Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ordination Sermon

December 3, 2010, in honor of Nathan Ritter and David Carletta's ordination
Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25 Phil. 4:4-9 John 10:11-18

Desmond Tutu once said, “There is nothing a Christian can claim of personal significance. Everything that I am, that I do, everything that I have ultimately is corporate...If you stand out in a crowd it is only because you are standing on the shoulders of others.”
This Episcopal service of ordination appears to make two individuals and their call to priesthood very significant and the focus of our attention. Just the opposite is true, actually.

We are here to rejoice in the new life Christ has given us. We are here to sing God’s praises and to pray for grace in our lives and in the lives of others. We are here to listen to the Word of God read in our midst. And we are here to dig into the Scripture a little bit to see how it can enlighten our journeys and inform our ministries.

Later, we will share a sacred meal together so that, as a community, we can feed the Body of Christ before we head back into a hungry world.

Oh yes, and before the Eucharistic meal begins, God willing, we will all participate in the ordination of Nathan and David to the sacred order of priests. Just remember, they are standing on the shoulders of all the Christian communities that have had a hand in their formation.

The readings we’ve just heard make clear that this business of leadership in the church is a communal affair. The only significant focus of our worship this evening is God. The readings make clear that there are some very important skills that a new leader should have in his bag of tricks.
Let’s begin with Moses.

Before Moses was told to gather the seventy elders, he complained bitterly to God that he couldn’t carry the people of Israel all by himself. “I am not able to carry all these people alone, for they are too heavy for me,” Moses whines. “If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once – if I have found favor in your sight- and do not let me see my misery.” (Num 11:15)

Moses could be a little melodramatic. What God tells him is one of the most important lessons that a leader can learn: stop complaining and acting like a martyr and go out find some other leaders to help you. One of the most common traps that a priest falls into is thinking she must do this job perfectly, and absolutely must do it alone.

From the looks of it, Moses never even gave a passing thought to the abilities of his fellow leaders. They were right there under his nose. They were called ‘elders,’ which, when translated into Greek, is presbyteros, the word used to refer to the evolving role of a priest in early Christian writings.

Ignatius of Antioch, martyred in the year 107, wrote frequently of the threefold church order of bishops, presbyters, and deacons. While the roles of bishop and deacon were very clearly laid out, there was still much ambiguity around the role of a priest.

Like the elders selected by Moses, the earliest Christian elders functioned as an integral part of a community. They were communally a chosen people – a people destined to worship God continually, and to remember who they belonged to: God. Leaders served the purpose of reminding them whose they were.

The early Christian communities believed that the onus of responsibility and leadership fell on them all equally. The First Letter of Peter makes clear, “…for you are [all] a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” (1Peter 2:9)

It is a common misconception that our hierarchical structure in the Episcopal Church is intended to make some people holier than others. It may look that way sometimes. Just look at the regalia of tonight’s ceremony. Majestic vestments and props; regal processions; dramatic bowing of heads and laying on of hands; and heavenly voices singing with the king of all instruments – the mighty organ. It all hearkens back to medieval ceremonies.

All of this pomp and circumstance signifies a grand event that demands our attention. What is happening here tonight is not the crowning of two new princes, but the humble acceptance of our very human role in God’s magnificent Kingdom.

We, like the early Christian communities, go to great lengths to remember the holy presence of God in and among us. The medieval echoes of our ceremony serve to focus our attention on the ethereal and numinous nature of the risen Christ in our midst. Our senses are alerted to an altered reality. God is worthy of praise and adoration, and the primary reason for our being here tonight.

Our leaders are but trusted servants, fellow workers, and humble sheep among sheep; which brings us to the Gospel lesson for today.

The Gospel of John was written so that those who listened to the Word would “come to believe” that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the son of God. The gospel’s cyclical nature winds in and around itself, kneading the listener into the dough of a new community, rising out of their Jewish heritage.

Theoretically, when we arrive at the tenth chapter about the Good Shepherd we have acquired certain listening skills. For instance, we have learned that the gospel itself was written to be the place where one actually encounters the risen Lord.

Like the apostles who first saw, and then believed, we readers of the Fourth Gospel have a real encounter with Christ through the words themselves. Because of the mystical and poetic nature of this gospel we can have an experience of Christ among us comparable to those who actually knew him.

When Jesus tells his disciples, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep,” (John 10:14-15) we recognize, once again that the words circle around themselves in direct imitation of the Prologue to John’s gospel.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2) The proclamation, “I am the good shepherd,” directs us to the nature of Jesus’ relationship with God his Father. Jesus was sent by God to be the only shepherd of God’s sheep.

In John’s Revelation we hear, “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Rev 7:17)

All the illusions clergy have about being the good shepherd are misguided. In fact, they are dangerous. If any of us model ourselves on the Good Shepherd we run the risk of self-aggrandizement. We are not the Good Shepherd, Jesus is. Our attention is better spent on trusting God to guide our clumsy sheep behavior.

Like Isaac, offered on the altar as a sacrifice to God, Jesus lays down his life in the gateway of the sheep’s fold. No one can harm us without encountering Christ first. It is through grace that we count ourselves among Christ’s flock.

As our shepherd, Jesus seeks each of us out and calls us to our ministry in the church. We all have the responsibility of reminding each other that Christ is our shepherd, so we shall not be afraid.

This is such a paradigm shift from thinking that our pastors are supposed to be the good shepherds. In the Episcopal Church that I grew up in, we took for granted this skewed model of leadership.

As one of our professors at General Seminary said, the old model for ministers and congregations was, “My job is to minister and yours is to congregate.” So little was expected of us we were lulled into believing that we actually had no work to do. Just show up!
What would the apostle Paul think of this?

In the letter he writes to the church in Philippi, Paul is excited beyond belief that the community is working so hard without him. This is the model of leadership that we are trying to regain in the twenty-first century.

A good leader rejoices in the leadership skills of his community, and sends them out to do the same. Leaders raise up new leaders, who in turn raise up new leaders, who raise up yet more new leaders. And God rejoices.

“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4) Paul reminds his friends that, like a shepherd with his flock, “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (4:6)

With these words, Paul states the primary responsibility for every leader in God’s church: “In everything, by prayer and with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

Which brings us to the distinctly Anglican practice of prayer, the Divine Office. The Office marinates us in the psalms that were so dear to Jesus, and makes our prayer a deeply engrained habit.

The daily recitation of psalms and beautifully written Anglican prayer helps bring our focus back to the Word of God. In spite of the fact that there are so many other things you can get done in the time it takes to pray the Office, we believe that the activity of daily prayer is actually pleasing to God.

Praying the Office is pleasing to me because my soul becomes quiet as my mouth recites the beautiful words. The ordinands just promised that they
“believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation.”

What better pastime than to spend time daily with the words so necessary for our salvation?

When Paul says to imitate him, it is his immersion in prayer, coupled with the joy he finds in Jesus that he wants to see mirrored around him. Imitate a deep prayer practice, and seek the joy that comes from serving Christ and you will live into Paul’s idea of ministry.

All baptized Christians have a responsibility to lead, minister, and witness to their faith. We bear witness to Christ by leading lives of integrity and faith, always mindful that it is up to us to work for reconciliation in our world, and to witness to our faith in the risen Christ.

And now, David and Nathan, would you please stand up?
If you would, please, take a look around at whose shoulders you are standing on.

They have just promised to uphold you in your ministry. Remember that and hold them to it. You are here because of them.

And now, a reminder from the prophet Micah: “Remember all that the Lord requires of you; to do justice, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Heb 13:20-21)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Something's Coming

Advent 1, November 28, 2010
The Rev Deborah Magdalene

Something’s coming. Heaven is leaning in to earth, people are gazing expectantly at the stars, and the earth is paying attention to something intangible – something electric and fascinating – something full of promise and new life; beyond the reach of our own imaginations.

Something is coming that will change forever the way we perceive ourselves in the world. No longer will we be the center of our own universe. Gone will be feelings of anger and resentment, self-doubt and humiliation, and the pain of being betrayed by someone you trusted more than yourself.

No more will we have to expend energy to defend ourselves in a world that feels out of control. We won’t be encouraged to cheat, to take shortcuts, or to tell white lies. We won’t give up our faith out of distraction and boredom, but will believe once again that hard work and agape love really can change the world.

Something is coming that will validate every kind deed we have ever had the grace to perform as it reassures us that compassion is more powerful than tightfisted stinginess.

Something is coming that will forever keep us close to the heart of God, and that will help us to know that all the suffering we have ever experienced served a purpose unique to each of us. Because of our struggle we now have gifts of the Spirit that will forevermore enrich the Kingdom of God.

Something is coming that will turn terrorism and deceit into interreligious dialogue and farming cooperatives….or as Isaiah says, will “turn turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks; [where] nation shall not lift up sword against nation” and nevermore will we learn how to war. (Isa. 2:4)

The words of Isaiah help us to yearn for righteousness with every fiber of our being. He is speaking to a people who are beaten down by struggle and who wander aimlessly in the wasteland, forgetting who they really are. He lights a fire under them by simply naming the heavenly truths they yearn for.

