the challenge of communal discernment, after all; we actually are a community, not a monolith – yet we agree that the best way to understand God is to look to Jesus and listen to him. To pay attention to what Jesus says and does, to whom he reaches out, to those he gives attention and help. Yes, we may not all agree, but we might also confess that if we all keep trying to listen to Jesus together – and trust that is what even the people who disagree with us are doing – we will get closer to what God intends for us.”[1]

We may not agree on what the change means – whether it is good or bad.  But there will be change and how we respond is what matters.  Can we find it on our heart to follow the great commandment to Love others?  Especially when we don’t agree with them.  Can we find ways to not demonize those who are creating change? Change that we may not like?  Can we find a way to see the transfigured Glory of God in our world?  Now?  Because I know deep in my heart that the thin places where Gods glory shines through are all around me.  I know that we can and will find it.  We need to take the time to listen for God’s presence and to figure out – in community where we are called to act.

The Second thing we hear is that we need to get up – or better to be raised up.  That God is going to raise us up and that we need to not get lost in just the listening but we need to take action.  We need to hear what God asks us to do and then to get out of our tabernacles, our churches, our safe places and go do ministry.  What ministry depends on what God is asking us to do.  And it is different for each person and community.  We are not all asked by God to do the same things – thanks be to God! In my secular position as a scientist I believe God is calling me to come up with ways to protect the environment.  To care for this fragile earth our island home.  I also believe that God has called me to be a priest.  To provide the sacraments to folk and to hopefully be a guide to the thin places where we can listen to God. 

It can be a challenge to do the things God asks us to do. Because in many cases we are called to leave our comfort zones.  To talk to people we don’t like – or perhaps just don’t understand.  We are called as Christians to help bring about God’s transfigured presence of Love into this world.  We know it’s here now but also not here now.  There are times and places where we see the love of God but there are also places where we see the need to spread that love.  And that does not happen when we are sitting in comfort.  We need to get up.  Get out.  And do what God is calling us to do. 

Which brings me to the final thing – that we hear from Jesus – and which is a recurring message from God in the scriptures.  Be not afraid.  When we are doing the ministry that we are called to do God knows that we will be called out of our comfort zones.  Let me tell you going to seminary in my 50’s was outside my comfort zone.  It had been a quarter of a century sense I was in college.  I know that opening up the sacraments to people is a gift and a privilege – and sometimes is outside of my comfort zone.  And in these places we are reminded – do not be afraid.

When we follow Jesus commands – when we listen to him – we will be called to feed the hungry, both physically and spiritually, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison.  All actions that will take us places where we will be fearful. But God tells us “Do not be afraid”  God is with us in those situations and will comfort and heal us.  This is not a reason to go out and put ourselves in absolute danger – God is not going to suddenly makes us super-beings that can withstand bullets.  But God is going to be with us.  By our sides.  Comforting those fears so that we can do ministry.  And some people are called to do ministry is places of violence and danger.  And I am awed by those people.  Some of us are called to accompany the dying – a thing that our society is afraid of – to see death as a continuation and not an end. 

What ever our ministry God reminds us to not be afraid.  Because when we listen and get up and do ministry our eyes will be opened to the transfigured presence of God and we too will be transfigured.

The story of the transfiguration is a perfect way to move from the season of Epiphany to the season of Lent.  The season of lent is a journey that many times we don’t want to go on.  The journey from the top of the mountain that leads to confrontation with powers that demean people.  A confrontation that leads to the death of Christ.  It is a part of our faith that many struggle with.  But it is a story where we know the ending.  It is ultimately not a story of death but of life.  But to get to life we have to go through the hard places.  The places where we might not see God.  To travel with Jesus through the hardships and betrayals allows us not to be afraid when we face hardship and betrayal.  To know that whatever journey we are on right now that God is with us.  That God understands because we see that God takes the same journeys.  That the journey never really ends in absolute death but in resurrection.  That is a promise that our world doesn’t understand.  But it is real.

So as we enter into the season of lent  - Listen to God.  Get up – be raised up for ministry.  And be not afraid.  Try on new ministries – perhaps read a daily office that you don’t’ normally read.  Perhaps go visit people and listen to people who are not like us.  Perhaps try to see the transfigured joy that really does exist in this world – no matter what the pundits or the naysayers tell you.  Because we know the ending and it is all about Love. It is all about the great feast that God promises us is always around us and where we always have a seat at Gods abundant table.