Monthly Archives: April 2015

More like a literary festival, really

A nearby church posted this message on their sign last week.

Seems to me that the presence they describe would be less of an author signing and more like a literary festival, really.

Point/Counterpoint

The Priestly editor and the Deuteronomic editor will discuss their project to finally get the early history of God’s people (now available in a five-volume set called The Pentateuch) in order after their return from exile. They share stories of their uneasy collaboration and editorial disagreements with flashes of humor.

Israel Did What Was Wrong

They will be joined by their colleague the Deuteronomic Historian, who will discuss the ups and downs of Israel’s relationship with neighboring cultures. All six volumes are now available in paperback: Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 2 Kings.

Protest singer, he’s singin’ a protest song

The Major Prophets Ezekiel and Daniel (feat. The Three Isaiahs) will headline a panel discussion and karaoke session entitled “The Suffering Servant: Wheel in the Sky Keeps on Burnin’ While the Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Jeremiah requests lamentations only at karaoke.

The minor prophets Hosea, Joel, Amos (“I hate, I despise your festivals”), Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, disgusted by the commercialism and frivolity of the event, will appear outside the festival grounds in a dramatic reenactment of Israel’s harlotry (NSFW).

Rebuilding the Walls

Ezra and Nehemiah, with special guest the Chronicler, will describe the monumental task of rebuilding that faced the exiles upon their return from Babylon.

I Write the Songs That Make the Whole World Sing

The Psalmist (“Call me David”) will talk about the challenge of writing church music about both the love of God and human frustration with pain and suffering.

50 Shades of Grey

The couple featured in the Song of Songs (rated M for Mature Content) will share their honeymoon photos and videos. 18+ only, please.

Pithy Sayings

Don’t forget to follow the “men of Hezekiah,” who will share their images and uplifting quotes from the Proverbs of Solomon on both Instagram and Facebook throughout the festival.

We’re From the Philosophy Department

Landowner Job will join Qoheleth, Ecclesiastical Professor of Philosophy, and give his first-person account of losing everything and finding God. Prof. Q, lyricist for the Byrds (“To everything, turn, turn, turn”) will offer reflections on the vanity of striving.

A reception will follow — everyone’s invited to eat, drink, and be merry!

Storytellers’ Hour

Don’t miss Jonah and his tragicomic “Fish Tales of Nineveh.”

Esther will tell the story of how Purim came to be such a great party (spoiler alert: Haman gets it in the end), and Ruth is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face with “How to Win a Man and Get Along Great With Your Ex-Mother-in-Law.”

Remainders

The Maccabees will thrill audiences of all ages with their stories of hardship and courage during the war over the Temple. Free menorahs and dreidels to the first 100 kids.

Ben Sirach and his fellow Wisdom writer “Anonymous” will read from their books, accompanied by Ben Sidran and his fellow jazz pianists (set list TBD).

From the Good News Department

Writers Matthew and Mark are joined by Dr. Luke (whose two-volume history is now available in audiobook form) to share their perspectives on Jesus and to discuss similarities and differences in their work.

Here’s Your Sign

Gospel writer John will discuss his approach to the life of Jesus and talk about the “signs” he weaves throughout his account.

Free wine tasting.

 My Baby, He Wrote Me a Letter

Megastar author Paul (“I Don’t Want to Boast”) of Tarsus will talk about the churches he founded and the leading apostles who owe everything to him, if he does say so himself.

Several other minor litterati will join Paul each day of the festival. Check the schedule for appearances by James, Peter, and John.

Coffee Talk

He brews. Get it? Hebrews!

Seriously, join the author over coffee to ask your questions about “this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul.”

Leaving Laodicea

Join John of Patmos as he describes the mystical visions he saw while vacationing on Patmos. “Hunter J. Thompson’s got nothin’ on me!” exclaims the author of the final book to be featured in our festival.

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The Lord is near; be patient and hope in him

I am at the annual NAMI Wisconsin conference, hearing from speakers about mental illness and the peer-to-peer support which is the hallmark of NAMI’s recovery approach. Helping people experience recovery — living well with mental illness — builds hope.

One of this morning’s psalms resonates with my own experience of recovery.