If we lived every day with a full awareness of how deeply we hunger for a meaningful life for ourselves and our loved ones it would shatter our self-composure.

We are not built to withstand such vivid and high frequency yearning for long periods of time. We go into denial and busy ourselves with easier tasks. We have short attention spans for difficult issues. We turn on the TV, turn up the stereo and mute the dull throb of our own yearning for justice, fulfillment, and peace.

The theme of our readings for today is a vibrant and annoying wakeup call. It jolts us into readiness for the Advent of Lord, where we wait for a humble birth while focused on our need for a Savior.

In order to understand our Christian season of Advent we must remember that what we wait so impatiently for has already come. We are in a time of already/not yet. Christ is here and is coming. It’s a divine conundrum that calls us to examine ourselves and our faith.

The word ‘advent’ means ‘coming.’ But what is coming is not anything of this world. We live in a world of microchips and phone apps; of online ordering and unending lines at the Verizon store. We are not wired, so to speak, to look for the advent of a world beyond our imaginings.

What Isaiah writes about is the coming of a supernatural event. One that will make every hair on your head stand up at attention and will send chills rippling down your spine. There will be no credits or commercials at the end of this event, but the beginning of a world beyond our imaginings. The end will be the beginning.

Isaiah’s words are about the coming of a new age of consciousness….a cosmic trip out of the land of slavery and oppression into a time of everlasting felicity.

The voice of the prophet Isaiah cries out that God is coming to “teach us his ways that we may walk in his paths.” (Isa. 2:3b) He paints a picture of a New Jerusalem – one that rises out of the rubble of destruction and abandonment to become the center of the universe – a place where all nations of the world will come in humility to learn a new way of living.

The picture we have from Isaiah is of a Kingdom that rises as the highest place on earth; rising to a point where it touches heaven. Every nation in the world will flow gently and peacefully across paper-flat geography toward and up the slopes of this new kingdom on a mountain.

The Hebrew word, ‘naharu’ means to "flow like a river," and to "shine in joyful radiance." We can picture all of the world’s people flowing like a river uphill toward God’s light. The desire for supremacy and power is replaced with humble acceptance of a benevolent and creative majesty beyond their imaginings. It is this humility in the face of a love beyond understanding that causes them to shine in joyful radiance.

What they yearn for now is to be taught how to live with such unexpected fulfillment. “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” (Isa 2:3)

The psalm for today is called "A Song of Ascents," intended to be sung by a band of pilgrims climbing the heights of Jerusalem and entering "the house of the Lord." With the psalmist we are invited to know the dwelling place of God's presence, where war is transformed into dances of love.

A useful way of understanding a transformation of this magnitude is
through art. In 1957 a musical written by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim opened on Broadway. The story was a reworking of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Set in the projects of New York City, “West Side Story” was a smashing success.

The tale is of a love that transcends the human conditions of poverty and abuse; racism, jealousy, and even death. We watch, knowing that the end will be tragic, and yet needing to see the reenactment of this divine love between two innocents.

Tony, a working-class white boy is drawn into a state of alert readiness by a supernatural pulling on his heartstrings. The air has changed, his dreams are more vivid, and he wakes with a lump in his throat. He goes through the motions of his life as if it belongs to someone else. His friends don’t interest him anymore and he is buzzing with a new energy that he tries to understand through song:

“Could be! Who knows?
There's something due any day;
I will know right away, Soon as it shows.
It may come cannonballing down through the sky,
Gleam in its eye, Bright as a rose!

What comes is an unexpected, powerful, and forbidden love with Maria, the Puerto Rican immigrant sister of the leader of a rival gang. Like the Gospel story, the tale of powerful, life-changing love ends in death and disillusionment.

But in the death we see a mirror of our own foolishness and are left with a desire to stop hating each other and become more open to learning new ways of being with each other.

The advent of Jesus is a love story that doesn’t end. Like ‘West Side Story’ the Good News of Christ opens out hearts to the possibility of a life lived in an altered state of reality – one that expects miracles to happen and dreams to come true.

In the already/not yet world of today’s Christianity we live in a state of suspended animation. Christ has come. Christ will come again. We can withstand the strain of waiting, knowing how deeply we yearn for justice and reconciliation by turning our wills and our lives over to the care of a God who wants to guide us in every move we make and breath we take.

Because we believe that the resurrection really took place; that Jesus was able to conquer death and walk among us as a new creation; because we return to Scripture to remind ourselves that we were created for a purpose; because we are Children of the Resurrection we await the coming of Christ with assurance that it is while we wait that the miracles occur.

It is in this age of already/not yet that Christians have been saying their prayers and willing themselves to be led by a power greater than themselves; a power that sees possibilities for life where we see only defeat and death.

It’s this unexpected new life that comes to those who believe that grows the Kingdom of God among ordinary slobs like us. Who could guess that that such a motley crew would be destined for such happiness?

Like the Jerusalem Pharisees and the upstart Christian community, who both drew on the prophet Isaiah to support their point of view, God’s love unexpectedly opened the hearts of the most unlikely candidates for a new way of seeing the world.

God pulled believers in his Christ from the holiest of Jews and from the margins of Jewish society; then through the unbelievable miracle of his Son’s resurrection, reached outside the boundaries of Judaism to make disciples out of the Gentiles.

Faith in Christ:
“Who knows?
It's only just out of reach, Down the block, on a beach,
Under a tree.
I got a feeling there's a miracle due, Gonna come true,
Coming to me!”
It’s this personal message of unexpected salvation that we all hunger for. There is a miracle coming, and it’s coming to me!

Jesus teaches about the necessity of watchfulness. “So as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” In other words, all of a sudden, out of the blue, dark clouds and torrents of rain will descend on the unprepared and take us away forever. The only ones left behind will be like Noah and his family, saved from the deadly flood because they paid attention to God.

Unlike the ‘Left Behind’ series, the ones who are left after the apocalypse are the faithful remnant – Noah’s family, safe in their wooden boat. In the Gospel for today Jesus is predicting what will happen at the Second Coming.

He is not trying to scare the disciples, but is imploring them to pay attention and to work hard. Just because Jesus works as hard as he does doesn’t mean that we can slack off and not contribute to our own resurrection.

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Mat 24:42 & 44)

We keep awake through hard work and learning how to practice agape love. We focus on our need for a Savior with every breath we take. Is there something we can do to help Christ bring in the Kingdom? How will we know what to do? How do we make wise and loving choices in life? How do we stop hurting each other?

We must examine ourselves and our faith. Advent is a time to turn down the volume, build a fire in the fireplace and sit quietly in the presence of our Lord who is already here and not yet come.

“Could it be? Yes, it could.
Something's coming, something good,
If I can wait!
Something's coming, I don't know what it is,
But it is Gonna be great!”

Christmas comes whether we are ready or not. But the Incarnation of God’s own Self on earth becomes reality when we learn to embody our share of the Holy. The ‘something’ that is coming is none other than our own decision to make each day a testament of our faith; to pull out our Prayer Books and remember how to yearn for a better life. Holiness comes through our participation in God’s plan for this world, on this day, in this city, through the work of our hands and our hearts.

Maranatha. Our Lord has come. Come Lord Jesus.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Down on Our Knees

Pentecost 22, October 24, 2010
16-18, Luke 18:9-14

A week and a half ago the world watched with awe as thirty-three Chilean miners were rescued one-by-one by a little caged capsule that looked remarkably like a suspended egg. The images caught on camera were iconic.

One man jumped around in glee and led the onlookers in a Chilean cheer. One playfully balanced a soccer ball on his foot. One dropped down to his knees and began to pray. The world took a collective breath and watched in silence as the man prayed. Even the reporters stopped talking and the silence allowed us at home to pray with him.

The praying miner’s picture was in the New York Times the next morning and you can see this surreal moment frozen in time. Mario Gómez, bent in prayer, with the empty egg cage swinging behind him. The onlookers bow their heads and appear to pray with him. A few of the workers sneak a look at Gómez with big grins on their faces.

It was a beautiful sight. Seasoned reporters were speechless and had tears streaming from their eyes. Mario Gómez was the oldest of the miners and was suffering from pneumonia. The day of the rescue operation he had begun to hear loud explosions in the shafts surrounding him, and feared another cave-in was imminent. He began to have panic attacks, growing more certain that the rescue operation had come too late.

There is no telling what was in his mind when he opened the door of the rescue pod, but we saw that he was unable to get off of his knees without help. His wife rushed over to him and lifted him up to meet her embrace.

I’d like to use this moment to help us understand what is important about today’s Gospel reading. Something momentous happens to one of the men in the parable. The Pharisee and the Tax Collector – a story we’ve heard so many times before we think we know what it’s telling us:

“Don’t be full of pride like the Pharisee, and gloat over your own accomplishments. But be humble and prayerful, like the tax collector. Beat your breast for good measure. And then you will go home justified by God.”

But we know from experience that nothing Jesus teaches, especially in his parables, makes sense at face value. If we think we know the lesson then it is not doing its job.

