Sermon – May 28, 2017

Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 28, 2017
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
Rev. John M. Hayes

Acts 1:6-14, 1 Peter 4:12-14;5:6-11, John 17:1-11

The poet T.S. Elliott wrote “humans cannot bear too much reality”

Today we observe the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. We’ve all seen those Sunday school pictures and stained glass windows of resurrected Jesus taking off to the heavens and his astonished apostles looking up as he takes his leave. Up up and away. Such images now seem as improbable and even quaint and perhaps make the ascension an easy reality to dismiss as a mythological curiosity we could more easily live with.

Of course for the ancients rising was their most natural way to express what they experienced when Jesus departed his earthly companions. But they well understood heaven is a different relational reality not a distant place. For us a more apt spatial image might be that Jesus goes into the depths of God’s reality.

The Ascension is the culmination and completion of the Resurrection: Christ crucified is risen from the dead, and after brief appearances in his resurrected body now is taken into the fullness of God’s reality. The circle is closed. Humanity and divinity are now forever fused, heaven and earth forever joined in the person of Jesus. Perhaps the full realization of that reality and its implications is too much reality to bear.

That all this doesn’t make sense should not surprise us. The disciples lived with Jesus on intimate terms for two or three years, and after all his clear and direct warning about his fate they are shocked by the crucifixion and in the complete dark about the meaning of the resurrection. Jesus is with them another forty days after and still they are only slightly less clueless about the meaning of Jesus and his mission for humanity. We can be forgiven for being a bit dim ourselves.

The new reality that is almost too much to bear is this. We are made for new life, life as God intended, life together in a world where we are finally free of the eons of the exploitation, oppression, war and racism that characterize too much human life.

In John’s gospel this morning, Jesus tells them ‘I came so that you might have eternal life/ zoe aionos’. We might think as many do – great Jesus died for our sins so we can go to heaven when we die. If you think that’s what Jesus means, listen to the next sentence: “Father, this is eternal life that they may know you, the only and true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

To know Jesus is to know God. That is “know” in the biblical sense – know with our heart and mind and all that we are. And there is only one way we acquire this knowing: by the Holy Spirit that dwells in the depths of every human heart. On our own we are lost to our own sinfulness. In Jesus, humanity has entered the Godhead; every human being has within a spark of God’s presence and life. Our fates are joined – God is with us, for us eternally.

God draws us to know God not so much that we can have a beautiful mystical experience and get all blissed out. Those moments happen and they are beautiful and graced; they come and they go. They convince our dull self-centered selves of the reality of God and the immediacy of God’s presence. But that kind of thing is meant to get our attention and open our hearts to the difficult to bear reality that we live in God and God lives in us.

Jesus is no sooner gone up, up and away, when the disciples are admonished by two angels: ‘Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” You have work to do, get busy now.

To know Jesus is to know God. To know Jesus is to know God at work in this still wicked and broken world that stills longs for God’s approach, that pines for the day of God’s kingdom realized when justice and peace finally reign and every human cry and tear wept finds its resolution and meaning.

We share the ancient Jewish belief that there are two ages; our present time of exile and the promised day of God’s kingdom when God’s rule finally and fully extends to human life. God in Jesus came to join us in this age to initiate the breaking in of God’s rule.

Jesus ascends not to a distant unreachable dimension. Jesus ascends and now is present and alive everywhere. In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says “Split a block of wood and there I am.” Jesus is present and alive in his people, in the church. And he has work for us to do.

God uses us to remake humanity very much in need of healing and repair. God uses each of us in a unique way to extend God’s rule to this wicked broken world. In the reading of the first epistle of Peter we are reminded that if we are true to our calling we need to be prepared to suffer as Christ suffered.

 

Like the disciples we don’t need to look to the heavens. That’s not where God is at and that’s not where Jesus comes from. Let us look into the depths of our own hearts and look to each other to know the almost unbearable reality that the indwelling Spirit of Jesus is real and alive and each of us has a job to do to make Jesus real and alive in this world.

To him be the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Sermon – May 14, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 14, 2017)
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
John Kiess
Readings: Acts 7:55-60; Ps. 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Pet. 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

How well can you really know another person? An unexpected event in the life of a friend or an acquaintance—something they say or do, something you couldn’t imagine them saying or doing before they said or did it—causes us to doubt if we ever knew the person to begin with. Maybe it is an offensive comment, or an act of betrayal, or something even more serious. They’ve broken the law. They’ve hurt someone. They’ve hurt themselves. In sorting through the shock or disappointment, we find ourselves saying, “I thought I knew him.” “I guess I did not know her at all.”