The LORD is faithful in all his words *
and merciful in all his deeds.
The LORD upholds all those who fall; *
he lifts up those who are bowed down.
The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD, *
and you give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand *
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways *
and loving in all his works.
The LORD is near to those who call upon him, *
to all who call upon him faithfully.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; *
he hears their cry and helps them.
The LORD preserves all those who love him, *
but he destroys all the wicked.
My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD; *
let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever. (Psalm 145:14-22)

“The Lord upholds all those who fall; he lifts up those who are bowed down … the Lord is near to those who call upon him.” These assurances build hope in us as we share our stories of God’s faithfulness in our own times of trouble.

The writer Jesus son of Sirach (whose book the church calls Ecclesiasticus), describes the internal attitude I try to have as I work my own recovery each day.

Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient. For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation. Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him. (Ecclus. 2:4-6)

The slogans of recovery, like “One Day at a Time,” and the teachings of our Christian faith echo Sirach’s timeless human wisdom.

Accept whatever befalls you. What is, is. Accept that things are the way they are without becoming “restless, irritable, and discontented.”

Be patient. One of our speakers yesterday suggested that patience is a fruit of practicing mindfulness in every situation, and that mindfulness is really being present to what is actually happening.

Make your ways straight. At the men’s breakfast and Bible study I attend on Thursdays, we spoke this week about how our lives are to be lived in response to God’s grace. We do not earn grace; but in gratitude we make changes in order to stay in God’s way.

The short reading from the Acts of the Apostles exemplifies the simple faithfulness that is to characterize our new life — whether it’s life in recovery, life in Christ, or both.

Then after completing their mission Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem and brought with them John, whose other name was Mark. Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 12:25–13:3)

Notice how John, whose other name was Mark, is simply present with Barnabas and Saul. Notice how he doesn’t figure in the action at Antioch — it’s Barnabas and Saul who are made apostles.

Mark must have been practicing mindfulness throughout that time, though, paying attention to the new life in Christ. Eventually, his insights bore fruit in the gospel account that bears his name.

The Lord is near to those who call upon him, who call upon him faithfully.

In times of humiliation, be patient.

Make your ways straight, and hope in him.

Collect for St. Mark

Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Having the Son of God

And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

What does it mean to “have” the Son?

Does it mean saying particular things about Jesus? Reciting particular creeds of the Church?

Does it mean arguing about religion? Imposing religious laws on people?

Does it mean wearing certain Christian t-shirts? Wearing certain ecclesiastical robes? Having a certain hairstyle? Wearing a certain hat?

Does it mean reading special prayers? Making up special prayers? Singing special music?

+ + + + +

What might it mean to “have” life?

Might it mean owning up to our own faults? Admitting our own mistakes?

Might it mean praising God for the way things are? Thanking God for what is?

Might it mean receiving forgiveness? Giving forgiveness?

Might it mean serving God? Might it mean being served by God?

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

-George Herbert

Tempted but the truth is discovered

Your hand will lay hold upon all your enemies; *
your right hand will seize all those who hate you.
You will make them like a fiery furnace *
at the time of your appearing, O LORD;
You will swallow them up in your wrath, *
and fire shall consume them. (Psalm 21:8-10)

It’s so tempting, isn’t it? To want victory in the same terms as our “enemies” enjoy it. To believe that victory means power and control over others.

Immediately after we read Psalms 20 and 21, we finally reach the climax of the opening chapters of the Book of Daniel that we’ve been reading all week. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel’s Hebrew companions at the court of the king of Babylon, refuse to worship the great gold statue that Nebuchadnezzar has erected, so they are thrown into a fiery furnace.

The Book of Daniel probably came later in the compilation of the Hebrew Bible — it seems to reflect a post-Exile sensibility — but I’m tempted to believe that the Psalmist is wishing to have victory like the Babylonian king, victory that everyone can see, victory that burns up his enemies.

After our reading from the Book of Daniel, we respond with Canticle 12, appointed for Saturday mornings (BCP 144). Canticle 12 is known by three names: “A Song of Creation,” the Latin first line Benedicite, omnia opera Domini, and the descriptive title Song of the Three Young Men.

Yes, those three young men. What were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego doing in the fiery furnace? They were praising the God of creation.