The parable works by poking and prodding us to change our habits. Everything Jesus teaches, especially in his parables, is designed to make us squirm uncomfortably and recognize that we have a lot of work to do.

We must look deeper into this little parable to see what is so important that Jesus has to teach this same lesson throughout Luke’s Gospel. Keep your focus on the tax collector. He is the one whose example we are to follow and whose words mimic those of Jesus and his followers.

The tax collector cries out, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He knows that the money he collects from the poor goes directly into the hands of the oppressor. In order to feed his family he must break Jewish law. He is caught in a no-win situation. Be merciful to me!

In the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches, “[You must] be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

From Mary’s Magnificat we hear: “And [God’s] mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. “(Luke 1:50)

From the Song of Zechariah: “And you, Child, through the tender mercy of our God…will give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, [and will] guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

From the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" The answer? "The one who showed mercy on him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise. (Luke 10:36-37)

Our mercy is to match God’s mercy. We receive mercy, so we must give mercy.

Shortly after this Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus passes a blind beggar who cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Told sternly to be quiet, the beggar cries even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38, 39)

The blind man who is reduced to begging is able to see the Son of God for who he really is. Jesus rewards him by giving him his sight and declaring that his faith has saved him.

Lord be merciful to me, a sinner!

We are to understand from all of these stories that God desires to give us tender and abiding mercy, but first we must yearn for that undeserved mercy as if it is the only thing worth living for.

The God of Luke’s Gospel is a God of mercy, who comes to his people to set them free from oppression, poverty, blindness, illness, and death. If you think you are doing just fine and are self-sufficient, you have no need of this merciful God.

The Pharisee is a parody of the God-fearing Jews, just as he is a parody of the 21st Century Christian who knows she is on the winning side. And I’m not talking about Christine O’Donnell.

The Pharisee says his prayers. We say our prayers. He fasts and tithes. We fast and tithe. He goes to the temple. We go to church. He pays his taxes and sends his children to school. He is a righteous man just as we are righteous.

But Jesus doesn’t come to save the righteous. So how can we be saved if we can’t get down on our knees once in a while and admit that we mess up? It’s really not a very politically correct thing to do. But is exactly what Jesus asks us to do… again and again.

It is the theme of the Lord’s Prayer. Give us this day our daily bread, we pray, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. We beg for mercy as we promise to give back mercy. God forgives. We forgive. It is the breath of God that wants to breathe in us.

It could be a daily practice or a moment-by-moment attitude of prayer.
Lord be merciful to me, a sinner! These words are an ancient breath prayer. A prayer short enough to say in one exhalation. If we learn nothing else about the Gospel we can be assured that we have the main idea with this one prayer.

And how does it interpret itself within us? Well, let’s see, I forgot an appointment with a friend. I forgot to thank my mom for the card she sent me. I didn’t give God the credit for the beautiful day we had yesterday. I forgot to be grateful!

Lord be merciful to me, a sinner! We all mess up. We can learn to have an attitude of humility. But it takes practice and perseverance.

People in 12-Step programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous, are asked to “take a searching and fearless moral inventory” of themselves and then admit to God, and another human being, the exact nature of their wrongs.
Only then do they ask God, humbly, to remove their shortcomings.

Alcoholics know, as few others do, what it means to be completely unable to stop a behavior which is killing them and ending all their relationships.

Remarkably, it is through this practice of confessing their faults that so many alcoholics achieve sobriety. They take the focus off of themselves and focus intently on the God who can save them.

Lord be merciful to me, a sinner!

Our own Episcopal liturgy emphasizes the tax collector from today’s parable. Listen to this excerpt from our Rite One Eucharistic prayer:

“And although we are unworthy through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses, through Jesus Christ our Lord…”

Priests are taught to mimic the tax collector’s beating of the breast as they say these words, in order to remind the people of the Parable of the Tax Collector.

The intent of this Eucharistic prayer is to accept our responsibility as frail human beings. What do we really have to offer to a God who gives us a gift as eternal as Jesus? What can we give to a God who gives us everything we need?

It is certainly not a recitation of our merits (not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses.) All God wants of us is to see us as we really are – every bump, pimple and faux pas.

As we open our hands to receive the bread and the wine we are opening our hands in a gesture of helplessness. Like hungry baby birds we admit how frail we are and we seek to be filled with the abiding grace of God.

“Show me who you really are,” says God, “and I will love you with tender and abiding mercy. Your faith in me will save you. But you need to get the clutter out of the way. Admit how frail you are, and then you will crave only mercy.”

God knows, this is not something the human race is very good at. Jesus told this parable to those who trusted in themselves and regarded others with contempt. (Luke 18:9)

That could be our congress. But we are the ones sitting here and struggling with this story, so we need to keep the focus on ourselves. We can save congress for another day. What should we take home with us from this parable?

I know that when I catch myself sounding arrogant, or bragging about my own accomplishments, (like the Pharisee) I can always find a trace of fear. I boost up my struggling sense of self-esteem by listing my accomplishments. It’s childish and silly, but I do it all the time. I brag because I am afraid that I am not good enough.

It was in the convent that I really learned how to catch these moments and let them rise up to the surface so I could take a good look at them. Convent life is good for that. I hated what I found. It made me feel small and petty and immature.

It became the most difficult task of all just to sit and feel the remorse and embarrassment of blowing my own horn and not to try to fix it or make it go away.

This was brand new behavior. I had never practiced feeling healthy remorse for anything I’d ever done. I grew up in a family where shame was used to punish. Healthy remorse was not a skill I possessed.

What allowed me to sit and feel the remorse of saying something stupid and self-centered was the conviction that a loving God desired a freer life for me. The more I could practice admitting my own shortcomings the more
I was ready to receive the grace that was offered to me. This was not toxic shame, but honest remorse.

God wants us to grow into the image that is reserved for only us. We can’t become free if we don’t see the bars that imprison us. The message we take away from the parable today is this: there is always an attitude of the Pharisee lurking about our happy-go-lucky face we shine on the world.

Find your inner Pharisee and drop him down on his knees. Let him feel a touch of remorse and then share the Good News with him. Christ came to set us all free (including our inner Pharisee) and to prepare us for the tender mercy of God.

Mario Gómez had nothing to offer his God. He was a skinny shell of his former self. Ravaged by starvation for the first seventeen days after the cave-in, the miners were allowed to eat only liquid diets until their bodies slowly remembered how to absorb nutrients again.

When people are in life-threatening situations they begin to exhibit certain predictable behaviors. You see your life flash before your eyes. You see how inevitable death is for everyone. And you vibrantly appreciate what life has given to you up to this moment.

With months spent in the damp, hot darkness of the desert subfloor, the miners had time to reflect on their lives. Their desire to come back to their lives someday in the future forced them to cherish the things they had taken for granted before the ground gave way.

We could all sense their awe and gratitude as they were set free from their underground grave. They were born again and we yearn to feel the same release. We are hard-wired to be born again. But we can’t get there without an attitude of complete surrender to God’s mercy. It takes practice. But I thnk we can accept the challenge.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Travelling Along the Way

Pentecost 6, July 4, 2010
Galatians 6:1-18, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Deborah Magdalene, OSH

When I was a speech therapist in California I travelled from one school to another with my bag of toys and games and my charts of goals and progress notes. I also made house visits. The objective was to teach the parents how to play with their children in a way that encouraged more language and better speech.

I was not always well received. In fact, most often the parents saw me as a free babysitter who would play with their children long enough for them to escape into a soap opera.

But I remember one family who not only stayed in the room to watch me work with their little boy, but offered me food and gifts. This was a very poor family of Hmong immigrants who had been living in Laos for generations after being forced out of China.

The Hmong are a travelling people, used to roaming the mountains because they were systematically persecuted and driven away from any established settlement. They have no written language of their own, and depend upon an elder in the family learning Mandarin so that they can know what is going on in their world.

When Hmong families immigrated to Eureka, California the transition was very abrupt and complicated. But when I was in the home of my one Hmong family they were the ones who offered me their unique hospitality.

They had no furniture, but squatted on the floor and ate from bowls. They raised their own food, including a yard full of chickens, and they were not at all sure about our dependence on indoor plumbing.

Their culture drew me in as my play with their child drew them in. We made an exchange of trust, using pantomime and play as a universal language. I ate their strange food and they learned to play with their child.

Eventually we went our separate ways but the peace they gave me remains with me to this day. I think this is exactly what Jesus had in mind.

“Go on your way,” says Jesus, “to every town and place that I intend to go.” The operative word in this reading today is Go. The Jesus we meet in Luke’s Gospel is always going somewhere. He is on a journey. Jesus is constantly moving toward Jerusalem and inviting friends to either follow him or go ahead of him. It is a grand processional. And it is one that we all know will end in death.

Last week we heard the prologue to today’s reading. Jesus and his followers were moving along the road to Jerusalem when several would-be followers asked to join them.

“I will follow you wherever you go,” says one. And Jesus answers, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In other words, to follow Jesus is to take up a new way of life – a life that is in constant motion, always moving toward the completion of God’s will.

