Sunday, May 29, 2016

2 Pentecost

May 29, 2016

Luke 7. 1-10

+ Now anyone who has me for any period of time knows a few things very quickly about me. First of all, I’m pretty laid back. I am pretty even-keeled when it comes to most things.

But…but…there are a few things that can set me off. There are a few things that people who have worked with me for any length of time know to avoid.

One—this goes all the way back to when I was in junior high school and a teacher I had there—is this: Never begin a conversation with me with the words, “I have a bone to pick with you,” or any variation of that. I have to breathe deeply if I hear those words.

The second thing I am not good at at—and this is a hard one, especially for a priest—is: I hate being told what to do.

Yes, I know. I am under an actually vow of obedience to my bishop as a priest. But…I am not good at it, obviously.

For example, I really do not like people telling me what my job is as a priest. We get that a lot in congregations. I don’t tell people who are doctors how to be doctor. I don’t tell people who are teachers how to teach. People think they know what a priest should or should not do. They think they know what my responsibilities are.

I hate have being people boss me. And I hate being told “do this” or “do that.” This all goes back to being a kid.

Now, nobody would look at me now and say, “wow, that Father Jamie. He’s a real rebel.” Well, I know I don’t look it. But I kinda am. And I really HATE being told what to do. Just ask my poor mother.

I know it’s weird. I’ve worked hard on it over the years.  And finally, at this point in my life, I just acknowledge it and accept it.  And I’m honest with others about it. It’s not that I can’t take honest, creative, helpful  criticism.

It’s not that I can’t work with others. I actually work very well with others—even with people who don’t work well with me.   It’s just…don’t pick a bone with me.

So, with that in mind, I have to admit that our Gospel reading for this morning drives me kind of crazy. I know it sounds all nice and wonderful on the surface. Here’s this loyal Gentile. A centurion. A soldier.  And here he is submitting to Jesus and the God of Jesus.  It’s wonderful.

It’s so wonderful, we even find Jesus amazed at it. We don’t find Jesus amazed at much in the Gospels. So, when he is, we should take note.

But when I hear words like this—

“For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me, and I say to one ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my slave “do this’ and the slave does it…”

—I find myself reacting in much the same way I do when someone tells me they have a bone to pick with me.

This is faith? I have to wonder. This is what Jesus finds amazing? If so, I’m not in good place. And knowing many of you as well I do, I don’t think you are either.  This is exactly the opposite of what we thought faith was.

Faith, as I’ve understood it, and certainly as I’ve preached it from this pulpit, is all about freedom. Remember some of those sermons I’ve preached? God does not want us to be robots, I’ve said. God does not want us to mindlessly do this and do that. So, all this talk really riles me up.

But, wait… It’s not so simple as all of that. Because if those are the words we get hung up on—and yes, I’ve gotten hung up on those words in this Gospel reading—then, we are really missing the point. Because, right before those words, the centurion says something else.  Something really beautiful. Something really amazing.

“Lord, do not trouble yourself for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof,…but only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”

This turns everything I have already said on its head. All that rebelliousness gets knocked flat at these words. There is a difference here between blind submission and…humility.  And it is humility, not blind faith, that this Gospel reading is all about. I still echo what I have always said:

God does not want robots for the Kingdom of God.  God does not want us to be mindless, submissive robots.  We have brains and minds, that we must use. We have intellect that we must exercise. We must work on our faith, and question it at times, and struggle with it and under it at times.

But, sometimes..sometimes…and this is really hard…we must submit to it and humble ourselves before God.  I know that’s hard for us. It’s hard for me. We are proud at times. And we can be proud. At times. But we also must humble ourselves too. We also must bow down and bend our bodies—and our hearts—to God. And we sometimes just have to stop doing it all ourselves and let God do some things.

That is the beauty of this encounter with the centurion this morning.  And it is a beautiful encounter. That humble prayer to Jesus by the centurion really does get right to the   heart of the matter.

Only speak, Lord, and there will be healing.

You’ll sometimes notice during our celebration of Holy Communion that I am up at the altar whispering quietly to myself. I’m not talking to myself, trust me. I’m saying certain prayers during this time, such as when I wash my hands, or when I pour water into the wine.

There’s also a prayer I pray right before I receive Holy Communion. It’s a prayer that everyone prays in the Roman Catholic Church right before they receive, and I wish we Episcopalians could have implemented it in our Prayer Book. But it’s a good prayer for all of us to pray right before we receive communion. The prayer is:

“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

It is a prayer that, of course, echoes our reading this morning. And it’s a beautiful prayer as far as I’m concerned.  Yes, maybe a bit self-deprecating.  But, it is truly a humble prayer.