It is at such moments that we begin to wonder if the depths of the human heart are too vast to really know, that perhaps the distance separating our outward appearance from the inward state of our soul is too much to measure. Maybe there are limits to how much we can know each other. Can I really feel your pain? Can you really capture all the emotional complexities and contradictory impulses that I may be experiencing at this moment, let alone all those feelings that I might experience over the course of an entire lifetime? Who among us feels they have mastered these things within themselves? How could we say we “know” them in others?

Yet despite this, each of us still holds fast to the conviction that in our various relationships, there are certain things that others should know about us. Indeed, we expect it, to the point of presumption. If we have spent any significant time with another person, if we have traveled more than a few miles on the same road together, we expect them to know our likes and dislikes, our pleasures and pet peeves: that I like chocolate, and you like vanilla; that I need two cups of coffee in the morning and you don’t like to talk during sunsets. These aren’t insignificant things. If two people have been together long and one person doesn’t know these things about the other, the objection is not, “Oh, you’ve missed a few these things about me” but “you must not know me.” We feel in such instances that something central to who we are has been missed, leading us to wonder if the other person really knows us at all. In such moments we find ourselves coming back to that feeling of being opaque to one another, not because it is impossible to know another person, but because, more simply, we let each other down. We fail to read the signs. We don’t pay attention.

Is it so different with God? In this morning’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is talking with his disciples, having just finished washing their feet and sharing a final meal together. He has informed them that he will be leaving soon and some will betray him. The disciples are understandably distressed, so he seeks to comfort them. “Do not be troubled,” he says. “If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going” (14:1-4). Thomas, ever the skeptic, wonders what place he could be talking about, and moreover, what the way to this place could be. Jesus famously responds, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (14:6).

Jesus’ response gets us into the heart of his complex relationship to the Father, one of the major themes of John’s Gospel. It is not the first time Jesus mentions this relationship. Throughout his ministry, he has repeatedly reminded his followers that whatever he does, whether it is healing, teaching, or miracles, he does in the power of the One who sent him. Indeed, just before washing their feet, Jesus emphasizes the point, saying, “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me” (12:44). If his disciples have been paying attention, they will have understood that in both his words and actions, Jesus really cannot be grasped as an autonomous individual. From the beginning, his ministry has had a reflective quality, always pointing beyond himself. He has never been just Jesus. He has always been Jesus in relation to the Father. To isolate Jesus would not simply entail losing a part of his identity, but to lose Jesus himself. For Jesus’ entire point is that his identity is, in its very essence, a relationship. There is no Jesus without the Father, and just as importantly, no Father without Jesus. To know Jesus is to know the Father, and to know the Father is to know Jesus.

If this kind of Trinitarian theology makes your head spin (we haven’t even mentioned the Spirit), then you are not alone. The disciple Philip is similarly perplexed. He attempts a resolution in the form of a request: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (14:8). That it is Philip who asks this question is significant. Philip has been with Jesus since the very beginning, the third disciple called after Andrew and Peter. It was Philip who initially said to Nathaniel, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote” (1:45). From very early on, Philip appears to get it. He knows Jesus is not just another religious reformer, but the long promised Messiah. Yet as we follow Philip, we’re not entirely sure what to make of him. At the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus tests him, asking where they will buy enough bread for the people to eat, to which Philip responds, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (6:7). An accurate observation, but not exactly a vote of confidence. We can presume that Philip would have been present at most of Jesus’ other miracles, as well as his various sermons and discourses. We also know he is present in Chapter 12, when Jesus addresses some visiting Greeks, saying, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor” (12:26).

