Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Day: It's about believing

Lectionary: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

Doesn’t it feel good to finally sing our alleluias? Let’s do it again…

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (The people respond) The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Today we read John’s version of the Easter story – which is different from Matthews’s version we read last night at the Great Vigil. In John’s gospel account of the resurrection, Mary Magdalene goes alone to the tomb and finds that the stone has been rolled away already.

Keeping to the custom of her culture, Mary does not enter the tomb, but runs back to fetch Peter and John (the disciple whom Jesus loved). Mary fears that Jesus’ body must have been stolen. Her spiritual eyes had not yet been opened to the truth of the resurrection.

When the John arrives he looks inside the tomb, but he too waits until Peter, who held the top rung in the hierarchical ladder, arrives. When the two men entered the tomb and stood in its emptiness, they believed what Mary had told them – that Jesus was missing.

That’s a pretty radical statement for our Gospel writer to make considering that for that culture the testimony of women was considered unreliable. But Jesus made Mary’s testimony reliable.

Seeing the empty tomb, the disciples could only guess that Jesus had been stolen “for as yet they didn’t understand the Scripture that he must rise from the dead.” The author tells us that Peter and John simply went home.

Unable to leave the emptiness she didn’t understand, Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping. Unable to overcome the cultural boundary that kept her as an outsider, Mary still didn’t go inside the tomb. Instead, she bent over to look inside it. When she did, she saw two angels in white who ask her a simple question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

It’s helpful for us to remember that in those days men didn’t speak to women to whom they were not related. So either the angels looked like women, or Jesus brought down yet another boundary that impeded his call to Mary to be a witness to the truth.

After replying to the angels, Mary turns and sees a man standing there. Motivated by her deep grief, and still unable to “see” the truth of the resurrection, Mary speaks to the man and another culture boundary comes tumbling down - the one that forbids women to speak to men.

"Sir," Mary says, if you have taken my Lord, please tell me where he is and “I’ll take him away.” Jesus replies to her saying simply, “Mary.” And suddenly, her spiritual eyes are opened.

As promised, those who belong to the Good Shepherd know his voice. Mary spins back around to “look” again and sees – truly sees - her risen Lord. The breath of life in Mary sighs his name using a term of endearment in their native tongue: “Rabbouni!”

In that moment, Mary’s understanding, along with her once broken heart, were made whole. Jesus, her beloved Rabbi, is now Jesus, the risen Lord. She sees. She understands… and she believes!

And immediately, she goes and tells the Good News she knows - the Good News around which our church is built. We are a community who shares the same truth Mary Magdalene told that first Easter Day. And we, like her, are called to open ourselves to hear the Lord call our name and then tell everyone of the transforming love we know in him.

A few years ago, right about this time of year my mini-dachshund, Sophia, had a litter of puppies. I remember watching as my dog’s belly swelled with the hidden life forming inside her.

My youngest son and I participated in the birth of those four new and precious lives. Then we watched as the puppies grew and formed into a community, a family, under the ever-vigilant and protective gaze of their mama-dog.

Soon, the puppies opened their eyes. They couldn’t see well at first, but little by little, experience and biology worked together and their vision improved. And the better they could see, the more they began to explore, motivated by an endless curiosity.

One of the puppies was braver than the rest. Following some interior call, he would venture out farther and farther from the birthing-box, and the others would follow him. It was almost as if they were all hearing the same silent message – go and see what’s out there.

If one puppy got scared, he would stop where he was and let out a few cries. Either the Mama dog or another puppy would respond immediately by going up close, offering themselves as comfort to the one who was crying.

It was truly inspiring for me to watch as the puppies grew in the newness of life that happened for them once their eyes were opened. The connection to our Easter story is hard to miss.

After he opens her eyes, Jesus cautions Mary to remember that her spiritual vision is young and still a little clouded. Don’t cling to this, he says to her. It isn’t about my returning to you, but about my returning you to God. So go and tell the others that “I am ascending to my father and your Father, to my God and your God.” 

By sending Mary with this message, Jesus commissions her as the first resurrection apostle (remember: an apostle is one who is sent on a mission). In doing so, Jesus finishes in his resurrection, what he started in his ministry: he removes all of the earthly barriers that oppress and hinder his chosen ones in their work as witnesses of the Good News.

We too have been commissioned as resurrection apostles by our Baptism. And it is in Jesus that we are made to be reliable witnesses. We too, have been set free from all that hinders us because Christ, who has been raised from the dead has brought us with him into resurrection life.

