Monday, May 26, 2014

6 Easter

Rogation Sunday

May 25, 2014

John 14.15-21

+ It’s a rare occurrence. A very rare occurrence. Anyone who has served with me on vestry knows how rare of an occurrence it is.  There are moments, maybe, the vestry and the wardens wonder to themselves: “Oh no. What is Fr. Jamie planning now?” That is the opinion I got a few months ago when I first introduced to the Vestry this idea about a memorial Garden here at St. Stephen’s.

And when I did, I think there was a moment of doubt among them. OK, you could almost hear them say. We’ve went along with his Anglo-Catholic renovations, with his introduction of bells and incense, with his genuflections and his images of the Virgin Mary. But a cemetery? On our grounds? That’s a bit strange… And I’ll admit: the idea is kind of strange.

But…as I have said from day 1, it IS very much a part of our Anglican heritage. And more importantly is ties in wonderfully to our Christian faith. Certainly, in England, it common to see a church, even in the middle of a city, with a cemetery around it.

Why? Because people wanted to be buried near a place that meant something to them. And in the months since I have introduced this memorial garden to the people of St. Stephen’s, I can tell you that sentiment has been echoed.

This congregation is important to people. And it naturally makes sense that they would want to be buried close-by.

But a deeper meaning, deeper even then sentimentalism, is at work here. In our Christian tradition, mercy plays heavily into what we do. And as a result, there have been, since the early Church, a series of what have been called corporal acts of mercy. These corporal acts of mercy are:

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbor the harborless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.
We at St. Stephen’s, in the ministry we do as followers of Jesus, have done most of those well. And today, we can say, we will be doing all of them.

Burying the dead is a corporate act of mercy.  And it is something we should be glad we are offering now.  And, it’s appropriate we are doing on this Sunday, Rogation Sunday, the Sunday before the Ascension.

In our Gospel reading for today we find Jesus explaining that although he is about to depart from his followers—this coming Thursday we celebrate the feast of Jesus’ Ascension to heaven—he will not leave them alone.  They will be left with the Advocate—the Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit.

He prefaces all of this with those words that quickly get swallowed up by the comments on the Spirit, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

And just to remind everyone, that command is, of course, “to love.”

To love God.  And to love our neighbors as ourselves.  This is what it means to be the Church.  To love.  To serve.  To be merciful.  To be Christ to those who need Christ.  To be a Christ of love and compassion and acceptance.  Without boundaries.  Without discrimination.

When we forget this, when we fail to do this, we fail to do mercy.  We are doing so this morning.  We are living in our ministry of mercy to others.

Today is, as I’ve said, Rogation Sunday.  Rogation comes the Latin word “Rogare” which means “to ask.”  Traditionally, on this Sunday, we heard the Gospel in which Jesus said,

"Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give to you".

Today, with our current lectionary of scripture readings, we actually find him saying, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate…”  From a very simple perspective, the thing we are asking today, on this Rogation Sunday, is to be faithful followers of Jesus, thorough out works and acts of mercy.  

Now for some of us, this whole idea of Rogation Sunday and the procession that we will soon be making outside at the conclusion of our Eucharist this morning might seem a bit too much.  The fact is, it is something, very much like burying the dead on the church grounds,  that has been done for centuries in our Anglican Tradition.

In the 1630s one of heroes (you hear me quote him and reference him often), Anglican priest and poet, George Herbert, commended these rogation processions.  He said that processions should be encouraged for four reasons:

1. A Blessing of God for the fruits of the field.

2. Justice in the preservation of boundaries of those fields and properties.

3. Charity in loving, walking and neighborly accompanying one another with reconciling of differences at the time if there be any.

And 4 (hold on to your seats). Mercie (yes, mercy) , in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of largesse, which at the time is or ought to be used.

What we are doing today is all of those things. Even the dedication of our memorial garden—this visible sign of the final corporal act of mercy—is a part of this Rogation celebration. We are asking God’s blessings on the growth not only of crops and fields. We are thanking today for the growth of our congregation. We are thanking God for the acts of mercy done to each of us.  And we are asking God to continue to make us Christ to those who need Christ.

As you can see, the rallying themes of this Rogation time are hope and justice and mercy.  As George Herbert reminds us there is always room for charity.