Glorify the Lord, you angels and all powers of the Lord, *
O heavens and all waters above the heavens.
Sun and moon and stars of the sky, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, every shower of rain and fall of dew, *
all winds and fire and heat.
Winter and Summer, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever. (BCP 88)

The mighty king of Babylon is astonished. His power has no effect on these young men. It even looks like they are walking around in the furnace with a fourth figure. An angel?

He yells at them, “Come out, come here!”

And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. (Daniel 3:27-30)

What is victory?

Is it burning your enemies up in a fiery furnace? Is it winning control? Is it having power and prestige?

Or is it praising God in all circumstances? Is it yielding up your body rather than serve any power but God?

The three young men seem to know the answer. Jesus, meeting the devil in the wilderness after his baptism, seems to answer temptation in the same way.

Truth is, for us whose faith is formed by the Hebrew Bible and given flesh in Jesus and powered by the Spirit, victory means yielding ourselves, not lording over others.

Truth is, victory is “to worship the Lord [our] God, and serve only him” (Luke 4:8).

Deep gloom enshrouds the peoples

Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.
For behold, darkness covers the land; *
deep gloom enshrouds the peoples.
But over you the Lord will rise, *
and his glory will appear upon you. (Isaiah 60:1-3; BCP 87)

Yesterday evening, my Twitter feed and then the news filled with images and video of Walter Scott being shot so casually by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager.

Meanwhile, back on NCIS (Tuesday night is NCIS night) the usual storyline unfolds, and Gibbs very casually shoots the arms dealer who has killed a Marine; as often happens on NCIS, the show ends with an emotional appeal for gifts in memory of fallen Marines.

On NCIS: New Orleans, a hostage situation unfolds, met with the entirely understandable armoring of the FBI and a Navy SWAT team.

Through the gloom, the evening starts to feels like the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion — the Roman Empire says  “force wins,” the religious people say “it’s better for one person to die for the country,” the criminal gets taken down, and protests over his death are met with a carefully crafted story and an extra layer of security: “Otherwise, his disciples may go and steal him away” (Matthew 27:62-66).

It’s so hard to proclaim Easter when it’s gloomy like this. It’s so hard not to retreat, not to try to close out the news.

Alienation

But it gets better.

This morning in my Facebook feed, a friend shared a link to a reflection by New Jersey relationship columnist Anthony D’ambrosio on marriage and divorce.

One of the five reasons D’ambrosio cites “why marriage just doesn’t work anymore” is our alienation from each other because of all the devices and screens that surround us (I chuckle as I read in the living room; I can hear my wife tapping away on her laptop in the kitchen).

I can also hear the disciples walking on the Emmaus road shaking their heads in dismay. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We had high hopes.”

Communion

The stranger who joins them, and who accepts their polite invitation to a meal, opens the eyes of their faith in the way he breaks and blesses the bread (Luke 24:13-35).

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 223)

Perhaps simpler gestures of communion will pierce the deep gloom that enshrouds us.

Perhaps seeing each other through the eyes of faith — not as dangerous criminals, not as armed storm troopers, not as self-absorbed people pushing each other away on purpose — perhaps seeing each other is the first step to seeing the Risen Lord.

“Over you the Lord will rise,” says Isaiah, “and his glory will appear upon you.” Perhaps if we make time and space (and a place) to sit with each other, we will have a chance truly to see each other.

Give us eyes to see each other, O Lord, not to look past each other. Give us pause before we alienate one another again. Give us hunger to share a meal with each other, and in our breaking bread together to see you with us.

Exsultet Redux

(To be hummed quietly to oneself in the days following the Easter blowout)

Relax now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,
and give your trumpets a vacation
after the victory of our mighty King.

Relax and breathe now, all the round earth,
quiet with a glorious splendor,
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.

Relax and be glad now, Mother Church,
and let your holy courts, in peace and quiet,
reflect on the saving of your people.

All you who rest near this intimate and holy flame,
pray with me to God the Almighty
for the grace to live in worthy praise of this great light
through Jesus Christ his Son our Lord,
who lives and rests with him,
in the stillness of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christ our Passover

Alleluia. The Lord is risen indeed: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Morning Prayer during the 50 days of the Easter season may begin with the Easter antiphon and the canticle “Christ our Passover” instead of the Venite.

It’s a lovely way to mark these 50 days — one-seventh of the Church Year — as a sort of Sunday to the rest of the week.

