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Sermon, May 23, 2021 – Pentecost

Power to Change

Happy Easter!

Happy Birthday!

Today is Pentecost!  It has been fifty short days since we discovered the empty tomb and heard the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.  This is the day in which the whole Easter season comes to a climax.  The Holy Spirit descends like a rushing wind, and a new way of being begins for us.  For us, and the Christian community as a whole, Pentecost becomes a celebration of thanksgiving for the new life of the Church through God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the Jewish tradition, Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, was a spring agricultural celebration (cf Lev. 23:15-21; Dt. 16:9- 12). Pentecost is Greek for fiftieth, and the first spring crops were harvested fifty days after planting. However, by the time of Jesus, the festival was increasingly observed as a commemoration of the giving of Torah at Sinai. According to tradition, fifty days passed between the first Passover in Egypt and the arrival at Sinai, where Moss received the law. But for the Christian community, Pentecost would become a celebration of thanksgiving for the new life of the Church through God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

From the beginning, the Spirit of God was associated with wind and breath. At creation, “a wind from God” (Gen. 1:2) hovered over the unformed matter that God had brought into being. This was also the breath that God breathed into humanity to make the Divine image come alive (Gen. 2:7).

Like the wind, the Spirit moves us in different ways, sending us to other places and nesting us into other ground. To experience Pentecost it is necessary to search for change and to allow ourselves to be changed. Changes mean new forms of consciousness, awareness, commitments, and agency. What is it in your life that needs to be changed? Like seeds, we must learn to let go and die so we can sprout into life! Be uprooted from ways of thinking and believing and be taken by the Spirit, flowing with God’s grace to more expansive and necessary ways of living our faith in our world today.

In this text, Jesus is offering his “so long” talk to his disciples. It is about time for Jesus to go, but he assures them they will not be alone. They will have each other and the presence of God through the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ swirling talk moves in various correlations while also showing how the Spirit will be manifested in them. Jesus is placing himself in the past while the Spirit is what comes next, continuing the work of God and/in Jesus.

The One who is coming will take care of us. While Jesus prays in John 17:6-19 for God to protect the disciples, here Jesus makes explicit that it is the Spirit who is going to protect them. This protection will come by advocating, testifying, speaking truth, glorifying, and “prov(ing) the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

The Spirit is the paraclete who will advocate for us and the earth. The Spirit will hear our pain, moaning, desperation, and utterances, and will bring it all to God in “proper language” (Romans 8:26). The Spirit will testify Jesus to us and hold on to the subversive memory of Jesus. When we then testify about God’s glory and justice in Jesus, it is the Spirit working on us. When the Spirit testifies in us, we feel the presence of God and can offer our testimonies on how God acts in us, manifests in the world, transforms people, and brings life where there was only death.

While the Spirit will build in us the glory of God and the memory of Jesus, the testifying of the Spirit will also speak truth to us when we go away from God, when we lose our ability to listen and feel the Spirit’s voice and presence. If the Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth, the truth that will set us free, then this is a process and truth that will challenge our ways of living.

When our worship to God is detached from justice and becomes a ritual by which nobody is changed, the prophets will carry the voice of God’s truth and remind us of our moving away from God and into our own need for a safe and cozy religiosity that doesn’t demand anything from us. When we shape the radical message of Jesus to the programs of our churches, to empty spiritualities and to living a life that trusts more in our bank account than in God, we have lost the presence of the Spirit. Sin, righteousness, and judgment will come. As Jesus said “sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” But what does that mean today?

For us, the sin of not believing in Jesus is not the lack of faith but rather, the sin of splitting belief and practice, word and action, walk and talk. When we are set on beliefs but our beliefs do not mean change of mind and heart, actions of justice, going after those suffering, and restituting what we have destroyed on earth, then our sin continues, clamorously alive behind our comfortable beliefs.

When Jesus talked about righteousness, he was saying: you will see me no more, but your attitudes and actions will be seen. That means that our lives will show if we live a life of righteousness or not. It has to do with what Jesus said in Matthew 7:16: “You will know them by their fruits.” What are our fruits? If we produce fruits of peace, justice, healing, transformation, and care, we will live a life of righteousness. But if we live a life whose center is only ourselves and our families, then we will be judged by the Spirit.

As for judgment, Jesus says: “because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”

The ruler of this world is the structure of death that spins round and round with spirits of sickness, destruction, poverty, brutality, violence, hunger, greed, consumerism, and so on. Patriarchy and capitalism are the structures from which the ruler of this world lives and enacts death. The ruler of this world is turning this life-giving world into a world of death and pain. This world is not the creation of God, the world God made, but rather the corruption of God’s world of life, the tilting of the world off balance. It is this off-balance world that is turning the whole earth off balance and we are now moving toward climate catastrophe. Curved into ourselves, our sins contribute to the ruler of this world, making us be concerned only with our own pain and demands for happiness, forgetting that every single action we do has ripple effects on others. Caring only for us, having health insurance just for a few, housing just for some will necessarily mean the exemption of health insurance and housing for many others.

