Sermons (171)

June 17 2018

This past week, I had three personal interactions with people dealing with depression. And in the public space, we heard about two people who committed suicide. The first was Kate Spade. She and her husband started a business that changed the look of women’s fashion. My daughter prefers Kate Spade purses and carries the latest Kate Spade handbag with her everywhere she goes. Kate Spade was only 55 years old when she died. She left behind a daughter who is thirteen years old and other family members. Anthony Bourdain was the host of a popular television series called Parts Unknown. It was certainly about finding unusual kinds of foods and international cuisine but I think it was really about meeting people, learning about cultures. He helped us connect with people we don’t know. Anthony Bourdain leaves behind a family including a daughter. By all of our normal measures, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were successful. Both had lots of money, they were famous people, they lived a good life and they made our lives better. Most of us probably thought of them as happy people, but instead they struggled with depression and sadness. These two figures are not the only famous ones. Actor Robin Williams, Football player Junior Seau, and author Ernest Hemingway also killed themselves. Perhaps you have had a personal experience with suicide. I had an uncle who killed himself. In the last five years, I have known 3 people, all quite young who either killed themselves on purpose or accidentally overdosed on drugs. My niece’s brother-in-law died just last week from an overdose. Although I never contemplated suicide, I did have bouts of depression many years ago. Suicide and depression are difficult topics to discuss. Yet, I believe that it is important for us to discuss because I want to encourage those who are depressed to reach out to organizations and people that can help them. I also want all in this community to do everything we can to help those who are depressed. I encourage you to investigate suicide. It is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. The Center for Disease Control reports that the suicide rate has increased by nearly 30 per cent since 1999. Depression is something that can be caused by a physical issue. It can also be caused by circumstances, the loss of a loved one, a physical ailment that keeps the person from living their life in a way that they consider normal, perhaps the loss of a job or a divorce. Combinations of these factor simply make depression more likely. In our church service Steve Dingle spoke about his perspectives on depression and suicide. Steve is a psychiatrist who has worked in that profession for about thirty years. Here are some things I heard from Steve during our service. The large majority of people who have tried to commit suicide have never sought treatment for depression. This makes it very difficult for professionals or others to know whom they should help. It makes it difficult to determine who is at risk. A key part of depression is loneliness. Steve would encourage us to look for people who are withdrawing from others, who may no longer feel that they are a part of society. These people may be potential candidates for suicide. Thank you, Steve. Depression may be a side effect of prescription drugs. Over 200 prescription drugs list suicide and depression as a potential side effect including painkillers, blood pressure medicine and heart medication. The potential may increase when several drugs are taken together. When depression becomes so strong that the individual reaches a point of hopelessness or loneliness it may cause that person to feel that taking their own life is the only way out of their situation. If you ever feel this way, I encourage you to reach out for help. I am not an expert on depression or suicide, but I am willing to listen and to see if there is a way that I can assist you. You may also choose to reach out to another person in our congregation and ask for their help. I encourage you to have some phone numbers available to you. The Maricopa crisis service hotline is 800-631-1314. The national suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-8255. Our faith is an important place for us to return when we are depressed. Today, we heard that we “walk by faith and not by sight”. Our faith helps us maintain our equilibrium. Faith helps us to stay focused on what we should be doing and where we are going. As a child, I was taught that suicide was a sin. One of the commandments says Thou shalt not kill. Some denominations think that suicide violates that commandment. After many years, I am not so sure. While I wish that people did not commit suicide, I understand people who are in so much pain that living offers no real alternative. We also should remember that humans are not the judge. God is the only one that can see inside of an individual, understand their motivations and determine what judgment should be applied. Our faith is there to help us when we struggle. God will help us when we are depressed. I often use an app called the Daily Office from Mission Saint Clare. It includes music along with the words and scriptural passages of that service. I find great solace in a hymn that was written many years ago which is based on the words of Psalm 86. It is often part of the Mission St. Clare office. Allow me to paraphrase: Lord I humbly turn to you. Please hear my words. Save me, O Lord for I have no help, nor hope except from you alone. Lord, please send me your relieving gladness to my soul which has so much sadness. I seek to free my soul from the bonds of this earth and fly up with eagerness to be with you. God is there for you even if no one else is. That is what I hear in this hymn. Psalm 23 is another place to turn. