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.

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