So Philip would have been familiar with this business of Jesus being related to the Father. Yet it is this same Philip, the one who had spent all of this time with Jesus, who asks, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (14:8). It’s one of those questions that expose the truth of the whole relationship, and Jesus responds with one of the most poignant sentences in all of Scripture: “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” (14:9). We have arrived at the decisive moment, when all that one thought could go unspoken now must be said aloud. It’s the moment when one person has realized that it may be possible that the one thing that is most important to who they are, the most central and defining feature of their identity, is the one thing that the other person has missed. What was the relationship about if this has not been understood? Does the person realize that in asking for one thing more, they are denying what the other person has offered the entire time? Jesus responds as any of us would respond, “How could you say that?” It’s a phrase that registers our shock and surprise when all that we assumed can be assumed no longer. “How could you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (14:9-10). In effect, Jesus is saying, “Don’t you know that the thing you are asking for is standing right here? Haven’t you seen how the Father is already present in everything I have done? How could you have been following me all this time, witnessing all I have said and done, and not seen that? Have we missed each other?”

It’s one of the most human moments in the Gospels, yet it is a moment where the disciples are coming to grips with the real divinity of their Lord. They have walked this entire time with their rabbi thinking he is a good teacher, thinking he is a good person, thinking he offers a different way in the world. Disciples such as Philip even believe he is the Messiah. They obviously think highly of him. After all, they’ve given up their lives for him. But despite everything he has said and done, they still don’t believe he gives them everything there is to know or experience about God. They continue to believe there must be something else that Jesus doesn’t quite capture. There must be something else about God that Jesus doesn’t quite show us. Show us something more. Show us the Father. Show us the God who hides up in the heavens. Show us the God who can answer our questions about how things came to be and how things will end. Show us the God who can answer our questions about why we suffer. Show us the God who can take responsibility for all that is wrong with the world. Show us the God who can make things better.

It’s not just the disciples who make these demands. We make them too. In making them, we, like Philip, make plain what we really believe about Jesus: that he does not teach us enough about God. That he does not reveal enough of God. That he is not God enough. If we hear disappointment in Jesus’ voice when Philip makes the demand for the Father, it’s because Jesus occupies a position not unlike the spouse, friend, or parent who has been asked to show more, at precisely the moment when they believe they have already given all that they are. In such moments, the demand for more is not really a sign that more actually needs to be given, but that what has been given has yet to be acknowledged.

The strange mystery of Jesus is that he is not Jesus alone, but a being in relation with the Father and the Spirit, that his identity is relational. When he discloses his self, he discloses this relation. To ask for the Father is not only to miss what Jesus has done in the Father, it is to miss who Jesus is. To know Jesus is to know Jesus in relationship with the Father. When Jesus gives himself to his disciples, he gives them this identity. He gives them this relationship.

This may explain why, in his response to Philip, Jesus puts the emphasis on the time they have spent together: “Have I been with you all this time”? Philip should know Jesus by now because of the time they have spent together, because of the relationship they have shared. And anyone who has spent any time with Jesus will know he is always directing attention away from himself, to the source and end of his mission, to the One who sent him, as well as all those he has gathered around himself. To know Jesus is to know those with whom he exists in relationship. To know Jesus is to enter into those same relationships.

What is this but an invitation to rediscover our identity as images of God? For if God is a relation, and we are created in the image of God, our very deepest self must be relational. The depths that we feel insides ourselves, the innumerable contradictions, impulses, and desires, are a sign that we are at bottom not self-contained, but a reflection of a deeper mystery, an image of a relationship. Our inability to know ourselves reminds us that we are not just ourselves, and our inability to fully know one another confirms the same truth. But our intuition that we can disclose not just a part of our self, but the whole of our selves to one another, and this can become known, and made the basis of an ongoing relationship, is a confirmation of the deeper truth that we are created in the image of a self-disclosing God, a God who wishes to be known. We can know this God in our willingness to disclose ourselves to one another, and our willingness to accept those disclosures, which train us in accepting the disclosure of a God who has already disclosed everything there is to know about him, which is His very self. Amen.

Camp Imagination – 2017

Camp Logo with Children's Peace Center.jpg

July 24th to August 4th 2017
9:00 AM to 3:30 PM
217 North Carey Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21223

Camp Imagination is a two week, tuition-free summer program for elementary- and middle school-aged children in West Baltimore’s Franklin Square/Poppleton community. The program focuses on students who are either behind in reading or who need a boost in their motivation to read. Camp Imagination inspires a love of reading and writing through the visual and performing arts.