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. You will also find great comfort in the Book of Job. God is able to make things happen in our lives. In today’s reading from Ezekiel we hear about God’s power, “All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree;” If God can make high the low tree then God can lift us out of our depression and make us whole. And we should not rely too much on wealth or fame or other temptations of the earth for God can bring down the high tree. In today’s lesson from 2nd Corinthians, I find words of hope in our hopelessness. “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” When we are feeling alone, let us turn to Jesus. For Jesus came to earth for everyone of us. Jesus sacrificed himself for us. Jesus wants to see us healed from ever sort of problem that we face. Jesus will encourage us to continue our journey and stand beside us as we go. And Jesus is the great healer for all that troubles us. In the ninth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, there are several stories about healing. The centurion’s daughter was returned to life and the bleeding woman simply touched the cloak of Jesus and was healed. Two blind men were healed and a man who couldn’t speak was healed. Near the end of the chapter we are told “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness”. And we learn that Jesus had great compassion on all of the people. If Jesus had compassion on those he met along the road, doesn’t he also have compassion on you and me? I believe that Jesus wants us to be healed from all of our sicknesses. As a faith community, we are called to help those who are sick and suffering. Today, I remind you that we are called to care for those who are depressed or alone. I ask each of you to look out for others, to reach out to them and help us to make sure that no one is alone. I am so thankful to the ladies who are seeking to grow our ministry to those who need help. We get to know others better when we give them rides and offer companionship. We lift the spirits of others when we offer food. I hope that you will join in this ministry. Whether you add your name to this group or not, I hope that you will have compassion on others around you, that you will seek out someone who is alone or in need of a companion. I hope that you will help someone who struggles with the symptoms of depression. Whatever our situation, let us be firm in our faith, for in our faith God will give us the wisdom and strength to deal with all the things that trouble us and others. Amen.

June 10 2018

I recently heard some older people complain about the younger generation. They said the younger generation does not work as hard as they did. The younger generation doesn’t take financial responsibility. The younger generation does not behave as they should. The younger generation relies too much on their parents. That last complaint got a lot of press recently when the parents of a 30 year old took their son to court and had him evicted from their house. The son had lived in the house for eight years as an adult and despite several efforts to get him to leave, the son was still there. A judge agreed with them and the son was forced to move out. Some would suggest that this is an example that millennials are unable to live independently. In 2001, Time Magazine wrote, “They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial.” I remember similar things being said about my generation when I was in college. Older people at that time complained about young men having long hair. They complained about hippies and communes. They complained about the peace movement. Complaints about the younger generation have existed forever. In the 4th century BC, Aristotle wrote that “(Young people) think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.” Parents frequently complain about the excuses that their children give when something goes wrong. My brother started it. He looked at me funny. It wasn’t me, it was the dog that did it. Blaming our problems on someone else or giving excuses isn’t new either. Today, I ask you to ponder times that you might have made excuses for your bad behavior, most especially I would ask you to think about times that you have made excuses for your sins, for your failure to follow God’s will. Excuses have been given since the beginning of humankind. In our first reading, Adam and Eve gave excuses to God for their behavior. The first sign from Adam of his sin is that he tried to hide from God. He told God that he was hiding because he was naked. Of course, God already knew that. God knew that Adam had eaten the forbidden fruit. But let us listen to the excuses that both Adam and Eve had for their behavior. The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” Neither Adam nor Eve was responsible for what had happened. I know that people keep secrets as a way to surprise another person. But often, hiding something that we have done is a sign that we have committed a wrongdoing, we have sinned. If you ever find yourself hiding an act from someone, then you should at least question yourself, ask yourself why. Am I ashamed of what I have done? Am I concerned that the outcome would be bad if other people found out what I had done? And how about excuses. Do we ever give ourselves a free pass for our sins? We may blame another person for our own actions. Or we may blame our sins on some uncontrollable situation. Someone gave me this book titled “Get over yourself; God’s here!” By Kate Moorehead. In the introduction priest Kate reminds us of all the excuses we give. For example, some people talk about their issues. In today’s culture, it is acceptable to say, I have issues rather than to say I have done something wrong. Another word we use is mistakes. I just made