Alleluia. The Lord is risen indeed: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Christ our Passover Pascha nostrum

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia. (BCP 83)

Putting away all earthly anxieties

As the body of Jesus lies wrapped in grave clothes in the tomb on this Saturday, we “praise and highly exalt” God for the earth and its creatures:

Let the earth glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills,
and all that grows upon the earth, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O springs of water, seas, and streams, *
O whales and all that move in the waters.
All birds of the air, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O beasts of the wild, *
and all you flocks and herds.
O men and women everywhere, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever. (BCP 89)

As God incarnate, made man in the person of Jesus, occupies the last part of creation — death itself — we pray on this Holy Saturday that we, “putting away all earthly anxieties” (BCP 99), may be prepared for the service of God’s sanctuary.

From “the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home” (BCP 370) to the microorganisms in the soil of the tomb, from the largest blue whale (“that Leviathan”) to the smallest child newly born, all creation is God’s sanctuary.

Every part of it has been made holy, not only by God’s creating it, but by God’s inhabiting it.

Paul writes that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21).

Even the darkest night, even the fear of death, even the silent cry of loneliness, all of the creation’s “bondage to decay” and all of our earthly anxieties have been redeemed, made holy by God’s inhabiting them.

The Song of the Redeemed  Magna et mirabilia
Revelation 15:3-4

O ruler of the universe, Lord God,
great deeds are they that you have done, *
surpassing human understanding.
Your ways are ways of righteousness and truth, *
O King of all the ages.

Who can fail to do you homage, Lord,
and sing the praises of your Name? *
for you only are the Holy One.
All nations will draw near and fall down before you, *
because your just and holy works have been revealed.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Kings and priests and friends | Sermon for Good Friday

Kings

Isaiah says of the Suffering Servant,

Kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate. (Isaiah 52:15)

We heard last night the refrain “Servants are not greater than their master” (John 13:16). Consider some of the servants of the king – the Roman emperor and the imperial government – in this Passion Gospel:

  • The detachment of soldiers – who coordinated with the Temple police in a tactical raid to arrest Jesus
  • Pilate – the governor of Judea, who bowed to political pressure and for expediency released a convicted killer and sentenced an innocent man to death
  • The soldiers at the headquarters – who beat and taunted and humiliated an innocent man, parading him around in a purple robe and crowning him with thorns
  • The emperor himself – whose hold on power depended on brutal, efficient force and military might
  • The soldiers at the cross – who shared their sour wine with Jesus and who did not break his legs to hasten his cruel death, because he was dead already.

“Kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see.”

Priests

Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach …. And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1, 11)

We heard last night the refrain “Servants are not greater than their master.” Consider some of the servants of the Temple hierarchy in this Passion Gospel:

  • The police from the chief priests – who came with lanterns and torches and weapons (and a SWAT team of Roman soldiers) to arrest Jesus; who bound him and took him to …
  • Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas – who questioned Jesus, who had his police strike him for blasphemy, who had him bound as though he were dangerous.
  • Caiaphas, the high priest – who “advised that it was better to have one person die for the people.”
  • The chief priests – who complained “Do not write ‘King of the Jews,’ but ‘This man said ‘I am King of the Jews.’” and who shouted to Pilate “We have no king but the emperor!”

Kings and priests, priests and kings …. upholding the law, administering the law, enforcing the rule of law, executing the sentences of the law.

“[The law] can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.”

Friends

Kings and priests …. and friends.

We heard last night the refrain “Servants are not greater than their master.”

But Jesus went on to say more, after he had shared a meal with us, after he had washed our feet as an example, and after his betrayer had gone out from among us.

“I do not call you servants any longer, for servants do not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).

Br. David Vryhof writes in the Society of St. John the Evangelist’s online meditation today that:

We are invited to take our stand at the foot of the Cross, joining the small company of Jesus’ friends who are already gathered there. We stand there together, under a dark and threatening sky, to witness the suffering of our Savior, to be with him in his hour of immense pain and desperate need.

