Sunday, April 18, 2021

3 Easter

 


April 18, 2021

Luke 24.36b-48

 + For any of you who know me well, you know that I have my fair share of obsessions.

 That’s what you get when you get a poet for your priest.

 After all, poets definitely have obsessions.

 That, in my opinion, is what makes them poets.

 Now, one of my obsessions is a strange one.

 Well, all of my obsessions are probably strange to someone.

 Or to most people.

 But one of my many obsessions is…ghosts.

 I love ghost stories.

And most of you know about my weird obsession with Casper the Friendly Ghost


(Remember how I once wanted to get a tattoo of him on my arm?)

 And weirdly enough, it is one of things I am sometimes called to deal with as a priest.

 I know. I know.

 Haunted houses.

 Ghosts.

 Already I see people rolling their eyes.

 But it’s all part and parcel of the job.

 I actually have several stories that I could share—and a few that I can’t—abut one that I especially hold dear us this one:

 When I was a new priest and was asked for the first time to come in to a family’s house and deal with what seemed to be paranormal activities, I honestly didn’t know what to do.

 I was a fairly fresh priest.

 I thought I knew all the answers.

 I’d already been through the wringer a few times.

 But, I was a bit unprepared for this.

 I was serving at Gethsemane Cathedral here in Fargo at the time and Bishop John Thornton, retired Bishop of Idaho was serving as sabbatical Dean.

 I loved—and still love—Bishop Thornton.

 He’s one of my pastoral heroes.

 I learned so much about being an effective priest from Bishop Thronton in the short time I knew him and served with him.

 Well, on this particular situation, I went in to his office and told him I was asked to deal with this ghost situation.

 I said to him, “Bishop, what should I do? I don’t know if I really believe in ghosts.”

 The Bishop leaned back in his chair and with a  twinkle in his eyes, said, very nicely, “Jamie, who cares what you believe?”

 I was shocked by this.

 That wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear.

 But he very quickly added. “It doesn’t matter what you believe, Jamie. If these people think they have a ghost, go in and bless their house. If they need you to be an exorcist, be an exorcist. If they need you to be a ghostbuster, be a ghostbuster. Whatever they need you to be, be that for them. For that period of time you’re with them, believe whatever they believe. Bless their house. Drive out whatever they think they have. And then once you get back in your car and drive home, if you still don’t believe, then don’t.  The key is this: be what they need you to be.”

 It was the best answer I could’ve ever received.

 So, I went.

 I blessed their house.

 And sure enough, whatever the issue was, it never made itself known again.

 


Call me Father Ghostbuster!

 Bishop Thornton’s advice was by far the best advice I ever heard.

 It simply blew me away.

 It has also been advice that I have been able to apply to many other situations in my pastoral career. 

 And I can tell you, I have been asked, again and again to go in and deal with such issues.

 I still don’t know what I believe for certain about ghosts.

 But, as Bishop Thornton made clear, it really doesn’t matter what I believe on this issue.

 But there’s no getting around the issue of ghosts.

 In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus’ followers experiencing something they believe to be a ghost.

 But the experience they have is also much more incredible than any experience with a ghost.

 It much more life-altering.

 The Jesus who stands before them—the Jesus they know had been tortured and murdered, the Jesus who breathed his last and actually died—now stands before them.

 However, this Jesus is no ghost.

 He is flesh and blood.

 They can touch him.

 They can feel the wounds of his death.

 They can hold him.

 And he can eat actual food with them.

 The Jesus who appears to them, who actually lives with them, is someone they no doubt cannot even begin to understand.

 If they thought what he said and did before the crucifixion was amazing and mind-boggling, now it is even more incredible.

 This Jesus we encounter in today’s Gospel is just as incredible to us.

 And perhaps maybe even more so.

 For the people of Jesus’ day, they could actually accept the fact that things happened beyond their understanding.

 For us, we tend to rationalize away anything we don’t understand.

 And the idea of someone who has died suddenly appearing before us—in the flesh, with wounds—and eat with us—is more than incredible.

 It seems impossible.

 And as we hear it, we do find ourselves beginning to rationalize it away.

 But rationalize as we might, the fact remains: Christ is still present to us in the flesh.

 Certainly, we find Christ present in the physical elements of bread and wine of the Eucharist

 But we, the Church, those who have collectively come together to follow Jesus, to live the Christian life, to live out what Jesus taught us—we are also the physical body of Jesus in this world still.

