Archive for April, 2019

Breathed Upon

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , on April 27, 2019 by timtrue

Delivered at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Temecula, California on the Second Sunday of Easter, 2019.

John 20:19-31

1.

Thomas missed it.

Early that morning, before dawn, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty, the stone rolled away.

But Thomas missed it.

A little later that same morning, Mary met the risen Lord and was commissioned by him to go and share the Good News with the disciples.

And so she went and announced, “I have seen the risen Lord, alleluia”; she told them the Good News.

But somehow Thomas missed it.

Nor was he there later that evening, when Jesus himself came and breathed on those who had gathered together.

Sometime later still, when Thomas finally does show up, the disciples tell him the same thing Mary said—except now it’s not just I but we: “We have seen the risen Lord, alleluia.”

The testimony of one thoughtful, faithful Christian has now been bolstered with the strength of community.

But, still, Thomas misses it.

“Unless I . . . put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side,” he announces, “I will not believe.”

And so, our day in the Church calendar for the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle is—can you guess?

Well, what day of the year would you assign to a guy forever remembered by the name doubting?

Yep, December 21st, the day of the winter solstice: the darkest, most doubtful day of the year.

Because—poor guy!—he missed it.

2.

Now, if you happen to be here today and you weren’t last week, you’re probably hearing the exclamation, “You shoulda seen it!”

We had an illuminated labyrinth this year. You shoulda seen it!

There was an Easter Vigil. You shoulda seen it!

We started the service by candlelight. You shoulda seen it!

There was a baptism. You shoulda seen it!

The Bishop’s Committee hosted a champagne reception. You shoulda seen it!

And on Easter day: the musicians were exemplary; the Easter egg hunt was joyful; Father David celebrated with his easy-listening British accent. You shoulda seen it!

But, if you happen to be here today and were not here last week, do you actually believe this exclamation?

Or, like Thomas, are you doubtful?

I mean, just look around!

Today, attendance is low. The Easter lilies have begun to droop. In many churches around the world, the pastor’s taking today off. Quite a contrast to last week! Maybe all the excitement is over-rated.

We clergy have a term for this Sunday, by the way: low Sunday.

If you ask me, I think maybe a better term is Doubting Thomas Sunday; because for all intents and purposes it looks like the Church around the world has missed it too.

Resurrection! New life!

Really?

Today’s feast is the Second Sunday of Easter; we’re seven days into the Great Fifty Days! It should feel just as celebratory as last week.

But, let’s face it, it just doesn’t.

Aren’t we all a lot like Doubting Thomas—whether we missed last week or not? He missed the actual resurrection: he was not a witness. And haven’t we all missed it too? After all, it happened two thousand years ago. None of us was around.

3.

However, I argue, the resurrection is still taking place, all around us, everyday! If we’re missing it, it’s only because, like Thomas, we haven’t yet learned how to see it.

Thomas did learn how, in time. The early Church historian Eusebius tells us that Thomas carried the Good News to India, believing so firmly in Christ that there he died a martyr’s death.

Even though we still call him doubting to this day, Thomas did learn how to see the resurrection first-hand. We can do it too.

Here’s how.

Today’s Gospel tells us that one week later, one week after he missed it, Thomas did encounter the risen Jesus with the other disciples.

So, what do you think happened during that week in between?

A week ago, Thomas said that he would not believe unless he should touch Jesus physically. Now, today, Jesus appears and—did you notice?—merely says, “Touch me, Thomas,” and Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas said he wouldn’t believe unless he touched Jesus; and yet today I don’t see him touching Jesus at all! He merely cries out at the sight of him!

What changed? What happened during that week in between?

Well, what happens when you experience something utterly fantastic?

The disciples must have been talking non-stop! All week long, Thomas must have been surrounded by, “You shoulda seen it! Jesus did this” and “he said that” and “he couldn’t have been a ghost because he actually ate with us.”

All week long, Thomas was engaging in conversations, eating meals, praying, fellowshipping, and doing things with these people who kept coming back to the amazing claim that they’d seen the risen Jesus.

You shoulda seen it!

So that when Jesus finally does show up, a week later, Thomas needs no further prodding. At Jesus’ word, Thomas falls to his knees and exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

To which Jesus replies to all of us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Thomas missed the actual, physical resurrection. Thomas was not among the first people to witness the resurrected Jesus.

But for that week in between he saw the effects of the resurrection. For that week in between, he witnessed first-hand what belief in the resurrection was doing to the disciples.

Now, we may have missed it too. Like Thomas, we weren’t there at Jesus’ resurrection; we weren’t with the first people to witness it.

However, in the week since—or in the two thousand years since (same thing, really)—we have been surrounded by the effects of the resurrection.

And when we learn to see these effects, then we witness the resurrection first-hand.

