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July 8, 2018: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

By Fr. Timothy Kroh on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings (Track 2)   Listen Here

In the Name ✠ of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus is rejected. Rejection is one of the most difficulty of human experiences. It slightly unravels our sense of self, at least the false sense of self we receive from the feedback of others. Rejection is never something too easily sloughed off. Jesus knows this. So, He experiences rejection, first, for us, to show us the right way. Why would I say that He chooses this rejection? It doesn’t look that way on the surface. However, the One who knew all, also knew the way He would be received in his hometown, and it doesn’t take a genius to know that sometimes the people who have known us since childhood have a hard time changing their opinions.

Jesus wanted the disciples to be there for this moment of proclamation and rejection. Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, He was invited to teach, and the response of those gathered was, “Where did this man get all this? Don’t we know him? Aren’t his brothers Joses and Judas and Simon? Isn’t his mother Mary? Aren’t his sisters here today?” And they became offended by Him. They took offense at the teachings of Jesus. I won’t judge this community too harshly, at least not without acknowledging our almost universal tendency to think one way about someone, without allowing that people grow in grace as we do. We have to keep an open mind about others, as well as about our own identities, as they change and evolve in our journey with God. And it’s important to remember that our truest identity, children of God, does not depend upon our acceptance or our rejection by anyone. In our baptism we promise to proclaim the good news in word and deed; it’s not contingent upon how it’s received. Whether we are rejected or received with great joy, we are children of God.

But the onus is on us, however, to respond in the right way. Why did Jesus want the disciples to experience this moment of rejection? It seems like a weird kind of pep rally to give them before He sends them out, two by two. He wanted them to be prepared for the inevitable: that some people would not receive them with grace, and they would have to behave with grace. He said to the disciples a little bit later, “‘Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” I think that is an impressive response. After all, they’re just two ordinary folk, no fancy entourage, no nice clothes, not even a staff or a second tunic, showing up in a community with a word and a gesture of love. And moreover, they proclaimed that all should repent, that is, turn around. The response they received, in my opinion, was remarkably positive. But surely we know that there were some villages that did not accept them.

We need to hear these instructions as if Jesus Christ our Lord were standing in front of us teaching us about church growth. As if we had paid the Lord of Life to come and teach us, to be a consultant, because these are simple and remarkable instructions for that word we as Anglican Christians don’t like to use: Evangelism. Sharing the good news. Imagine, here are the instructions from the Lord of Life: Go! Don’t take a lot of stuff, and preach the good news. Stay for as long as you can. If they don’t accept you, leave. Shake off the dust, and start again.

Those are simple and powerful instructions for sharing a word and a gesture of love with a neighbor or a stranger, and we really ought to take them as seriously as we would take any instruction for church development from a paid consultant. Their lifestyle was a statement in itself, they didn’t call the people to come to them in some building, a center of power. They went out to the people, and that is what we must do as a community of faith.

I want to lift up something that happened on Wednesday, which was, as you know, Independence Day. A group of young adults from our congregation organized themselves independently to open up the church from 10:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. To offer a word, and a gesture of love. The word of love being a welcome, and the gesture of love being a cup of cold water, a good biblical offering. For those seven hours, they acted as evangelists. Not by convincing people of some complicated belief, but by offering a word and a gesture of love.

This simple organized act of love reached a lot of people, not only in person out there on the steps, but much, much farther through social media, and now it’s reaching everyone who listens to our sermons via podcast. Greetings, podcast listeners! As I and the young adults engage in the ministry of open doors along with so many others who are sitting here today, we know that when we offer a word of love, people are generally very happy to receive it. There is, however, some occasional rejection, and we can’t be afraid of that. We simply follow our Lord’s strategic plan for church development: To greet the friend, the stranger. To offer the word and the gesture of love, and if we are rejected, to move on and try again.

When we deal with rejection in our personal lives, it can be very difficult. It’s important to remember that if we’re in the heat of rejection in our own lives, that Jesus did not say, “Get revenge.” Jesus did not say, “Seek to justify yourself.” Jesus just said, “Move on.” Sometimes we’re called to reconciliation, and that involves staying, being present, communicating. But sometimes, we are not meant to respond to an unkind word, but simply to accept it as the price we pay for accepting the many blessings of others.

Most of the time, whether in our own lives or in our ministry as ministers of this church, the majority of folks will receive our word and gesture of love by blessing us with another word and another gesture of love. It’s important to note, also, that our word and gestures of love have consequences and effects that go far beyond the ones we might see in that moment. Not everyone we greet will come into our church, but some will. And even if they don’t, we have no idea the effect that simple act of love may have in the life of another, and in others through them. As we seek to be God’s ministers of the Church of the Advent, we’re called to keep going in this simple but profound ministry of presence by continuing our open doors ministry, and in other ways, such as our flea market which is coming up. Doing this work is our sacred call as the baptized. We’re called to share the good news. This is lived out, not in difficult, but in simple ways: by opening up our doors, by greeting people with a word of love, a cup of cold water, a listening ear. Not all of them will join us at Mass, but some of them will. And all of them will witness, by God’s grace, not by our effort, that we are striving to be an authentic community of love that lives into our mission, to be a loving, diverse, and inclusive community, sharing the love of Jesus Christ with everyone.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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July 1, 2018: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

By Fr. Timothy Kroh on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings (Track 2)   Listen Here

In the Name ✠ of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

On this Sunday before Independence Day, in this particular time in our history, we should consider migrants. The story of America is a story of migrations. The first migrations were millennia ago, as the ancestors of the First Nations came onto this land as the first humans to live here, and then millennia later another wave of migration, this time from Europe. Many European migrants were fleeing persecution and violence, as migrants due today, but the migrants from Europe were not only human migrants, but also the migration of colonialism, disease, violence, forced conversions. Soon after the arrival of this migration, another one began: four hundred years of forced kidnappings, brutal transport, and the sale of human beings as chattel fueled the economy of this nation. Thanks be to God that those people of nobility and courage did not have their faith and hope extinguished but survived to a time of freedom. And yet we know that that freedom was often incremental in its progress and often went backwards. America is a story of migrations, and we can see the effect of this evil system today, all over the country but certainly in this city of Baltimore, in the inequality and lack of opportunity for people of color, in the culture of violence, and in the geography of this city.