But what does that mean? When we leave here today, what does it mean to live in resurrection life?

It means living with our eyes opened. And it is just as true for us as it was for the puppies…that our eyes, once they are opened, need some time to mature before our vision becomes clear.

As we learn and grow in our seeing, we need our community around us. Not just for when we get scared, although that is important, but because with our friends nearby, we have the courage to explore beyond our comfortable boundaries and find and do the ministry God is calling us to do. We learn together, confident that God is watching us vigilantly and protectively, ready to respond whenever we cry out.

So let us, like Mary, testify to the truth we know: that Jesus is the one “ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.” And let us preach “peace by Jesus Christ [who] is Lord of all…” remembering that “God shows no partiality.” And let us get about our work of “doing good and healing all who [are] oppressed,” as Jesus showed us how to do.

Then, unhindered by any earthly boundaries, let us boldly “testify that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” That is our good news.

Jesus brought salvation by the forgiveness of sin to the whole world. Being saved then, isn’t about keeping the right rules, or belonging to the right church or the right group, or having a culturally approved life-partner.

Being saved is about believing… believing in Jesus Christ, whose reconciliation of the world to God brought down all barriers so that everyone could share the Easter reality.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (The people respond) The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Great Vigil of Easter: Something to celebrate

We read all nine readings from the Old Testament (see BCP 288++). Our Eucharistic Lectionary included:Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Matthew 28:1-10

Alleluia, Christ is risen! (The people respond) The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

What a great night! New fire, the Exsultet, prayer rising up as incense, and light bursting into the darkness! The 40 days of our Lenten surrender to the new life God has been growing in us has reached its fulfillment.

New life is ours today. All we have to do is choose it. All we have to do, is live like we know what we believe is true.

Tonight we read the Easter story from the Gospel of Matthew, which uses language filled with spiritual meaning meant to help his readers (including us) reach beyond our usual perceptions and embrace a larger truth. In this gospel story, Matthew is presenting a message of sight – spiritual sight, which takes us beyond what we can verify with our eyes to a greater truth we already know in our hearts.

Matthew tells us that the two Marys, Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene, went to see the tomb. Suddenly, there is an earthquake. An earthquake, in Biblical language, represents the power of God. Then a messenger from God appears in dazzling white clothes, which, you may remember from the story of the Transfiguration, represents the transcendence of God.

The tomb which held the body of the Messiah who is dead, along with the hopes (or by now hopelessness) of the people of Israel, is about to become the place where true understanding and spiritual sight will be born for Mary, the mother of Jesus, for Mary Magdalene, and for us. At the tomb, the representatives of earthly power, the soldiers, “became like dead men” – powerless in the presence of the overwhelming reality of divine Love. As one commentator said, “God out-empired the empire and rendered it lifeless.”

Next, an angelic messenger descends from heaven and rolls away the huge, heavy, earthly impediment which stands between the women and the truth of the resurrection. Heaven has created an opening, a doorway by which humanity can come to know that Jesus has freed us from the prison death once represented.

Speaking only to the women, the angel says what angels usually say, “Do not be afraid.” Sure! Earthquakes and dazzling light, the powerful made powerless, and an angel sitting on top of a huge stone which has just rolled itself away from the tomb… What’s there to be afraid of…?

I suppose it must be in the job description for angels to be masters of understatement! But this isn’t the first time the Mary’s have been in the presence of unexplainable reality – and this is not the first angel Mary, the mother of Jesus, has encountered directly.

I know why you’re here, the angel says. You’re looking for Jesus – but he isn’t here. He has been raised, just as he said he would. You already knew that though, didn’t you? Come and see, the angel says to the women. Look with your physical eyes to confirm the greater truth your spiritual eyes already know. So they did.

Then heaven commissions the first resurrection apostles (remember: an apostle is one who is sent on a mission), saying: …”go quickly and tell” the others this message: “He has been raised from the dead.” Go on to Galilee because “there you will see him.”

Surely Jesus’ mother, who pondered things in her heart, remembered that Jesus had said …”after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” (26: 31-32)

Filled with fear and joy, the women do as the angel has told them. On their way, they meet up with Jesus.

It’s interesting that in Matthew’s account, Mary, the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene have no trouble recognizing Jesus. The minute these women saw him (that is, perceived him) “…they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.”