Jesus then asks someone to follow him who says he must first go back and bury his father. But Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” To walk with Jesus is to join an urgent walk headed in only one direction – we’re going to Jerusalem. We are all travelling together toward Jerusalem. There is never any turning back.
Another hopeful prospect says, “I’ll follow you, but first let me go say farewell.”

And Jesus tells him that if he even pauses to look back he is not fit for the kingdom of God. Keep your eyes on Jerusalem and move, always move, toward the goal in Jerusalem. And what is it we see when we strain our eyes to see into the distance? Well, it is a cross. A transformational cross at is what is waiting for us.

Just as in our processional every Sunday, we move forward in song and harmony behind a travelling cross and toward the cross of our redemption. We are always turning and following the cross, wherever it leads. Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of
God is not a passive, restful place, but a moving processional, gathering followers and building up strength through the love of Christ that we carry within our midst.

Jesus picks seventy of his choice followers – disciples who don’t turn back for anything but move as one unified body with, and for, and because of Christ. He sends them out, as he sends us out, moving ahead of him. This little phrase is extremely important. For the first time in the Luke’s Gospel Jesus is following his disciples. He is following them because they are now preparing the way for Jesus.

And that is our message. Two thousand years later we are still moving along “the way.” We are making way for Jesus, who we know without a doubt is coming. What happened long ago on a cross in Jerusalem was a death to sin once and for all, and the birth of a new way of life. We are walking the new way of life that has never stopped moving since the morning Mary Magdalene ran from the tomb and cried out to her friends, “He is alive!” To be a Christian is to move.

In Paul’s passionate letter to the Galatians he is very clear that we are to invite everyone to join our procession: this new way of life is available to all because Christ lived and died for all. It is an all-inclusive Gospel. We gather up followers from everywhere, and the only prerequisite is the desire to keep moving closer to where God wants us to go.

The big argument that Paul is refuting throughout this letter is whether each new Christian convert needs to become a Jew before he can qualify as a Christian. Now to become a Jew in the first century was a whole lot easier for women than it was for men. Paul was aware that the men who had bitten the bullet and allowed themselves to be circumcised were now bragging that they were the better Christians. This is why he writes so passionately against this kind of bragging.

And it wasn’t only bragging: these newly circumcised converts were also escaping persecution by fundamentalist Jewish Christians. If you refused to be circumcised and yet called yourself a Christian, you opened yourself up to criticism and persecution.

These persecuting Christians were a large group in the early Church. They argued that since Christ first came to his own people, the Jews, you could only become a true Christian by way of Judaism. Those who chose this way began to persecute the growing numbers of Gentile Christians – the ones that Paul dedicated his entire life and ministry to.

Paul argues that it is through our works, not private scars on our bodies, that we will be known as true Christians. We will reap eternal life, says Paul, if we do what is right and never give up. We are to work with gentleness for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Paul warns us that we are not to brag about what we have borne in our flesh, nor to persecute one another, but rather to “Carry one another’s burdens, [so that] in this way [we] will fulfill the law of Christ.” The only law that we need worry about is the law to love one another as oneself and to love God as Christ loved his Father God.

If we feel the need to boast we are to boast only “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to [us,] and [us] to the world.”

These are powerful words that still carry a potent message for us today. Paul believes that the only thing we need to worry about is the new creation which Christ birthed into the world through his death, resurrection and ascension to heaven.
Paul says that this new creation is everything to us.

Picture us back in that processional with Christ. We are walking along the way, carrying one another’s burdens. That means we must listen to our fellow travelers with ears that don’t try to cover up the pain or, worse yet, to not really listen but instead mentally rehearse ways to fix real crises with easy solutions.

But it is extremely difficult to carry one another’s burdens when we all have burdens of our own. How do we share our own pain if we are staggering under the weight of other’s painful and heavy loads?

Paul’s answer to this dilemma is explicit: we are all to carry our own loads by testing our own work. This sounds like it is more work, but it is actually the way towards real freedom.

We test our own work by rigorously examining ourselves and by regularly confessing our sins against God and our neighbor. It is only through the act of self-examination and confession that we can let down the heavy burden of guilt on our backs and experience the freedom of forgiveness and new life.

But this is where many of us run into road blocks. I, for example, have huge trust issues. I have inappropriately shared my personal burdens with people who couldn’t listen, or who worse yet, used my confession as a tool to have more power over me.

I had to learn that some people are not safe, in spite of calling themselves Christians. Some that abused my trust were even ordained. This can be very confusing for those of us who are trying to build trust within a Christian community.

But thankfully, truth and wisdom are powerful magnets. In every Christian community that I have ever belonged to I have found people that were worthy of being followed and who could hold a confidence with loving compassion. We Christians are a mixed bag. If others are to know we are Christians by our love then we have work to do in our own communities.

A healthy Christian community depends on our ability to listen to each other and to honor one another’s journeys. We are to bear one another’s burdens by listening to them with compassion and understanding – without trying to hurry and fix it so it will go away. The loads on our backs are eased by being heard with the heart of compassion. We are supported by knowing we are not alone in our troubles.

There are some days when I find this particular part of my Christian call to be next to impossible. Where do I get the energy to support others with this deep sincerity when my own load feels so heavy?

Let’s go back to the Gospel for a minute.

The seventy disciples are sent out in pairs to prepare the way for Jesus. They travel in pairs so that there is always someone there to carry the other’s burden. No Christian should every travel the way alone. We desperately need each other to share and to care for the precious gift we carry together – our faith in a God of Love, who bears our burdens and sets us free.

The only time Jesus tells us to stop constantly moving along the way is when we find a home that receives the peace that we give them. Jesus says, “If anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not it will return to you.” This is the kind of peace I received from the poor Hmong immigrants.

In the first century, the church began in believer’s homes. They were called house churches. We are allowed to stop the constant travelling, take off our dusty shoes, and enjoy the fellowship of faith when we enter a house of worship.

Like the early church, we listen to our shared story in Scripture. And like them, we confess our faith in Christ, sing His praises, and join together in confessing our sins before we are free to receive the gift of the Eucharistic meal.

The travelers are finally allowed to rest in the knowledge that Christ is within us and among us, nourishing us for the journey that waits for us outside these doors.

We leave refreshed, and nourished with the knowledge that we have a home here. These is where we stop, every week, and share our peace with others who give us back more peace. Peace flowing like a river among us.

But this is not a passive, quiet peace. The peace of Christ is a lively spark that starts us moving again. We are sent out from the Eucharist to start the hard work of listening to each other and offering to carry another’s load for awhile. The journey doesn’t end until Christ comes again.

On this Independence Day we can be grateful that we aren’t persecuted for our faith. We live in a country that was founded on this belief: that all of us are created equal, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

As a Christian, I would add to this declaration that our happiness rests in doing God’s will. The road we walk is a difficult road, but our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness depends on knowing that we are trying to please God through our actions of love with and among one another.

Lost and Found

1Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10
The Rev Deborah Magdalene, September 12, 2010

It’s an interesting exercise to take a look around our worship space and notice the images that are meaningful to us. Many of us have been coming here for years and are so used to this space that we have stopped noticing the particulars. We identify this space as our spiritual home. This is what ‘church’ looks like.

We sit here, or here, or over there, and from our particular vantage point we see various symbols of our faith. Much of the symbolic richness of this particular church has become comforting and familiar.

But what does a guest see? Try to see this space as if you are visiting St Alban’s for the first time. Mentally choose where you would most likely sit.

Now, find the image, symbol, or object that is most meaningful to you. Look over at the windows, look up at the altar, at the ceiling, the candles, the crucifix, look at the altar rail. Look behind you and see if you can find the baptismal font, or see the organ loft. Look at the doors, the pews, and the lights.

Find one image that stands out to you and really look at it. Then see what it has to tell you about your own faith. Why is this symbol meaningful for you? Why do you find it comforting, or enlightening, or central to your worship experience? What do you suppose this object has to say about what we do here on Sunday mornings? What would a Christian archeologist in the next millennium conjecture about your item as a relic? What does it say about your faith?

When we go back in time and look at the earliest images adorning Christian worship spaces we learn a lot about how they practiced their faith. We find some images that are familiar, and some that seem strangely out of place, and we notice the absence of many important symbols.

For instance, there are no crucifixes, and very few pictures of Jesus. There are altars, and baptismal fonts. There are frescoes painted on the walls, and beautiful handcrafted mosaics on the floors and walls. If we catalogue the images we find in the earliest Christian worship spaces we find several recurring themes.

There are many images of Jonah inside the whale – the important Hebrew Testament story that prefigures the three days Jesus was swallowed by the whale of death.
There are pictures of loaves and fishes – signifying the feeding of the five thousand – a central symbol for the Eucharistic feast.

Then we find the recurring image of a shepherd carrying a lost sheep on his shoulders. The belly of the sheep is resting against the back of the shepherd’s neck and his hands grasp the feet of the lamb to comfort and stabilize it for the ride back to the flock.