America is a story of migrations, and the migrations continued after two world wars and during, when numbers of people from all over the world came to this country to seek the promise that we enjoyed. And yet so many of them were ghettoized and marginalized by the whites who were already here. Migrants pour into our borders every day. We hear the stories of so many of them in the news and so often unaccompanied child migrants, and maybe we wonder why their parents, if their parents are living, would allow or encourage such a dangerous journey. There’s only one answer to that: desperation. If you’ve not heard of the gang MS-13, you’re lucky. MS-13 is a gang that began in this country as disenfranchised migrant children were not allowed into public schools in the 1980s, and the gang grew from Los Angeles to all over this country and all over Central America. Last night I read a story about an eleven year old boy, the same age as the girl in the Gospel today, who was recruited by the drug cartel in his village in Honduras. The gang said to the parents of this eleven year old, ‘We’re taking your son.’ The parents said ‘No, please don’t, anything but that,’ but they knew the gang’s modus operandi, which is to take children, to tattoo the symbols of the gang on those children’s bodies, and then they are forever in that life of death and crime. This is no fate for any child. And if they resist, the parents are only too often murdered, perhaps with the children as well.

I’m sorry for these disturbing images in church, but I feel responsible to share them. In the Gospel today about another child in crisis, Jesus heals not only the child, but also a woman who had been suffering for twelve long years – the lifetime of these children in question. Today the mercy and power of Christ is shown in this story of healing for the woman with a hemorrhage, and this girl who was at the point of death. These stories testify to the unstoppable love, mercy and justice of God. And today that mercy works through you, and me. Baptized ministers of God. We who’ve made solemn vows to love and serve Christ in our neighbors, to uphold the freedom and dignity of every human being, are called to be agents of God’s work in this world. We need to remember this week, but all the time, that our nation is indeed great, but God is greater. We need to give thanks for our nation and work to improve it, and also remember that it is a sin to have any loyalty above our loyalty to God. We need to remember that ‘Liberty and justice for all’ has been interpreted in extremely limited ways in the course of our history and that each successive generation has fought to expand the concept of liberty and justice. We need to remember that all of us here are descendants of migrants. We need to remember that the wisdom of God decreed that our own Lord was a child migrant in the land of Egypt, along with the Most Holy Mother of God and St. Joseph, fleeing, as so many migrants do today, the threatened murder of their child.

As St. Paul says to the Corinthians, so he says to us: “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may not be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” We can and ought to be so deeply grateful to God for setting us in this nation among many nations of the world. But we ought to remember this week that God has done this in order to give us rights and responsibilities. We have the right to free speech, to the vote, the right to civil action and protest, and so many other privileges shared by far too few in this world. We’re lucky to have them, and they’re gifts from God. And in this moment in the history of our nation, and in every moment, you are called to exercise your rights, not just as citizens, but as citizens of God’s kingdom. As ministers of Christ’s justice, mercy, and compassion. For the migrant, for those who are homeless, for those who live every day with racism, poverty and violence, for everyone who is marginalized. For our Lord honors those who are not honored in the world and blesses the poor and the persecuted.

Unless we exercise our rights and privileges to honor such as these, and to expand liberty and justice for all, our celebration of the national day is facile. And if we’re not making the right use of the gifts we have, we need to consider how God is calling us in this season to be agents of justice, love, and healing. Amen.

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June 24, 2018: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

By Seminarian Jean-Pierre Seguin on the Third Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings (Track 2)   Listen Here

I come before you this morning in the Name ✠ of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Six years ago, the thirty-eighth chapter of the Book of Job saved my life. Perhaps more to the point, God saved my life through the story of Job. I had been experiencing depression for months: the type of depression that lingers much like a late Michigan winter. Drab, with the changing gray palette of the silent sky the only visible difference day-to-day. It was summer, however. The weather was lovely. I was in the middle of my time in college and I was starting to actively discern a call to the priesthood. However, my family was moving and I had to leave the home I grew up in.

I found myself at a Benedictine monastery in the middle of farm country in late August. I tried praying with the monks; I tried going on a long run on the dusty dirt roads to clear my head. Nothing seemed to quite work. Then, however, I turned to the devotional handout in my room, and I tried reading the gospel assigned; it had some meaning. The real breakthrough came when I reached out to God and I told God that I needed something, I needed to hear something, and I just opened the Bible – something I rarely do, I usually follow the lectionary. But I opened up the book and I saw the beginning of the thirty-eighth chapter of the Book of Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth?” I was struck by the question, so I kept reading. Immediately, something opened up. The question tore through all the gray malaise and I felt God’s mercy pouring into my heart. I was not there, I did not know who laid the foundation of the Earth. I did not experience when the morning stars sang together and the heavenly beings shouted for joy. I felt alive. I felt loved. I felt worthy of love.

Now I was lucky: I was able to contact my family, get the help I needed, talk to my priest who was very empathetic, find a therapist. Years later, the experience is one of transformation, and not of frustration or tragedy. This, however, is not always the case, which is why I think it is valuable for us to turn to the Book of Job. Experiences of mental illness are not normative, and U.S. culture unfortunately tends to treat the non-normative as suspect at best. One scholar of the Hebrew scriptures has labeled Job an anomalous book within the wisdom tradition, because of its dissenting view of the theodicy, or the theology of why people suffer. Perhaps this is why Job’s story reached me in the middle of depression: an innocent suffer who rails against God and begs for answers, while losing everything and finding his friends to be unreliable and judgmental. While it can often be helpful to focus on the importance of responsibility, Job reminds us that even when we do everything right, as far as is humanly possible, we are sometimes tested by circumstances beyond our control.

And after losing everything, and suffering so much, Job receives consolation from God in the form of a powerful message about God’s strength. This is the God who has created life-giving rain and knows when the mountain goats give birth. In the moment I read those words, I could only give gratitude to our amazing creator and wonder at a creation that contains so much variety, including my flawed, beautiful love itself. God is bigger than and cares for us in the midst of our troubles. Because if God loves me, God loves you, and God loves everyone. We live in a time when people in power seek to diminish the humanity of some for the benefit of a few. The children ripped from their parents’ arms at the militarized place called ‘the border’ or ‘la frontera’ signal to us the dehumanizing currents that run through much of American culture.

Migrants fleeing violence and persecution threaten some so much that they cling more closely to their nationalistic fear than to God’s commands. Like Jobs’ friends who taunted him in his misery, they self-righteously persecute the poor while literally attempting to destroy brown families. Horror stories like these have occurred in this country since its founding, and until white society takes love of neighbor seriously, they will continue, both at the border and in places across this land. Genocide, slavery, and white supremacy must be overcome within people’s hearts and outwardly within communities or its dark tempting power will cause people to continue to forsake God.

James Cone, the founder of Black Liberation Theology, explicitly connects the Cross and the lynching tree: two powerful symbols within the black community. He argues that for the African-American community, both came to represent death and the promise of redemption, judgment and the offer of mercy, suffering and the power of hope, a thirst for life even in the face of death. He later invokes the Womanist theologian Shawn Copeland who argues that enslaved African sang spirituals because they saw on the Cross the One who went all the way for them. As well: as a result of Christ’s crucifixion, triumph over the principalities and powers of death, triumph over evil in this world.