As we process out at the end of the Eucharist today, I ask that you remember Jesus’ call to us, to love him and to keep his commandment of love and mercy.  It is more than just sweet, religious talk.  It is a challenge and a true calling to live out this love in radical ways.  It is a challenge to be merciful.

As we process, as we walk together, let us pay attention to this world around us.  Let us ponder the causes and the effects of what it means to be inter-related—to be dependent upon on each to some extent, as we are on this earth.

We do need each other.  And we do need each other’s love.  And mercy.  We do need that radical love that Jesus commands us to have. With that love, we will truly love our neighbors as ourselves.  We will show mercy to them.

Our neighbors, of course, are more than just those people who live next door to us.  Our neighbors are all of us, those we do in fact love and those we have difficulty loving.  And our neighbors also include this earth and all the inhabitants of it. That command of Jesus is to love—to respect—those with whom we live and share this place.  

 Let this procession today truly be a "living walking" as George Herbert put it.  But let our whole lives as Christians be also a “living walk,” a mindful walk, a walk in which we see the world around with eyes of love and respect and justice and care. And, most importantly, with eyes of mercy. Amen.

 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

5 Easter

May 28, 2014

Acts 7.55-60; John 14.1-14

+ On Friday, I received a strange thing in the mail. I received my brother’s death certificate. I actually ordered it a few weeks before.  I was curious to see it and to read about what caused my brother’s very premature death last July at age 57.

There were no surprises. He died of a heart attack. He had had, of course, a stroke years before, which was a contributing factor to his death.  He had high cholesterol.  The regular litany that we hear so much about in our society.

When I showed the certificate to my mother, she shared a story I hadn’t heard before: a story she heard from my niece about my brother’s death. She said that, at some point in his last heart attack, he had a look of absolute fear on his face.

My mother said, “He died just my father”—my grandfather Ted.

They both died frightened. They died uncertain of what was happening to them.

“Yes,” she said, “they just didn’t know how to die.”

It was a very telling comment from my mother.

And the fact is, if I asked you this morning if you knew how to die, would you be able to say you knew. Let’s face it, there’s no classes on how to die. There’s no grand lesson. All we, as followers of Jesus know of dying is this: we know only that he promises us something greater than this.

And we catch a glimpse of that greater something in our Gospel reading for this morning. The Gospel we heard this morning is a familiar one for most of us.  This is one of the Gospel readings recommended by the Book of Common Prayer for funerals.  In fact, it is, by far, one of the most popular Gospel readings chosen for funerals.

There’s little doubt why it is.  It is wonderfully appropriate.  The reason it is so popular is because it truly does give us a wonderful glimpse into what awaits us following our death. This really is the BIG issue in our lives.  We might not give it a lot of conscious thought, but no doubt most of us have pondered at some time in our lives, what awaits us following our death.

The part we no doubt concentrate on in today’s Gospel are Jesus’ words “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Traditionally, we have heard the word “mansions” used here, and I have never been shy in saying that I have always enjoyed the word “mansions.”

 I believe that these dwelling places awaiting us are truly the equivalent of mansions for us. I don’t believe that they’re actual mansion, mind you.  I think Jesus is being very poetic in his description.  But I think what he conveys is that God will provide something beautiful and wonderful for us.

 And in our reading from Acts this morning, we get to catch an even clearer view of that beautiful and wonderful something that awaits us.  In Acts we find our own dear, patron saint, St. Stephen, being dragged out by an angry mob and stoned to death.  It’s certainly not pretty. But in the midst of that violence and anger, we find St. Stephen having a glorious vision.  He looks up into heaven and is allowed a vision, in which he sees Jesus in the glory of God.  And with his last words, he prays to Jesus,

 “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

 This is the first post-Ascension prayer to Jesus in the scriptures.  And it is the most beautiful and most honest prayer St. Stephen could’ve prayed.

 So this, morning, in both our Gospel reading and our reading from Acts, we are confronted with glorious visions. Now neither of them are as stupendous as the Rapture. But there is something wonderful in being able to look ahead and see what awaits us.  It is wonderful to be able to see the joys and beauty of our place with God in heaven.

 Still, knowing full well what awaits us, having been given glimpses into that glorious place that lies just beyond our vision, we still find ourselves digging in our heels when we have to face the fact of our own dying.

