Sunday, May 2, 2021

5 Easter


May 2, 2021

 Acts 8.26-40; 1 John 4.7-21; John 15.1-8

 + Friday was the 5th anniversary of the death of one of my heroes—someone I talk about on a regular basis here at St. Stephen’s and…well…everywhere.

 On April 30, 2016, Father Daniel Berrigan died.

 I mention Fr. Dan on a regular basis in my sermons and in my personal life.

 He was one of the greats of the Church.

 Born in Virginia, Minnesota on May 9, 1921 (yes, his 100th birthday is coming up quickly so be warned: you may be hearing a LOT about Fr Dan around that time), Fr. Dan was a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, a poet, writer, playwright, which all seem very quaint and nice.

 But Fr. Dan is most known for being a vocal pacifist and anti-war protester.

 During the 1960s, along with his brother, Phillip, who was also a priest (though he later left the Priesthood), he was a vocal protester against the war in Vietnam, which got him in a load of trouble.

 He was one of the so-called “Cantonsville 9,” who, on May 9, 1968, broke into the draft board office in Cantonsville, Maryland, took 378 draft files, brought them to parking lot, poured homemade napalm on them and set them on fire.

 This action got Fr. Dan on the FBI’s Most Wanted List (the first priest to make that list). It also  got him on the cover of Time magazine, and, when he was eventually caught, spent time in prison.  

 For those of you who might not know Fr. Dan, or his brother Phillip, please do some research on them.

 But he is one of my heroes, and every so often you will see me post a very famous poster of him on my social media, which shows Father Dan in handcuffs, flashing a peace sign, with a large caption that reads DISOBEY.

 But with Fr. Daniel’s 100th birthday anniversary coming up and with the anniversary of his death on Friday, there are a lot of stories going around about Father Daniel.

 One of the best that I saw yesterday on Facebook was this one.

 A man shared the story about how, when he was 18 or 19, he called 411 to asked for the number for Daniel Berrigan.

 Sure enough, he got through, and Berrigan graciously took the young man’s call and answered his questions for about an hour.

 “One answer,” the man said, “transubstantiated my understanding of humanity and forever changed my life.”

 At one point the young man asked, “Fr. Dan, if you were a contemporary of Jesus…”

 To which Fr. Dan interrupted and said, “Well, I am. Aren’t you?”

 I am a contemporary of Jesus.

 Are you?  

 That is what we need to be asking ourselves today and for the rest of our lives.

 Jesus is our contemporary.

 In this Easter season especially, how can we say we aren’t?

 Jesus is our contemporary.

 He is alive and present in our lives.

 Right now.

 Right here.

 Yes, he is alive and present in that aumbry up there.

 In a few moments, he will be alive and present in the bread and wine our Eucharist.

 He is  alive and present in the words of scripture that we just heard.

 And he is alive and present in each of us this morning.

 Just as it did for Fr. Daniel Berrignan, so such a perspective changes and affects us.

 It makes us different people.

 So, how do we do this?

 How do we live as contemporaries of Jesus in this world?

 We do it by simply being who we are.

 We do it by simply walking alongside Jesus in this world, by being his follower, by being his very presence in this world.

 In that wonderful, amazingly powerful reading we have today from 1 John, what do we learn about God?

 We learn that “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

 God is love!

 How incredible is that??

 And in today’s Gospel, we find Jesus giving us a glimpse of what it means to be a contemporary of Jesus.

 “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus tells us.

 The effective branch bears fruit.

 Our job as Christians is to do just that.

 It is to bear fruit.

 Right now.

 Not at some point in the future.

 Right now.

 Bearing fruit means we make a difference in the world.

 It means that we embody a God who is love.

 Bearing fruit being effective as Christians.

 Now, being an effective  Christian isn’t only about following private devotions, and reading the Bible by ourselves.

 Being an effective  Christian isn’t about coming to church to be entertained.

 Or to feel the Church owes me something.

 Being a Christian isn’t only about our own private faith.

 And let me tell you, it certainly has nothing to do with feeling safe and complacent.

 Being an effective Christian means living out our faith—fully and completely, in every aspect of our life.

 And living out our faith as followers of Jesus means that we must be pliable to some extent.

 And we must be fertile.

 We must go with change as it comes along.

 We must remain relevant.

 Now that doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

 In fact it means embracing and holding tightly to what we have do well.

 We still celebrate our Holy Eucharist.

 We still celebrate and remember our baptisms.

 In fact, we recognize what an amazing and revolutionary act baptism is.

 No where do we see how revolutionary baptism is than in our reading from Acts today.

 This has been a very important scripture to me for some time.

 The introduction of the Ethiopian Eunuch is vital for us—especially those of us who are a sexual minority in this world.

 The Ethiopian Eunuch is a marginalized person—a person who is not allowed to be

fully included in the Jewish fellowship because of the castration that was done to them.