This weekend I witnessed something that gave me hope in God’s weapons of righteousness, something that can equip us for spiritual battle in these troubled times. The Poor People’s Campaign, a broad-based movement for justice, based in moral revival, beyond party lines, gathered in Washington D.C. to commemorate the end of six weeks of action. Across forty states and many sovereign tribal lands, people got together, talked, raised their voices. Thousands were arrested. And on Saturday, yesterday, thousands of people gathered on the National Mall to hear the stories of the poor from the poor, white black, brown, of all status. People called for justice in the economy, in education, in the treatment of the environment, for an end to racial injustice, and for our transformation beyond a war-based economy. The movement draws strength from Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders, and is based solidly in nonviolence, in nonviolent direct action.

There were many Jobs in that crowd, people doing their best to live while struggling with unemployment, lack of health care, industrial pollution, mass incarceration, and failing schools. People spoke for themselves and they did not hold back. Clergy and other leaders supported them in their testimony. Just as God did not order Job’s suffering, so also God does not condone the suffering human beings endure today. As people of faith who believe in this awesome God, any response not based in deep love is insufficient.

If Jesus went to the Cross once and for all time, why are the weakest and most marginalized still killed simply for existing? Why can we still read the Book of Job and relate it to so many stories of people suffering in the world today? Why’s the humanity of some cherished and cared for, while others are given indifference, or worse, treated with cruelty? We must see, as Job tells us, or as God tells us in Job, that God sees every birth and death in all of creation, and sit with Jesus in the back of the boat. Jesus, who calms the storm, who calms the fears of those he loves, of those who follow him. And who in such actions shows himself to be fully God. Jesus incarnate shows us through his ministry that God cares most especially for those who suffer, for those who are cast out, for those in need. This is the Jesus who is the Lord of Creation and who will bring about peace. God restores the life of Job. Jesus calms the storm for his disciples.

How will we open our hearts today and reach out? Amen.

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June 17, 2018: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

By Fr. Timothy Kroh on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings (Track 2): http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp6_RCL.html

Listen Here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/episodes/742620-june-17-2018-fourth-sunday-after-pentecost

In the Name ✠ of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Well, please allow me to apologize once again for the wrong readings. It’s a minor issue, though, for us today, because we heard some wonderfully familiar scriptures. Let me just remind you of some of the words we heard from St. Paul today: “If anyone is in Christ, they are,” meaning they, you, are “a new creation. The old has passed away; everything new has come.”

This is such a wonderful thing to hear today, on the day we baptize Cody Joseph, this precious child of God, whose family reminds me of the Holy Family, coming into the temple, Mary, Joseph, and the Baby, to offer and dedicate the Child to God, and that is what they do today, in the sacred vows they’re about to make on his behalf. Vows that we will all, of course, as you know, be supporting them in. And now they will become a holy family dedicated to God, ministers of Christ, and of his church, as are all of we.

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away, see, everything new has come. The vows of Baptism that we will renew in a few moments show us a pattern of life we can live that makes a new life, a life not imprisoned by the old ways of sin and greed and self-interest, of denying the humanity of others, but of honoring it, of loving and serving God and our neighbors as ourselves. When we live these vows we live a new life; we are a new creation.

All of you, every day, are meant to live your life, and me too, in this wonderful new way of love. God chooses all of us for this way, and he entices us through the doors, so to speak, until our hearts are caught up in his love. “Everything old has passed away, see, everything is made new.” I think it’s a wonderful holy coincidence, maybe not a coincidence at all, that the name of this child is Cody Joseph, which is a family name, but also one of the greatest patron saints you could have, and that this, on the secular calendar, is Father’s Day and so Alan celebrates his first Father’s Day and Cody under the patronage of St. Joseph. And we should really all look to St. Joseph for this pattern of living. We at the Church of the Advent honor Our Lady almost every Sunday by praying the Angelus, but we should also remember St. Joseph, whose shrine we have and where some of you make your devotions to him.

He was a Saint called by God to live a new way of love, to not be self-interested but to be concerned about others. God gave him the most important ministry of being guardian and protector and companion of the Mother of God and the Son of God: Jesus Christ, our Lord. Joseph gave of himself every day in ways the scriptures rarely mentioned, but we know must have been true. Those of you who are fathers and mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, brothers, sisters, whether by blood or by faith, we know what it means to love others in that way of self-giving and self-sacrifice. To want their good as much or even more than our own. This is what we learned to do and be in the promises of Baptism. And so, in a few moments, as we renew our vows, remember, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. Behold, everything is made new. Amen.

Holy Baptism: https://www.bcponline.org/Baptism/holybaptism.html

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June 10, 2018: Third Sunday after Pentecost

By Seminarian Jean-Pierre Seguin on the Third Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp5_RCL.html (Track 2)

Listen Here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/178345/729371-july-10-2018-third-sunday-after-pentecost

I come before you today in the Name ✠ of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus forms a family. Faced by strong challenges from both the Pharisees and the Herodians, as well as the reasonable concerns of His family for His safety, He does something amazing, something that no one else there predicted. He could have given in to the demands of the Pharisees and promised to strictly follow their interpretation of the law. He could have promised the Herodians who followed the client leaders of Palestine to make waves politically. He could, at the very least, have met with His worried family who loved Him and were concerned that so many powerful out-of-town groups were coming for their son and brother.

Instead, Jesus answers those who lodged unfounded, fearful accusations against Him by doing something unanticipated. He calls all those hearing Him into relationships of mutual care. He establishes kinship between a crowd, people who perhaps were neighbors. Last Sunday, we heard about Jesus healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. In its own way, Jesus’ establishment of a new family is also astounding. The text does not state it explicitly, but I imagine that the crowd felt both excitement at Jesus’ healing and teaching, as well as fear that He would be dragged before the authorities. The arrival of His mother and brothers gives Him a chance to express these concerns. Mark has already told us that Jesus’ popular and provocative teaching ministry shocks His family. However, He won’t back down. He takes the bold step of renewing a fractured community, as He had earlier healed a man’s withered hand. He calls His followers from fear into renewed obedience to God and relationship with neighbor.

This brings us to the Garden. The reading from Genesis tells us of the roots of our humanity. In that narrative, the first humans are given a garden to live in, with a simple rule to follow: they can eat of any fruit in the garden, except the one of the knowledge of good and evil. We just heard about their fear when God approaches after they have eaten from the very tree that will lead to their expulsion from paradise. It is possible to take issue with this story on grounds of sexism, and there is no denying that it was told, retold, and recorded in a patriarchal culture; however, it’s also notable that it is Adam, the man, who quickly blames the woman. She gives a much more straightforward answer to God. In response, God first punishes the serpent. Despite the man’s attempt to distance himself from the infraction, both suffer the consequences, since both ate from the fruit. We could also note that this Scriptural conversation succinctly describes the injury and brokenness of misogyny, currently documented through the #MeToo movement. And while this passage has been used in misogynistic ways, some interpreters believe that, given humanity’s curiosity, what we call the fall was near inevitable. We witness here what happens when humans forget the essentials of our existence in favor of other, apparently better, goals.