 I remember once reading a book by the Roman Catholic saint, Alphonsus de Liguori, about how to die what he called a “happy death.”  A happy death was not a death free of pain or suffering necessarily.  A happy death was dying in the Presence of God. A happy death is a holy death.

 This kind of thinking might seem a bit strange to us non Roman Catholics. We just aren’t used to thinking about such a thing as a “happy death” or a “good death.”  The whole idea seems like some kind of oxymoron.  “Happy” and “death” just don’t go together in way of our thinking.  But it is a good thing to think about occasionally. Certainly there are few books to teach us non-Roman Catholics about how to die a happy and holy death. As a priest, I can say that I have known many people who, when faced with their deaths, simply don’t know how to die and don’t know how to look at their dying as a way of moving into God’s presence.  And even fewer know how to prepare themselves spiritually for dying.

 In our Book of Common Prayer, we have a beautiful prayer that is prayed for someone near death. It can be found on page 462.  There we find this prayer,

 “Almighty God, look on your servant, lying in great weakness, and comfort ‘this person’, with the promise of life everlasting, given in the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

 “Comfort ‘this person’ with the promise of life everlasting”

 This promise of eternal life, as we have seen in the Resurrection, should truly be a comfort to us, especially in those moments when we fear death.  Thinking about our own deaths isn’t necessarily morbid or unpleasant.  It simply reminds us that we are mortal.  We will all die one day.

 But rather than despairing over that fact, we should use it as an opportunity to draw closer to God.  We should use it as an opportunity to live a more holy life.  And hopefully, living a more holy life, we can pray at that last moment—that holy moment—with true conviction, that wonderful prayer of St. Stephen, the first martyr:

 “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

 Although it’s probably not the most pleasant thought to have that we are going to die, I think it is important to think about occasionally.  The reason we should think about it—and the reason we shouldn’t despair in thinking about it—is because, for a Christian, dying is not a horrible thought.

 Dying is not a reason to fear.  Because, by dying, we do come to life everlasting—life with end.  And although we, at this moment, can’t imagine it as being a “happy” or “holy” moment, the fact is, it will be.  It will be the holiest moment of our life and it will be the happiest moment of our life.

 For Stephen, who died abused, in pain, bleeding from those sharp stones that fell upon him, it was a happy and holy moment when he looked up and saw Jesus waiting for him.  He was happy because he knew he would soon be received by Jesus and it was holy because, at that moment, his faith was fulfilled.  That place toward which we are headed—that place in God’s house—we will find our true home. Heaven—is truly our happy home, the place toward which we are wandering around, searching.  And we will not find our rest until we rest there, and we will not be fully and completely happy until we are surrounded by the happiness there.

 I wish I could’ve shared all of this with my brother, Jeff. I wish he could’ve know that there was such a thing as a happy or holy death. I wish he had known how to die.

 For us, we do know.  So, let us look forward to that place in which Jesus has prepared a place for us.  It awaits us.  It there, right at this moment, just beyond our vision.  Let us look to it with joy and let us live in joy until we are there together. Amen.

 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

4 Easter

Good Shepherd Sunday
May 11, 2014
John 10.1-10
+ This weekend, of course, was an interesting weekend for those of us who watched very closely as our friend, Pastor Mark Strobel, as well as Vanessa and Max with him, went through the emotional gauntlet of the Bishop’s Election of the Lutheran Church of the Easter Synod of North Dakota.  I talked several times with Mark this past week, either in person, by text or email, and I saw firsthand what an emotionally grueling experience this has been for him. Most of us surrounded Pastor Mark, Vanessa and Max with our prayers and hopes, and we felt their sadness at not being elected.

Also, this past week many of us remembered the 10th anniversary of the consecration of our own Bishop, Michael Smith. I remember that day very well in my memory.

For us, as Episcopalians, Bishops ARE important. I mean, we are after all,  Episcopalians. Our very name tells us we are “governed by bishops.” We place a lot of hope and ideals in our bishops. We long and pray for good and strong Bishops to lead us and guide us. And we know, as Episcopalians, that we NEED Bishops, just as we need priests and deacons and lay leaders in our Church.

