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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!

________________________________

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

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Father George Worship Service

Sermon, March 28, 2021 – Palm Sunday

We resumed in-person services on Palm Sunday. We hope to be streaming services from the church in the near future. In the meanwhile, here is a transcript of Father George’s sermon from this past week.

Minding the Gaps

Palm Sunday (RCL Cycle B)/28 March 2021

Today is Palm Sunday and marks the beginning of the holiest week of our Christian year.  It’s also known as Pasion Sunday because the seminal event is a reading of the Passion narrative – this year from Mark’s Gospel.  Either way, it is a day which pulls us in many directions at the same time leaving us unsettled and confused as we try to make sense out of this week.  The events of Holy Week are necessary in order for us to begin to comprehend the wonder of Easter.  There is no skipping over the week – we have to go through it in order to arrive at Easter.

While traveling on trains, we are often reminded to mind the gap. It is a cautionary statement; to be careful of the distance between spaces, the holes and cracks where one might fall, trip, or be injured. I think this warning is implicit in the text, even while Paul warns explicitly of evil workers in this letter. Growing to be more like Jesus can be filled with pitfalls. When we do not have the mind of Jesus, we are likely to behave in ways that do not glorify God. When we do not have the mind of Jesus, there is discord, confusion, and destruction. How, then, do we keep our minds stayed on Jesus?

This Sunday, as if Jesus suddenly coming to his senses, enters Jerusalem, hailed by crowds who want to make him into the triumphal king who will save them from Rome. Jesus doesn’t care. He is already walking away from our shouts of hosanna. He’s moving toward the meal he most longs for, the last one, when he’ll kneel down like a servant to wash his friends’ feet. He’s walking toward our angry shouts of “Crucify him!” and toward our betrayals, as one by one we abandon him to torture and death; he is walking toward the edge of the world.

None of it can stop him. He jumps off the edge, on to the cross; and into God’s time. Life, eternal. The life we are living today.

Which means, in a pretty unsettling way, Holy Week can’t be about a story that took place in the past, or a mere remembrance, or a historical re-enactment. It’s about the kind of life Jesus makes possible for all of us right now.

That life demands a different mind than the one I generally use. My own mind wants to shout hosannas in a happy crowd waving palms, and later on be able to blame that other crowd, the Jews, for all the bad stuff that happens. My own mind wants to claim Jesus as my friend and me as his personal favorite and pretend I won’t betray him, later, like his other friends. I want to act as if I’m somehow separate from all the other suffering, sinful souls Jesus pours himself out for: disciples and executioners, cheering and jeering crowds; each one of you.

So it’s really hard for me to walk with Jesus in a manner worthy of the Gospel. Sure, I want forgiveness; but I don’t necessarily want to admit how violent my impulses can be, how capable I am of yelling “crucify.” Sure, I want new life, but I don’t want to sit abandoned in a garden, be humiliated and hurt and killed, to get there. I want to hang on to my own power, and save myself, rather than empty myself like Jesus. I know Palm Sunday’s exciting, but I also have a feeling it’s going to get pretty dark over the next week, before it’s time for Easter.

Except — except that we’re on God’s time now. And it turns out I don’t have to jump off the edge of the world alone, because Jesus already has. His abiding love is everywhere. The good news is that there’s nothing left for me to do through my own anxious efforts at self-improvement. There’s nothing left for any of us to do. God is always moving all humanity closer to God, with the endless love of our friend and savior Jesus lighting the way for us, from the cross.

Palm Sunday serves as a reminder that a triumphant beginning and ending is possible, indeed inevitable, though the journey between these places will be difficult. These seemingly impossible moments present us with opportunities to practice being humble and obedient, to extend forgiveness, and to have a willingness to change so that we can become more like Christ. Let us mind the gaps and not fall for things that would separate us from God or from each other. 

During this Holy Week, as we journey with Jesus to the cross, let us walk mindfully, being concerned about what concerns him. In this particularly challenging moment, let us be reminded that the God who meets us at the cross is the God who will give us resurrecting power. The Psalmist puts it: What is humanity that God is mindful of us? (Psalm 8:5)  But perhaps the question that we should carry with us is how we can be mindful of God as we follow Jesus and mind the gaps.

Amen.

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Father George Inspirational

June 28, 2020 Sermon

Father George’s Sermon:

Welcome  (28 June 2020)

“The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” this is the message of the ubiquitous blue and white signs that mark the way to a local parish church all over this country.  When I travel noticing those signs have started many a side trip, or distraction, from the road.

This morning’s Gospel is about welcoming the stranger, inviting into our midst one who is unknown to us and bringing them into our fellowship – inviting them to be at home with us, even if they’re just “passing through.”

In the ancient middle east hospitality wasn’t just a courtesy, it was often a matter of life or death.  Travelers were sometimes dependent upon the kindness of strangers for food, water, and shelter in an extremely hostile environment.  To turn someone, especially a sojourner away was a grievous breach of cultural expectations and was considered a sin in many communities.

Hospitality and welcoming are something we do well here at the Church of the Mediator.  In the few short months with you I have noticed that we go out of our way to welcome the visitor, make them feel at home in our worship services, and see that they are included in our fellowship time in Ryan Hall.  In this way, we are living into both our baptismal covenant and our congregation’s mission statement.

When we welcome the stranger, or sojourner, into our midst we are welcoming Christ himself.  Throughout Christian history we Jesus appeared to his Church, he always came to us in the guise of a stranger – often a poor stranger who would be easy for us to reject and/or neglect.

Joan Chittister writing in her book in 40 Stories to Stir the Soul (Benetvision, 2010) tells this story:

There was a monastery that was renowned for its hospitality, a welcoming place for many weary travelers in need of rest. One day while the abbot was deep in prayer, an angel appeared, surrounded by golden light. The abbot gazed in rapt contemplation and was filled with a peace beyond measure.

Suddenly a series of heavy knocks resounded on the front door. “It is some weary traveler come to find shelter,” the abbot said to himself. “What should I do? If I go and answer the door, the angel might disappear. If I stay, who will care for the traveler?”

Reluctantly the abbot rose, looked resignedly at the angel, and left the room in order to attend to the needs of the dust-stained traveler. When he returned to his cell, the angel, to the abbot’s great surprise, was still there. The angel said to him, “Had you not gone to help the needy traveler, I myself would have been compelled to leave.”

From 40 Stories to Stir The Soul

When we welcome the stranger, we welcome Jesus himself; and suddenly, we find that we are his guests at his table as he welcomes us into his fellowship.  Amen.

Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers every day.  Stay safe and let us all remember to pray for each other.

Peace,

Fr. George+