 We, with our wounds, with the signs of our past pains, with all that we bring with us, are the embodiment of Jesus in this world.

 We are the ones who, like Jesus, bring a living and loving God to people who need a living and loving God.

 We are called to embody God’s love, to embody God’s compassion, to embody—to make part of our very bodies—a God who truly accepts and loves all people.

 That is what it means to be Jesus in this world.

 We are not called to be ghosts.

 We are not called to be vague Christians, who sort of float around and make echoing ghostly statements about our faith to people hoping they will somehow “accept Jesus.”

 We are called to be living, loving human beings embodying a living, loving God, serving living humans beings who, like us, are broken and in pain.

 Just as Jesus shared what was given to him, so are we to share what is given to us.

 We who have known the love and acceptance of our God are called to, in turn, share this love and acceptance to others.

 And when we do, we are the body of him who we follow.

 We can’t do the ministry we do if we are just ghosts.

 We are not going to help anyone is we are wraiths and specters of God in this world.

 The God we embody and carry with us is not some ephemeral thing.

 The God we serve is real.

 And when we go out and serve others as Jesus, we make God physical.

 We make God real.

 We make God’s love real.

 And that makes all the difference.

 That changes things.

 So, let us carry out this mission together.

 Let us be the body of  Jesus in the world.

 And as the Body of Jesus, let us be the conduits through which we bring God to those who need God.

 Let us sit down and eat with those with whom we serve and those we serve.

 Let us never be ghosts.

 “…a ghost,” Jesus says to us, “does not have flesh and bones…”

 But we do.

 And we are called to use our flesh and bones to serve others.

 Let us never be vague Christians who float about transparently.

 But let us be physical Christians, showing our wounds to those who are wounded.

 And as the body of Jesus in this world, we can do what Bishop Thornton reminded me

Bishop John Thornton

to do when I was a new priest:

 we can be whatever we are called to be in a particular situation.

 We, as the physical Body of Jesus, can adapt and mold ourselves to those situations in which we can make God present in those areas in which God needs to be present.

 If we do so, we are doing what Jesus calls us to do.

 If we do so we will find that we are not frightened, and that whatever doubts will arise in our hearts really, in the long run, won’t matter.

 Rather, by our presence, by love, by our acceptance, we will do what Jesus did.

 We will drive away, once and for all,  every one of those ghosts of fright and doubt.

Let us pray.

 Holy and loving God, help us to embody Christ in this world. Help us to be the hands, the feet, the face of Christ to those who need your love, your acceptance, your full inclusion in this world and in your Kingdome. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

2 Easter

 


April 11, 2021

John 20.19-31

+ If you know me for any period of time, one of the many weird things you will hear me talk about is my affection toward atheists.

 

And I’m not talking about it in some negative way.  

 I genuinely like atheists, and I definitely empathize with those who do not believe.

 I do not see that atheists and Christianity are necessarily diametrically opposed to each other.

 And I know that’s an extremely unpopular opinion from both Christians and atheists.

But I stand firmly on this topic.

I’ll be honest.

What disturbs me about atheist theology isn’t its (often rightful) anger toward Christianity and organized religion, its rebellion, its single-mindedness about how wrong religion is.

What disturbs me about atheism is how simple it is—how beautifully uncomplicated it is.

Tomorrow will be the 60th anniversary of amazing event.

On April 12, 1961, Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.

Soviet propaganda at the time proclaimed that the first words from Gagarin from space were, “I see no God up here.”

There’s even a famous poster showing Gagarin floating above the spires of the


churches of Russia, and the words “No God” in Russian as a caption

The fact is, this was proved to be wrong.

Gagarin never said it.

In fact, there are stories abounding that Gagarin was actually a secret Orthodox Christians (If you want to google it, you find yourself going down some interesting rabbit holes).

But, let’s face it—it’s just so easy to not see God anywhere.

It’s easy to look up into the sky and say, I see no God.

It’s easy to believe that science has the only answers and that everything is provable and rational.

(And just to be clear, I am fully 100%  pro-science, by the way)

I almost—ALMOST—envy atheists.

And when I hear any of my many atheist friends state their disbelief in the white-bearded male god who sits on a throne in heaven, I realize: if that is what they don’t believe in, then…I guess I’m also an atheist.

In fact, any God that I can observe by looking at in the sky, or into the cosmos is definitely a God in which I don’t believe.

