Monthly Archives: April 2015

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