Seeing Jesus didn’t frighten the Marys. But telling the others about it did. You see, in those days, women were considered to be too emotional to be reliable witnesses – and the Marys were grieving the murder of their beloved son and rabbi. Who would believe them? Besides, what they had to tell was pretty astonishing – what would people think of them? What might happen to them if they tell this strange news?

So, Jesus tells the two Marys not to be afraid as he commissions them to be the first resurrection apostles. He tells them to go tell the others to go to Galilee where they too will verify with their eyes what they already know in their hearts: that Jesus, who was dead, now lives, and everything is changed.

By our Baptism, we too have been commissioned as resurrection apostles – tellers of the truth we know. Now we, like Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, are being sent to tell others to come and see Jesus. We are heaven’s opening, the doorway by which others can come to know Jesus.

But don’t be afraid. Go out and tell the Good News to those whose lives are broken and whose hope is failing.

Some people who matter to you won’t believe you (remember doubting Thomas?). Others won’t listen at all – just because you’re a woman, or you don’t have the right credentials, or you have the “wrong” kind of life-partner.

Tell it anyway. Tell the truth you know – that Jesus Christ is risen and so we are now a people who are “forgiven, healed, and renewed.” Sin and death have no power over us that we don’t give them. Love has won the victory and everyone is included in Christ’s glorious embrace.

Now that’s something to celebrate!

So let’s celebrate it in the holy food of Communion. Let’s celebrate it with prayer and song in our worship. Let’s celebrate it with champagne and chocolate after our service!

Let’s celebrate the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ – today, every Sunday, and forevermore!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen. (The people respond) The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Good Friday, Yr A: It's taking too long

Lectionary:Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

It’s taking too long. Earlier today we marked the hours of Jesus’ crucifixion (12 noon to 3 pm) by walking the Way of the Cross, then praying with the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. Now this evening, we gather to worship God, and be fed by Word and Sacrament. We hear again the very long passion Gospel (John’s version this time), and pray for unity in the church, guidance for the world's leadership, and comfort and strength for all who suffer.

But it’s taking too long. When we look around us, the church seems to be fracturing more not less. The world is no closer now to living in harmony than it has ever been. And presently, there seems to be increasing numbers of people who need comfort and strength for their suffering.

It’s taking too long.

But that’s the nature of life as a believer - being willing to wait on God and trusting that no matter how things look right now, God’s plan for us is perfect and perfectly loving.

As we walked the Via Dolorosa today (the Way of Sadness), we saw Jesus’ example of faithful obedience – an example which we are called to follow – for as long as it takes.

Jesus walked carrying a heavy burden that wasn’t even his own (it was ours), yet on he went. He fell from the weight of this burden – not once, but three times. He needed help carrying the burden. He sought the loving face of his mother to sustain him as he walked this terrible path. And he never stopped loving us, even as his flesh was torn and bled when the nails pierced him, even as he struggled to breathe while hanging on that cross.

It took too long. The reason the Romans used crucifixion as their chosen corporal punishment is because it was a long, slow, painful death. The person hanging would slowly suffocate – the weight of his own body crushing his lungs. If he tried to push up to get air into his chest, the nails holding his body to the cross would rip the skin of his hands and feet, tearing larger and larger wounds. And though the bleeding from these wounds would be great, it wasn’t enough to kill him. Death on the Roman cross was slow and agonizing. It took very long.

When I was 16 years old, Life Magazine did a story on Mother Theresa of Calcutta that changed my life. It showed pictures of Mother Theresa bending over people covered with oozing sores and skin diseases. She bent close and tended to their wound and whispered comfort to them. The interviewer asked Mother Theresa why she wasn’t worried about catching what these people had. Her response changed my life. Mother Theresa responded: “In the face of each of these I see the face of my Savior, Jesus Christ.”

The risk we face as modern Christians is making this all a movie that plays in our minds and not in our lives. We can share real emotion watching this movie in our minds, but we remain safely distant from the reality of it. Mother Theresa showed us how to make it real – how to find the face of Jesus all around us, not distant from us.

The truth is suffering always takes too long. When we hear that one voice that cries out to us from our gate and we respond, we expect to do our good deed and be done with it. If that person continues to need or suffer, we may give one or two more times, but then we get impatient. We begin to blame them – or use the very convenient (and over-used) excuse of not wanting to “enable” them. The truth is, what we really want is freedom from their nightmare. We don’t want to share their suffering when it begins to take too long.