In comparing the reading from Genesis and Mark, there’s a shared emphasis on relationship and accountability. God is the one who calls us into community, and when we break community through petty, self-serving fights, God calls us back. When the man and woman disobey in the Garden, they must leave, but God gives them another home. This by no means indicates that we have a free license to hurt each other, but it does mean that God understands our shortcomings and is continually willing to work with us. We cannot escape the reality that God has made us radically social creatures. We are formed for community, and in the Gospel we see Jesus take a crowd and call it to be a family. We don’t have to look very far to see that in our society there are still too many desperate crowds and too few caring families. Too many Pharisees and Herodians trying to save themselves by turning to legalism or a security of closeness to earthly powers.

In my short time here, I’ve seen both Baltimore’s beauty as well as its brokenness. Here, the privileged ride the bus for free, while the poor must pay. A top-notch hospital flourishes by exploiting the residents of the poor, racialized neighborhoods around it. Gustavo Gutierrez, the founder of liberation theology, defines poverty as an early death, and it is reprehensible that those with insurance are cured while the abandoned and over-policed poor are offered help only if they accept a minimum wage job. This neighborhood itself witnesses to the Herodian transformation that allows a few to prosper, while desperate crowds are left to fight over very little. Formerly working-class homes are transformed into chic dwellings for well-educated downtown workers. Since we, in faith, follow those who know the difference between good and evil, and know Christ’s call to love God and neighbor, we have work to do. This work will involve getting to know our neighbors and making common community with all. Advent’s choice to maintain senior housing rather than construct luxury apartments speaks to the ways his parish already witnesses to this Gospel imperative.

Today’s Gospel can lead us to wonder what it might look like to live as a human family. Some of us have different experiences with family than others. Here, Jesus gives us an interesting example of spiritual family by calling those who do God’s will his family. This leads me to reflect on mission, mission of the Gospel. I believe that God’s mission to us is Christ, and in Christ we are called to live lives of faith and discipleship in service to others. A professor of mine who studies mission calls the church away from examples of mission that support patronizing acts or cultural superiority towards communities, projects, and witness where all communities, all cultures, and all people are brought together through the power of Christ. When Presiding Bishop Curry speaks repeatedly of the Jesus movement, I think this is what he’s getting at. We need time for work and time for rest, but our communities of faith must live out the Gospel.

We have a choice. We can follow God in courageous love or tear each other apart in fear. In big and small ways, when confronted by evil and fear, let us choose love. Let us seek relationship. Let’s sit at the feet of our teacher, savior and Lord; hear the gospel message, and get up, ready for the life-giving work of building community. Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, this protects us from being tricked by hate and fear and can lead us to a closer connection to God and each other. This is work for which we were created, and God equips us every day to carry it out. Amen.

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June 3, 2018: Second Sunday after Pentecost

By Dcn. Eric Whitehair on the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp4_RCL.html

Listen Here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/178345/729290-june-3-2018-second-sunday-after-pentecost

In the Name ✠ of the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There is a lot going on in this very short Gospel reading today. A lot below the scenes. So I’d like to begin by introducing the cast, as it were. One of the most, interesting might be the wrong word, one of the most important but barely mentioned characters in this portion, which will have a giant impact later in the Gospel, are the Herodians, that is, people who were supporters of Herod. Know something about Herod, he was the ruler of Judea, the Roman province. He set himself up as a king, but he was not king of Israel. He was not actually even from Israel. He paid a certain amount of lip service, a certain amount of public respect to the Hebrew people. He even rebuilt the Temple, and it’s really hard to underestimate how important the Temple was to the spiritual life of the people of Israel. It was literally, literally, the center of the world, perhaps even the center of the universe. It was the spot where one could only do certain religious things. It was a spot where one must go to to get certain things from the priests. It was a place that was the center of the spiritual world for the Jewish people, and that Herod would spend his money to rebuild the Temple certainly made him appear to be a pious person, and yet what we know both from the Gospels and from history is that Herod did have a true love, but that true love seemed to be power and domination.

Herod really wanted to be king even though he was not of the line of David. He was also someone who used the power of Rome to keep himself in his position. He was willing to make whatever deals need to be made to keep his power, and so he was in a little bit of a balancing act. On one hand, he had the people of Israel, on the other hand he had the Roman Empire, and he was trying to play both, and he was trying to play both for one specific reason, and that specific reason was to stay in power. And the reason why he rebuilt the Temple was not out of a love of anything holy, but out of a desire to keep his own power, and his relationship with the Hebrew people can be best described as oppressive. And the oppression that he put on the people he did not only to increase his own power, but also to increase his own personal wealth; hence when we hear about tax collectors, you’re probably hearing a bit about the government which was glad to take a lot of money from the people. So when we hear that the Pharisees went out to immediately conspire with the Herodians, that’s who we’re talking about, that’s the Herod we’re speaking of here. We’ll get back to the Pharisees in a moment.

The second person in today’s Gospel, appropriately, of course, is our Lord, Jesus. Unlike Pharisees, to an extent, unlike the Herodians, definitely, and unlike the Sadducees, for certain, unlike the officials at the Temple, all of these political parties that I mentioned, beside our Lord, all of these political parties knew that they were living in perilous and precarious times. They were living on a sword’s edge. As a matter of fact, before the close of the century that this Gospel was written, Jerusalem will be sacked and the very Temple that Herod built would be pulled down to the ground; destroyed utterly. To this day only one wall remains of Herod’s Temple, and that’s the western wall that people still pray at. That would happen under Roman rule. That giant blow-up that would see the destruction of Jerusalem, that would see the scattering of the Hebrew people, was imminent, and it could almost be sensed in the air, it seems, because everyone was trying to just keep it cool. Don’t have the big blow-up, because it will be disastrous, and to be fair, it was.

Jesus was a disrupter of that peace. We have a giant pile of kindling, we have gasoline. No open flames, please. And here comes this Man, talking about who the true King is, what the real Kingdom is, about the difference between fake power of this world, and the true power in the world. We’re talking about a Man who would not pay homage to the Emperor. We’re talking about followers who were looking for a Kingdom that was not of this world. Jesus scared a lot of people.