4.

Well then, what do these effects look like—just what are we looking for?

For the answer, we return to the Gospel narrative.

In the twentieth chapter of John, two times the words to Mary Magdalene are, “Do not be afraid”; and three times Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The Gospel of John contrasts fear with peace. Incidentally, John also says elsewhere that perfect love casts out fear: there’s a strong connection for John between peace and love.

But to return to my point, according to this Gospel, peace is winning:

Two times : do not fear :: three times : peace be with you.

It’s two steps back but three steps forward. That can feel discouraging, sure; especially on this Second Sunday of Easter, low Sunday. But the net outcome is peace overcoming fear.

So: Where do we see peace overcoming fear in our world?

Of course, we see it in Jesus’ crucifixion. He remains peaceful throughout his passion—arrest, trial, mocking, and execution. Throughout, peace overcomes fear.

But, you know, we see it even before Jesus walks the earth, with—for instance—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the OT book of Daniel. These three young men peacefully resist the tyrant-king Nebuchadnezzar, even though he threatens them with the fear of death!

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, we see it with the early Christian martyrs. “Give up your faith or die,” they are told. Yet time and again they face whatever fearsome threats come their way; and, though many of them die, peace gains the upper hand.

We see it again in Church history with Martin Luther when he peacefully protests the Holy Roman Empire, standing resolute even though threatened repeatedly with violence and death.

We see it in our own nation’s struggle for Civil Rights, from the nonviolent songs of lament composed by slaves to the peaceful protests of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.

We see it gaining remarkable steam around the world in 1989: peaceful students protest a violent military in Beijing, willing to die in Tiananmen Square so that others may live; and the border wall in Berlin tumbles to the ground, signifying the end of large-scale governmental systems of oppression.

Peace overcoming fear! Around the world!

And we see it still at work in our own day—arguably more now than ever before—as our society responds to violent acts of terrorism and hate in peaceful ways.

Light overcoming darkness; life overcoming death; peace overcoming fear.

In the end, like Thomas, we haven’t missed it; for every day we witness resurrection, the peace of Jesus, first-hand.

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Common Conversion

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , on April 27, 2019 by timtrue

Delivered at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Temecula, California on Easter Sunday, 2019.

John 20:1-18

1.

What is your faith story, your “testimony?”

We learn the faith stories of three main characters in today’s Gospel.

There’s the unnamed disciple. He hears the good news and runs—races, in fact—to reach the tomb first. But there, at the entryway, he lingers. He doesn’t enter the tomb, but just looks in, staring at the linen wrappings.

Next, there’s Peter. He shows up and, unlike the unnamed disciple, enters the tomb without reservation or hesitation.

Why didn’t the unnamed disciple enter? Was he too amazed, too awestruck, too afraid of what might confront him? We don’t know.

But Peter’s arrival triggers something in him. The unnamed disciple enters the tomb after Peter; and, the scriptures tell us, believes.

Still, just what does he believe? That Jesus has been raised from the dead? Or, maybe, does he merely believe Mary’s story now, that she was telling the truth? Again, we don’t know.

What we do know is that, even though he believes, he still doesn’t understand the scriptures.

Huh.

So, back to Peter. He hears Mary’s words and runs to the grave too. He races against the unnamed disciple, and loses—an interesting detail—but, unlike the unnamed disciple, when he reaches the tomb, he doesn’t slow. Instead, he bowls right over him, looks at the linen wrappings, and notices a detail no one else does: the head wrapping is folded up neatly by itself.

If Mary was worried about grave robbers, this detail doesn’t fit; for why would a grave robber take the time to fold up the head wrapping so neatly?

So, with their various perspectives of confused belief, understanding, and observations, these two disciples return home. No doubt they have a lot to talk about along the way.

Third, though, we hear Mary’s story. She reaches the tomb and . . . stands outside weeping. Like Peter and the unnamed disciple, she’s not fully believing or understanding yet either.

But eventually she musters enough courage and peeks into the tomb. And—incredible!—there are two angels inside, who then ask her a question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

But even here Mary simply responds, “They’ve taken my Lord away.”

And I want to ask, “Woman, why are you sleeping?” Is Mary really in such a grief-stricken stupor that she can’t see these are angels?

Then that voice sounds from behind her, from outside the tomb; and asks her the same question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Yet even now she cannot grasp that here is Jesus. She supposes, rather, it’s the gardener. Her grief has still got the better of her.

But then what happens?

“Mary!” Jesus calls her by name.

And now, in that divine address, Mary both believes and understands!

And in the conversation that follows, Jesus commissions her to go and tell the disciples that he lives!

Which she does!

And so she becomes the apostle to the apostles!

Quite a testimony!

2.

What is your testimony?