Consider the small company of Jesus’ friends:

  • Peter – whose early-morning bluster and swordplay in the garden earned him a silent rebuke from Jesus, who was undone by a servant girl’s questions, who denied his friend before the sun even came up, but whose confession would become the rock on which Christ would build his Church.
  • Mary – who with her sister and two other Marys stood at the foot of the cross, all of them pierced through the heart for the son and master they had loved, but whose faithfulness meant they would be first witnesses to his resurrection.
  • The disciple Jesus loved – who could not only bear witness, but who could bear up his friend’s mother in her grief, laying her head on his breast just as he laid his head on Jesus’ breast at the table last night.
  • Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus – who had much to fear from the chief priests and the council, but who stayed firm in their resolve to do their part.

“Kings shall shut their mouths at him,” for his gentle power undoes their shows of force, and “priests by their sacrifices can never take away sins,” for their law of might betrays their true allegiance.

But let us – the small company of Jesus’ friends, the Master’s friends – “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

We Wish to See Jesus | Sermon for Tuesday in Holy Week

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

At the time of Jesus, most Jews spoke Greek, and the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek in a version called the Septuagint. 

“Greeks,” though, is the term the Gospel writers usually use not for non-Jews or residents of Greece, but instead for Greek-speaking (and often non-Palestinian) Jews and also for “God-fearers,” those who were not Jewish but who attended synagogue services and practiced the faith as best as they could. 

Stephen the Deacon was a Hellenistic, or Greek-speaking Jew; Cornelius the Roman centurion was a Gentile and probably a God-fearer.

But what do you think these Greeks wanted to see? Who do you think the “God fearers” were looking for?

Paul says that “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,” but what Jesus says to the Greeks who come looking sounds foolish.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Jesus first talks about the pattern of his life – the dying and rising, the self-emptying which is central to his ministry. He links that dying and rising to his work of salvation on the cross.

He says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” His dying on the cross will accomplish not only his rising to new life, but bear fruit in ours, too.

The pattern of dying and rising doesn’t make any sense. The dying doesn’t fit with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that just happened right before our reading; it doesn’t fit with hailing Jesus as the coming King, the Messiah who “remains forever,” according to the Hebrew Bible.

What do you mean? the crowd asks Jesus.

Jesus answers them with another odd image: 

The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you.

Several times during his ministry, Jesus has said something like this:

“You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” – he said that just last night at dinner with Lazarus and Mary. His feet probably still smelled of Mary’s costly perfume as he rode into the city on the back of a donkey.

“While the bridegroom is with them, his friends rejoice” – he said that early in his ministry when he was questioned about why his disciples didn’t properly observe some Sabbath regulations.

While we have Jesus with us, everything is different and the old rules don’t seem to apply anymore.

So Jesus’ dying and rising is the pattern for his life, and his presence makes a difference to his friends.

On Saturday night – after our “way of the cross” has led us with Jesus to supper with his friends and his betrayal by one of them; to his agonized prayer in the garden and to his arrest; and to his crucifixion and his death – on Saturday night the darkness of our church will be split by a single candle flame.

I’ll sing, “The light of Christ!”

And you’ll respond, “Thanks be to God!”

You see, dying and rising is the pattern. Good Friday comes, but so does Easter. Self-sacrificing, daily dying to self, is necessary, but it leads to resurrection life. The darkness comes, we no longer see our friend Jesus, but ultimately the light of Christ prevails.

This is the Gospel message that Stephen and the other Greek-speaking followers of the Way witnessed to, many of them with their lives. 

This is the Gospel that Paul carried to the Hellenistic world, to the actual “Greeks” and Romans and other Gentiles, and eventually, down the long centuries to us.

Many centuries before Jesus was born, the people of Israel were taken into exile in Babylon. Though many returned to the land, many more remained in the Diaspora – no longer speaking Hebrew, but speaking Greek like their neighbors.

“It is too light a thing,” said God upon his people’s return, “that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

The restoration, the enlightenment, the resurrection life is not for keeping. It’s for sharing.

And you see, we still “walk while we have the light.”

“The darkness has not overcome it,” says John, and with the Spirit in our midst we always have the light of Christ with us, so the darkness will not overtake us.

Jesus’ dying and rising is the pattern for his life, and his presence makes all the difference to us – his friends.

By our dying and rising, by the pattern of our lives, we walk in the light, witnessing to the light of Christ in us and sharing it with “all the nations.”

May the Greeks who come looking always see Jesus when they encounter us …

An audio version of this sermon can be found at St. Thomas’ YouTube page:

http://youtu.be/JoE1b_qa0Ok