This image, so central to early Christian worship, is the theme of today’s gospel message as well as the pivotal energy behind the Apostle Paul’s conversion.

Lost and Found – the story of how we come to believe in a God who seeks us out again and again and again – never tiring of bringing us home to God. It is the rhythm of our faith. And until we learn to accept our various roles in the repeating pattern of the Lost Sheep story, the story so central to the early Christians’ experience of God, we will not fully grasp the power of being carried home to God.

At any point during our lives we can identify ourselves as the lost sheep; or maybe we are helping the shepherd to find the lost one; or, my own personal favorite, we are one of the faithful 99 sheep who is not happy to wait for the shepherd’s return but feels indignant, bent out of shape, and jealous that the shepherd abandons me in order to go off find that stupid sheep who wasn’t working hard enough to keep up with us smart, savvy, and grumpy sheep.

In the first letter to Timothy Paul writes of his own experience of coming home to God. Paul describes how he considers himself to be the foremost, or the most striking example of, a sinner. Then he tells of how Christ sought him out in order to bring him home to God. In fact, Paul says that the reason that Jesus came into the world was to save people like him.

Paul believes that he was found and brought back to God because of how far away he had strayed, because God had another purpose for his life, and because of how deeply incapable he was of finding his way home on his own.

Paul writes that he was the epitome of a sinner and, “…for that very reason [he] received mercy, so that in [him], as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making [him] an example to those who would come to believe in [Christ Jesus] for eternal life.”

In other words, if Jesus can bring that sorry sheep Paul home then he certainly can bring one of us home. Paul persecuted and stoned the early Christians, and did so with a hatred and self-righteousness that he will remember for the rest of his life.

But he does so with full confidence that he has been completely forgiven.

That is the point that Jesus makes with the parable of the lost sheep. The action of coming home to God is a process of gaining a right relationship with God. Paul was out of alignment with the God of his ancestors. To sin is to be out of alignment with God’s purpose for our lives.

It is in Paul’s complete acceptance of the tender forgiveness he receives from Christ that his relationship with God is restored. Paul writes, “I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

This point is so important for our faith. When we go off and act out our anger in a hurtful and self-righteous fashion, we often do so in complete ignorance of how we can do otherwise.

Throughout my 18-year marriage I failed to protect my children from their father’s unpredictable outbursts of anger and abuse. At the time I felt as terrified and helpless as my children did. I didn’t know I had a choice.

I needed God to send a shepherd to find me and bring me home to a place where I could see the errors of my ways with the same compassion and tenderness that Jesus had for me.

I had been fueled by self-hatred and resentment for so many years that there was no way that a God who acted as a fierce disciplinarian would ever make any headway with me.

No, it was in the awareness of feeling forgiven for my ignorance that I wept for joy. Because of how long it took for me to find the Jesus who had been looking for me all along my long-awaited conversion was profound.

The moment I realized that I could learn another way of being in the world – that it was possible to learn how to make better choices in my life – was, and remains, the pivotal moment of my life. Like Paul, I felt profound gratitude that I didn’t have to act out of ignorance any more.

Luke sets up the parable by separating the Pharisees and the scribes from the inner circle.

The Pharisees and the scribes are not there to listen to Jesus. They are there to see for themselves that Jesus not only welcomes sinners, but he actually eats with them. They are the ones left behind, and they feel critical and judgmental about it. They came to judge, not to listen with their hearts.

This reference to a meal is code for the Eucharistic feast. It is the lost sheep who are welcome to join the Eucharistic meal in thanksgiving for being found, and forgiven, and carried home to God across Jesus’ shoulders.

The irony in this parable is the value of the one sheep when compared with the rest of the flock. Jesus explains that the 99 sheep are left completely on their own so that the shepherd can quickly go and find one lost in the rocks somewhere.

What happens to sheep without a shepherd? Don’t they wander in countless different directions, getting lost and confused without their leader? Aren’t they sitting ducks, so to speak, for wolves and predators?

Well, yes, that is exactly what happens. In real life it is crazy to endanger the lives of an expensive investment in living bodies of wool on the hoof. No one in the ancient world would leave 99 sheep to go after one. They wouldn’t do it today either. This story makes absolutely no sense to a crowd familiar with sheep behavior.

Unless the crowd understands that Jesus is talking about God’s kingdom this parable is foolish. In God’s kingdom everything is governed by different laws. In God’s world the shepherd knows that the sheep left on their own will be cared for and protected in the arms of God.

The Pharisees and scribes are the 99 sheep left behind because they have no need of God’s redeeming love – they already have it. They are already in right relation with their God, or at least they know the steps necessary to regain their right relation. They are always invited to confess their sins and turn to God. They do not need to be found.

It is the shunned, the ignorant, and the ritually unclean who have been excluded from God’s inner circle that need to be found and brought back into the flock.

When the early Christians heard this story they related to the one little sheep who was lost. Each of them had a story of being found by God and brought back home to the family.

God sent his only son to be the Good Shepherd – the shepherd who finds the most unlikely lost and forsaken sheep to bring back to the fold. It was this parable that became a symbol of the early Christian experience of being born again.

Instead of a processional cross and a giant crucifix behind the altar they were drawn to pictures of a beardless Christ, illuminated by a halo around his head, carrying one little lamb back to God.

The parable ends with an image of all of heaven rejoicing at the return of one little lost sheep. Included in that rejoicing is a great banquet that they will all eat together. Christians never tire of hearing this simple tale because it says so much about the joy of discovering you’ve been found and a feast is prepared just for you.

We come to the altar to receive the body and blood of Christ after we have made our communal confession. We are kneeling down to partake in the feast of heaven where angels and archangels and all the company of heaven join us in our celebration.

The parable of the lost sheep is one of three parables designed to teach the same point. You will find all three in Chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel. After ‘The Lost Sheep’ comes ‘The Lost Coin’ followed by ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son.’

Three lost and found parables all pointing to one basic fact about God’s Kingdom: God never stops looking for us because that is what God does. Our job is to let ourselves be found, or else sign up as a shepherd and help bring more lost souls in to the feast. If we feel abandoned and left behind it is not the truth.

God is always holding us
God is always seeking us
We can choose to be found
And we can always learn more
We can change and move where God wants us to be

A Life of Integrity

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 12:49-56
August 15, 2010
Deborah Magdalene, OSH

In the summer of 1972 my family fell apart. My 17-year-old sister became a Mormon, my parents were having serious fights, and I dropped out of college and moved in with my boyfriend.

It was a time of great upheaval. With the backdrop of the endless war in Vietnam, and in a culture of protest and resistance I began my own journey of truth-seeking.

Of course my parents didn’t see it that way. My sister and I were on opposite sides of a protest against our parents. She took the road of a conservative religion and I chose the road of the love-struck hippie.

Mother against daughter
Sister against sister
Daughter against both parents
Both parents against both daughters
And the United States at war with itself.

My family mirrored the chaos of the country we lived in. We were divided and at war with each other, and we each dreamed of a completely different outcome.

My dad wanted his family back together. My mom wanted to rescue my sister from unseen forces. My sister wanted a safe family religion where people lived what they believed. And I wanted to create a new world of love – with my beloved and me in the very center of it.

What we each desired, in our own distorted and confused points of view, was to be seen as we really were – to be acknowledged by someone, anyone, as honest and good people trying to live lives of integrity and honesty. What we all really wanted was to be loved and accepted as only God could love and accept us.

All I remember of that time now is how messed up my family seemed to me and how perfect my own little life with my chronically unfaithful and angry new boyfriend, who soon became my husband. I fell in love with a young man who embodied the exact problems that I thought I was leaving behind.

The next eighteen years of my life were spent in a prolonged state of denial. I denied that I was unhappy while choosing to believe that my marriage and new family were worlds away from the home I had grown up in.

But God has a way of teaching us lessons that will lead to greater understanding, broader perspectives, and the courage to change the things we are capable of changing.
God has a way of cleansing us with fire.

Jesus shouts at his closest companions, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!”

His words are not for the faint of heart. This is no gentle shepherd or humble servant washing his disciple’s feet. It is always a challenge to our faith to come to terms with the Jesus who overturns tables and shouts, “Hypocrites!” to the crowds.

But this is the Jesus we read about today and I believe that the angry power of this Jesus is something we Episcopalians must claim as our own, and not just the property of our Pentecostal neighbors. We need to understand what exactly this fire is that Jesus came to light. We have all been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. It is part of our call as Christians to carry Christ’s fire along the way as our Olympic torch of faith.

This isn’t the first time we hear about fire in Luke’s gospel. John the Baptist told his followers, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke3:16)

We are to understand from these words that our own baptism brings the Holy Spirit into our lives as well as the fire of Christ. We too easily associate New Testament fire with damnation and judgment. Today’s reading does refer to significant judgment. It is the judgment of the coming age. The age that Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension bring to pass. It is not the fire of damnation and hell.

Earlier, Luke quotes Jesus teaching that the vineyard owner will cut away the branches that do not bear fruit and throw them into the fire. (Luke 3:9) There is judgment implied in both this parable and today’s Gospel. But who or what is being judged?