I think it’s appropriate that, in the midst of all this activity regarding Bishops, we celebrate then, today, Good Shepherd Sunday. On this Sunday, we pray this wonderful collect in which we recognize Jesus as our Good Shepherd. And, on this Sunday, we encounter this wonderful reading about Jesus being the gate for the sheep.  Jesus describes himself as the Gate through which the sheep enter the pastures.

This is probably one of the most perfect images Jesus could have used for the people listening to him. Although they don’t get what he’s saying at first, they certainly would have understood what a good shepherd was and what a bad shepherd was.

The good shepherd was the shepherd who actually cared for his flock.  He looked out for them, he watched them. The Good Shepherd guided the flock and led the flock. He guided and led the flock to a place to eat. This is an important aspect of the role of the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd didn’t feed the flock.  Rather the good shepherd led the flock to the choicest green pastures and helped them to feed themselves.  In this way, the Good Shepherd is more than just a coddling shepherd.  He is not the co-dependent shepherd.  The Good Shepherd doesn’t take each sheep individually, pick them up, and hand-feed the sheep.

Rather, he guides and prods and leads the sheep to green pastures and allows them feed themselves.  The Good Shepherd also protects the flock against the many dangers out there.

If we follow the Good Shepherd, if we allow ourselves to be led by him to the Gate, we find that incredible reward of green pastures awaiting us.  And even if we don’t follow, if we stray, we will find him prodding us.

But, with our eyes on the Shepherd, we know that the bad things that happen to us will not destroy us, because the Shepherd is there, close by, watching out for us.  We know that in those bad times—those times of darkness when predators close in, when storms rage—he will be there for us.

More importantly the Good Shepherd knows his flock.  He knows each of the sheep.  If one is lost, he knows it is lost and will not rest until it is brought back into the fold.  He will go after that lost sheep.

In our wonderful collect for today, there is this wonderful petition,

“Grant that when we hear his voice, we may know him who calls us each by name…’

 This is the kind of relationship we have with Jesus as the Good Shepherd. We know him because he knows us. He knows us and calls us each by our name.

 In Jesus, we don’t have some vague, distant God. We don’t have a God who lets us fend for ourselves. We instead have a God who leads us and guides us, a God who knows us each by name, a God who despairs over the loss of even one of the flock and goes after us, chasing us down.

 Last week I shared with you that wonderful bit from the Rule of St. Benedict about welcoming all people as Christ. Well, the Rule of St. Benedict—that endless source of great practical advice—also has an incredible chapter on the role of an Abbot. An Abbot, of course, is the leader—the parent—of a monastery. But more than that, the way St. Benedict lays it out, the Abbot becomes the embodiment of the Good Shepherd.

 
In Chapter 64 of the Rule, Benedict writes:

 Let [the Abbot] recognize that his goal must be to profit the monks, not to be preeminent over them.

And later in that same chapter, we hear this:

 Let [the Abbot] not be excitable, anxious, extreme, obstinate, jealous, or overly suspicious, since such a man is never at rest. Instead, he must show forethought and consideration in his orders, and whether the task he assigns concerns God or the world, he should be discerning and moderate, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said: If I drive my flocks too hard, they will all die in a single day (Gen 33:13). Therefore, drawing on this and other examples of discretion, the mother of virtues, he must so arrange everything that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak nothing to flee.

Probably the best summation of this chapter—and role of the Good Shepherd—is this:

Let him strive to be loved rather than feared.

Imagine what the Church would be like all our leaders—not just our Bishops, but all our priests, all our deacons, all of our lay leaders—strived to do just this in the Church? Our Church would be a glorious place!

As Christians, as followers of Jesus the Good Shepherd, we are also called to be good shepherds to those around us.  All of us.  

All of us who are called to ministry—and we all, as Christians, are ministers and we have each been called, in our own ways—we know that to be truly effective ministers we have to be good shepherds.  We should be helping others toward the Gate, and through the Gate into that green pasture.  We should be nudging and prodding each other along, in love.  And we should be concerned about those who have fallen away, who have been led astray.  This is what it means to do ministry.