And then, the unlikely third party in our story today are the Pharisees, and, I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud, but the Pharisees don’t honestly, sometimes, get a fair shake. So let’s talk about the Pharisees of history for a few seconds, and then the Pharisees of the Gospel. The Pharisees of history were a sect, a religious sect of the first century. And, when you hear about Pharisees in the Gospels, basically you could just say, Pharisees equal bad guy, right, and that pretty much get you what you need to know. But that’s not actually entirely fair. What you need to know about the Pharisee movement was that it was actually a populist movement in Judaism. In the way that I told you that the Temple was the center of spiritual life of the Hebrew people, and therefore the priests had a tight control on everyone’s spirituality, and the priests who were in collusion with the government; therefore, were helping to maintain the repressive order of the day. The Pharisees were something slightly subversive, slightly. They took the power somewhat; not fair, they took the focus, I would say, more away from the Temple, but they still wanted people to have a spiritual life, and so instead of focusing on the Temple, instead of focusing on the power structure, they said: We can just read the scriptures ourselves. And they used the scriptures as a way to take the focus’ shift away from the colluding powers of the day. That’s a little bit subversive. Now the way that they were able to tread this precarious ground was to say: We’re not going to get involved in politics. Just do what the scriptures say to do. There’s a list of rules, follow the rules. Even some of the rules that previously had only been for the priestly class, we’re going to make them for everyone; everyone is holy now; follow the rules, read the Scripture. You see where the problem’s going, don’t you. This is why Pharisee equals bad guy in the Gospels. Jesus reminds us that there are two commandments: you should love the Lord your God with everything you have, and you should love your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets. The Pharisees were using the law, dare I say it, as an idol.

I have been led to believe by my own experiences that people can make idols of things that would otherwise be edifying. Scripture is important. Boundaries are important. But love is the law. That’s not my words, that’s our Lord’s words. And when Scripture, or a set of rules, are placed above God’s love, you have created an idol. You have worshipped something that is not God as if it were God. What is idolatry? The Psalms tell us: when you make a God that is dumb, that has eyes but cannot see. When you take an object or a thing and try to make that God, you have created an idol. And you can make Scripture an idol. If you worship the book but not what the book is pointing to, you have made the book an idol. Hence, Pharisee equal bad guy.

I think it’s dangerous to think that the Pharisees were the bad guys who lived only two thousand years ago, good thing we’re done with them, the bad guys are vanquished, if only that were true. I see Pharisees today. I see Pharisees who make idols of things that would otherwise be edifying and even holy and place them above God and God’s love; lest we forget, Scripture reminds us very plainly: God is love. Do not place anything above God. Ironically, one of the commandments. The Pharisee nature is alive and well, and the Pharisee nature, to be fair, is alive and well in me.

That any time that I think that, instead of following the rule that I am to love my neighbor as myself and love the Lord my God with everything that I have, that I reduce what I think is holy to a checklist of do’s and don’ts, devoid of love. When I’m shaking my finger at someone self-righteously, in a very Pharisee-like manner, and thinking that they’ve done wrong, tisk tisk, and I’m not thinking of them as a human being, as a child of God, as my brother or sister. If they become a sinner before they become a brother, I am being a Pharisee. I am making an idol of the law.

So with that, indulge me for a moment, with all the background, let’s hear the Gospel one more time one time. “One Sabbath, Jesus’s disciples were going through the grainfields; and as they made their way, the disciples began to pluck up the heads of grain, and the Pharisees said to them, ‘Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’” And I’m going to skip ahead, “And Jesus said to them ‘The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.’” And then our Lord shows what it’s like to follow the law, rather than worship the law.

He doesn’t just shake his finger at the Pharisees and tell them they’re sinners, although there’s plenty of that going on in the Gospels, don’t worry, but he’s not just doing that. He goes and he makes someone whole. He takes a person who was, from birth, hurt, possibly pushed to the margins, and he healed them at that moment, he made him whole. He broke the law when he fed His disciples on the Sabbath, technically speaking. He loved that man, that marginalized man, and made him whole, and that’s the true law. Love the Lord your God, with all of your heart, all of your mind, everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself, and remember that to love is a verb, not an emotion. Love isn’t what you feel, it’s what you do. So when I’m having my conversation with my inner Pharisee, this is what I must remind myself of. In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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May 27, 2018: Trinity Sunday

By Fr. Timothy Kroh on Trinity Sunday:

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BTrinity_RCL.html

Listen Here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/178345/729044-may-27-2018-trinity-sunday

In the Name ✠ of the One Holy Living God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate the principal mystery of our faith: the mystery of God Himself. Our God is one God in three Persons, and this mystery separates us from all the other major religions of the world. This is the doctrine of the Trinity.

In a certain sense, we don’t deserve to know it, and yet God chose to reveal it to us, because of God’s love for us, in giving us an intellect, free will, and the spirit to know and love God. All of these things draw us closer to the Trinity.

The mystery was revealed gradually, you won’t find this doctrine in Holy Scripture, and the historical document traditionally associated with this day, the Creed of St. Athanasius, is the only creed that is not a creed, but I won’t get into that today. The point is, the revelation of the Trinity was gradual; it was a process of discernment and revelation, which is an essential concept in all of our lives; that’s really what your life is meant to be: a process of discerning God’s will and responding to it.

In the book of Genesis, when our forbearers Sarai and Abram, in their desert dwellings by the oaks of Mamre, encountered three strangers they made a feast for them and treated them like divine messengers, which indeed they were, but there’s something funny about the text. When Abram lifted up his eyes and looked, “Behold, three men were standing opposite him, and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door and said, ‘My Lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not let your servant pass by.’” Why not “my Lords?” This is maybe a hint of the Trinitarian nature of God.

And in the wonderful call of the prophet Isaiah, a call which all of us share, as you must get tired of me reminding you, a call to serve God and to be, in a way, a prophetic messenger in the world, we hear that the angels of God sing a song that hints at the Trinity, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole Earth is full of his glory,” not theirs.

Paul mentions all three persons of the Trinity in the Epistle, although of course he doesn’t reference them in a specifically Trinitarian way. It took the church several hundred years of life, of prayer, of arguing and fighting, to come to our current understanding. And yet I hope none of us would ever make the arrogant claim of having anything like a full understanding of God, much less of the doctrine of God’s Holy Trinity. It is essentially not a doctrine to be understood but a reality to be experienced.

For an example of this we can look to the most significant human in her relationship in the most Holy Trinity, a relationship unique to any other human being, the most Blessed Virgin Mary. Listen to what the archangel Gabriel says to her: “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God,” that is, God the Creator, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,” there is the second Person. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” there is the third Person, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, so the Holy One to be born of you will be called Son of God.”

Only the most holy Mother of God shared in this unique way among all of us humans in the life of the Trinity; because through her God took on a body and came to the fullness of the Trinity. So this revelation was a process, which God revealed in God’s time, in that moment, with that most blessed of humans. The revelation is a process, like everything in God’s vast and wonderful creation, just like the creation itself, in the forces of evolution which began in the mind of God, is in itself a continuing revelation; just like our lives. The collect of the day prays in these words: “You have given to your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship.”