In his book “Love Wins,” author Rob Bell says this: "What the gospel does is confront our version of our story with God's version of our story." And in God’s version of our story, redemption comes by the death of the Messiah on a Roman cross. Innocent of any crime, Jesus willingly gave everything - so that the will of God would prosper.

And what is the will of God? Salvation for the whole world – the WHOLE world. That could take a long time.

In the meantime, we are called to gather together to worship God,” not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some,” because we can’t do this alone. We need God and each other as we walk the way set before us. And we need to remember that serving God by serving those who suffer, as our Lord did on the cross, isn’t quick or easy. When we hear ourselves saying, “this is taking too long;” when we find ourselves impatient with a person whose problems just won’t go away – we need only look up and see the broken body of Jesus on the cross.

(Note: God ended this sermon for me and I just don’t remember what was said. It was a transcendent experience for me for which I am grateful, but unfortunately, for the sake of this blog, I can’t recount.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday of the Passion: The Unexpected Way

The Liturgy of the Palms: Matthew 21:1-11, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
The Liturgy of the Word: Isaiah 50:4-9a,Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14- 27:66

In a recent weekly newsletter sent out by our diocese, our Bishop said this: “When we admit our own limitations and let go of our false optimistic view that we can manufacture paradise on this earth, then we become open to what God can do. So long as we believe in ourselves, we never get beyond making crosses or finding a safe place to hide. Our job is not to save Jesus from death nor even to insure that we don't get leaders like Pilate. Our job is to have the faith and courage to go to the Cross and not look away. Our job is to tremble and then to pray for God to save us.” (1)

In our Gospel story from Matthew, we hear that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people were trembling. Matthew says “the whole city was turmoil.” Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem marks the moment when those who had been gathering by the thousands to hear him speak begin to understand. They have recently witnessed Jesus open the eyes of a man born blind, AND raise a dead man back to life… Maybe this Jesus really is the long-awaited Messiah. We can imagine how this might have caused a commotion.

So how do we get from the triumphal entry in chapter 21 to the events in chapter 26 - the Passion Gospel? How did the crowd change from singing Hosannah! (which means Save us!) to shouting “Let him be crucified!"

Well, I think it has to do with expectations. Mark Twain once said: “A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it arrives.” (2)

When they welcomed this prophet from Nazareth into Jerusalem, the people’s expectation was that they were welcoming a king - the heir of David's throne who would bring them victory over their Roman occupiers. The palm branches the crowds laid in the road indicated their expectation that Jesus was the one who would lead them on a path of victory, which he did – only it wasn't the path they expected.

The man who drew thousands to listen to his teachings and receive healings just by touching his cloak... the man who could create sight in a man born blind and bring a man dead four days back to life… this was something like what they expected.

But in chapter 21 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus went after the Jewish religious leadership, challenging their authority. Driving out the money changers, Jesus scolded the powerful temple priests for misusing their authority and exploiting the faithful poor among God’s people. Later on in chapter 23, Jesus denounced the Pharisees and Scribes as "blind guides, blind fools" who had it all wrong. This is not what was expected.

And now, Jesus is standing before the Roman authorities and everyone is expecting to see their Messiah dazzle the Romans with his miraculous power and authority, but all he does is stand there, silently. No miraculous power – no power at all.

What happened to their brave hero – the king who would free them all? Why was he just standing there?

They felt betrayed. Their hopes for freedom and change, for peace in their homeland – were gone. And now they were mad. How dare he get our hopes up then disappoint us like that. Crucify him! And make it painful!

When we read this Passion Gospel (an interesting term, isn't it? …the Good News of Suffering), we tend to listen from our 21st century perspective. Part of us holds onto the idea that we would’ve had a different response.

But I wonder... how good are we at allowing God to be other than we expect?

In everything he said and did, Jesus made clear that our small, human expectations were barriers to our faith and our freedom, barriers to life in God's kingdom, and he brought them down over and over again. Welcoming all to share in the feast of the Lamb – sinners, women, and even foreigners (that is, those who are different or strange to us), Jesus redefined what it means to be chosen of God. Riding into town on a humble, value-less baby donkey instead of on a finely decorated stallion, Jesus redefined power and kingship. And standing silently at his trial and crucifixion, Jesus redefined redemption.

That's why we read this story together – not just to remember it, but to live it, to remember that it is our story today. We are the crowd who trembles, crying out for salvation, then turns away when God's way isn't what we expect. But today we remember that God’s way, as unexpected as it is, is the only way that leads to redemption.