The Church is empowered by the Holy Spirit to change the world around us – to bring the Reign of God into fulfillment.  We are called and empowered to continue Jesus’ work and ministry in this place and everywhere our lives take us.

Happy birthday! Amen.

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Sermon

Sermon, May 16, 2021

Now We Wait

Easter VII (RCL Cycle B)/16 May 2021

Happy Easter!

This week marks a shift in our life together as the Church.  This past Thursday we observed the Feast of the Ascension.  Jesus leaves final instructions and is taken up into heaven.  His final instructions are to wait in Jerusalem until the Father’s promise is fulfilled (Acts 1: 4).  So now we wait. 

In this ten-day period known as Ascensiontide a couple of significant things happen in the ancient community.  The community begins to coalesce around the apostles’ leadership.  The glue that holds them together is a life of common prayer centered on the Temple.  The second significant act is an extension of the first – the community elects a replacement for Judas in order to bring the number of apostles back to their original twelve.  So they elect Matthais and bring him into the “inner circle;” thus, establishing the precedence that will become what we now call “apostolic succession.”  Still, the community waits, and so do we.

This seventh Sunday of Easter reminds us that, just like the original Christian community, we, too, are living in between the promise of Jesus’ return to finally establish the reign of God and it’s fulfillment.  In today’s readings, the community that Christ has called into being prepares to carry on its mission in the world.

On the Seventh Sunday after Easter, the Gospel passage in all three lectionary years is taken from the High Priestly Prayer (Jn. 17:1-26) that Jesus shared with his closest disciples on the night before his death. Whereas the few prayers in the Synoptic Gospels are short and addressed to Abba, this is an extended meditative prayer that contains a number of themes central to the work of Christ in John’s Gospel. In the verses for today, Jesus prays for the protection and unity of his followers as they are faced with the reality of living in a hostile world when he is no longer with them.

As the reading begins, Jesus tells God the Father that he has fulfilled the Lord’s will for him by making God’s name “known to those whom you gave me from the world” (v. 6). They in turn have believed the words of Jesus that he was sent by the Father; thus Jesus has been glorified in them.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus had watched over the community of followers God had entrusted to him, and none of them came to harm (except Judas, the one “destined to be lost,” v. 12). But now that Jesus will no longer be present physically, Jesus prays for the Father to protect them. He asks that they be one, even as Jesus and the Father are one (v. 11b).

As he is returning to his Father, Jesus speaks to the disciples of the joy he has known in constant awareness of the Father’s presence — praying that his disciples may know this same joy for themselves. “ … I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves” (v. 13). The message that Jesus has brought to the world, only to face rejection, he gives to the disciples. It is now their mission and identity as well. And since it has been derived from Jesus and not the world, enmity from the world is inevitable (v. 14).

It would be easy for the disciples to separate themselves from the world; but that is not what Jesus prays for them. Because he loves the unredeemed world just as his Father loves it, those who are now the stewards of his message must remain in the world. Apart from their witness, there would be little hope for others. God, who has been with Jesus, will now also preserve the disciples from evil. “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one” (v. 15).

Jesus goes on to pray that they may be made holy by the truth of the Father’s message they have received (v. 17). Just as the Father sent the Son into the world with the ultimate truth, Jesus now sends the disciples out with the same truth. By his own sacrifice he is consecrating — “sanctifying” — himself even now (v. 19), as he is about to face arrest. His consecration in ultimate truth is essential to their consecration in that same truth.

Christ’s revelation of himself to the disciples is now complete. Even though they will fail badly within the next few hours as Jesus is arrested, their witness to the Gospel will survive. Christ’s prayer is an ongoing intercession as he prays that the disciples be made holy by the truth they have received from him, as they are sent out into the world to bear witness.

In his final hours, Jesus prayed for the protection, unity, sanctification, and joy of the disciples as he prepared to leave this world to go to the Father. The disciples for whom Jesus prayed are our representatives; thus, as the Lord prayed for them and sent them, so he prays and sends us today as well.

For now, however, we wait anticipating the gift of Holy Spirit as promised.

Happy Easter!

Amen.

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Father George Worship Service

Sermon, May 9, 2021

How Do We Abide?

Easter VI (RCL Cycle B)/9 May 2021

Happy Easter!

Today Jesus is saying “farewell” to his disciples, and to us.  This Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension.  On that day, we will gather with the disciples on the crest of the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem and watch as Jesus vanishes from our sight.

In last week’s Gospel, we heard Jesus tell us to abide in him in the same way he abides in the Father.  We are instructed to live this way because this is the means by which our faith, even our lives are sustained and nurtured.  Thus, enabling our souls to grow deeper into that mystery we call grace.

There are two questions before us this morning and in actuality they are one and the same question.  The first is how do we live the abundant life Jesus promises?  The second is how do we live and abide in this abundant life?  Brother David Vyrhof of the Cowley Fathers puts it this way:

Why is it that we do not always experience abundant life? Perhaps it is because we do not know how to abide, how to live in union with Jesus, so that his life becomes our life, his strength our strength, his love our love.

