Sunday, April 26, 2020

3 Easter

Apres l'apparition by Jean Louis Forain 


April 26, 2020



Luke 24.13-35

+ As we continue on in our quarantine, as we still try to figure out who we are as a Church outside the walls of our building, one area that I think is a challenge for us in these seemingly unending days of social isolation is a ministry that we hold very dear here at St. Stephen’s


This incredibly VITAL ministry is the ministry of hospitality.

RADICAL Hospitality.

And if you want to know what real ministry is about, then this is IT.

Real ministry, as we have all discovered, is not about the almighty ME—the individual.

It is about US—all of us, the children of God.

Radical Hospitality, as well know, is not easy.

Ministry is not easy.

And it’s especially hard when we are isolated in our homes.

Sharing our time, our energy, our physical building, is definitely not easy right now.

How do we practice hospitality in this time of Covid?

We do so in any way we can.

We do so with those we live with.

We do so with those we actually encounter, either in person or on social media, or when we actually have to go out and do necessarily errands.

And some of us, of course, are still working.
Some of us are still out there doing work in work places.

Being radically welcoming means treating all those people we encounter in our lives, in any way, with respect and dignity.

Now, in today’s Gospel, we find hospitality as well.

And in this story, there is a kind of social isolation happening 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.

And they are isolated to some extent because they are afraid of the persecutions that are happening towards followers of Jesus following his death.

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 one of my personal favorite stories in scripture, as many of you know.

In fact when I was installed as Rector of St. Stephen’s last December, some parishioners here, who know my love for this scripture,  gave me a beautiful piece of art, illustration.

It is a drawing by the French artist Jean Louis Forain called “Apres l’Apparition” or “After the Apparition.”

In it, we see the two disciples on one side of a table, one seated, one kneeling in awe. On the table is a broken loaf of bread. And across from them is an empty chair. One of the disciples looks in amazement at the empty chair, a glow on his faces, both of them realizing who is was that had just been sitting and breaking bread with them.  

I love that piece of art (I look at it every day), and I love what it represents.

Because, 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 virtually break bread together even in this time of pandemic, 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, in whatever we way we encounter them in our quarantines,  truly is Jesus disguised.

This belief of welcoming all people—of treating all people—as though they are Christ is essential for those of us who are following Jesus.

Because it’s most definitely what we do here at St. Stephen’s., even we are not gathering within these walls.

But, for a moment, just imagine what an incredible world this would be if everyone could do this—if everyone could practice radical hospitality right now, even separated as we are physically.

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 in our online relationships, in the relations we have within our confinement, in all we do and say to others.  

Imagine if we welcomed even our very enemies as Christ.

I think many Christians forget this.

We are called to welcome all people as Christ, because we do not know when we will encounter him, in whatever guise he might choose to come to us.

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” at least online,  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.

Jesus is present with us—in ALL of us—as we gather wherever we might be to worship on line here.  

We, all of us together, are the presence of Jesus in this world 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.


Sunday, April 19, 2020

2 Easter


April 19, 2020

John 20.19-31

+ I saw a cartoon on Facebook yesterday that I just loved.

In it, it shows the 11 apostles (sans Judas) joining in on a Zoom meeting.

In the corner, there is a blank square for Jesus.

From the square, Jesus says, “Hey.”

Simon says, “How on earth is he in the meetings?’

And in the far corner is Thomas, who says, “Unless he turns on his camera I will not believe it.”

Well, in that very simply cartoon, we get where we are right now in our current situation perfectly.

Because if the life of Jesus were happening right now, we know that is exactly what it would be like.

But I get cartoon-Thomas’ skepticism.

I would be the same way.

And I would probably feel the same about the Thomas we encounter in today’s Gospel reading.

Thomas, as we just heard,  refused to believe that Jesus was resurrected until he had put his fingers in the wounds of Jesus.

You know what?

I’d be the same way.

Well, maybe I wouldn’t insist on putting my fingers in a wound.

That’s a bit extreme.

But, certainly, if someone I knew and cared for died and suddenly everyone is telling me that person is now actually alive, I would definitely doubt that.

And if I knew that person had died and was now standing in front of me, I would still be skeptical.

Skeptical of my sanity, if nothing else.

Or my eyesight. 

So, for Thomas, it wasn’t enough that Jesus actually appeared to him in the flesh—Jesus, was no ghost after all.

He stood there in the flesh—wounds and all.

Only when Thomas  had placed his finger in the wounds, would he believe.

That’s great for Thomas.

But, the fact is, for the rest of us, we don’t get it so easy.

We will struggle.

We will struggle with things like the Resurrection.

Sure, we understand “resurrections” in our lives.

We’ve all known what it is be reborn, to feel joy after bad things happen.