As we go forward into Holy Week anticipating the Day of Resurrection, I pray we will walk slowly and deliberately through these days of the Passion of our Lord, coming together for the services that lead us to the death of our expectations and the temporary turmoil that creates in us. Speaking on how ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) changed his life, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking once said, "When one's expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything that one does have." (3) So - what do we have? The steadfast, redeeming, sustaining love of God – whose ways rarely fit our expectations – thanks be to God!


1. The Rt. Rev. G Porter Taylor, Weekly Newsletter 4/13/11: Diocesan Weekly Newsletter
2. From Mark Twain’s Notebook
3. Source:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lent 4A: Fear, Friendship, and Faith

Lectionary: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Today is Laetare Sunday, also known as Mothering or Refreshment Sunday. In the tradition of Mothering Sunday, we pause to give thanks for our mother church, the Mother of our Lord, and the motherliness of God – hence the pink vestments. In the tradition of Refreshment Sunday, we give ourselves a breather after a month faithfully observing our Lenten disciplines.

We do this to remind ourselves that we aren’t “doing Lent” - God is doing Lent in us by our invitation. We do this to remind ourselves that we can’t earn our salvation by our own efforts, no matter how faithful they are. We are sinners saved by grace, and so today we stop to receive that grace, the refreshment of God’s abundant love.

After today, we will continue on our Lenten journey from being darkness to being light, as the author of the epistle to the Ephesians says. As we draw ever closer to God during this holy season, we can’t help but realize that God and God’s love are so much more than we can comprehend, or conceive, or control. And as much as we love the truth of that, it also frightens us.

There is an old Jewish saying attributed to Rabbi Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidic Judaism, who said: "Fear builds walls to bar the light."[iii] And this is what we see in the gospel story today. Something new, something different has happened – and it's something that has never happened before.

A man who had been born blind is healed and now he sees. There were plenty of stories floating around in that time about miraculous healings where a person's sight had been restored, but this healing is different from those others because this man's sight was created.

When Jesus made mud from the dust of the earth (think about Genesis here) and wiped it on the man's eyes, he was doing what only God can do (creating something out of nothing) and what God has been doing since the first day of creation – bringing light out of darkness. [iv]

This event caused all who witnessed it to confront the very core of their beliefs. It took them beyond their small, certain concepts about God and it left them confused and fearful.

Since the healing happened on the Sabbath, and the law of Moses had been clearly violated, they brought the healed man to the Pharisees – their religious authorities. As a result, the Pharisees found themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place.

This man truly had been born blind, a fact even the Pharisees eventually conceded. But now this man is healed – and the man called Jesus healed him.

Such an amazing thing could only have happened by the power of God's Spirit, so Jesus must be from God. But the healing happened on the Sabbath, and so, it violated the law of Moses, which means Jesus is a sinner… and everyone knows God doesn't listen to sinners…

The Pharisees, unable to resolve this conundrum, shift their focus to the man who was healed. They could revile him because he was a nobody, a lowly beggar, whose blindness from birth was a sure sign of his sinfulness. How dare this sinful nobody challenge the certainty of their beliefs! And they drove him out.

But God does not see as mortals see. Hearing about the man's excommunication, Jesus finds him and asks him: Do you believe in the Son of Man? Probably unsure about any of his beliefs by then, the man asks for help from his healer: Tell me so that I may believe.

Jesus' response to him is so amazing: You have seen him … you (who were blind) have seen him. Your eyes of faith have seen the Son of God and you have already testified to it, you have already suffered for it. You have seen him. And the man gets it, crying out, Lord, I believe! And he worshiped him.

Sometimes, we know the truth even before we understand it. The problem is the truth, like God, is often too big for us to manage, so we build walls to bar the light. It isn't that we want to shut the light out. We just want to reduce the glare of it, the dazzling whiteness of it, the big-ness of it.

Redeemer is a community of faith, a family of friends. What binds us together is the love of God in Christ which lives in us, [as we live]…in him. Our faith assures us of God's promises of fullness of life, abundant grace, and steadfast love. And so – we have can move forward into whatever future God leads us to with confidence. As we go, we only need to be willing to go together, for one – and only one – purpose: to be the lights of Christ love carrying on Christ's work of the reconciliation of the whole world to God.

We do this by telling our story, proclaiming the Good News in our lives. We do this in the joy of our worship, and in the love expressed in our ministries.