Is yours like the unnamed disciple’s? Do you believe in part, but still have a lot of trouble understanding the scriptures?

Or, is yours like Peter’s—excited, exuberant, observant, and yet still not knowing how to piece it all together?

Or, is yours like Mary’s? Have you experienced God first-hand? Have you heard God call you by name? Do you have a clear understanding of what God is calling you to do and who God is calling you to be?

My guess is that your faith story is something like each of these characters; and yet also is different, uniquely yours.

3.

Each of our faith stories is different.

Nevertheless, just as it was with the early disciples, we are called to a common focus.

Perhaps a better question for Easter Day, then, is this: Where are our testimonies are similar?

Where do our faith stories overlap? As followers of Jesus, what are we seeking to accomplish together? What is our common conversion?

Conversion.

The word comes from the Latin verb convertere, comprised of the verb vertere—meaning to turn—and the prefix con-—meaning altogether. It’s a good definition: to turn altogether, entirely.

But what is it, exactly, no matter how different our individual faith stories are, that we are called to turn entirely towards?

Today, Easter, we find our answer: Resurrection; new life.

It’s our common conversion. Resurrection is much larger than my new life or your new life, as individuals. It’s about the resurrection of Jerusalem, Judea and all Samaria, even to the ends of the earth!

Jesus left the unnamed disciple, Peter, Mary, and all of us with a task to resurrect our dying world.

That’s us, his church, called to be a community of provocation: to cause new life to erupt in the all around us.

4.

So, you know what happens when you drop a pebble into a still pool of water, right? Plop, and a small set of waves emanates outward in concentric circles.

That’s the body of Christ. A local church is plopped down in the middle of a community; and small waves of new life spread outward in concentric circles.

Well then, what happens when friends are with you and they throw pebbles into the pool too?

It gets kind of messy, right? Your pebble makes its concentric circles; someone else’s makes its concentric circles; and so on until the emanating waves from here and there and everywhere are crashing into one another, running over each other, and so on until the surface of the pool is nothing but ripples everywhere.

The same thing happens when one church is plopped in one part of the community and another is plopped in another and a third in yet another and so on until nothing but God’s provocative ripples of new life crash into and run over each other everywhere.

And, from our common conversion, societal transformation results—the resurrection of the world around us!

The unnamed disciple, Peter, and Mary each had different faith stories. But through their common conversion they turned their world upside down. Resurrection.

We can do it too. By means of our common conversion in Christ, let’s turn our world upside down too.

Alleluia, the Lord is risen!

Anteresurrection Hope

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , on April 27, 2019 by timtrue

Delivered at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Temecula, California on Good Friday, 2019.

John 18:1—19:42

1.

What must it have been like for his disciples?

They’d just witnessed their leader so anguished in prayer that he sweat blood.

They’d just watched, powerless, when Roman police came and arrested him, betrayed by one of their own.

One disciple, we know, didn’t like that feeling of powerlessness, that impulsive disciple, Peter; so he tried to do something about it. He took out his sword and—Take that!—cut off someone’s ear.

But Jesus stayed Peter’s hand; and, rather than allowing Peter to lead a charge in his defense, said Peace and reached out to the injured man and healed him.

What! Was Jesus actually that committed to nonviolence? Would Jesus not even allow his disciples to defend him?

Powerless, they watched as Jesus was tried, stricken, sentenced, condemned, and crucified.

Powerless!

What must have been going through their minds?

In the end, was Jesus just too idealistic?

But he’d turned tables upside down! He’d changed water into wine! He’d healed a man blind from birth! He’d raised Lazarus from the grave! They’d seen it all first-hand.

Still, now, there he was, before their eyes, raised up on a wicked device of torture, made an example of what becomes of rebels and revolutionaries who dare to defy the dominant system, the Pax Romana.

And he gave up his spirit.

It had all come to nothing.

Powerless.

2.

Spoiler alert: we know where this is going.

And that’s our temptation: to look ahead, to where it’s going, and proclaim hope on Good Friday. In fact, this is why we call it good: hope because we know where it’s going.

But the disciples did not know.

So, what if we dwell with the disciples tonight? What if we put ourselves in their shoes of powerlessness, of second-guessing, of fear? Is there any hope we can draw from their pre-resurrection Good Friday perspective?

They’d witnessed Jesus resisting the dominant powers—both political and religious—always without violence. He’d practiced an unusual third way, without reacting or resorting to the powers at work in the world around him. We hear “fight or flight.” But Jesus did neither.

Is there hope here?

Today we call it nonviolent resistance. And many people think it doesn’t work. The answer to school shootings, some argue, is to arm teachers with guns. Fight violence with violence, they say.

But Martin Luther King said differently, “Violence begets violence”; and we all know his nonviolent resistance actually got somewhere. Civil rights have come a long way in the last fifty years, thanks to his nonviolent resistance.