We don’t pray to understand the Trinity, but to live into it: to worship the fullness of God, and in the power of that fullness, to be steadfast in faith and worship. And as much as we remain steadfast in our relationship with God, in our faith and worship, which includes service, don’t forget worship and service are virtually one and the same thing: they’re both actions which testify to the reality of God and respond to that reality. So when we hear worship, we should hear service as well, because without one the other is incomplete. So we have to remain steadfast in these things, and we really ought to follow the example of our Lady.

She was called by the Fathers and Mothers of the church “Complimentum Trinitatis,” that is, the compliment of the Trinity. St. Francis called her the beloved daughter of the Father, the mother of the Son and the spouse of the Holy Spirit. Those are all definitions, not of full knowledge, but a full relationship, and that’s how God calls us to relate to God’s self in the Trinity.

When we meet God in Heaven, we will understand in a fuller way this reality, but we won’t ever completely understand it. We can, however, choose to be in communion with God. We can choose through our actions, our prayers, our worship here, our service outside of these doors, to be in relationship with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We can choose this way of life by every day giving some of our time to God in prayer: even a five minute practice of prayer a day is a wonderful life-giving place to start. A fifteen minute prayer practice is fantastic, and you can always pray the Daily Office, this wonderful gift in our life. If you want to learn more about that, show up tomorrow morning at eight-thirty.

There are so many ways we can commune with the Trinity: by serving dinner at South Station as we do every month; by loving the people God puts in our lives, which as we know isn’t easy; by engaging in Holy Scripture; by studying theology, yes, but by acknowledging God’s presence in our lives. In this way, we will come closer to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So if you want to understand the mystery of God’s existence, it will help you to study the doctrine. It will help you even more if you pray every day. It will help even more if you engage in an act of loving service, not to serve yourself, but to someone in need, and we know this city is so full of people in all kinds of need: spiritual, emotional, physical, temporal.

There are many ways we can live into our relationship with God. Perhaps the most important way is the way which we will do in a few holy moments: to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. I’ll leave you with one necessary theological point about the Trinity. One of the mistakes we so often make is thinking about the Trinity from a kind of a top-down approach, where God the Father is on top and then, at some point in time, God created the Son, and then a little bit later God created and gave us the Holy Spirit. That is incorrect: Father, Son, and Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer have all created and been in existence jointly from the beginning. They are the un-created Creator, to think of one God with three Persons, all of whom aren’t bound together by time and space as we are is not easy, but it reminds us that the whole of God is present in the blessed Sacrament, the fullness of the Trinity. And remember that the Body of Christ is also, in a way, the body of our Blessed Lady. It means that the fullness of God is present in you, and in friend and stranger. It means that we are in full relationship with God if we simply follow the example of our Lady by saying, “Here I am, let it be with me according to your word.” Amen.

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May 20, 2018: Pentecost

By Fr. Timothy Kroh on Pentecost:

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BPentDay_RCL.html

Listen Here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/episodes/723855-may-20-2018-pentecost

In the Name ✠ of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Yesterday, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church preached a wedding sermon and the title of his sermon was “The Fire of Love.” We have a different kind of holy fire today on this day of Pentecost. The season of Easter is come to its conclusion, next week the Paschal candle will not be lit. And, like the early church, in the day of Pentecost that we hear about in the Acts of the Apostles, we too receive the Holy Spirit today, and every day.

We receive the Holy Spirit in fire and water. We receive the Spirit with fire. We know that these tongues of fire came down upon their heads of the Apostles in the upper room; they’re still in the upper room fifty days after the Resurrection. That means they’re still hiding; they’re still afraid of arrest. The message of Christ has not gone very far yet, if everyone who believes in him is locked up in the same room, but that was the situation.

But there were some important things they were doing. They were together. This did not happen when they were all in their bedrooms alone or in front of their computer screens. They were all together in one place, in prayer. Acts reminds us that they were always praying together after the Resurrection event. And even though they were afraid, they were together in unity with each other and at prayer, and those conditions were the conditions that made it the time for God to send His Holy Spirit and finally give them power from on high to share the message.

You and I share that call to be evangelists. St. Paul tells us, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit.” The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains as the Kingdom of God slowly comes to birth.

We know we live in a world of royal weddings and just weddings, sharing in the joy of love. We also know we live in a world where school shootings happen, as one did yesterday. We know how broken this world is. We see the brokenness: addiction, poverty, oppression, racism, so many forms of brokenness. But we also know that the Spirit helps us in our weakness, as St. Paul continues on in the epistle, “And God who searches the heart knows what is the mind of the Spirit.” We can know too what is the mind of the Spirit and have the courage to act on it.

The Holy Spirit comes with water. Today in the waters of Baptism a beautiful child of God will receive new birth. Almost every one of you here today are baptized children of God. I remind you of that a lot. If you get tired of it, I’m going to keep doing it. Because it’s the truth and it will always be your deepest identity. You can have all kinds of other identities in this world: parent, child, spouse, worker, contributor to the economic world, whatever. You can have degrees, or not, but your deepest identity just like Catriona’s, will always be baptized children of God. You receive the Holy Spirit in those saving waters, just as radically as the Apostles received it with tongues of fire, because the Holy Spirit comes not only with fire, but with water, and the effects of that water last forever.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. Whether you feel the Holy Spirit or not, he, she, is with you every day through the indelible mark of Baptism which nothing can ever take away. That’s the good news for us in a world that is still groaning in labor pains. And so we rejoice with this precious child, and we rejoice that we share the identity that the adults around her are claiming for her. And we pray that we’ll be a good example for her, just like her godparents, by coming back: by receiving the Holy Spirit through the Holy Eucharist, Christ’s own Body and Blood. The Holy Spirit comes in bread and wine too, don’t forget that. But the Holy Spirit also comes through our relationships with one another; that may be the primary way, the primary way that we experience God the Holy Spirit, is through our relationships with one another.

So when we make the promises of baptism or remake them in a few moments, don’t forget that those are your blueprints for life. Whatever identities you’re trying to work out in the world, go back to those promises.

In a few moments, we will pray the thanksgiving over the water. I say the prayer, you say, amen, which means yes, at the end. But neither of us really perform the action. It’s the Holy Spirit of God among us. Not just on the day of Pentecost, not just on that one day you were baptized, whether that’s today or many years ago, always every day. And if you need the Holy Spirit in your life, come back, come back next Sunday, sit down with someone in this community today and tell them your story, because when two or three are gathered together, Christ is among us and the Spirit is there always.