 But for Philip to accept this person--who by Jewish Law could not be considered fertile, who would by some be seen as a barren branch--and baptize them and include them in the fellowship of Christ is a story of radical acceptance and inclusion.

 Of course, the Ethiopian eunuch is important to Transgender people, who relate to the Eunuch.

 But the Eunuch is important to people like me who are asexual, who definitely relate to the Ethiopian Eunuch.  

 In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the eunuch is actually named and seen as a saint.

 They are given the name St. Bachos and in the Easter Orthodox Church St. Simeon (sometimes referred to together as St. Simeon Bachos).

 In this story we saw how radically inclusive and revolutionary the act of Baptism can be.

And should be.

I will still be wearing these vestments at Mass. And, sometimes, funny hats.

We will still cling and hold dearly to the Book of Common Prayer

And to our music.

And to our organ

And to our ministries.

We respect and honor and celebrate our tradition, our history, our past.

But it also means that we sometimes have to take a good, hard new look at why we do these things and how we do these things.

And what these things mean to us and to the world around us.

Being a Christian means following Jesus—not just “believing in Jesus” and worshipping Jesus.

Following Jesus means knowing that he is here—he is or contemporary.

Too many Christians today equate being Christian with just worshipping Jesus.

Now, you know this has been a big issue in my life recently.

I’ve been preaching about this quite a lot lately.

This is one of my BIG frustrations with the Church, and one way in which I see that Church desperately needs to change.

If we worship Jesus without following and obeying Jesus, without seeing him right here right now as our contemporary, then we not just hypocrites, we are idolaters!

We cannot worship Jesus and then treat others like crap.

 If we do, we fail as Christians. And we fail Jesus.

 Worshipping Jesus without following Jesus is a cop-out.

 Following Jesus means letting Jesus lead the way.

 It means allowing the vine to sustain us, to nourish us, to encourage growth within us, so we in turn can bear fruit.

 As baptized followers of Jesus, as Christians and Episcopalians who are striving to live out the Baptismal Covenant in our lives, we know that to be relevant, to be vital, we must be fruitful.

 Following Jesus means that we will follow him through radical times of change.

 And by being fruitful and growing and flourishing, we are making a difference in the world.

 We are doing positive and effective things in the world.

 We are transforming the world, bit by bit, increment by increment, baby step by baby step.

 We are being the conduits through which God who is love works in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

 This is what it means to follow Jesus.

 That is what it means to be reflectors of God’s Love on those around us.

 This is what means to be a positive Christian example in the world.

 And when we do this, we realize that we are really doing is evangelizing.

 We are sharing our faith, not only with what we say, but in what we do.

 That is what it means to be a Christian—to be a true follower of Jesus in this constantly changing world.

 That is what it means to bear good fruit.

 That is what is means to see Jesus as our contemporary.

 So, let us do just that.

 Let us bear fruit.

 Let us flourish and grow and be vital fruit to those who need this fruit.

 Let us be nourished by that Vine—by the One we follow—so that we can nourish others.

 Let us be contemporaries of Jesus.

 Right here.

 Right now.

 Because he is here—alive and present—right here.

 And let not be afraid of these “new ways” of “doing” Church.

 Rather, let us be rejuvenated and excited by these changes.

 There is a bright and glorious future awaiting us in the wake of this pandemic.

 It might not be the world we knew before.

 But it is full potential joy and true hope.

 Certainly, there is a bright and glorious future awaiting us here at St. Stephen’s.

 And there is a bright and glorious future awaiting all of us who are following Jesus as his contemporaries in this world.

 We should rejoice in that.

 And we should continue to live out that faith with meaning and purpose.

 Let us, in the words of our collect for today, always recognize Jesus “to be the way, the truth and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life…”

 Let us pray.

 Holy God, mercifully grant us peace in our days. Help us to see and recognize Jesus here beside us as our brother, our friends, our Savior and our contemporary. Help us to follow him and, in doing so, help us to be led by him to you, our God who is love, who with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns. Amen.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

4 Easter

 Good Shepherd Sunday

April 25, 2021


Psalm 23; John 10.1-10


+ Today is, of course, Good Shepherd Sunday—the Sunday in which we encounter this wonderful reading about Jesus being the Good Shepherd.


Everybody loves this Sunday because…well…everybody loves the Good Shepherd.


This is probably one of the most perfect images Jesus could have used for the people listening to him in that day and age.


They would have “got” this.


They understood the difference between a good shepherd  and  a bad shepherd.


The good shepherd was the shepherd who actually cared for his or her flock.


They looked out for them, they watched them.


The Good Shepherd guided the flock and led the flock.


She or 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 just 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.


Today is not Co-Dependent Shepherd Sunday.


The Good Shepherd doesn’t take each sheep individually, pick them up, and hand-feed the sheep.


Rather, she or he guides 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.


The Good Shepherd protects the flock from the wolves, from getting too near cliffs, or holes, or falling into places of water.


Let’s face it, there are many dangers out there.


There are many opportunities for us to trip ourselves, to get lost, to get hurt.