The fact is, we are all called to be obedient as Christians. We are also all called to be humble. Neither of these callings are easy. But, then, nobody promised us that faith would be easy. If anyone ever did, they deceived you. Get your money back from them!

Faith is not easy. It is hard. And that’s all right. An easy faith is not one with any real rewards to it.

But a faith in which one needs to work—a faith in which one must work to be obedience and humble—that is a faith with purpose and meaning.

So, let us embrace such a faith. Let us each work hard on our faith. Let us be obedient, as the centurion was. Let us be humble. Let us ask Christ to come under our roof and to heal us and those who need healing in our lives.  

When we do, it is then that our faith will truly flourish. It is then that Christ truly does come under our roof and dwells with us.  It is then that Christ will no doubt be amazed and will delight in us as well.





Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost

May 15, 2016

 Acts 2.1-21

+ This past week, I got it into my head that I would like to have an ikon of the Holy Spirit on display here at St. Stephen’s for this Sunday of Pentecost. It’s an important Sunday, after all. A VERY important Sunday. We commemorate the end of the Easter season today, which is important.  But, of course, most importantly, we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on those first followers of Jesus.

Well, just because I might think it’s an important Sunday doesn’t mean the rest of the world does, obviously. As I asked around at various religious stores to see if they had an ikon of the Holy Spirit, each one came up empty. They didn’t really even know of one in existence. It’s just not a common theme in ikons, I soon discovered.

Who would’ve thought?  It kind of shocked me, actually. There was an abundance of the ikons of Jesus, of Mary and the child Jesus, of saints, even the famous Rubilev ikon of the Trinity. There was even an ikon of the God the Father.  But none of the Holy Spirit alone. Even when I Googled it, I couldn’t really find any.

Finally, as I often do in such situation, I just made my own, I made it by finding a detail from another ikon of the Trinity.  And it is that one that you will find on the votive stand this morning.

What’s interesting about all this searching for an ikon, is that the Holy Spirit is just one of those things people don’t think about often.  As you probably notice, Christians think A LOT about Jesus. And that’s a very good thing.  But, let’s face it, the Holy Spirit just doesn’t capture the imagination of most Christians like Jesus does.  After all, the Spirit is usually depicted as a dove. Not an exciting symbol for most people.

But, let me tell you, the Holy Spirit is VERY important.  Vitally important.  In fact, the Spirit is probably that one aspect of God that we experience in our own lives more than any other aspect of God. Every time we feel God’s  Presence in our life, every time we feel a sense of the Holy, that is the Spirit. Even here in the Holy Eucharist, when we partake of the Bread and the Wine, we are partaking in the Spirit of God.  We call down the Spirit in this service.

So, the Spirit is very active in our lives.  And by being active in life, we know that God is active in our lives.  

Today we are reminded of how the Holy Spirit continued to move in our lives. We are reminded that the Holy Spirit is in the collective Church. And in us, as individuals.   And that moving of the Holy Spirit within us, has changed us and made us a wonderful force of good and love in the world.

I think most of us—I hope most of us—have felt this moving of the Holy Spirit within us as some point.   Still, even if we haven’t, when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we all find ourselves grasping and struggling to define who and what the Spirit is in our lives.   The Spirit can be elusive and strange and sometimes we might have a hard time wrapping our minds around the Spirit.

But it is clear from the words of Jesus before he ascends back into heaven what the role of the Spirit is:   Although Jesus might no longer be with us physically as he was when he walked with the disciples, his spirit will always remain with us.   Jesus will leave—we will not be able to touch him and feel him and listen to his human voice again.   But God is leaving something amazing in Jesus’ place. And this is just some nice, pleasant gift. It is a gift that makes us live up to our full potential as lovers of God.

In a sense what happens with the Descent of God’s Spirit upon us is the fact that we now have the potential to be prophets, as you’ve heard me say many, many times. The same Spirit which spoke to Ezekiel, which spoke to Isaiah, which spoke to Jeremiah, which spoke to Moses, also can now speak to us and be revealed to us just as it spoke and was revealed to those prophets from the Hebrew Bible.

That is who the Spirit is in our midst. The Spirit we celebrate today—and hopefully every day—is truly the Spirit of the God that came to us and continues to come to us—first to those prophets in our Hebrew past, then in the Word spoken by Jesus and finally in that rushing wind and in that rain of burning flames. It is through this Spirit that we come to know God in ways we might never have before.