So, on this day in which we celebrate the Shepherd who leads and guides, let us allow ourselves to be led.  And let us lead.  On this day that we look to the Shepherd who guides, let us be guided.  And let us guide.  Let us allow ourselves to be led by that Great Good Shepherd, who brings us to himself, to the very Gate.  And there, either led or prodded, leading and prodding others, let us go through the Gate, that goal of our spiritual lives, into that glorious place we have longed for all our existence.  And when we are there, in that glorious place, let us rejoice together in our God and in each other.  It will be a great day on that day, for there, we will be with the One who not only is aware of us, but knows us and calls us by our very name. Amen.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Funeral for Rick Clemenson

The Funeral for
Rick Clemenson
(March 9, 1955-April 30, 2014)
Faith Lutheran Church, West Fargo
May 5, 2014


+ For those of you who might not know, I am Rick and Renaye’s cousin. And like most of us here this morning, I will be blunt with you: I don’t want to be here today. I do not want to be here this morning commemorating the life of Rick Clemenson. We shouldn’t be gathering today to be saying goodbye to Rick, who has been to us a husband, a father, a son-in-law, a brother-in-law, a cousin—and most importantly to evertyone here this morning—a friend.

This morning I can say—and say so with no apologies— I am angry. I am angry at an illness like ALS. I am angry and frustrated over the fact that there is an illness like this. And I am very angry that ALS is what took Rick from us.

Nobody deserves ALS. But Rick especially did not deserve ALS. I can be angry and sad about it this morning. I know many of you are angry and sad about it too.

But the one who never seem angry, was Rick. And I think that tells us more than anything who Rick Clemenson was.

Now, I need to be careful. I don’t want to make Rick out to be some kind of saint. Let me tell your, Rick would not be happy with me if I did that. But I am going to say that Rick was one of the genuinely good people I knew. And most of us knew that about him.

His daughter Mandy shared these beautiful thoughts about her father:

My dad was a happy go lucky guy with a kind heart who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He worked hard and he played hard at his many hobbies including fishing, hunting and golfing. He'd be the first to admit he wasn't particularly talented at any of those things, but he enjoyed them nonetheless

Now, that is Rick. That is the Rick most of us knew.  And because it is—because he really was that good guy we knew--it makes his absence from us this even more sad.

But the fact, he isn’t really absent from us. He is here with us this morning. He is here with us, celebrating this wonderful life of his with us. And as we leave here today, we will continue to feel him with us. He will stay with us as long as we have those memories of him. He will stay with us as we long we remember all those good times we had with him.  And when we do that, we will continue to celebrate his life again and again. And that is the best thing we could ever do for Rick.

I am particularly happy this morning that Rick’s family chose this reading from Ecclesiastes. I love this reading. As I was pondering it these last few days, I realized, more and more, how these words really did come to speak loud and clear about Rick, especially in his last days.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
Rick was a fiercely independent guy. He might not have seemed like it to some of us who knew him. But he really was. He did things his way. And the final thing he did his way, was his passing away.

Last Wednesday, as that hospital bed was wheeled in, it seemed as though Rick said, “Alright. That’s enough.” He understood fully well at that moment, yes, there is a time to live, and there is a time to die. And now was the time to die.

Death by ALS can be unpleasant. I will spare you the details, but Rick knew full well what death by ALS entailed.

But,  for Rick, there came that moment when he was defiant even of that. Instead, he went quietly. He went in his favorite chair, having spent time with his family and his closest friends earlier that day.  He went in the way he wished to have gone. Because it was time. And even in that, there was a kind of defiance. A defiance of ALS. And a defiance even of death.

There is a great tradition in the Christian faith, summarized in the well-known phrase.

All of us go down
to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
alleluia, alleluia.

Now those words might seem archaic. We’ve heard those words so many times probably that they don’t mean anything anymore.  But, if you listen closely, they words of defiance.  Those words speak to us and tell us that, even in the face of all that life—and yes, even death—throws at us, we can hold up our heads with integrity, bolstered by our faith.

Even in the face of whatever life may throw at me, we can almost hear Rick say, I will not let those bad things win. I will not let ALS win. I will not let even death win.

“…yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
alleluia, alleluia.”

Even you, death, will not win out over me.  Even in the face of these awful things, I will hold up my head and I will face you with strength and defiance.  And, because I have faith, because I am loved and I have loved, you will not defeat me.

Today, all that Rick Clemenson was to us—that man of strength and love and integrity—all of that is not lost.  It is not gone.  Death has not swallowed that up.  Rather all of that is alive and dwells with us who loved him. And dwells in Light inaccessible.  All of that dwells in a place of peace and joy, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. And for us who are left, we know that it awaits us as well.