But to believe in this event in the life of Jesus—this Resurrection.

The Resurrection.

He died, he was buried, and now, all of a sudden, he is alive.

And is still alive. For us. Right now.

It’s hard.

Our rational minds rebel against this.

It’s easy to doubt.

But faith, that’s hard.

It’s not easy to have faith.

I don’t have to tell anyone watching here this morning about faith.

We all know how hard it really is

It takes work and discipline.

More likely than not, we can all think of at least one or two things we’d rather be doing this Sunday morning than tuning into this Mass at this time.

We could be doing so many other things in our quarantine.

We could be sleeping in.

We could have a nice long breakfast with our families.

We could be reading the newspaper.

We could watch TV while lounging on the couch, or we could be sitting at the computer.

But instead, we made the choice to tune in to our Mass and participate virtually.  

We made a choice to “be” here this morning, and worship a God we cannot see, not touch.

We made a choice to come here and celebrate an event that our rational minds tell us could never have happened.

And not just celebrate.

But to stand up and profess belief in it, even if we might struggle with it.

But even if we struggle with it—it’s all right.

It’s all right to struggle and doubt and wrestle with it.

A strong relationship to God takes work—just as any other relationship in our life takes work.

It takes discipline.

It takes concentrated effort.

As I say, over and over again, being a believer in God does not just involve being nice on occasion and smiling.

It means living one’s life fully and completely as a believer.

And being a Christian is even more refined.

As Christians we are committed to follow Jesus—this resurrected Jesus.  

But it’s even more than that.

Throughout the Easter season we are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus.

 That fact is a difficult ones for us to understand and believe in.

Certainly,  rationally it might be easy to objectify it and say that if it happened, it happened then, to Jesus.

It really has nothing  to do with us.

But if we just live as though the Resurrection didn’t happen only to Jesus but us too-if we believe that God has and will raise us up just as God raised Jesus—then, that covers so much of that doubt.

Sometimes we just have to square our shoulders and move forward as best we can in our faith.

We just need to live into it, fully and completely, and let our doubts take care of themselves.

Certainly we cannot let ourselves wallow in doubt.

If we’re going to wallow in anything, we should wallow in the Resurrection and life and light and God.

The best way to overcome doubt is simply to get up and go out and just strive to be the best Presence of Christ we can be in this world.

Of course, that’s hard to do when we’re in quarantine.

But we can do it in our daily lives, in our presence on social media, in our care for those around us, in our prayers for those around us.

In whatever ways we can, we all should be striving to simply BE a reflection of God’s all-encompassing love and goodness in the world, in whatever ways we can.

The key words here are “love” and “goodness.”

Yes, things like the Resurrection and the Incarnation are hard to wrap our minds around.

They don’t relate well, sometimes, to our day-to-day lives.

But, loving God and loving one another does.

Of course, that isn’t that easy either. 

But when we do this, we are encompassing every possible thing that the Resurrection means in our lives.

When we do that, we are doing what the Resurrection tells us to do.

By doing so, we bring the Easter joy and light to a world that seems ruled right now be fear and financial anxiety and insane people like those protesters who think we should out others in jeopardy simply because they are being inconvenienced by staying, a place wherein callousness and ugliness and utter stupidity seem to reign supreme.

It is difficult to be the conduit of the Light and Presence—the love and goodness—of Christ when others are shouting in hatred and bigotry in the same name of Jesus.

Now, for Thomas, he saw.

He touched.

It was all clear to him.

But we don’t get that chance.

“Blessed are those who believe but don’t see,” Jesus says this morning.

We are those blessed ones.

All of us.

Our belief—our faith—doesn’t have to be perfect.

We will still always doubt.

Will still always question.

And that’s all right.

We are still the ones Jesus is speaking of in this morning’s Gospel.

Blessed are you all.

You believe—or strive to believe—but don’t see.

Seen or unseen, we know God is here. With us. Right now.

Even in the midst of a pandemic

Right here.

Right with us.

One day, we will not be experiencing God through this veil which seems to separate us.

One day that veil will be lifted.

One day, yes, we will really see God.

We will, on some glorious day—in our own Resurrection—run to God and see God face to face.

And in that moment, our faith will then finally be fulfilled.

Doubt will die for good. Then.

Blessed are we who believe but don’t see now.

The Kingdom of Heaven is truly ours.



Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter


April 12, 2020


+ Finally!

Easter!

I don’t think I’ve ever longed for Easter more than this year.

And, as you know, I am an Easter person. Some people are Christmas people.
 They live for Christmas. That’s it for them.  For them, that’s the real magical time.

But for me, I gotta admit, it’s all about Easter. This is what it is all about. There is nothing, in my opinion,  like gathering together here on this glorious morning, in all of this Easter glory.