There are two answers to this question that help explain why Jesus is so exacerbated. First of all we have the disciples. They are on their way to Jerusalem where Jesus has told them repeatedly that he would suffer and die. But they still don’t believe him. Jesus knows that his death will be the cause of the greatest division among Jews that the world has ever known.

It is the shame of the cross that keeps faithful Jews from accepting that Jesus is the Son of God. It is only after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ that his own disciples fully grasp who this man was and what his coming to them continues to mean. Those who believed were, and are, transfigured.

The “signs of the present time” that Jesus calls the crowds hypocrites for not seeing – is HIM. Jesus is the ultimate and final sign that the world as they know it is about to end. They are hypocrites because they daily recite the words of the prophets who warned them that these things were coming, that God would send a Messiah, and that God would purify Israel.

In the words of Mary’s Magnificat, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." (Luke 1:52-55) The Magnificat promises division.

Jesus is the one who divides those who believe from those who don’t. His disciples believe what they have seen, but only up to the point of their own denial. When truth hits denial it takes a jarring experience to knock the truth into our consciousness.

The second answer to “who is being judged” is the inner life of the disciples. More importantly, it is our inner life that we are meant to examine. Are we brave enough to allow Jesus to tell us the truth about our own faith, or lack thereof? Are we willing to accept the whole truth of who Jesus really is? We know how hard it was for the disciples.

Peter denies Jesus three times in spite of being one of Jesus’ closest companions.

It is no coincidence that during his denials Peter sits in the courtyard of the high priest’s house warming his hands at the fire.
He is much more comfortable sitting next to the flame than he will be when he finally accepts the burning shame of truth that he abandoned Jesus in his time of greatest need.

It is the burning flame of compunction that the gospel calls us to today. A very out-of-date word, compunction was one of the favorite words of the desert fathers and mothers. They called it ‘penthos.’ For them, “penthos was a Godly sorrow, engendered by repentance.” (Saint Cyril of Philea)

And that is what eventually washed over Peter. As he sat next to the warming fire he was flooded with shame and remorse that Jesus had predicted his denial. Jesus knew that Peter did not fully comprehend that the world as he knew it was about to come to an end through the wrongful persecution and death of Jesus.
There is nothing like shame to burn the truth deep into one’s soul.

The truth of who Jesus really is and what he accomplished for us through his death, resurrection, and ascension continues to divide families and friends just as it did in the First Century. But it is the division that lies deep within each one of us that causes Jesus to cry out, “Hypocrite!”

How many of us have said lightly to our children, ‘Do as I say, not as I do?’ How many of us have criticized and shunned someone for their behavior only to discover at some point that you yourself have exhibited that same behavior? We all criticize with clenched teeth and pinched face the behaviors that are most repellant to us.

They are repellant for a reason. I was terrified of my mother’s temper so I secretly ridiculed my husband’s outbursts. I am better than that. I don’t scream at the children. I will be the better parent. Hypocrite.

I had to face the shame eventually when I realized that my inability to speak up and face my husband’s wrath full on meant that my children grew up in fear. I wasn’t there to protect them in the way that I could have if I had known the truth.

It was the burning compunction of my own complicity in an abusive marriage that led me finally to ask God for help. I knew after my marriage ended that only God could gently teach me how to live a better life. And I also knew, deep within me, that I would continue to face layers and layers of denial once I began the deep journey with Christ.

It was too late to give my children a peaceful upbringing, but it is never too late to repent and turn to God for help.

There is one more concept for which Luke uses the image of fire. We are told that we will be baptized by the Holy Spirit and with fire. This fire is not just the truth of who Jesus really is; or of our compunction when we realize we never trusted him as fully as we could have.

In the continuation of Luke’s work, in the Book of Acts, we hear what happened to the first Christians on the day of Pentecost, “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:3-4)

This fire danced on the believer’s heads as they spoke in strange languages that all could miraculously understand. This fire, the fire of the Holy Spirit, is what was released through the power of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.

We are meant to see these acts of God as the ushering in of the present age. We are no longer alone, but are continually reminded of the truth through the workings of the Spirit of God who will never abandon us.

We are guaranteed that we will mess up, live in denial, ruin relationships, and make fatal errors, but we can always turn to Christ in repentance and ask for God’s will to be done. We must let go of the outcome when we repent, or the repentance doesn’t take. We can’t modify and correct God’s abundant compassion for our human predicament.

God’s beneficence is totally beyond our control. But self–examination and true repentance are ours to use as frequently as we desire. Peter didn’t wallow in self hatred and remorse. He went on to become a leader in the Church. At the end of his life, his final act of compunction was to be hung upside-down on the cross. He did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as Christ. His manner of death shows how deeply his shame affected him.

We do not need to do our soul-searching alone. Christian community is meant to be a place where we can bear our souls and receive forgiveness from our God and from each other. We invite this integrated way of life by listening to each other’s stories. We all have burdens. In our call to follow Christ we are asked to listen to each other and bear one another’s burdens for them. It is what the fire is telling us to do.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost
May 23, 2010,
The Rev Sr Deborah Magdalene

This last Thursday I was driving home from a meeting downtown when I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Now, as is usually the case, I didn’t know it was the Holy Spirit. At the time, it felt like a crisis. Something happened that knocked me right out of my rhythm, off my game, and into a state of suspended animation. In the middle of the day, on a road I am very familiar with, I was suddenly in the middle of an accident.

I was waiting for the green arrow on the corner of Kissingbower and the Gordon Highway. I remember noticing, with gratitude, that the light turned green much earlier than I’d anticipated. I’m used to waiting at that light long enough to read all the area billboards and all my dashboard buttons.

As I proceeded, gratefully, into the intersection I became suddenly aware of a large black something coming up very fast on my left side. No sooner had that awareness flashed through my consciousness than I felt the hit. It was powerful and full of noises and smells – Crash, the engine is whining, gasoline fumes are filing my car, and pieces of car are landing in some very unexpected places.

My first thought was, “You are in the middle of the intersection – back up the car against the curb and be safe.” I began to back up my whining, wounded car, and became aware, in a flash of insight, that I was physically intact. “I am OK. Oh my God, I am OK. I am backing up my car and thinking like a normal person.”
Once I was safely out of harm I looked around to see if the “black hulk” had stopped. I was surprised that it had – it had been going so terribly fast. The speeding black thing was actually a pickup truck, with two young girls in the front seat.

I was quite slow in picking up the fact that they were not in the least bit concerned with me. I shouted over to them, “I’m OK!” before I realized what they were actually doing. The driver of the truck was screaming obscenities at me and at her truck. Then I heard her say, “I had a green light!!!!” This information seeped in very slowly. In fact, I even shouted back, earnestly, “Well, maybe the light is broken.” And I meant it. But reality finally sunk in. Those girls really don’t care that I am OK.

The rest of this event went down according to the law. I called 911. The girls called their mother. We each gave our diametrically opposed statements to the police and we had our vehicles towed away by two separate tow trucks. I asked the officer if he couldn’t make the driver of the truck take a lie detector test. No – it’s up to the insurance companies now.

So. That was the event. Where exactly does the Holy Spirit fit in?
Before I can explain that, it’s necessary to take a look at the disciples in the story from Acts this morning. Now they definitely had an experience of the Holy Spirit. But without looking at their understanding of what and Who the Holy Spirit is there would be no way to put my experience in the proper context. My understanding of the Holy Spirit is a direct result of the earliest Christian experience of Jesus, the God he called his father, and the Holy Spirit he promised would come.

The disciples had been through their own shared crisis. Luke tells us at the beginning of Acts that it was through the Holy Spirit that Jesus gave his final instructions before ascending into heaven.

This is Luke’s hint that the entire book of Acts is going to be focused on the workings of the Holy Spirit in forming communities. The earliest Christians believed that the Holy Spirit had no context without community.

The resurrected Christ told his friends to wait in Jerusalem until the moment arrived when they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit. He said, “It won’t be long.”

I guess it depends on what you do while you wait that makes time go by quick as a wink or slow as molasses in January. You be the judge – the apostles waited for ten days. Ten days of praying all night and all day.

Now I imagine that these ten days were quite agonizing for his friends. When Jesus said Not Long, there was no way to measure what he meant by that. After the Ascension there were no more experiences of the risen Christ to comfort and lead them.

Luke tells us that these ten days were spent in constant prayer, in the same upper room with the closed door that Jesus had walked right through when he first appeared to them. But after the Ascension they were all alone with a promise. Day after lonely day.

Ten days and nights of prayer, with only one brief intermission to elect a substitute for the disciple they had lost to betrayal – Judas Iscariot. Once Matthias was chosen, the community was whole again. They didn’t know it, but now they were ready for the coming of the Spirit.....and they kept right on praying.

This is not a coincidence. Luke wants us to equate a whole community, symbolized by all 12 tribes of Israel and the newly restored group of 12 apostles, with the united community of the new church. And he wants us to see the energy that comes from a community in prayer. The day that the Spirit comes to the whole and complete community of Jesus’ friends is the day that the church of Christ begins. Pentecost is the Church’s birthday.