So, returning to tonight’s Passion narrative, see what happens.

When Jesus says, “I am he,” his opposition falters. Did they flinch? I don’t know. What I do know is that here is some kind of nonviolent, otherworldly power going forth from Jesus.

When Peter cuts off Malchus’ ear, Jesus says Peace and heals him. Again, nonviolent, otherworldly power.

And when Pilate says he has the power to let him live or die, Jesus explains that Pilate knows little of true power, that his view—the world’s view, “might makes right,” the Pax Romana—is convoluted.

It seems to me that the disciples on that Good Friday so long ago have more than enough information to see what Jesus is getting at: that the way of the world is power through domination, hierarchy, and violence; and that the way of Jesus is nonviolent resistance to these powers.

That’s not powerlessness. Rather, that’s turning over tables: the tables of domination, violence, and injustice. Or, as we learn from the book of Acts—once the disciples put two and two together—that’s turning the world upside down.

To turn established systems of domination on their heads? Why, that sounds a lot like the kingdom of God Jesus kept mentioning while he was alive with us!

The kingdom of God, lived out before their eyes!

With those early disciples, we have much reason to hope on this Good Friday.

Conflicted Passions?

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2019 by timtrue

Luke 22:14—23:56

1.

When we hear the passion narrative according to the Gospel of Mark, the centurion over there exclaims, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39).

But this year we heard the passion narrative according to Luke. And according to Luke, the centurion over here exclaims, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

Well, which is it? Is Jesus God’s Son? Or is Jesus innocent?

The simple answer is, yes. On that day, yes, Jesus was innocent; and on that day—and always—yes, Jesus is God’s Son.

So, why do I bring this up? Because I think we actually like Mark’s telling better than we like Luke’s. Mark agrees more with our modern sensibilities.

2.

Mark focuses on Jesus’ identity; and we like to think about who Jesus is.

After all, we live in troubled times. The twentieth century saw more deaths through war than from all the wars of the previous five thousand years of recorded history.

Even closer to home, our nation today is feeling more polarized than it has in a long, long time; arguably more than it has since Civil War times.

Who Jesus is, then, matters deeply to us. For we need refuge; we need salvation; we need a God in whom we can trust.

Because we don’t really know if this is true.

The words of Mark’s narrative resonate with us. God’s Son cries out from the cross what we are all feeling: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

3.

But, to remind you, we’re not in Mark’s Gospel today. We’re in Luke’s. And Luke, on the other hand, focuses not on Jesus’ identity but on his mission of love.

Well then, what is Luke’s larger narrative?

It’s actually fresh in our minds; we’ve been listening to it almost every Sunday since Christmas.

At his baptism, Jesus was there in line and praying with all the other, marginalized, oppressed people.

In Nazareth, Jesus preached to his hometown crowd, outlining his mission—why he’d come: release for the captives, sight for the blind, and so on. To bring justice! Love enacted!

And what did his hometown neighbors do? They became so angry they tried to hurl him off a cliff!

And so Jesus preached about that. “Love your enemies,” he said, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Even if they try to throw me off a cliff? Yes! Even those enemies!

Opposition continued throughout his earthly ministry—something he addressed squarely in that story we like to call the Parable of the Prodigal Son—which we probably should rename: the Parable of the Brooding Older Brother (the Parable of BOB).

Anyway, everywhere Jesus went—though he did nothing wrong—people opposed him, resisted him, threatened him and his mission of love; until at last he was arrested, tried, declared guilty, and crucified.

He led no one down the wrong path.

He upheld the scriptures.

He did nothing violent.

He sought justice.

And yet he was killed, violently and unjustly!

Yet even at his death—it’s not like Mark tells it, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” No, here in Luke, even despite the violence and injustice, Jesus’ last words indicate comprehensive trust in God’s will. “Father,” he cries out, “into your hands I commend my spirit.”

What! How can he be so resolute? How does he remain so singularly focused on his mission of love?

No, we don’t like Luke’s narrative so much.

The centurion declares, “Certainly this man was innocent”; and we are confronted with just how much work there remains for us to do.

We would rather rest in Mark’s Gospel.

The world is a scary place. Jesus is my refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Can’t I therefore just run inside, batten down the hatches, and ride out this present storm with the people I love, my spiritual family?

4.

Remember the simple answer: Yes! Both are true.

Mark’s focus on Jesus’ identity shows us that our God remains present even when we cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And, at the same time, Luke’s focus on Jesus’ mission—on our bringing justice wherever there is injustice; on our obligation to enact love—shows that it remains our call, no matter how hard things seem.

Both are true; and both are needed in the mystery of the resurrection.

Remember who Jesus is; and remember what he is calling us to do.