See, Rick is still showing us the way forward.  He is showing us by his very life and faith, and even his death, how to face these hardships life throws at us.  He is even showing us how to meet these days ahead—these days in which we now must struggle with a life in which Rick is not here with us physically any more.  He is showing  us to face it all with our heads held high, bolstered by our faith and out  integrity.  He is showing us that, in the midst of all of these hardships, we must do so with class and dignity and strength.

I will miss Rick.  I will his smile and his kindness. I will miss the joy he brought to Renaye and to his children and to all of us who cared for him

But I am thankful to God that I got to know him.   And I am even more thankful for all that he has shown me in this last illness of his and in how he met death with dignity.  People like that come along only rarely in our lives.  And when they do, we are not the same people we were before we knew them.

So, today, yes we are sad. Yes, we are in pain over this loss. Yes, we ache deeply in our hearts and in our souls.

But we are also thankful today.  We are thankful for this man whom God has been gracious to let us know and to love.  We are for thankful for his example to us.  We are thankful for his companionship and the love and care he showed each of us.  And we are grateful for all he has given us in our own lives.

See, even we, today, are defiant. With all this sadness, with all this pain, we can still, like Rick, hold ourselves and say,  Yes, even now, even here at that grave, here in the face of sadness, here, on this sad day of death and darkness, we can still sing:  

Alleluia!

Alleluia! Alleluia!  




Sunday, May 4, 2014

3 Easter


May 4, 2014

Luke 24.13-35

+ Yesterday was one of those crazy Saturdays. In addition to all the funeral planning for my cousin, getting two sermons done, preparing the prayer service I am leading tonight at the funeral home and all the work that had to be done, yesterday was a busy day from sun-up to long past sundown.

In addition to all of that, through your priest’s fault, I forgot when we rescheduled our clean-up day, that the FM Vegetarians also asked to host a brunch here.  Remember the good old days when we never had to worry about two events being scheduled on one day.

Well, as a result of that, we, of course, had to push our clean-up time up to 1:00 pm. Now, in other congregations, that would be cause for drama with a capital D.  What I was impressed with, was how people here at St. Stephen’s just shrugged their shoulders about it.

 Let me tell you, I have been in those congregations who would throw a fit over such a  thing.  Some people would grumble and mumble and complain about such things.  (And some would grumble and mumble and complain about your priest). But, not here.

 Yes, it was an inconvenience to some. But, this is the way it is. This is the way it is when we are a welcoming congregation, as we are. Although we might be inconvenienced, we are also accommodating.  And that is what real ministry is about. Real ministry, as we have all discovered, is not about the almighty ME. It is about US—all of us, the children of God.

 Radical Hospitality is not easy. Ministry is not easy. Sharing our time, our energy, our physical building, is not easy. But it is what we do—and do well—here at St. Stephen’s. And we should be glad that we are that kind of congregation.

In today’s Gospel, we find hospitality as well.  We find this beautiful story of Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  Cleopas and the other disciple are, essentially, already in a strange time in their life in following Jesus.  The long week of Jesus’ betrayal, torture and murder are behind them.  The resurrection has happened, although, it’s clear from their words, they don’t quite comprehend what’s happened.

Of course, who could? We still, two thousand years later, are grappling with the events of Jesus’ resurrection. But as these two walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, they are kept from recognizing their friend, the person they saw as the Messiah, until finally he breaks the bread with them.  Only then—only when he breaks that bread open to share with them—do they recognize him. It’s a wonderful story and one that has many, many layers of meaning for each of us individually, no doubt.

But for us Episcopalians, for us who gather together every Sunday and every Wednesday to break bread together, this story takes on special meaning.  In a sense. we are the disciples in this reading.  We are Cleopas and the unnamed disciple, walking on the road—walking, as they are, in that place on the other side of the cross.

They are walking away from Jerusalem, where all these events happened—the betrayal, the torture the murder and the eventual resurrection of Jesus from the tomb—back to Emmaus, to their homes.  Like them, we go around in our lives on the other side of the cross, trying to understand what it means to be followers of Jesus on this side of the cross.