The prayer-delirious group of apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit as a community, In the Name of Christ. From this communal baptism in the upper room will come all the different forms of Christianity that we have today. Every definition of “The Holy Spirit,” “The Holy Ghost,” the “Comforter and Advocate,” the “Paraclete,” all comes from this original baptism by fire. And it is all good.

We are told that Jews from every nation under heaven came and heard the apostles, each in their own language. And they saw tongues, “as of fire” dancing on the head of each of the Christians.

Have you ever seen someone’s face light up, as if they are lit from within by some mysterious goodness? It is almost like they are aflame with their love of God, but without fire.

Like the burning bush in the wilderness, that is aflame, but not consumed, the Holy Spirit lights us from within for the benefit of others – not for our benefit. Faithful Jews from nations around the world were drawn to Jerusalem in order to experience people aflame with joy and praying in the name of Christ.

The Pentecost experience is the exact opposite of the tower of Babel. If pride is the cause of the tower collapsing, and if human pride is the reason that a people once united under God are now scattered and unable to understand each other – if pride is that powerful – Luke wants us to focus on the opposite of Pride.

The opposite of pride? It is prayer. And the power of prayer comes from communities gathering and praying with purpose and passion. As weary as those disciples were they knew that their lives depended on the power of their communal prayer.

It was just this week that I understood for the very first time what the miracle of Pentecost actually was. Individuals from all nations, from all those strange sounding countries, heard the entire group of apostles praying in their own language – all at the same time.

It was not that one of the disciples was praying in the language of the Elamites and another was praying in Mesopotamian slang, and another in some strange Asian dialect. But, each person from each country heard the entire group praying in a language they understood, while the first Christians were praying the whole time in Aramaic. They were praying in their own language, AND they were praying in 15 other languages all at the same time.

It would be like members of the United Nations coming in here and listening to us recite the psalm for the day and understanding the intent of our prayer as if we spoke each of their languages.

And that is what the Holy Spirit does. It speaks in heart language – breaking through our thick skins, stubbornness, and stuckness, even when we least expect it. And always for the benefit of the Kingdom of God.

Luke is clear that not everyone in the room believed what they saw and heard that day. When logic can’t explain a phenomenon it’s actually rare that the majority will interpret it as an experience of God’s presence. But many did, and many were baptized by the apostles, who then began to leave Jerusalem – bringing Christianity to the very nations they’d just met.

The Holy Spirit works through and for community. My accident was just an accident. My experience of the Holy Spirit was the intense gratitude I had for the miracle of my life. My sisters said it was a miracle that I had survived. A few more inches and my side of the car would have taken the impact and I would be toast.

But I don’t believe God rescued me from the jaws of death. It was just an accident. God does not rescue some and let others die or get hurt. God is not capricious. But God does send the Holy Spirit to fill us with the truth of the miracle of life.

Each of our lives is a miracle – every day. It is a miracle that I can get up in the morning and walk and write and sing and pray. I had a near death experience this week that helped me to appreciate the miracle of my life. What joy to be able to frame my experience within the context of my life as a Christian. My sisters at the convent and you at St Alban’s give such deep meaning to my life.

The first Christians believed that the Holy Spirit worked for and through communities of the faithful. Miracles had no meaning without communities to interpret them.

Our liturgy in this Eucharist service is a beautiful example of the communal quality of the Holy Spirit. We begin with this prayer, “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love you...”

At the height of Eucharistic Prayer D we pray that God’s “Holy Spirit may descend upon us, and upon (the bread and wine), sanctifying them and showing them to be holy gifts for holy people.”

The service ends with a call to the Holy Spirit, “Let us go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit. Thanks be to God.”

Our communal Eucharist service is not possible without the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that stirs our hearts to listen for God’s word, sing God’s praises, and pray for God’s mercy.

In John’s gospel message for today we hear that the Holy Spirit, or the Advocate, only comes to us after the fully human Jesus is gone. Before his death he says to his disciples, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever...this is the Spirit of Truth.”

This Advocate, or Holy Spirit, is the presence of Jesus that we experience in our shared faith. The Advocate is a witness in defense of Jesus, a spokesperson for Jesus, a Consoler of all who believe in Jesus, and a teacher and guide for us in our times of need.

What gives the Spirit power is the fact that Jesus overcame death. Once the apostles recognize the Holy Spirit blowing powerfully through them they can finally believe that Jesus abides with God, and that they are now abiding with the same God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We gather on Sunday mornings in a place of great power. Christ is risen from the dead and we are alive for a purpose. The Holy Spirit is none other than the breath of God, breathing us in blowing us up against each other for one reason. To show forth the great love of God – who loved us enough to become one of us. We are to mold our lives around this profound love and draw others into our fire.

2 Pentecost

Proper 5, June 6, 2010
I Kings 17:8-24, Gal 1:11-24, Luke 7:11-17
The Rev Deborah Magdalene, OSH

I want you to imagine for a minute that you are one of the very first converts to Christianity. You live in the center of present day Turkey, in an area that the Roman Empire calls Galatia. Before your conversion you worshipped the many gods of your Greek culture. These gods demanded much of you, while dominating with capricious and unpredictable power. Although you offer these Gods sacrifices and prayers, and sing their praises consistently, you never really know where you stand with these gods.

Much to your surprise, you are unexpectedly converted to “The Way” of Jesus by the words of a zealous and outspoken young man who teaches you about the miraculous thing God is doing in the world through the resurrected Christ. This bald and muscular man is known as Paul from Tarsus, an area not far from Galatia, and he comes with an entourage of believers who are all anxious to talk with you about their faith and how they came to believe in the Messiah.

Paul teaches you that it is God’s benevolence working through Christ that allows every Christian to enter into an intimate and life-giving relationship with God. This relationship is anything but capricious and unpredictable. The familial relationship with God through Christ is sustaining, life-giving and creative.
It is through Paul’s teaching that you learn the context of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the faraway lands of Israel.

You learn that:
• The God of Jesus is the tenaciously faithful God of the Jews, who freed them from captivity and led them to the Promised Land;
• the same lovingly faithful God who sent Jewish prophets to guide and correct his misguided people;
• the same bountiful God who poured himself into a human form in order to bring his people back home to their Creator.
• The God that Paul teaches you about is a God of such abundant Grace that it is only through the lens of this Grace that you can understand the Gospel of Christ.

Paul teaches you everything he knows and then packs up and leaves with his entourage, leaving you to carry on as one of many struggling new churches in the area. It is not long before your fragile hold on the faith is challenged. During these early years of Christianity there are as many different versions of the gospel as there are storytellers, magicians, and soothsayers.

Word reaches Paul that his fledgling churches in Galatia are being viscously attacked. But Paul is on a ship headed to another country and cannot leave his mission to come and set things straight. He decides to send a letter. This letter must resonate with knowledge of Christ as well as his passionate belief that the Gospel he told you is the truth.

Paul must give you the tools to fight off the arguments and attacks which teach of a lesser god than the one he experienced in his own conversion. He must send a letter that will so inflame the hearts of his listeners with the truth of Christ that the faith will flourish and grow for generations.

If he only knew what would happen to Christianity because of this letter.

When you and your new friends receive this compact and passionate scroll from Paul, in his own handwriting, you receive rare jewel. This letter, meant to be passed around to all the churches in the huge area of Galatia is destined to become one of the most famous of Paul’s letters. In this letter he describes his own conversion by the unexpected, unimaginable and completely overwhelming Grace of God.

This letter convinces Martin Luther that is through God’s grace, not our works, that we are called to relationship with Christ. Luther, like many of us, tried to please God through his actions. He spent years of his life in arduous and painful work for God. But nothing ever felt like it was enough.

Luther was a prolific writer and an overly scrupulous monk, but nothing he did was ever enough to give him the assurance that he was loved by God. He became more miserable, working himself into a frenzy, as he desperately sought approval from God.

It is in this state of exhausted despair that Luther discovers the hidden jewel of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Paul makes an impassioned and uncompromising defense of the radical grace of God. He boldly defends Christ’s unique Gospel of free and unearned grace against every other confusing argument they might hear. To understand and experience the true Gospel, says Paul, is to enter into the very heart of what God did in Christ.

What we hear from Galatians today is from the beginning of the letter, after a brief introduction in which Paul writes, “There are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!”

After this passionate beginning Paul goes on to describe the miracle of God’s grace through Jesus – in terms that both proclaim the Gospel and strengthen the new Church. He does this by showing the power of God’s grace working in and through Jesus.

Paul once persecuted the Christians with as much passion as Luther pursued God’s assurance. What threw Paul off his horse and changed his entire world was nothing less than a direct experience of the risen Christ. Christ came to him not to convert him, but to remind him of his calling. This is the same reason that Christ comes to each of us.

Paul had been set apart before he was born to receive the grace of God through the resurrected Christ in a surprise encounter on the way to Damascus. The original Greek text reads, I was set apart while still in my mother’s belly.