a mistake as if we did something we really didn’t mean to do. If it is a sin we have committed wouldn’t it be better to say, I screwed up rather than to say I made a mistake. Mistake implies that we didn’t do it on purpose. Some people speak about an addiction as if it is something that cannot be controlled or dealt with. In my time the most famous excuse for a sin is the one Flip Wilson made popular, “The devil made me do it”. I am here to suggest that admitting we have sinned is the best first step towards dealing with that sin. I don’t care if all you do is say to yourself, I committed a sin and I was wrong. Of course, you may choose to say something to a person that you have wronged and offer an apology. In the Episcopal tradition, we confess our sins in community, jointly saying the confession each Sunday and receiving an absolution from the priest. The risk that we run when we confess our sins together is that we may not identify our specific sin to ourselves. We may just say God, I am sorry for what I have done wrong. While that is good, it may not help us to deal clearly with a sin that we have committed over and over again. By the way, you always have the option of going to a priest for a private confession. Several times, I have had people come to me for a private meeting to share a specific sin and ask for God’s forgives for that sin and to seek God’s help in changing their behavior. It really isn’t as hard as you might think. Today, I ask you to identify your sin by that name not with some excuse. Adam and Eve were punished for their sin. Not only were they banished from the Garden of Eden but they were also told they would experience pain, suffering and their work would be difficult. It would be hard for them to scratch out a living on the hard soil. It is possible that God will punish us for our sins. That may be reason enough for us to stay on the straight and narrow, to stay away from those sins that haunt us. But an even better reason for us to admit to our sins and to commit to stop those sins is the benefit of living in God’s grace. Do you remember that Adam hid from God after he had eaten from the forbidden fruit. Our sins can be something that causes us shame. It may cause us to hide from God or even to hide what we do from other people. Wouldn’t life be so much better if we find a way to live in God’s love, to live in the light instead of in the darkness? There is good news in the rest of our scripture readings for today. It is found in the forgiveness that God is always prepared to offer us. Forgiveness is found in the Psalm. The Psalmist wrote that we call out to God from the depths of our failure, from our grief at what we have done and from our wish to be reunited with God. And God responds. We say, “For there is forgiveness with you”. In another verse we hear that “for with the Lord there is mercy; With him there is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.” Not only do we know of God’s forgiveness but we have a foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus, the one who redeemed us from all of our sins. Isn’t that the best of reason to forgo our sins, to admit to our faults and to strive to live all of our lives in Jesus. For we know that God loves us and we know that Jesus loves us and came to redeem us for our sins. Adam was ashamed and hid from God. Both Adam and Eve tried to place the blame for their choices on someone else. As we listen to their story, we realize that not much has changed. There is a little bit of Adam and Eve in all of us. Instead of being ashamed, let us turn our faces to God and say, God I am sorry for my wrongs. God, lift me up and take me from this dark place. In the reading from Corinthians we hear that good news in another way, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” God is working in us and for us all the time. All we need is to accept God’s work in us, to let that love and grace come in. Amen.

June 3 2018

If you are or were in a teaching profession, you might be familiar with the concept of the syllabus creep, or syllabus bloat. For those unfamiliar with it, a syllabus is the document that tells you what you can expect in the college or technical course you are taking. “Syllabus creep” or syllabus bloat is the term teachers and professors use to describe the tendency of a syllabus to get longer over time because you might feel like you have to address problems from previous semesters. It’s the desire to cut down on fifty students (no really, fifty) asking you the same question. A couple of years ago when I started teaching a sociology course at ASU, I looked at the syllabus of a colleague who taught the same course. I thought it looked huge, but I also quickly realized the syllabus was the result of years of issues popping up in his class. I adopted his course policies wholesale. Except for one major difference. One recent figure I saw is that profs spend around 28% of their time answering emails. A lot of those emails are things that are answered somewhere in the syllabus or the course material. I toyed around with an idea from a professor at Salem College who would only respond to emails from students requesting an in-person conversation. But I got cold feet on something so drastic, even if the reported results of that policy were amazing. Instead, I told my students that if they emailed me after 5pm, they should not expect a response before 9am the next business day. There was no complicated decision tree for when to email me; just an expectation about when students could and could not expect a response from me. I don’t have enough information to tell if it changed my students’ habits, but it did change mine. It felt like I had given myself permission to be with my family even if I had seen the email from a student. I had given