Sunday, April 30, 2017

Easter 3, 2017: Purify your souls

This is an extemporaneous sermon I offered while supplying at St. Mark's in Chester, SC. It is, therefore, available only in audio. I have posted this in two audio formats, one of which will work in most devices.

Lectionary: Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Easter 2: Balm for our wounded world

I preached this while supplying at St. Mark's Church in Chester, SC, a small parish with a mighty heart for mission.

Lectionary:Acts 2:14a,22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Note: if the above audio player doesn't work for you, click HERE for a different format.

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

What follows are my sermon notes. V+

(Story of priest who never doubted.)

Doubt is a good thing for a believer to experience… it’s a doorway to deeper faith.

(Story of Doubting Thomas)
Jesus demonstrated three very important lessons for our work as witnesses:
1) that God accepts us where we are and leads us to where we need to be;
2) that there are many ways to come to faith and many ways of being faithful;
3) that God is present and acts in the gathered community of faith.

Thomas was a believer – a follower of Jesus. He thought he needed to touch the crucifixion wounds, so Jesus gave him what he needed. Jesus didn’t get mad at Thomas for doubting. Instead, he invited Thomas to come into his presence and confront his doubt.

And no one kicked Thomas out of the disciples club for not believing right. They preserved their friendship with him, kept him close to them, and let God do the rest.

Some people know about Jesus from their earliest childhood. Some people don’t. Some people will have resurrection experiences, like Theresa of Avila (sorry - I meant to say Julian of Norwich!) who saw visions of Christ, or John Wesley whose heart was strangely warmed when he encountered Jesus in prayer.

Others will say they never experience the presence of God. They don’t “see” Jesus. To them, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

In our Collect today, we asked God to help us “show forth in our lives what we profess in our faith.” Mother Theresa of Calcutta showed us how: she confessed living most of her life in a dark night –
a state of feeling totally absent of the presence of God. She struggled to believe, but never stopped serving as she knew her faith called her to do.

There are many ways to come to faith and many ways of being faithful.

This prayer by St. Theresa of Avila, 16th century Spanish mystic, shows us how to begin:

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless [people] now.”

This is a call to witnesses the redemptive truth we say we believe: that the spirit of Christ lives in us, and as bearers of the divine, we are called to continue his redeeming work in the world until he comes again at the last day.

In the Good Friday service, we prayed….

For those who have never heard the word of salvation (e.g. - the true word, not the coercive one)
For those who have lost their faith (e.g. - due to life circumstances or bad experiences with “Christians”)
For those hardened by sin or indifference (e.g. - un-rescued abused persons often become abusers)
For the contemptuous and the scornful (e.g. - elitism destroys the souls of the rich and powerful)
For those who are enemies of the cross of Christ and persecutors of his disciples (e.g. -Christians are dying right now in countries around the world. This is still happening!)
For those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others (e.g.: religious or cultural leaders who call for the violence against people or groups they have judged as sinful or unlawful)
That God will open their hearts to the truth, and lead them to faith and obedience. (BCP, 279)

God does the work. God leads people to faith and obedience – not us. As Peter said to his listeners in Jerusalem, we are witnesses to the redeeming work of God in Jesus Christ.

We don’t save anyone. Jesus did that once for all. What we do is go to those…. (refer to the italicized examples above).

We aren’t called to coerce or threaten or frighten or cajole anyone into believing. That wasn’t Jesus’ way and it musn’t be ours.

What we are called to share is the “indescribable and glorious joy” (I Ptr 1:8) of the hope we have in Jesus. We are called to bring ourselves, and therefore the presence of Christ that dwells in us, into the world outside of this holy sanctuary and witness the truth we heard in our Scripture today: that Jesus accepts people where they are even when they doubt, even when they’ve been previously hurt by life or the church, even when they sin - because who hasn’t?

Whatever their story, whatever their wounds, Jesus invites them to touch his wounds and believe.

Gentleness, acceptance, invitation - rare commodities in the world today, but they are our currency – our currency of love.

Each Sunday you gather together in this beautiful space a space that smells like prayer and invites a person to simply rest in love a space where a person can truly enter into the presence of God. So, invite your friends to church: On Sundays to worship… On Tuesdays for lunch… Hold a Bible study, or offer Centering Prayer (talk about a gentle invitation!) Or be Episcopalian about it and have a party! We’re great at those!

The world has become a very scary and unsafe place for many people. For some, it has always been scary and unsafe.

Story of my African American friend and me shopping… Or my other African American friend who cried as he told me how he had to prepare his mixed race son (who looks black) to respond in the case of his arrest.

But we know we are all one in Christ, and our relationship to God in Christ is our witness, and our witness is the balm for the wounding of the world even when that means sacrificing our own comfort or our reputation or our financial resources for the sake of the other.

We are the eyes of Christ in the world today – eyes that see and notice someone who is falling, or frightened, or rejected and hands that reach out to catch them, comfort them, and welcome them. It is through our hands that God offers healing touch to someone who is broken in body or in spirit. We bear the light of Christ which dispels their darkness.

We are Christ’s feet in the world today – feet that will go willingly to those places where acceptance and compassion need to be spoken into public conversations that have become so rude, vulgar, and disrespectful anymore; feet that carry us into the public realm where the truth of Christ’s redeeming love for ALL needs to be witnessed to confront the ramped up oppression of people due to their race, gender, religion, economics, or sexual orientation.

We are the body of Christ in the world today. We are the witnesses of redemption in Jesus, the Christ.

I ask you, therefore, to pray with me now: Loving God, who is a balm for our wounded world, grant that as we gather today to worship you, and be fed by your Word and Sacrament, we will accept the grace you are offering us and allow you to make us into one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in the holy name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.