I just love Easter! I love everything about it.

The light.

The joy we are feeling this morning.

That sense of renewal, after a long, hard winter.

But this Easter especially I’ve longed for.

Because, you know what. It was a long and terrible Lent. And it’s about time that we have some beauty in our lives.

Some hope.

Some joy.

It is time for us, even in our quarantine, to rejoice.

It is time for us sing our alleluias and celebrate life.

Unending life!

Eternal life.

There’s an old saying, “Eternal life doesn’t start when we die, it starts now.”

I love that. Resurrection is a kind reality that we, as Christians, are called to live into. And it’s not just something we believe happens after we die.

We are called to live into that Resurrection NOW. Jesus calls us to live into that joy and that beautiful life NOW.

The alleluias we sing this morning are not for some beautiful moment after we have breathed our last. Those alleluias are for now, as well as for later. Those alleluias, those joyful sounds we make, this Light we celebrate, is a Light that shines now—in this moment.

We are alive in Christ now.

Our lives should be joyful because of this fact—this reality—that Jesus died and is risen and by doing so has destroyed our deaths. This is what it means to be a Christian.

Easter is about the fact that we are alive right now.  

It is also about living in another dimension that, to our rational minds, makes no sense.

Even, sometimes, with us, it doesn’t make sense.

It almost seems too good to be true.

Easter almost seems too good to be true.

And that’s all right to have that kind of doubt.

It doesn’t make sense that we celebrating an event that seems so wonderful that it couldn’t possibly be true.

It doesn’t make sense that this event that seems so super-human can bring such joy in our lives.

Today we are commemorating the fact that Jesus, who was tortured, was murdered, was buried in a tomb and is now…alive.

Fully and completely alive.

Alive in a real body.

Alive in a body that only a day before was lying, broken and dead, in a tomb.

And…as if that wasn’t enough, we are also celebrating the fact that we truly believe we too are experiencing this too.

Experiencing this—in the present tense.

It is happening for us too.

We are already living, by our very lives, by our faith in Jesus, into the eternal, unending, glorious life that Jesus lives in this moment.

Our bodies MAY be broken.

It may seem that all the bad things of life may defeat us at times.  

But we will live because Jesus lives.

What we are celebrating this morning is reality.

What we are celebrating this morning is that this resurrected life which we are witnessing in Jesus is really the only reality.

And all those bad things that happen are really only illusions.

We aren’t deceiving ourselves.

We’re not a na├»ve people who think everything is just peachy keen and wonderful.

We know what darkness is.

We know what suffering and pain are.

We are living in a dark and frightening time right now.

There is illness and death and anxiety and fear all around us.

But, what Easter is all about is realizing that all of that is only temporary.

It is the Light of Christ, that has come to us, this glorious morning, much as the Sun breaks into the darkness, is what lasts forever.

What Easter reminds us, again and again, is that darkness is not eternal.

It will not ultimately win out.

Pandemics and illness and coronavirus are not eternal.

Fear and anxiety are not eternal.

The darkness within all of those things will not win out in the end.

Light will always win.

This Light will always succeed.

This Light will be eternal.

Easter shows us very clearly that God really does love us.

Each of us.

No matter who we are.

God really does love us.

Because, look!

Look what God does for us.

The bad things don’t last.

But the good things do last. Forever.

That is the best gift we could receive from a God who truly does love us.

I wish I could always feel this joy that I feel this morning.

But the fact is, this Light will lose its luster faster than I even want to admit.

This joy will fade too.

But I do believe that whatever heaven is—and none of us knows for certain what it will be like—I have no doubt that it is very similar this the joy we feel this morning.

I believe with all that is in me that it is very much like the experience of this Light that we are celebrating this morning—an unending Easter.

And if that is what Heaven is, then it is a joy that will not die, and it is a Light that will not fade and grow dim.

And if that’s all I know of heaven, then that is enough for me.

The fact is, Easter doesn’t end when the sun sets today.

Easter is what we carry within us as Christians ALL the time.

Easter is living out the Resurrection by our very presence.

As I have been preaching through the Season of Lent, (from the quote by the recently departed Bishop Barbara Harris):

“we are an Easter people.”

We are.

We are an Easter people.

Not just during Easter.

But all the time.

We are, each of us, carrying within us the Light of Christ we celebrate this morning and always.

All the time.

It is here, in our very souls, in our very bodies, in our very selves.

With that Light burning within us, being reflected in what we do and say, in the love we show to God and to each other, what more can we say on this glorious, glorious morning?

What more can we say when God’s glorious, all-loving, resurrected realty breaks through to us in glorious light and transforms us;

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!