I don’t want a God so easily provable, so easily observed and examined and quantified and…materially real.  

I don’t believe in a God that is so made in our image.

I don’t believe in a God that is simply a projection of our own image and self.

Who would want that God?

We might as well go back and start worshipping the pantheon of pagan gods our ancestors worshipped.

We might as well start worshipping trees and rocks again.

It’s actually so easy to say there’s no God.

It is easy to say that we live in some random existence—without purpose or meaning.

And let me tell you, I also have major issues with the prevalent form of Christianity we see in this county and in the world right now.

I think many of here—or who are watching this morning—feel the same way.

Many of us have been hurt and abused by the bastardized version of Christianity that is now being promoted as the ONLY form of Christianity that is “valid.”

Trust me.

I get!

And I guess that’s why I’m kind of envious of atheists.

That’s why I jokingly say: “there but for the grace of the God in which they don’t believe go I.”

For us, however, as Christians, it isn’t as easy.

Being a Christian is actually quite hard.

I hate to break that news to you.

Believing is actually hard.

Yes, we do believe in the existence of God.

And we believe in a very physical representation of God in the person of Jesus.

We are now in the season of Easter—a season in which we celebrate and live into the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus,

But that event is based on some incredible evidence.

We are believing what a group of pre-Enlightenment, Pre-rational, Jewish people from what was considered at the time to be a backwater country are telling us they saw.

But we believe because we know, in our hearts, that this is somehow true.

We know these things really did happen and that because they did, life is different—life is better, despite everything that happens 

We believe these things in true faith.

We didn’t see Jesus while he was alive and walking about.

We didn’t see him after he rose from the tomb.

We don’t get the opportunities that Thomas had in this morning’s Gospel.

Doubting Thomas, as we’ve come to know him, refused to believe that Jesus was resurrected until he had put his fingers in the wounds of Jesus.

It wasn’t enough that Jesus actually appeared to him in the flesh—how many of us would only jump at that chance?

For Thomas, Jesus stood there before him, in the flesh—wounds and all.

And only when he had placed his finger in the wounds, would he believe.

It’s interesting to see and it’s interesting to hear this story of Doubting Thomas.

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

Jesus is probably not going to appear before us—in the flesh.

At least, not on this side of the Veil—not while we are still alive.

 And if he does, you need to have a little talk with your priest.

 We are not going to have the opportunity to touch the wounds of Jesus, as Thomas did.

 Let’s face it, to believe without seeing, is not easy.

 It takes work and discipline.

 A strong relationship with God—this invisible being we might sense, we might feel emotionally or spiritually, but we can’t pin-point—takes work—just as any other relationship in our life takes work.

 It takes discipline.

 It takes concentrated effort.

 Being a Christian does not just involve being good and ethical all the time.

 Many, many atheists do that too.

 Most atheists I know are ethical, upright, good people too.

 Most atheists I know are committed the same ideals most of us are committed to here this morning.

 And they are sometimes even better at it all than I am sometimes, I’ll admit

 But, being a Christian doesn’t mean just being ethical and “good.”

 (Though we should all still be ethical and “good”)

 Being a Christian means living one’s faith life fully and completely as a Christian.

 It means being a reflection of God’s love, God’s Presence, God’s joy and goodness in the world.

 It means that we might not touch the wounds of Jesus as Thomas did, but we do touch the wounds of Jesus when we reach out in love to help those who need our love.

 We should be a walking, talking, living presence of God.

 God should be in our very core, our very marrow.

 Even if the God we are embodying is a mystery of us.

 Even if the God we embody is not seen.

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

 We are those blessed ones.

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

 Blessed are you all.

 You  believe, but don’t see.

 We are the ones who, despite what our rational mind might tell us at times, we still have faith.

 We, in the face of doubt and fear, can still say, with all conviction, “Alleluia!”

 “Praise God!”

 We can’t objectively make sense of it.

 Sometimes all we can do is live and experience the joy of this resurrection and somehow, like sunlight shining in us and sinking deep into us, we simply bask in its glory. 

 Seen or unseen, we know God is there.

 Yuri Gagarin this morning knows that to be true.

 Our faith is not based on seeing God here in front of us in the flesh or proving the existence of God, or finding scientific proof for the Resurrection.

 Because we actually have known God, right here, right now.

 God has been embodied in us.