Holy Baptism: https://www.bcponline.org/Baptism/holybaptism.html

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May 13, 2018: Seventh Sunday of Easter

By Fr. Timothy Kroh on the Seventh Sunday of Easter:

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Easter/BEaster7_RCL.html

Listen Here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/178345/723741-may-13-2018-seventh-sunday-of-easter

In the Name ✠ of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Mathias was called. With Judas’s departure and death, the disciples were down to eleven, but Jesus had appointed twelve to this special office. So it seemed good to the early church, as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles, to bring the number back to twelve, the number of wholeness and completeness. So there was a position to fill.

So, the eleven other disciples interviewed every member of the community and asked them about their expectations. They wanted them to have demonstrated leadership, a good background, a seminary degree. Once they determined the candidates that met their expectations, they interviewed them.

Now some of you, at this point, are wondering what version I’ve read, because that’s not what happened – of course that’s crazy. They actually went to a body called the Crown Appointments Commission, and they recommended candidates, and then the candidate was approved by the Queen. Now of course that’s not how they chose Mathias, that’s how we choose Bishops in the Church of England.

This is how they called Mathias: they prayed. First, they prayed. No other process has any value at all without being grounded in prayer. We talk a lot about discernment, and that’s a fancy word that means figuring out what God wants of us. The only way we can ever figure that out and engage in discernment is by first grounding it in prayer. So first they prayed, and then what did they do? They cast lots.

We might wonder what it means to cast lots, it’s a lot like rolling dice or drawing straws. It’s a random exercise, or at least one meant to give us a random outcome, but when it’s grounded in prayer, it becomes something far deeper than just a random decision. Because discernment is about listening to God and seeing whom God is calling.

Biblical leadership was never based on resumes or complicated call processes. God called Moses, a shepherd, who, if you hadn’t forgotten, had a murder on his record. God called Aaron, who was really good at making idols and worshipping them. He called David, the youngest son who was out taking care of the sheep, an unclean job. There’s a theme there.

God called Mary, a little girl in a patriarchal society, to engage in the most important ministry any human being could ever be called to undertake. Jesus called his first four disciples, not by interviewing them, but by walking around and saying, “Hey, you! Follow me.” And they did. God called St. Mary Magdalene, a woman, again in a patriarchal society, to be the first witness of the Resurrection. The men did not believe her until they saw the risen Christ themselves. Nevertheless, it was God’s will to call Mary of Magdala to that high calling, not because she would be believed by everyone, but because it revealed the Wisdom of God.

You are called. Now you can sit here today and you can think, “No I’m not. How could God use me? I’ve done a lot of bad things. I’ve made so many mistakes. God hasn’t called me.” Think again. God doesn’t call the qualified, God qualifies those whom God calls and God displays his Wisdom not by calling the people everyone thinks would be the best candidate, but by calling the people who have human weaknesses. By calling the people who would not be the obvious candidate, because God’s Wisdom is so much greater than ours, and God is always raising up the lowly and casting down the mighty from their seats. God is always choosing unlikely people who don’t have the perfect resume in order to show the world that God calls all of us, not just some of us, all of us. You are called.

What are you called to? You are called to nothing less than being God’s partner in the renewal of the world. How? There are so many ways! Let me tell you a couple quick stories. The Reverend Canon Scott Slater is the Canon the Ordinary of our diocese. He’s a man I admire very much, with many gifts for ministry, but there’s one story about him engaging in ministry I want to share with you. He wasn’t in a pulpit or leading a vestry retreat. He was out jogging on the streets of Baltimore, and he saw a bus stopped in the middle of the road and an elderly African-American gentleman standing in front of that bus, not moving. Obviously, this was a problem, and he could tell it was a problem by all the horns being honked, as you can well imagine, being people who live in and near this city. So Scott stopped, and he discovered what had happened. The bus was full, well past capacity, and all of these other people rushed in front of this man to get on the bus, and this man felt, quite rightly, as if he had been wronged, and so he was standing his ground and demanding that he have a seat on that bus. This was a problem for the bus driver was just trying to do her job; had a bus full of angry loud people behind her in cars.

So Scott walked up and introduced himself, not as a priest, but as a Christian, someone concerned. And he negotiated someone exiting the boss, in order for this gentleman to get on the bus. What an act of ministry he engaged in! Not because of his seminary degree or because he’s in Holy Orders, but because he’s a Christian and there was a situation that needed a Christian to intervene and he did that.

Now I’m going to tell you another story about ministry. This happened to me many years ago in a different church. I was an interim rector, and this church had too many services on Sunday. The early service was not at eight, it was at seven-thirty. And the only people who attended were the priest and the server. Now the server was a man who had served at that Mass every Sunday for fifty years. He had watched that service shrink to almost nothing, just the priest in the acolyte show. Which isn’t really what Church is about. The vestry and I felt like it was time to stop offering that service. And this man was understandably very anxious and one of the things he said to me is, “You’re all taking away my ministry. You’re taking away my ministry.” And I said to him, “We’re not taking away any ministry that God has called you to do. God is calling you to do it in a new way, in relationship with people.”

But it’s important for us all to remember that the ministry we do within these walls is not our whole ministry. If we fall into the trap of thinking that our church involvement is our full ministry, we’re ignoring the call of God to go out from these doors, “To love and serve God,” what the deacon calls us to do every Sunday at the end of the Mass. In frankly, more frank terms than the Prayer Book, “To get out of here! And to go and serve God!”

You are called, my sisters and my brothers. You are called to do ministry. Not because of your qualifications, but because of the gifts God has given you and because God has chosen you. If you think you’re unworthy or not called, you’re just wrong. If you’re here and you have accepted the waters of Baptism, you have accepted God’s call in your life. Mathias was called. He may not have expected to be called in that way, he may not have thought he could do it, but he did. He said yes. And that’s what we’re about here. Not to make ourselves great, but to glorify the greatest of all, the one who’s given us life. As I conclude, I want to say something about the gospel. We hear our Lord’s prayer, or a portion of it. He’s praying for us, those who will be his Body on Earth after he’s died and ascended into Heaven and fill the whole world. And he says, “Holy Father, protect them in your Name, so that they may be one, as We are one.”

The man who was afraid that his ministry was gone, and all of us, need to be reminded that we’re one. And sometimes it’s tempting to want to do our ministry alone in a vacuum, because sometimes it’s hard to be the body of Christ and to be in relationship. It’s a great blessing to be in relationship, but sometimes it’s hard. We are one, and we can’t be who God calls us to be without each other and without God. So, even though we are one body and we have many members, when we forget that, we become disconnected, not only from one another, but from God. And so we need the Church, we need the Sacraments of the Church, we need our relationships with each other, we need our life of prayer, we even need the challenges we face here in this church. If you’ve ever left this church frustrated because of a relationship with a sister or brother, you need that frustration as much as you need the feeding and nourishment you receive from the altar, because we’re one and we can’t be who God wants us to be, unless we really are one body in Christ.

You are called. Amen.

