Monday, May 6, 2019

Easter 3C, (RHE, in memoriam)

Easter 3C, 2019
RHE, in memoriam

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 

The end.

It’s the end of the book. It is the stated rationale behind everything that came before and everything the author hopes will come to pass.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 

The end.

But, not. This is not, actually, the end of the story.

Because, after these things.

After all of these things.

Comes the passage we heard proclaimed today.

A postscript perhaps?

An addendum?

Words that could not be left behind, stories that insisted on being spread. After these things, Jesus showed himself again.

These signs happened and these stories were told, so that we may come to believe.

And, if that were enough, if our belief were sufficient in and of itself—then, this ending would have stood.

As enough.

But, it was not enough. Not enough, for the community of early Johannine Christians who were struggling to figure out what to do and how to live in the meantime of waiting.

Of waiting.

Of waiting. For the inbreaking of God’s love. For the return of the Christ. For the world to be utterly, and completely, transformed by a forgiveness that will leave none forsaken.

And so, new words took shape upon the page. The words we hear proclaimed today.

After these things, Jesus showed himself again…

He showed himself again, but for what purpose?

To catch some fish, to break some bread?

To be with those he loved?

To sit, once more, in the flesh, alongside those who’d walked with him and prayed with him. Those who’d laughed and wept and hoped with him. Those who’d abandoned him and those who had denied him.

To be, once more, with them.

And, in this, I hear a longing. A longing to see once more, touch once more, taste once more, the goodness of God in the here and the now. I hear a longing, to be with the ones we love, the ones we thought lost to us, and the ones we hope to see again.  This is a chapter written for those who mourn.

And, so I read it with awe realizing that the last supper, the one we have memorialized, is not the final meal.

This is. On a sandy and reedy shoreline, with the scent of fish and sweat, smoke and earth, bread is broken and it is shared. Shared, again, in remembrance. Shared again, in truth. Shared again…

In love.

In love.

Note, the refrain.

Do you love me?

They may have come to believe. But, now, they must come to love.

Do you love me?

It is Peter he asks. Peter who is put to the test. Peter, the one who denied him—not once, but three times. He is the one who is pressed, “do you love me?

Yes, Lord; you know that I love you!

Three times he is asked, just as three times he denied.

He denied, but now he confesses. He confesses his love, again, again, again. Yes, Lord; you know that I love you!

And, regardless of his sin, his love is met with love.

But, all love is not equal.

The Greek word for love that Jesus uses is agape. The word agape means an unconditional and sacrificial love. It is love freely given without any hope for gain. It is love that exists for the good of another and not the good of self.

The Greek word for love that Peter uses is striking in its difference--Peter’s love is a brotherly love, philia. The meaning of which can be summed up by the word “because”. I love you because you love me. I love you because...

And, this word, this “because” implies that there may be some conditions to this love. Conditions to love, when God loves unconditionally.

Poor Peter.

You have to feel bad for the guy, even in declaring his love, he manages to mess up once more.

And, yet, it is Peter who becomes the founder of the church. Peter, the rock upon whom the church will be built.

Peter whose love is transformed. Because, because, by the third asking it is Jesus whose language changes. In Jesus’ final repetition of his question of love, he uses the word of his friend, philia. 

Jesus meets Peter where he is.

In this place of love “because”.

Because, that love is enough for the God who loves us more.

Now, there are some who might think that this emphasis upon love is somehow lacking—devoid of conviction and reason. Love as platitude rather than purpose.

But, love is more. Love is the ground and the meaning. It is the motivator and the mover. It is the way of Jesus and it can never die.

Do you remember Paul’s words? The words of a man who’d been utterly transformed? From his letter to the Romans,

“I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As I consider Paul’s words, I find myself mindful of Rachel Held Evans. Rachel wrote the book, Inspired, that we read for this year’s Lenten formation series. Known for her dedication to the Gospel and her capacity to reimagine and re-engage with the teaching of the Christian faith, Rachel died early Saturday morning. And so, as I consider Paul’s adamancy that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God, I find myself reflecting on Rachel’s own reflection on the nature of the love to which we, as Christians are called,

“To love as Jesus loved requires more strength and conviction than a human being without the Spirit can muster.  It requires giving without expecting anything in return, forgiving enemies, witholding judgment, assuming the position of a servant, looking after the forgotten, and caring for neighbors. It requires living counter-culturally by resisting the temptations of indulgent wealth and self-serving power. The kind of love that Jesus taught and exemplified crystallizes on the cross, where looking down on those who had put him there Jesus said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."

So, when Peter falls short, he is loved. When we fall short, we are loved.

Loved, as we are. Enough, as we are. Called, as we are.

As we are, not as we might be.

We are on a journey of becoming. And, I see in Jesus’ relationship with Peter, Jesus constantly calling Peter, to love more, live more, and to serve more.

Love more. Live more. Serve, more.

Because, rather than continuing to ask Peter to speak his love, Jesus asks Peter to show his love.

Do you love me?

Feed my sheep.

Do you love me?

Follow me.  

Follow me.

Because I know the way, and I will lead you there.

And a community that mourned was comforted. A community that hungered was fed.

This is not the last supper. This is not the last time. This is not the end of the story.

And, words will be spoken, and words will be writ.

And, bread will be broken, and meals will be shared.

And, the story will continue.

In Paul.

In Lydia.

In the Ethiopian Eunuch.

In Dorothy Day.

In Thomas Merton

In Jonathan Merrick Daniels.

In Martin Luther King Jr.