The Spirit is God with us NOW. Right here. Right now.

When we sense holiness—when we feel God close to us in our own lives—that’s God’s Spirit with us.  God’s Spirit comes to us wherever we may be in our lives—in any situation or frustration.  God’s Spirit is with us, as Jesus promised, always.  Always.

And it is through this Spirit that God comes to know us as well.    For those of us who want to grasp these experiences—who want to have proof of them—the Spirit doesn’t fit well into the plan.   We can’t grasp the Spirit.   We can’t make the Spirit do what we want it to do.  In that way, the Spirit truly is like the Wind that came rushing upon those first disciples.

So, how do we know the Spirit is working in our lives?   Well, as Jesus said, we know the tree by its fruit.   In our case, we know the Spirit best through the fruits God’s Spirit gives us.   

It was on the feast of Pentecost in Jewish culture on which the first fruit were offered to God.   In a sense, what happens on our Pentecost, is God returning those fruits to us.  On the feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the fruits the Spirit of God gives to us and we can be thankful for them.    The Spirit comes to us and manifests itself to us in the fruits given to us by the Spirit.

But, we must not let the Holy Spirit do all the work. It is important that we actually DO the work the Holy Spirit gives us. We must cultivate those fruits of the Spirit. Yes, we can pray for them. Yes, we can pray novenas and ask the Spirit to come and convict and convert us. But we have to be ready for that first.  We have to be doing the work already—we have to be out there, getting the ground ready for those fruits first.  But unless we work to make fertile ground in which those fruits grow and flourish, we are not doing OUR part.

The Spirit works with us, not for us. We can’t manipulate the Spirit. We can’t force the Spirit to do anything—especially  what we want that Spirit to do.  We can’t control that Spirit any more than we can control the wind.  We have to do part of the work ourselves.  This is the way the Spirit works.

For me, the Spirit of God has come to me at various points in my life not in a noisy, raucous way, but rather in a  quiet, though just as intense, way.   The Sprit of God as I have experienced it has never been a “raining down” so to speak, but rather a “welling up from within.”  And that welling up from within came when the ground of my life was ready.

For us at St. Stephen’s, we can feel the Spirit of God dwelling here.  I cannot tell you how many times I have people who have visited us for the time tell me: “Wow! I really felt the Holy Spirit present here.” One person told me it was like a charge of electricity. Sometimes that’s how we experience the Spirit.  No doubt everyone here this morning has felt a similar experience of God’s Spirit, although you might not have readily recognized that experience as God’s Spirit.   Maybe it was a sense of calm coming to you in the midst of a difficult time in your life.   Maybe it was a comforting hand on your shoulder when you were sorrowing or a bit of advice you needed for some problem you had been carrying with you for some time. This is how God’s Spirit comes to us.   

The Spirit does not tear open the ceiling and force its way into our lives.   The Spirit rather comes to us just when we need the Spirit to come to us. Our job is to be open to the Spirit, to allow the Spirit to be present and to do what the Spirit does.

For us collectively here at St. Stephen’s, we’ve been doing that all along. How do we know that? Well, just take a look at our fruits. Take a look at the fruits of the Holy Spirit flourishing here at St. Stephen’s. And when we do, let’s not be critical, let’s not be proud, let’s not say to ourselves, “well, of course.” Rather, let us be thankful to the Spirit of God with us, to the Spirit who dwells with us here.  And let us continue to welcome that Spirit into our midst to continue to the work begun here. 

So, this week of Pentecost, let us look for the gifts of the Spirit in our lives and in those around us.   Let us open ourselves to God’s Spirit and let it flow through us like a caressing wind.    And let us remember the true message of the Spirit to all of us—whenever it seems like God is distant or nonexistent, that is when God’s Spirit might possibly be closest of all, dwelling within us, being breathed unto as it was those first disciples.    On this feast of Pentecost—this feast of the fruits of God—let us feel the Holy Spirit move within us and let us give thanks to God for all the many fruits of the Spirit in our lives.









Sunday, May 8, 2016

7 Easter


The Sunday after the Ascension

May 12, 2013

+ This past Thursday, we celebrated the feast of the Ascension. Now, for most of us, this just isn’t that big of a feastday for us. In fact, I don’t know a whole lot of Christians who, quite honestly, even give the Ascension a second thought.  Some of us might look at the Ascension as a kind of anticlimactic event.   The Resurrection has already occurred on Easter morning.   That of course is the big event.  The Ascension comes as it does after Jesus has appeared to his disciples and has proved to them that he wasn’t simply a ghost,  but was actually resurrected in his body (remember a couple of weeks ago in our Gospel reading how Thomas put his fingers into Jesus’ wounds).