We all need a Good Shepherd to help us avoid those pitfalls of life.


Of course, the journey isn’t an easy one.


We can still get hurt along the way.


Bad things can still happen to us.


There are predators out there, waiting to hurt us.


There are storms brewing in our lives, waiting to rain down upon 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— the Good Shepherd will rescue us.


More importantly the Good Shepherd knows their flock.


They know each of the sheep.


If one is lost, they know it is lost and will not rest until it is brought back into the fold.


In our collect for today, there is a wonderful reference to the Good Shepherd.


In the prayer, we ask God:


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


Jesus sets the standard here for us.


Yes, we are called.


But, in our calling, we then, in turn, are, of course, to be good shepherds to those around us.


We are called to serve, to look out for those people around us who need us.


We are called to lead others to those choice places of refreshment.


We are called to help and guide others.


And, most importantly, we are called to see and know those people we come into contact with in this world.


We are not called to simply exist in this world, vaguely acknowledging the people who are around us.


We are to be actively engaged in the world and it the lives of others.


How often do we walk around not really “seeing” anyone around us?


We are called to actually “know” the people we are called to serve.


The God Jesus shows us is not 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.


We have a God who, in Psalm 23, that very familiar psalm we have all hear so many times in our lives, is a God who knows us and loves us and cares for us.


But God accomplishes this love and knowledge through us.


We, by being good shepherds, allow God to be the ultimate Good Shepherd.


We were commissioned to be good shepherds by our very baptisms.


On that day we were baptized, we were called to be a Good Shepherds to others.


Anyone can be a good shepherd.


Certainly, priests and pastors have long clung to this image and applied it to their vocation.


And, they should.


We’ve known the good shepherds in our clergy and lay ministers.


I hope I have been a good shepherd to the people I have been called to serve.


And we’ve all known the bad shepherds.


Bad Shepherds (or hired hands, as we heard in our Gospel reading for today) who have been clergy, or  lay leaders, or political leaders or business leaders.


Just the other day, a former member of St. Stephen’s who moved elsewhere reminded me of a situation that I had to endure very publicly with a bad shepherd.


10 years ago I was asked to preach at an Easter Vigil Mass at another church.


There was another clergy person there.


And I preached at that mass about a recent book that had been published by Rob Bell—a very controversial book, but one that was very meaningful to me.


My sermon, however, was not controversial by any sense of the word.


I didn’t preach any heresy.  


However, after I finished and sat down, this particular clergy person got up, and before leading us in the Creed, proceeded to “correct” my sermon.


And he wasn’t nice about it.


He was condescending.


And he was downright mean about it.


And he blatantly reprimanded me, right there, in front of everyone, without actually addressing me, by the way, though I was sitting right there.


Now, I had never seen anything like that in all my years in the Church.


In fact, to this day, I have never seen anything like that.


I’ve never seen anyone actually do such a thing.


And there have been times when I have had preachers here with whom I have disagreed, with whom I have been not happy.


But I would never have even considered “correcting” them here in front of everyone afterward.


And I remember sitting there, essentially being bullied and reprimanded and, frankly, humiliated, in front of an entire congregation—at the Easter Vigil, nonetheless!—feeling as though I had left my body.


(That often happens when really difficult things happen to me in my life)


I can tell you that if I hadn’t been in such shock about it, I would’ve stood up and walked out of that church.


And in fact this former parishioner, and I think one other St. Stephen’s member who was there, actually did get up and walk out in anger and frustration.


This, to me, was an example of really  bad shepherding.


Even if my sermon was so bad, so theological incorrect (which it wasn’t—you can still read it on my blog), there were other ways to handle it.


But, it wasn’t, after all, about the sermon.


It was about me, and about what he felt about me.


And I can tell you what he intended to do worked. It hurt. Deeply.


This was a concentrated effort to correct and humiliate a person in front of everyone.


In a church.


At the Easter Vigil!


Bad shepherds/hired hands undermine and, chip by chip, destroy the work of Christ in this world.


But, today, we don’t have to worry about those bad shepherds.


We know that bad shepherds, and those who allow them to be bad shepherds, in the end, get their due.


The chickens always come home to roost.


Today, we celebrate the Good Shepherd—the Good Shepherd that is showing us the way forward to being good shepherds in our own lives.


Because in celebrating the Good Shepherd, we celebrate goodness.


We celebrate being good and doing good and embodying goodness in our lives.


So, on this day in which we celebrate the Good Shepherd, let us be what he is.


Let us live out our vocation to be good shepherds to those around us.


Let us truly “see” and know those people who share this life with us.


And let us know that being a good shepherd does make a difference in this world.


Let us make a difference.


Emboldened by our baptism, strengthened by a God who knows us and love us, let us in turn know and love others as we are called to do.


Let us pray.


Holy God, our Good Shepherd, you know us. You love us. You call us each by name. Guide us and direct us in the ways in which we should go. And, in doing so, strengthen us to go where we must. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.