Paul goes on to say that the only reason he was given an extraordinary experience of the risen Christ was to reveal the hidden truth in the Gospel to the Gentiles. When he says that, “they glorified God because of me,” he is referring to the original disciples in Jerusalem who heard of Paul’s missionary excursions on behalf of Christ. They knew Paul as an unrelenting persecutor, and yet he appeared to possess the same gospel they were preaching. The disciples glorified God because of the miracle of Paul’s work for Christ.

It was the work he was born to do.

Martin Luther was able to discover a long-hidden truth of the Gospel through Paul’s words to the Galatians 1500 years after they were written. God’s grace comes to us unearned, and with surprising consequences in spite of everything we do – not because of what we do.

Paul was not trying to hide this news. It is the news that Jesus taught and demonstrated with his life and death. It is just so opposed to everything we are taught about the world that it makes no sense to us unless we have a firsthand experience of such unearned grace.

In the Gospel reading for today we have one of many examples of this grace. Jesus touches a dead man, who sits up on his funeral bier and speaks. Jesus does this, not to draw attention to himself, but because God’s will flowed through him in an abundance of grace for the lost people of God.

God wants to heal and reclaim his people through a love that binds us together and sets us free. Each of Jesus’ miracles is an act of pure, generous and highly personal grace.

The people of Nain were seized with fear. Dead men don’t rise and speak unless God is trying to tell you something powerful. They knew to pay attention. And they were moved by the mother’s cries of joy. God restored her son to her because that was her son’s calling, from the time he was set apart in her womb. He was destined to be called to new life by Jesus, who showered on him the Grace of a God who wants to found.

Luther discovered that the assurance he had sought all his life had been there all along. We are each called by God to fulfill a destiny that is uniquely ours. We can only find our calling by paying attention to where the moments of grace in our lives point us.

The little letter to the Galatians is easy to overlook. But the grace it describes is the same grace that Jesus lived – an intimate connection with a majestic God who is constantly creating and recreating each of us to be more of who we are designed to be: an integral member of the Kingdom of God.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Second Sunday of Easter

April 13, 2010
St Alban’s Episcopal Church
John 20:19-31
The Rev Deborah Magdalene, OSH

Jesus suddenly appears to his disciples in a room – without opening a locked door. He has fatal wounds, yet is vitally alive and peaceful. He shares his peace with them, sends them out into the world, and then blows a holy breath of heaven on them all, baptizing them into a new creation.

He breathes on them and says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ and God’s breath of life and truth abides in them, as he had promised them it would. Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” Then John tells us that “by this he meant the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, for Jesus was not yet glorified.”

What happens in this locked room, when the risen Christ appears to his confused and frightened friends is the beginning of a new creation. It is God’s own breath that Christ blows over his friends. It is the stream of living water, the fountain of all life. Jesus is now glorified. But not everyone who sees him understands what they have seen.

In Genesis we hear that when God formed the first human from the dust of the earth, God’s breath brought the human to life. Ezekiel told the dry bones, “Dry bones, hear the word of Yahweh, I am going to make breath enter you and you will live!” And God tells Ezekiel to say to the breath itself, “Come from the four winds, breath; breathe on these dead, so that they come to life!”

The disciples gathered in the locked room are not at all clear what this breath of life is. They are frightened. They are isolated. They are full of doubt. Jesus suddenly appears to them and says, “Peace be with you.” And after he shows them his wounded hands and pierced side they glow with joy. It is really Jesus. The joy of Easter morning is breathtaking and mysterious and full of hope. But that is not the full story. In fact, in the Gospel of John, if it weren’t for Thomas expressing his doubts in such a bold way, we wouldn’t hear the truth of the resurrection. We have much to thank Thomas for.

When I was 17 the faith of my childhood died. I’m sure this happened over a period of time, but as I remember it, I suddenly realized during the recitation of the Creed that I didn’t believe anymore.

I stood outside of myself for a moment and watched my body recite the Creed like a wind-up doll. I looked around me and everyone looked like they possessed something that I suddenly didn’t have any more. The wave of doubt pounding over me didn’t appear to be touching them.

They went on with the liturgy like everything was normal. But inside of me everything felt changed and unfamiliar. I was now outside the group. This used to be my group. I prayed that the feeling would go away, and yet I understood at a gut level that something mature was waking up inside of me.

The next week it happened again. This time I stopped saying the Creed. And nothing happened to me. I didn’t feel guilty. I felt honest and adult. But I felt frightened and completely without familiar landmarks. I felt very alone. The reality of doubt filled me head to toe. And it never occurred to me to share my angst with anyone.

I didn’t know then what I know now. I didn’t know that doubt is the beginning of mature faith. I didn’t know that there were others who had experienced exactly what was happening to me. In my teenage hubris I believed I had to walk this path alone because I felt so alone. So I left the church.

It is painful to sit, week after week, in the midst of people who believe in something that you don’t understand. Many people experience the isolation of doubt that Thomas did, but very few are brave enough to ask the hard questions.

Lack of understanding and the fear it instills causes many of Jesus’ own disciples to abandon him. His friends anxiously whisper about him. What is it this man teaches? What do the healings mean? No one dares put words to what they instinctively know is true for fear of what people will think. But, what is it exactly that they are afraid of?

John’s Gospel tells us that the Jewish authorities have the power to exclude the faithful from their place of worship for saying out loud what they believe to be true – because what they believe confronts and questions the Jewish faith of their fathers and mothers.

At the time John’s Gospel is being written the people who boldly pray in the name of Jesus – who are courageous enough to say who they believe Jesus is – are thrown out of the synagogue and shunned.

In the year 70, after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish authorities make an historic decision. They excommunicate all the Christians from the synagogues, forcing them to choose between Judaism or following ‘the way’ of their Jewish leader Jesus.

When John writes that the disciples locked the doors because “they were afraid of the Jews” he is naming the fear that has consumed the community since Jesus was condemned to die. The band of early Christians are being shunned, excommunicated and put to death because what they believe threatens the faith of their own religious family. It is a family feud over how to interpret the truth.

What horrifies the Jewish leaders is what the confused and frightened disciples finally started saying about Jesus. And it is Thomas who said it first.

The doors are locked for fear of the Jews and Jesus suddenly appears among them. He says twice, ‘Peace be with you’, and he shows them his wounds. The disciples don’t understand what they have seen. They tell Thomas that they have seen the Lord. They have yet to comprehend what seeing him means.

Thomas is no fool. He thinks they have seen an apparition – a ghost. He doubts because he is human and is trying to be calm and logical. They must all be crazy with grief. He wants to see for himself and actually touch his teacher before he will allow himself to believe he is alive.

Eight days later, or one week from Easter morning, which is today, Jesus appears in the locked room again. This time Thomas is there. Jesus again says, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then, in an intimate moment, he looks directly at Thomas and says, "Put your finger here and see my hands.
Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe."

Thomas answers him with the supreme Christological pronouncement of John’s Gospel, "My Lord and my God!" It is the profound truth of the resurrection. All that Jesus said and did in his lifetime were signs pointing to the nature of his being. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the final sign.

It is not a resuscitated Jesus who is alive again, but an entirely new form of life. Because of Thomas’ insistence that he see more evidence before he can believe, Jesus comes to him and gives him more than he asked for. Contrary to popular understanding, Thomas never actually touches Jesus. He sees, and believes, and proclaims him to be God.

Thomas’ words “My Lord and my God” are spoken on behalf of the entire Christian community. They are the last words spoken by a disciple in the Fourth Gospel and are meant to have a covenantal aspect. It is these words which invite us to look again at what Jesus says in the midst of his friends, behind doors shut tight against their powerful fears.

Peace be with you. He has said this before. At the Last Supper, when he was predicting his death, he said pointedly,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.....
"I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me;
Because I live, you also will live.
On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you”. (John 14:18-20)

This is what Thomas realizes as he gazes on the wounded risen Christ before his eyes. It’s not the wounds, but the memory of Jesus’ promise that penetrates his fear. It is an “Aha!” moment that allows everything to fall into place.

All the mystery of Jesus’ strange yet familiar post-resurrection presence coincides with the realization of who he really is. He is the man they remember, yet he is changed. This is what he promised them would happen. But who, in their right mind could believe such a thing was possible?

What finally moves us all from fear to faith is a profound shifting of the ground we walk on. We remember with clarity that everything was leading up to this moment. We see with new eyes that the moments in our lives are all connected. We are just a tiny piece of God’s miraculous creation.

This is the day, in the darkness of a room filled with fear when the disciples finally understand that Jesus is in the Father, and they are in Jesus, and he is in them.

When he breathes on them he blows new life into them, just as God breathed the breath of life into the first human ‘Adam’, and blew a living spirit into Ezekiel’s dry bones. This Holy Breath of God is now what sustains them, advocates for them, and draws them together in community.

The disciples are to go out from the dark, closed room, into the light of day and fear no more. The Holy Spirit within them is now breathing the truth of Jesus into their DNA, and they will never be the same again.

When we share the peace with each other it is this moment that we remember. May the Peace of the risen Christ be always with you. Amen.