In comparison to Easter, the Ascension is a quiet event.   The resurrected Jesus simply leads his followers out to Bethany and, then, quietly, he is taken up into heaven.   And that’s it.  There are no angels, no trumpet blasts.  There is no thunder or lightning. He just goes. And that’s that.

So, why is the Ascension so important to us?  Well, it’s important on two levels. One, on a practical level, we recognize the fact that, at the Ascension, this is where our work begins.   This is when our work as followers of Jesus begins. We, at this point, become the Presence of Jesus now in the world. This is where we are now compelled to go out now and actually do the work Jesus has left for us to do.

Those apostles who are left gazing up at  Jesus don’t just simple linger there, wringing their hands, wondering what has just happened. Well, actually, yes, that’s exactly what they do. For a while anyway. But eventually, with a BIG prompting from the Holy Spirit, they get going. They go out and start doing what they are meant to do. But we’re going to talk about that NEXT Sunday on Pentecost.

For now, we’re here, with them, watching Jesus being taken up, out of their midst.  Again, this is the point in which we become the presence of Christ in this world.  What I like about the feast is that it is more than just going out to do Jesus’ work.  

Which brings us to our second point.  Again and again, as we see in the life of Jesus, it isn’t just about Jesus. Our job is not simply to observe Jesus and bask quietly in his holiness.  It’s about us too.

When we hear the fantastic stories of Jesus birth’ at Christmas, for example, we can look at them as simply fantastic. They are wonderful stories that happened then and there, to him.  Or…we could see them for what they are for us. We could see them as our birth story as well.  God worked in the life of Mary and Joseph and God’s special agent was born. But it should remind us that God worked in our birth as well. Well. Maybe not with angels and shepherds. But God worked in our lives even from the beginning, as God did in the life of Jesus.  With Jesus, born as he was, with God’s special light and care upon him, we too were born.  Jesus’ birth became our birth.

At  Easter too, we could simply bask in the glorious mystery of Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb. But the story doesn’t really mean anything to us until we see ourselves being resurrected with him. His resurrection is our resurrection as well. God, who raised Jesus, will raise us as well.

Well, the same thing happened last Thursday.  Jesus’s ascension is our ascension as well. What God does for Jesus, God does for us too.  That’s incredibly important to understand.  We are not simply followers of Jesus. We are sharers with Jesus in all that happens to him.  And that is incredibly wonderful!  The event of the Incarnation is a reminder that God is incarnate in us as well.

So, regarding the Ascension, it is important for us to look at what happened and see it not only with Jesus’ eyes, but our eyes as well.  Yes, we are rooted to this earth, to creation. We are children of this world. But we are also children of the next world as well. We are children of heaven too.

What the ascension reminds us is that we are inheritors of heaven as well.  We, like Jesus, will one day ascend like him, beyond this world.  In fact, our whole life here is a slow, steady ascension toward God. We are moving, incrementally, upward toward God. This is our journey. And as we do, as we recognize that we are moving upward, slowly ascending, like Jesus, to that place in which we ultimately belong, we should be feeling what Jesus no doubt felt as he ascended.

Joy.

Happiness.

Exultation.

When we are happy—when we are joyful—we often use the word soar.  Our hearts soar with happiness. When we are full of joy and happiness we imagine ourselves floating upward.  In a sense, when we are happy or in love or any of those other wonderful things, we, in a sense, ascend.

Conversely, when we are depressed we plunge.  We fall.  We go down.  

So this whole idea of ascension—of going “up”—is important.  Jesus, in his joy, went up toward God. And we, in our joy, are, at this very moment, following that path. We have followed Jesus through his entire journey so far.

We have followed him from his birth, through his ministry, to his cross. We have followed him to his descent into hell and through his resurrection from the tomb. And now, we are following him on his ascension.  And it is joyful and glorious.

And just when we think God has provided just what we need for this journey, we find one more truly amazing gift to us.  Next week, an event will happen that will show us that Jesus remains with us in an even more extraordinary way. On that day—Pentecost Sunday—God’s Spirit will descend upon us and remain with us always. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

For now, we must simply face the fact that it all does fall into place.   All that following of Jesus is now really starting to pay off.  We know now—fully and completely—that God will never leave us alone.  In what seems like defeat, there is amazing resurrection. In what seemed like being stuck to an earth that often feels sick and desolate, we are now soar.