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May 6, 2018: Sixth Sunday of Easter

By Dcn. Eric Whitehair on the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Easter/BEaster6_RCL.html

Listen Here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/episodes/718282-may-6-2018-sixth-sunday-of-easter

In the Name ✠ of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In John’s Gospel, we see a different side of Jesus. We don’t see as much as in the – what they call the synoptic gospels: you probably already know that Matthew, Mark and Luke, the three Gospels preceding the Gospel of John, are known as the synoptic Gospels, and they fit together, they tell a very similar story, they have a very similar picture of Jesus. Indeed, some Bible scholars think that perhaps Mark was written first, and then Matthew and Luke used Mark as source material to add more of the tradition or experiences that people may have had and to expand their Gospels. And every Gospel has a different focus and a different intended audience.

The Gospel of John is very different from the preceding three; however. It’s not considered to be part of the synoptic Gospels. And what we see in the Gospel of John is a recording of Jesus’s words in long, treatise-like lectures, in a way that we don’t see a whole lot of, outside of perhaps the Sermon on the Mount, say, in the three Gospels preceding it.

And if you take a moment to look at the words of our Lord in the Gospel of John you’ll see that there’s a lot packed in there. That these lectures, if that’s what we are looking at, if we are look at the lectures Jesus delivered to his disciples, if that’s what the Gospel of John is, that collection, we see in there a lot packed in to every single line.

I ask myself whenever I prepare for – to do a sermon or a homily – one of the questions that I was trained to ask in Deacon training is, “What is the Gospel in this section? What is the good news that comes out of this?” Unfortunately, I usually find two or three sermons in every sermon I try to write, and so it becomes addition by subtraction.

This time though, I decided to just, as they say, lean into it. So I’m going to go into John’s recording of Jesus’s lecture, it’s a treatise, really, and give you what jumped out at me about the Gospel in each line, and there’s a lot here. It seems repetitive upon first glance, or at least it did to me, but upon further inspection things started to come out, and I wanted to share those with you. So indulge me as we walk through, and I’m going to read through today’s Gospel, and share what has marched out for me.

“As the Father has loved me, so as I have loved you, abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” That seems like almost a repetitive statement that just says, “Do what I told you to do,” but look a little closer. He makes a finer distinction between my Father’s commandments and My commandments. He’s saying them like they’re two separate things. The possessive word, ‘my,’ is here used to designate two different sets: “If you keep My commandments, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments.” Jesus’s commandments are two: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. These are the two great commandments.

The commandments that He speaks of, we can assume, or I will assume, I’ll take that blame myself, I will assume that He’s referring to the Torah, what Jesus would have been brought up believing to be, of course, the Bible, which indeed is part of our Bible, the first five books of it. A great Jewish thinker named Maimonides in the Middle Ages went through, and, by his estimation, in the Torah there were 613 separate commandments that a faithful person was to follow if they were true about their practice of Torah. We kind of get a bargain here – 613 or 2?

I do not mean to denigrate in any way, and I’m not, I’m hoping that I’m not, intending to denigrate our Jewish brothers and sisters. They will be the first to tell us that it is easier to be a non-Jew than it is to be a Jew. They told me so, fair enough, two certainly seems like a lighter load to carry than 613. But, without – I might be being a little lighthearted about something that I shouldn’t – but without being too lighthearted, remember those two commandments, in fact, do have a great amount of demands. Love the Lord your God with ALL your strength and ALL your heart, that’s a lot. Love your neighbor as yourself – love your neighbor and love yourself. And just in case we missed that point, Jesus actually summarizes it for us, “This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. No one has any greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Obviously we’re seeing a foreshadowing of what is to come in John’s Gospel, actually in all the Gospels, which, of course, is our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection. He’s going to lay down his life for his friends.

But I think that Jesus may be speaking on more than one level when He says this. Yes, this is certainly a foreshadowing of His crucifixion. Yes, He could be speaking very literally that friends who indeed lay down their lives, who willingly suffer death or pain, but especially death, to help one of their brothers and sisters, there is no greater love than this.
But I was challenged to think that maybe, perhaps, maybe laying down one’s life isn’t just a euphemism for dying. That, when done right, people lay down their lives for each other all the time. Every parent lays down their life, if done well, for their child. That is, their life is not their own. They’re not holding tightly onto their own life just for themselves. They’re giving their lives to their children, on behalf of their children, to the benefit of their children, to some extent. Which led me to something that I was taught by one of my spiritual mentors, Fr. Parker. He would usually chastise me by saying, remember who you are and whose you are, the implication being that my life does not solely belong to me, and that I’m not to be using it just for myself and that in Christian community, if done the way that I think our Lord perhaps intended, what we would have is everyone laying down their lives for each other all the time without dying. That we live in community with each other, each of us understanding that our lives are something that we were to give away for each other all the time. These two commandments are getting heavier and heavier, aren’t they?

“You are my friends and if you do what I command you, you are our friends. If you do what I command you, I do not call you servants any longer because a servant does not know what the master is doing but I’ve called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I’ve heard from my Father.” We see Jesus going into a thought about what is different between a servant and a friend. And friend is a theme here: we are to lay down our lives for our friends, we are to love each other as friends, and we see a model of that here. And we also see a rejection of something that is not friendship.

The word here is, let me make sure I have the translation, it says this, the translation here is ‘servant.’ My understanding is, in the original Greek, is that servant, at least from, coming through a filter of 1865 to now, the word servant to us might imply a paid person. We also have the word ‘slave.’ My understanding is the word ‘slave’ and ‘servant’ in the Greek are not actually separate words. He’s throwing a word out here, and when I say throwing it out, I don’t mean giving it to us, he’s kicking an idea away: friends, love, self-sacrifice, not bondage.

You are not slaves any longer, you are friends. Are we equals? No, not all friends are equals, right? Lord help me, legitimately and sincerely I say this, if I were to pretend that my friend Brian, who’s a master electrician, would be coming to my house and that I would be his equal in helping him to rewire my house. Things would literally burn down. We’re friends, we’re not equals in that respect. He knows more than I do, he’s better at it, he’s got practice that I don’t. So well, of course, I’ll make a pitch for radical egalitarianism in the next sermon, perhaps, but I’ll say this: there’s a difference between friends and servants, we are told that we are all friends.

And then I really like what ends up here. It’s a promise. We are told that we are to sacrifice. We are told that if we really love each other, we would lay down our lives for each other. That’s a heavy order. We are told that they are commands, like these are commandments. These aren’t the suggestions, these aren’t the, “Well, if you get around to it on Wednesdays,” right, these are commandments, and that feels very heavy, we have two commandments to keep, but then we’re promised something. “You did not choose me,” He says. Our Lord says, “I chose you. I appoint you to go bear fruit and whatever you ask in my Name will be given.” And He closes, “I’m giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” Amen.

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