This year the theme of camp is “Lift Every Voice.” Throughout the day campers will learn and practice literacy skills through poetry and other texts that are connected to the theme. They will write original pieces as an expression of their own hopes and dreams, as well as struggles and challenges. Campers will present these written pieces orally though musical arrangements, spoken word, recitation, and song, enhancing the Common Core English Language Arts standards through the National Core Arts standards. They will have two field trips that connect with the theme. In addition, campers will host and participate in an Open Mic Night Poetry Slam on the first Friday of camp. Then, at the end of the two weeks, campers will host a Variety Show for family, friends, and the community to “lift their voices” in celebration of their hard work and accomplishments.

Camp Imagination is a place where imagination, creativity, fun, and literacy go hand-in-hand. It is our hope that each child leaves camp with a love of reading and writing, along with an enthusiasm for learning that will last a lifetime.

Volunteer, Contribute, Inspire…Change a Life!

For more information contact:

Amanda Talbot 410-340-1251

stlukesyouthcenter@gmail.com

Sermon – May 7, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 7, 2017
Rev. Jane Mayrer
John 10:1-10

Tell us, O Lord, what we need to hear, and show us what we need to do, to be followers of Jesus Christ. Amen.

There is an article in the current issue of The Atlantic magazine that seeks to understand “why conservative evangelicals lined up behind Trump.” This is a question a number of people are asking: How could so many conservative Christians [the figure is 81 percent] have voted for a thrice-married adulterer who ran a gambling empire and bragged about assaulting women, and who rarely goes to church?” There is a photograph of President Trump at a rally of evangelical Christians: a mass of white faces, mostly young people. A woman is holding up her young child for Trump to kiss. A big sign reads “Thank you Lord Jesus, for President Trump.” The article examines this state of affairs from a sociological perspective, considering the nature of evangelical Christianity, its origins in America, and how it has evolved to its current practice today. My own take on the situation is not sociological but theological. Evangelical “Christians” are no longer paying attention to Jesus. The thieves has gotten into the sheepfold, and the sheep are listening to their voices.

Religion gone astray is not a new phenomenon. Jesus thought that had happened in the Judaism of his day. When he told the parable we have in today’s Gospel lesson about sheep and shepherds and thieves and bandits, he was engaged in a controversy we might recognize, namely, a contest between “real” facts and “alternative” facts. Jesus has restored sight to a man blind from birth. This healing happened on the Sabbath, a day on which good Jews did no work. Instead of the healing causing everyone to praise God for the miracle of restored sight, it generated controversy about the blind man and about Jesus. Who is for real, here? The question divided the crowd, the man’s friends and acquaintances. Was the “so-called” healed blind man for real? Was he the same man they had known to be blind ever since he was born? Or was he someone else who just looked like the man they knew. They took the controversy to their religious leaders, who wanted to know if Jesus is for real. “Yes, he’s for real,” the man who experienced the miracle insisted, even though he could not explain the miracle. If Jesus weren’t real, how else could he have restored the man’s sight? “No, he’s not for real,” the religious leaders insisted. In a confused logic familiar to us, the religious leaders concluded that because Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, Jesus was a sinner; and everyone knew that sinners cannot heal. So, the religious leaders accused the healed blind man of making up alternative facts, since what the man said had happened did not fit into their perception of God’s reality.

Jesus responded – not with debate, but with a story – a parable. And he used the everyday, ordinary experience familiar to the people who heard him – sheep herding. At night, a family’s sheep were kept inside an enclosure to protect the sheep from wandering around and disappearing, and to prevent them from being attacked by predatory animals. In the morning, the owner of the sheep, the shepherd, would lead his sheep out of the pen to pasture and water.

Often, families would share resources by keeping several different flocks of sheep within one sheepfold. They might hire a gatekeeper to watch over the sheep at night to make sure that none escaped or were stolen. The shepherds would arrive in the morning to take their sheep to pasture and water. Each would assemble his own flock from the larger crowd with a distinctive call, which his sheep would recognize and follow. There was a close, intimate relationship between the shepherd and his sheep, much like our relationship with the animal members of our household. The shepherd knew each of his sheep as well as we know our dog or cat. Likewise, the sheep knew and trusted their human caretaker. They knew his voice; they knew it was safe to follow him. And, they would not go off with a stranger, someone whose voice they did not recognize.