So, today, and this week, as we remember and rejoice in the Ascension, as we prepare for the Holy Spirit’s descent, let our hearts ascend with Jesus.  Let them soar upward in joy at the fact that God is still with us. Let us be filled with joy that God’s spirit dwells within us and can never be taken from us.   And let this joy in us rise up.  Let it rise up in us and sing through us to those around us we are called to  serve.  Amen. 



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

One year teetotaling

So, it has been one year since I gave up all alcohol & started living the teetotaler life. I know some people have been just baffled by this weirdly ascetic life I have taken on (vegan, teetotaling, no-aspertame, etc), but I can say, in all honesty, that the benefits far outnumber the sacrifices. I have never felt healthier in my entire life—something I never thought would ever be possible again when I was diagnosed with cancer almost 15 years ago. While other people my age are starting to experience serious health issues, I feel like I’m 25. It’s been an incredible experience. Plus, there is one unexpected benefit: the first few months after giving up alcohol, I kept noticing a substantial surplus in my finances at the end of each month: “virgin” mojitos are, in comparison to what I was drinking before, amazingly cheap! 


Sunday, May 1, 2016

6 Easter

May 1, 2016


Revelation 21.10, 22-22

+
Now, I know that I often will share with you the name of some important theologian or writer or poet and I will say, “If you have not read so-and-so, do so.” Well, I have another one this morning. And if you consider yourself a progressive, socially conscious Episcopalian, which I hope most of you consider yourselves, then here is your guy:

William Stringfellow.

I know you might think, from a name like that, that he was some Anglican Divine from the 1700s. But, no so.  Stringfellow was an amazing theologian, writer, lawyer, who was active in the mid-to-late twentieth century.  As a lawyer, he defended poor black and Hispanic people in Brooklyn in the 1950s. In the 1960s he defended such unpopular causes as clergy who marched on Selma, as well as Bishop James Pike when he was brought up on heresy charges. In the 1970s, he actually subpoenaed the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, John Allin, regarding women priests presiding in churches (Allin was opposed to women priests). In 1970, he very famously harbored the great Roman Catholic Jesuit priest and activist, Father Daniel Berrigan, at his home when the FBI were seeking to arrest Father Berrigan on charges of burning files from a draft board.

Father Berrigan, coincidentally enough, died yesterday at the age of 94.

Stringfellow later  called for the resignation of Richard Nixon’s presidency years before Watergate.

His private life too was very radical for its time.  Stringfellow lived openly and unashamedly from the 1960s through the 1980s with his partner, poet Anthony Towne.  In 1967, he and Towne moved to Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, where they developed a semi-monastic life together and were eventually wholeheartedly welcomed into the somewhat insular year-round community at Block Island.

But in addition to all of this, Stringfellow was also, brace yourselves, an Evangelical Episcopal Christian.  He was an ardent student of the Bible and wrote extensively on how our lives as Christians must be based fully and completely on the Word of God.  Mind you, he was no fundamentalist.  He was no Bible-thumper.  Rather he was a careful, systematic theologian who simply saw all life through the lens of scripture.

Or to be clearer: he was, in a very real sense, a prophet.  He was a conduit, at times, through which the Word of God was proclaimed. Stringfellow, who died in March 1985, was and is an important theologian for us still to this day.  

Stringfellow was often described as a stranger in a strange land.  I love that description.  Let me tell you, I have often felt that same way in my own life at times.  Maybe that’s why I like him so much.

So, why this talk of William Stringfellow?  Well, Stringfellow is important to me because I cannot read or hear a reading from the book of Revelation without thinking of William Stringfellow.  It was through him that I began to re-read the Book of Revelation.  He helped me claim—or re-claim—it, and helped me to read it anew.

Still, I think there are a lot of us who feel very differently about the Book of Revelation.  Revelation is a strange book.  It can be a frightening book.  But—and I know this might seem strange to many Christians— I don’t see it as a book of prophecy, as many Christians do.  I don’t see it saying anything definitely about future governments or some messianic Anti-Christ in our midst or that we are living in the so-called “last days” or what have you. What I do see it doing is speaking to us through some beautiful and powerful poetry on what is happening in our lives, right now, as Christians, and about how, in the end, Christ is victorious.   I think it is important for us to re-claim Revelation in this way —and, in doing so, re-read it with a new lens. 