 We know God, and feel God, and taste God in the bread of the Eucharist.

 We know God through love—love of God and love of one another.

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

 The Kingdom of Heaven is truly ours.

 Alleluia!

 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter

 


April 4, 2021

 

+  Last year, all through Lent as we were going through those ugly, terrible first days of the pandemic,  I looked forward to Easter with a sense of real hope.

 

But…I have to say, I was disappointed.

 

Last Easter, coming as it did in the midst of some of the darkest, most uncertain days of the pandemic, was a miserable, bleak Easter.

 

Those words—“miserable” and “bleak”—should never been used in the same sentence as the word “Easter.”

 

But it was a sad and bleak Easter last year.

 

Last Easter, we had nine people in church—our Senior Warden Jean and Junior Warden Jessica, our soon-to-be-Deacon John, our organist James, our cantor Michelle, Paul Sando who was manning the camera, Katie Sando and Kristofer Sando,  and myself.

 

We livestreamed that Easter Mass the best we could because everyone else was home safe and quarantined.

 

It was difficult Easter to say the least

 

But. . . here we are! One year later.

 

Easter!

 

And it is a new year.

 

Last Sunday, on Palm Sunday, I felt, for the first time in over a year, real hope that we were coming to the end of this long, terrible time.

 

Last Sunday was the first Sunday when we had a good number of people in church.

 

Today, we are truly hopeful.

 

Today, definitely makes up for last Easter.

 

Today, this is what it is all about.

 

Hope and light and a feeling of real renewal.

 

I have never made a secret of this fact…but, I LOVE Easter.

 

Some people are Christmas people.

 

Some people are Easter people.

 

I’m definitely an Easter person.

 

Easter, after all, is all about life.

 

Real life.

 

Unending life.

 

A life that does not end.

 

It is about the dawn that comes after a very long night.

 

And it is about our response to that life.

 

But what’s even better about Easter in my opinion is that, unlike Christmas, which when it’s over it’s over (people put out that Christmas tree the day after Christmas), Easter happens again and again for us who are followers of Jesus.

 

We get to experience it and all it represents multiple times over the year.

 

Certainly every Sunday we celebrate a mini-Easter.

 

And every funeral is also a celebration of Resurrection and all that Easter represents.

 

And why shouldn’t we celebrate it beyond this season?

 

When we celebrate Easter, we are celebrating life.

 

Eternal life.

 

The truly wonderful Christian writer, Rob Bell, once said,

 

“Eternal life doesn’t start when we die. It starts now. It’s not about a life that begins at death; it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death.”

 

I love that!

 

Resurrection is a kind reality that we, as Christians, are called to live into.

 

Right now.

 

And it’s not just something we believe happens after we die.

 

We are called to live into that Resurrection NOW.

 

By raising Jesus from the dead, God 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.

 

These alleluias are for now, as well as for later.

 

We are essentially saying, Praise God for the life unending that God has given us!

 

These alleluias, these joyful sounds we make, this Light we celebrate, is a Light that shines rightnow—in this moment.

 

We are alive now!

 

Right now!

 

We have made it through a dark and terrible time.

 

Easter and our whole lives as Christians is all about this fact.

 

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 this radical new life.

 

It is 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.

 

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

 

It doesn’t make sense that we are 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 died and was buried in a tomb and is now…alive.

 

That God raised Jesus from the darkness of death, and he 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.

 

Experiencing this—in the present tense.

 

We are already living, by our very lives, faith in God and our faith in in the eternal, unending, glorious life that God shows in the resurrection of Jesus.

 

We will live because God raised Jesus to life.

 

Now as wonderful as this all seems, the fact is, 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 have all made it through a very hard year together.

 

We know what sickness and dear are.

 

We know what suffering and pain are.

 

Most of us here this morning have had our share of losses in our lives.

 

We know the depths of pain and despair in our lives.

 

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

 

Illness and death are not eternal.

 

Pandemics are not eternal.

 

Covid is not eternal.

 

None of those things will ultimately win out.

 

Light will always win.

 

This Light will always succeed.

 

This Light will be eternal.

 

I am honest when I say that part of me wishes I could always live in this Easter Light.

 

I wish I could bottle 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.

 

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

 

All the time.

 

Easter is here!

 

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

 

With that Easter 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;

 

So, what do we say?

 

We say, Alleluia!

 

Christ is risen!

 

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!