What this story teaches us is that, even when we don’t recognize Jesus in our midst, we should always be cautious.  He might not make himself known to us as he did to Cleopas and the other disciple.  Rather, he might remain cloaked in that stranger who comes to us.  And as a result, it’s just so much better to realize that everyone we encounter, everyone we greet, everyone we welcome, everyone we make room for,  truly is Jesus disguised.

Now, as many of you know, there are many Benedictine Oblates at St Stephen’s—James, Pastor Mark, Emily Woolwine and your truly—and there are many others of us who are truly Benedictine in spirit. Benedictine Oblates and other Benedictine-minded people strive in our lives to follow the Rule of St. benedict, an ancient, though very amazing document. In that Rule, there is one particular amazing reference. In the 53rd Chapter of the Rule, St. Benedict writes:

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

That’s powerful. That’s most definitely what we do here at St. Stephen’s.  And we do it well.

But, for a moment, just imagine what an incredible world this would be if everyone could do this—if everyone could practice radical hospitality like this.  What an amazing Christian Church we would have if we could do the same, if we could welcome every stranger—and every regular parishioner as well—as Christ.  Imagine if we welcomed even our very enemies as Christ.

I think many Christians forget this. The fact is, we as Christians ARE called to this radical form of hospitality.  By the very fact that we are baptized we are called to do this.

 In our Baptismal Covenant—that Covenant we have made with God through our baptism—we are called to serve Christ in each other.  In our Book of Common Prayer, in the Baptismal Covenant on page 305, each time there is baptism in this church, we are asked,

 “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.”

 To which, we respond, “I will, with God’s help.

 Now, of course, that’s not easy.  In fact, sometimes it’s downright impossible.  Without God’s help, we can’t do it.  Without God’s help—without the Holy Spirit—we first of all can’t even begin to recognize Christ in our midst.  And without God’s help, we can’t seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

 And, let’s face, it’s just easier to choose not to.  It’s much easier to grumble and mumble and complain. It’s much easier to backbite.  It’s easy not to see Christ in those people who drive us crazy, who irritate us, who say things to us we don’t want to hear.  It’s much, much easier for us to see the devil in people, rather than Christ.

 But for us who gather together every Sunday at this table—at this altar—we can’t use that excuse of being unable to recognize Jesus in our midst.  

 Jesus IS in our midst.

 In our liturgy, we find Jesus in a multitude of ways.  Jesus speaks to us in the scripture readings we hear in the Liturgy of the Word.  The voice we hear in these sacred words is truly Jesus’ voice, speaking to each of us in our own particular circumstances, and to all of us as whole.

 And Jesus is present with us—in ALL of us—as we gather here.  We—the assembly of the people—we, all of us together, are the presence of Jesus here as well.

 And when we break this bread at the altar, we find whatever spiritual blindness we come here with is lifted at that time.  We see Christ truly present with us—in the bread and the wine,  and in one another.

 Radical hospitality DOES make a difference.  Greeting people as though Jesus were present in each person who comes through that door has incredible results—not in only in our collective life here at St. Stephen’s, but in the lives of each of those people coming among us. We are showing them that, despite the occasionally somewhat ugly reputation the Church has at times—and sometimes deservedly so—we, as the Body of Christ in this world, can do much good as well.

 We can truly love.  We can truly be accepting—of all people, no matter who or what they are.  We can truly see clearly that Jesus does still walk beside us.  We can see that he is with us here as we listen to the scriptures and he is here with us that this table in the breaking of the bread.

 So, today, let us hear—truly hear—his words in the scriptures we have just shared and in the scriptures we will read this week.  Let us allow Jesus to speak to us with words that are familiar, with a voice that is familiar.  Let us allow him to take away whatever spiritual blindness we might have so that we can truly and completely see him in those people who share our life with us.  Let us allow him to take away that spiritual blindness that causes so much harm in the world so that we can fully experience him and show love and respect to everyone we come in contact with.

 And when we break this bread this morning, let our hearts sing, as it no doubt did for Cleopas and the other disciple,

 “Be known to me, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of bread.”

 And recognizing him here, as we come forward to be nourished in body and spirit by his Body, Blood and Spirit. may we also go out into the world, able to recognize Jesus as he walks alongside us on our journey. We are living, in this moment, on the other side of the cross.  We are living here, with Jesus in our very midst.

 It is truly a glorious place to be.