In our reading this morning from Revelation, we find some very strange esoteric images—not an uncommon thing when we read Revelation.  We find this morning these images of angels, of the holy city of Jerusalem, of a place without moon or sun, but a place of incredible light.  It is a glorious vision of what awaits us in that place in which God and Jesus the Lamb dwell.  It is a place of beauty and glory.    It is a place of unending life.  And it is here that I think the Book of Revelation speaks loudly to us.

Even we, as Christians, sometimes struggle with the reality of death in our lives. Even we fear it at times. And that is all right. That is normal.

Of course, death is a part of life, and certainly it’s part of my job as a priest.  I knew that going into it.   But, let me tell you: it still is hard, often.   And for people who have to deal with this mystery of death on a regular basis, there have to be ways to find strength and comfort in the midst of death.   One of the ways I find my way through this sometimes constant dealing with death is by turning to the scriptures.

What I love about William Stringfellow is that he saw that a common theme in all Scripture is one very important theme:  the defeat of death.   Or as Stringfellow called it “authority over death.”

I agree with him 100%.   I think he is absolutely right about that.  Stringfellow saw it most profoundly in the life of Jesus.   There we see this authority over death most profoundly.  We see it every time Jesus healed the sick, calmed the storms, cast out demons, ate with sinners, cleansed the temple, raised the death, carried the Cross.  And of course, in the Resurrection, which we are still celebrating in this season of Easter, it is all about authority over death. Even today, our Rogation Procession and our blessing of seeds is a small symbol of life being victorious over death.

In all of this, we see the God of life—the God Jesus believed in and embodied—being victorious over death.  This view of life over death speaks to us most profoundly during this Easter season.  During this  season, what we have found most vital to our understanding of living into this Easter faith is the startling fact that death truly does not have power over us.

We, as Christians, cannot let the power of death control and direct our lives.   As Christians, as followers of Jesus who crossed that awful boundary between life and death, and came back, we must truly be defiant to death.  

Of course, that ultimate victory over death happens only when we can face death honestly.  True victory over death is when we can see death in the light we hear about in today’s reading from Revelation.  Only then do we realize that death has no victory over us. Because of what happened on Easter, because of the Resurrection, because Jesus did die, yes, but God raised him that tomb, and because Jesus walked victorious upon the chains of death, we know now death does not have the last word in our lives.

 Over these past several years, I can tell you, it would’ve been easy for me to just give into this victory death strives for over life.  Mourning does that do us.  It weakens us and saps our energies from us. We all get stuck in mourning patterns.  

But, for us Christians, we can’t be stuck in such death.  We must live.  And we must move forward.  We must  stand up against death. I can tell you that, right now, in my own life, I am very tired of death.  I am weary of dealing directly with it.  I am tired of dealing with its after-effects.  I am tired of dealing with its seemingly overpowering presence.

But, standing up to death, even when we’re sick of it, is not easy.  Choosing life, with all its uncertainties, can be scary. Even when moving forward into life  and living our lives fully and completely, we realize it can be frightening.  We are, after all, heading into the future which is unknown to us.

But that, again, is what I love about Revelation.  What Revelation promises to us, through all that poetry and imagery, is that death will lose, hatred will lose, violence will lose, evil will lose, war will lose—and goodness, and holiness and LIFE will be victorious.  

That isn’t wishful thinking.  That’s isn’t being na├»ve. Rather, this is what it means to be a Christian.   This is what it means to believe in the God of life. That is what I means to follow Jesus.

Yes, following Jesus means following him to the Cross and to that dark tomb.   And to death, yes. But it also means following him into the great unknown on the other side of the Cross and the tomb—into that glorious, light-filled, unending life that swallows up death and darkness and war once and for all. It means following him to the point in which the God of unending life raises him—and us—into unending life as well.

“And there will be no more night,” St. John tells us in his Revelation. “they”—we—“will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be [our] light, and [we] will reign for ever and ever.”

Those are words of absolute and glorious victory.  But more so, they are words of life—of a life that goes on forever and ever.

As we travel through these last days of Easter, as we head into this week in which we celebrate Jesus’ ascension to that place of life and light, into that place in which the God of life and light dwells, let us do so with true Easter joy.  Let us do so rejoicing from the very core of our bodies. We are alive.   This morning, we are alive.  Life is in us.  And it is very, very good.   We have much to be thankful for and in which to rejoice. So, let us be thankful for this life.  Let us rejoice in it.   And let us realize that in rejoicing in our lives and in the life within each of us, God has truly prepared for us, as we heard in our collect this morning, “such good things as surpass our understanding.” Amen.