The crowd to whom Jesus spoke was confused. They understood sheep farming, but they did not understand why Jesus seemed to have changed the subject by suddenly talking about it. But, of course, Jesus was not talking about shepherding. He was talking about himself and the reality of who he was – and is – as opposed to the religious leaders and the reality of who they are. And he was using the power of metaphor to describe this reality. Jesus is like a shepherd, who loves and cares for his sheep. The religious leaders are like thieves and bandits. The real shepherd, the true shepherd, calls his sheep by name and leads them to good pasture and clear water. The false shepherd, the thief and bandit, comes to steal and kill and destroy. Jesus the shepherd gives abundant life. The thief brings death. The choice of whom to follow – the shepherd or the thief – depends on voice recognition that comes from relationship.

And that is our challenge today, just as it was in Jesus’ time. Today we hear many voices calling to us and offering us an abundant life, a safe, secure life. There are voices that tell us that buying stuff and gratifying our wants will make us happy. If we drive a certain car, or wear certain clothes, or purchase whatever item is being advertised, we will look right, feel right, and be like all those people out there who are living full and satisfied lives. Abundant life is equated with having an abundance of possessions. The problem with these voices is that they do not deliver what they promise. Obsession with possessions generates anxiety, depression, and despair. These voices rob us of joy and peace of mind.

Then there are voices telling us that to be acceptable and accepted, we must look a certain way, be from a certain place, come from the “right” people, speak in a certain way, hold certain beliefs. These same voices warn us to exclude people who are not like “us,” who do not look, or dress, or talk like us. These voices tell us our safety depends upon fearing strangers. They tell us we must protect ourselves with weapons and walls. But these voices do not deliver what they promise. Instead, they beget fear, hatred, and death. They rob us of safety and security.

The voices I’ve described are secular voices that come to us from the world. But these voices – rather than being challenged and influenced by the church – have instead crept into the church. So, we have churches that preach a prosperity gospel, which says that how much God loves you is measured by how much stuff you have. The membership of our churches today reflects the history of slavery and segregation that churches not only failed to condemn, but embraced. And now that, finally, the church is beginning to confront the sin of racism, it still seeks to exclude “others” not like “us” regarding sexual orientation.

I recently met a woman at a community meeting who asked me whether she would be welcome here at St. Luke’s, since she was no longer welcome at the church she had been attending. I said, of course she would be welcome; St. Luke’s welcomes everyone. Then I asked her why she was no longer welcome at the other church. She replied, the welcome was withdrawn when her partner, a woman, came to church with her.

And then, we have the church telling us that bringing guns to church is necessary for our safety, even though Jesus, while being arrested, specifically ordered his disciple Peter to put down his sword. It is not only churches in the south that advocate arming their members, Here, in our own diocese, there are parishes that oppose the resolution that requires all parishes in the diocese to be gun-free zones. The “right” to own and carry guns must be exercised, even on church property – because we are afraid.

Jesus’ voice calls us to a much different reality. Jesus’s voice is the voice of love. We are loved. God loves us, accepts us, forgives us. And because God loves us, we do not have to fear or reject others. Jesus’ voice calls us to love, hope, peace – the true abundant life. Metaphor often speaks clearer than description. So. I offer a poem by Andrew King, entitled “Pasture,” in which we can hear the voice of Jesus calling us by name to abundant life:

There is a place we can find, a good place
like quiet meadows where flowers spread,
like green grasses by gentle streams;
a place where the heart feels nourished,
where the mind is hopeful, unhurried,
where the spirit is glad and at peace.
We’ll name this place fulfillment,
we’ll name it healing and thankfulness,
we’ll name this good place pasture
for there we seek to feed.
And there is a voice we can hear that calls us,
a gentle voice, melodious
a voice like songbirds and laughter
like a mother comforting her children,
like a shepherd calling his sheep.
We’ll name this voice acceptance,
we’ll name it mercy and forgiveness,
we’ll name it the voice of God’s love,
inviting us gently to feed.
It invites us to enter pasture
when we think we’re too hurting to listen,
too angry or grieving or fearful
to hear the voice that calls us to peace.
It invites us to enter pasture
when we’re sure we’re too busy to listen,
too burdened or worried or pressured
to hear the voice that calls us to peace.
It says: Come in and go out and find pasture.
It says: We are safe with the shepherd of all sheep.
It says: Meadows await us, in this moment.
It says: Rest in love. Where you are. Joyfully feed.

AMEN.