I'd like to close with a story I heard recently about fear, friendship, and faith. A woman was on a hike with a group of friends. The place they planned to stop for lunch brought them across the crest of a small mountain peak. Just past the rocky crest, was a clearing where picnic tables allowed hikers to enjoy a magnificent view of the valley below.

As the woman stepped onto the crest, she looked up and saw a rock ledge jutting out into the sky. Suddenly, all she could see was rock and sky – a big, boundless sky. She lost her sense of where she was in relation to the ground under her feet. There was nothing for her to hold onto, no wall to lean on, and she found herself paralyzed, confused, and very afraid.

She truly believed that if she tried to take a step, she might fall off the edge of the mountain. Seeing her friend unable to move, another woman in the group took her hand, and spoke to her, gently reminding her to look down at her feet.

Seeing that her feet were safely on the ground, the woman breathed a sigh of relief. Her friend continued to speak to her, asking her to trust her as she led her across the crest to the other side where their lunch was waiting on the picnic tables.

She did. And she said no lunch ever tasted as good, and no vista ever looked as beautiful as that one did that day.

We are children of light, and so, we have nothing to fear. God will always provide a hand to lead and a voice to speak the words that will center and ground us. And God will always lead us to a place where a table is already set for us, a fabulous banquet with a glorious view of green pastures and still waters.

And having been fed, we have work to get to – because we have seen him. The eyes of our community of faith have seen him. We have already testified to it. We have already suffered for it. We have seen him, and we believe!

[i] From the documentary DVD: C.S. Lewis, Beyond Narnia, a Faith and Values Meida presentation, a Windborne Production, 2005.
[ii] Source:
[iii] Baal Shem Tov, Reprinted from A Treasury of Jewish Quotations, edited by Joseph L. Baron, Jason Aronson, Inc.
[iv] John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Preachers and Teachers: On Earth as It Is in Heaven, Year A (Liturgical Press, 2004), 131.

April Newsletter Article: Three Basic Questions

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend who is a self-proclaimed atheist. In the midst of our conversation, the atheist asked two interesting questions which I now share with you: “Why do you love Jesus? Why do y’all group up in churches?”

These are pretty basic questions and they were asked with no malice or disdain, just honest curiosity. A rare opportunity had opened up before me - the opportunity to evangelize - to go beyond discussion and into experience, beyond the law and into¬¬¬ faith.

I shared those moments in my life when my heart was “strangely warmed” as John Wesley once said, and as the disciples on the road to Emmaus described it. I spoke about times when the love of God filled me so much that I overflowed with joy, like Mary Magdalene did when she heard the resurrected Jesus call her name. I spoke about when hope broke inexplicably like a light into my darkness, like so many saints have told about – Catherine of Siena, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and more recently, Katy Perry. I spoke about the incomprehensibility of the love of God that is, for me, undeniably real, as has been beautifully described by such as Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, and even Lady Gaga.

It was easy to talk to my atheist friend about the nature of Jesus’ ministry on earth because my friend is an active volunteer who works with several well-known agencies to make the world a better place. He could connect with the earthly ministry of Jesus which not only took in the exiled, the unclean, the sinful, and the broken, but bonded them in love, made them whole, and made them part of a larger whole. This, I said, is why we group in churches… to continue this reconciling work begun by our Savior. The faith community is where we who are many become one, where our personal goals are relinquished to the will of God for the glory of God and the welfare of God’s people. It seems impossible, but “nothing will be impossible with God.” (Lk 1:37)

Author Dennis Campbell said this about what happens when we ‘group up’ in churches: “Shared vision emerges from the individual hearts and souls of people who have lived life and suffered and yet dare to risk struggling with the Holy Spirit to imagine the astounding tomorrow to which God is calling the congregation.”

As we journey together through the end of Lent, into the story of the Passion, through the Sacred Triduum (three days) of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and ultimately into Easter, I ask you to consider how you might have answered these questions. Do you remember why you love Jesus? Do you know why you are a member of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer?

I’d like to also add a third question and I have a purpose. 2011 is the Year of Our Youth. Having accomplished the first of our corporately discerned goals, a feeding ministry, we are now three months into making real our second goal: making Redeemer a place that welcomes and forms our children, youth, and young adults as Christians in the Episcopal tradition. We are just beginning to see people responding to this call, but more is needed. So the third question is: are you willing to imagine the astounding tomorrow to which God is calling our congregation? If you are, what are you willing to do to “make it so” as Jean Luc Picard would say? Call me and let me know (really).