Our Gospel passage today is a continuation of last week’s reading (Jn. 15:1-8) from Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples on the night before he died. Here we learn that God’s love for us as followers of Christ is in turn to be embodied through love for Christ and for one another. Jesus declares, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (Jn. 15:9). Moreover, just as Jesus has been faithful in keeping the Father’s commandments, his followers are to do likewise (v. 10).

Obedience and abiding are indistinguishable in the life of Jesus. From his Baptism, to the wilderness temptations, to healing the ill and infirm, to fraternizing with the outcast and unclean, to challenging Israel’s religious leaders, and finally to giving his life at Golgotha — Jesus’ life has been lived according to God’s will for him.

Such obedience, as a sign of genuine love, is also a source of great joy. Far from being oppressive, this obedience to God leads to a sense of purpose, wholeness, and fulfillment, so that believers’ “joy may be complete” (v. 11).

We are to express that Divine love by loving one another in the same way that Jesus loved us. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (v. 12; cf 13:34-35). This love is expressed by actions, not just words or feelings, and is seen most clearly in the way of self-sacrifice — in laying down one’s life for one’s friends (v. 13), as Jesus did for us.

When the disciples obey Jesus’ commandments and share his love, they are no longer “servants” — they are his “friends” (vv. 14-15). The slave or servant of even the most generous master does what is commanded by necessity, because a hierarchy of authority exists between them. Now a new relationship is established based on mutual commitment and trust. This friendship is a manifestation of Jesus’ steadfast love and a call to service and faithfulness.

In acknowledging the disciples as friends, Jesus has opened to them all that the Father has given him to reveal. He has withheld nothing — they know what he knows. They now have everything required for them to be fellow workers with God for the salvation of the world. They have matured in Christ from being servants who follow orders to becoming co-working friends.

Jesus goes on to make clear that their discipleship is not something they planned and executed. Jesus chose them and charged them with a purpose. John’s Gospel makes no stronger statement on the call to vocation than here. Moreover, they are chosen to bear fruit that should last (v. 16) as they carry on Jesus’ mission.

To this Jesus adds a promise. When a disciple brings his or her will into conformity with God’s will, which is love, the empowerment to love will be manifested in any petition. In this obedience, there is no limitation to what God can and will do in the life of the believer.

We have not chosen Jesus; he has chosen us. We may never understand the reasons for God’s choice. It is enough if we learn what we have been called to do: love one another and glorify the name of the Father by keeping the commandments given to us. “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another” (v. 17).

These words of Jesus are echoed in today’s Epistle, where we read that we are children of God by loving and obeying God’s commandments: “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments” (1 Jn. 5:3a). However, the commandments are not burdens to be borne, but are the way to life and fulfillment. Thus, the life obtained in Jesus’ name is a gain over the world for all who believe. “And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith” (v. 4b). This victory is the work of Jesus the Redeemer “who came by water and blood” (v. 6a) — the water of Baptism and the blood of his death and Resurrection. The presence of the Spirit further affirms the witness of Jesus as God’s Son. “And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth” (v. 6b; cf Jn. 15:26).

John Taylor, writing in The Go-Between God states:

Patriarchs, prophets and kings had from time to time acted as intercessors for the people, and Moses was the supreme example of this. Yet no figure in the Bible before the appearance of Christ seems to have depended upon the habit of communion with God as Jesus did. We tend to read back into the Old Testament and into the devotional patterns of other faiths those meanings which Jesus gave to the word “prayer,” and so conceal the fact that what was so characteristic of Jesus is almost unique amid the formal recitations which are the commonplace of religion everywhere else, including most of the churches. Other faiths have their mystics, but only in Jesus, I believe, can we find such spontaneous and personal communion with God combined with such passionate ethical concern for humanity. Both awareness of God and awareness of the world attain their zenith in him. …

And then, for the first time, through the quiet tones of human speech, the sound-waves of this world were stirred by that eternal converse which is ever passing between the Father and the Son in the Being of God. And since the third person of the Trinity is himself that communion which flows between the Father and the Son, the Spirit is the very breath of the prayer of Jesus. Immersed in the Go-Between Spirit, he cried Abba! And knew himself as the Beloved Son. And pouring out that Spirit upon the openness-to-each-other of his friends he shared with them the right to use the same naively bold address: Abba![i]

Now the saving grace of Christ was to be offered to all — not through external circumstances, but because of the faith of believers. The message of God’s love through Christ can truly be preached to the ends of the earth, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit and Baptism extended to all who hear and accept the love of God through Christ. This is indeed a “marvelous thing.”

Living the abundant life and abiding in Jesus is both simple and difficult at the same time.  All we have to do is to accept the unconditional love Jesus offers – that is the easy part.  The other thing we have to do is to love our brothers and sisters unconditionally, just like Jesus, thus we abide and build what our Presiding Bishop calls “The Beloved Community.”

Amen.

Happy Easter!

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[i] John Taylor, The Go-Between God (Oxford Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 225-226