In Verna Dozier.

In Rachel Held Evans.

In the living and in the dead.

In you.

And, in me.

The story will continue.

The story will continue, not because of what we believe, but because of how we love.

Because, the question at the end of the Gospel of John isn’t about belief. It’s about love.

Do you love me?


2C 2019

A Sermon for the Baptisms on the Sunday of Doubting Thomas
April 28th, 2019

There are four, official, baptismal feast days observed by the church, Baptism of Our Lord; the Great Vigil of Easter; Pentecost and All Saints.   

Baptism of our Lord because it marks the occasion of Jesus’ own baptism and connects our own to his. Jesus’ baptism is the occasion upon which God declares Jesus’ God’s beloved, BEFORE Jesus has done anything particularly noteworthy. So, with that in mind, baptisms on this day can help us remember that God’s love for us is unconditional and there is nothing we need to do or be in order to be loved by God.

Baptisms at the Easter Vigil are meant to connect us to the stories of our ancestors in faith. At the vigil, we hear how God’s people have been delivered. Delivered—from chaos, from evil, from slavery, and from exploitation. Delivered from death and into life. Delivered, through the water of baptism, into new life lived in the certainty of God’s love and evil’s inevitable defeat.

At Pentecost, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. Pentecost baptism remind us of God’s gift of the Spirit to each of us as members of the church in the here and the now.

And, then, there is the feast day of All Saints! All Saints reminds us of our connection to the saints of the past, the present and the future. Baptisms at All Saints help us to see our potential and our calling as the children of God amongst the constellation of saints in the church.  

Now, today. Today is none of those baptismal feast days.

Today is the second Sunday of Easter and it is not one of the traditional baptismal feast days of the Church…

But, I think it should be.

I think it should be—because, baptisms today remind us of the importance of giving witness in our words and in our actions to the good news we have heard of God’s love. Baptisms today help us to understand that doubt, our own and that of our children, is part of our life of faith.

Think about the story you heard in the Gospel today.

Thomas missed the moment in which his fellows saw the risen Christ. And, now, he insists that he must see in order to believe. See and touch, so that he can see for himself the truth of what they have told him.

His insistence reminds me of a child who want to know, to understand, to see, and to touch. A child who questions everything, not because they are suspect, but because they need to here and see, again and again, the truth of God’s love made manifest. Why and how and where and what and show me!

Why did they kill him?

How did God make him live again?

What happened next?

Were they the same angels as the ones from before?

Can you show me? Can I see?  

Why and how and where and what and show me! Show me, because I want to see!

It is said that we ought to have the faith of a child. I would argue that having the faith of a child does not mean to accept without question, but to question everything!

Why and how and where and what and show me! Show me, because I want to see!

A child’s open-hearted questions and earnest desire for understanding, questions that are asked with joy and wonder—these are questions to be celebrated!

To be celebrated—because, all too soon and all too often the questions are marred by cynicism.  

Have any of you ever been to a lecture or presentation where someone asks a question that is meant to disprove the speaker? Or asked a question that is meant to show off what you know, rather than explore what you don’t know?

Those are questions we ask in order to reinforce our own, personal, cognitive bias. These are questions that we ask because we know the answer and not because we want to be given more than what we already believe. These are the kinds of trick questions that we encounter in scripture when Jesus is questioned by the religious authorities and when Pilate interrogates him before the crucifixion. They don’t want his answer, they want to justify their own actions. They want God to hate in the same fashion that they, themselves, have learned to hate.

But, God does not hate. And, Christ lives to forgive.

Peace, he says, peace.

They understood war. They understood cruelty. They understood revenge. But, here they are asked to accept a peace which passes all understanding. He did not hate as they hated. He loved more than they loved. He forgave more than they could forgive. And, the questions, oh the questions!

Why were they afraid?

Why didn’t they believe him?

Why do we call the bread Jesus’ body?

Is it really his blood?

Can you show me? Can I see?

Can I see, so that I can believe?

Show me, tell me teach me. Thomas’ questions, the questions of our children, the questions of our faith…they are questions that are grounded in a yearning for a greater understanding.

These questions are part of how we embrace the mystery and discern our own place in the story.
A story because we wondered. A story because we asked. A story because we longed to know.

And, this is the story of how our faith came to be.

Imagine if the apostle Paul hadn’t had to respond to doubt. Imagine if Luke or John had not had to address the questions of those who had not been there.

The theologian Paul Tillich describes doubt as an important part of our life of faith.  Doubt is our confession that we do not know everything.  Doubt is our confirmation that mystery exists, and that there are moments beyond our comprehension.  Doubt embraces the truth that we do not know everything...

And so, in a culture where only the “right” answer is rewarded and certainty is prized--uncertainty and doubt are all too easily seen as character flaws and impediments.  But, it is Thomas’ doubt that allows him to participate in an encounter of intimacy that demonstrated unquestionably God’s power in the world.  It is Thomas’ doubt that furthers the blessing of knowing without seeing.  

For Thomas, doubt meant that he was willing to have the conversation--to grow in faith.  Just as we pray that all of our children will grow in faith. Grow in faith--by touching, by seeing, by feeling, by hearing, by asking and yes, by doubting.

Now…in just a moment we will offer a prayer for the babies being baptized today.

And, in that prayer, we will petition God to give Dylan and Calvin “inquiring and discerning hearts”. Inquiring and discerning hearts so that they can doubt enough to question, question enough to believe, and believe enough to give their own witness to the power of God’s love in the world.