myself permission to leave my phone and my laptop in another room. Folks who work in a number of fields can tell us that technology has changed our work habits. As a culture, we are already working the jobs that years ago, two or three other people would have been hired to do. One university official at ASU I know absorbed the work of three people in his department when they left their jobs. Email and smartphones and other technologies further blur the lines between time at work and time at home. And even if some of us are able to stave off the personal push to “sacrifice in the name of accomplishing the goal” or coworkers may not, and so they may resent our “tuning-out” or we risk the reputation of one who is “uncommitted.” As Rabbi Arthur Waskow puts it, “Most Americans today work longer, harder, and more according to someone else’s schedule than they did 30 years ago. We have less time to raise our children, share neighborhood concerns, or develop our spiritual life…this life situation crosses what we usually see as class lines: single mothers who are working at minimum wages for fast food chains and holding on by their fingernails to a second job to make ends meet feel desperately overworked; and so do wealthy brain surgeons.” Further, in this culture of convenience in which we can order something from Amazon and have it at my door within two hours, we do not often think of what it takes other human beings in order to make that happen. I think about that when I’m ordering an Uber or a Lyft at 3 in the morning to get to the airport, and I talk to the driver about his kids at home, asleep—the the other job he works. I think about it when the most persistently difficult part of my job as a campus chaplain seems to be getting more than seven students in a room at the same time. Often, it is not an issue of willingness on their part; it’s an issue of time and aligning schedules as they go between their two to three jobs each, in addition to their course schedule, ongoing resume-building projects, unpaid internships, and appointments to sell their plasma for rent money. And while news outlets are telling us that millennials are killing off industries by the dozens—mostly because they have less purchasing power due to stagnant wages—or when it is bemoaned that they are not willing to work beyond what they are getting paid for to signal their “commitment”—when it’s more accurate to say that they are not willing to be exploited by companies with no reciprocal notion of loyalty, I’m reminding them that I’ve never heard a person near death say that they wish they had taken more hours away from their family for work. Welcome to the new realities of campus ministry. Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” I want to go back to the reading from Deuteronomy, and I want to leave us with two lines of consideration: the first is a social pondering, and the second will be a question about one’s personal practice of Sabbath. So, let’s go back to our first reading. there is something quite important to notice here: “You shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. This is known as the third of the ten commandments, and what is so fascinating is that here it appears to be a hinge between the commandments that deal with our relationship to God and our relationship to others. In essence, God is saying that because the Israelites knew the experience of slavery in Egypt, the working according to someone else’s schedule and the inability of worship according to God, God will not allow the Israelites to treat others that way. Everyone gets the Sabbath off. The Israelites could not even require of their own slaves or the immigrants among them to keep commerce going in their stead, hence closing off the possibility of an exploitative work practice. In other words, the Sabbath is not simply to make the worship of God possible; it’s a regulation of our treatment of others. We now live in a society that, due to our multiculturalism, does not take a common time of breath or rest. In the age of 24 hour stores, a gig economy where folks have to hustle for a living, a sleepless internet and marketplace, and parental anxiety over making sure their kids stay on track for free college through over-programming their lives, we are sorely lacking in a time to collectively take a pause. While I’m not a fan of enforcing religious laws over a populace that may believe differently, it’s worth recognizing that we’re missing something that once existed to our benefit. And I wonder what the implications would be on considering how a faith community, willing to live simply one day a week, would make a difference on the work and life of others. What if we were as committed to our neighbor’s time of rest as we were to sating our desire for convenience? Now, I’m not interested in telling you how to rest—that you need a day every week that you do nothing. As much as I’d find that to be an ideal for everyone, I need to admit that I’ve been particularly bad about that. But I want to ask you to consider something. I’ve noticed that this frenetic pace of modern life and a general sense of unhappiness with the over-work we experience has a positively toxic side effect. We tend to feel alienated from—and joyless in—our work. As a result of that, many of the ways we take off our time is numbing rather than resting. There is a difference between that which numbs us from our life and that which rejuvenates us. How have you seen that difference? Sabbath is not simply time off to recuperate so that we may increase our value as an economic producer. So, how do you tell the difference between what is deadening you from what gives you life? Recognizing that difference and moving toward the life-giving will move you closer to the orbit of God. Recognizing the difference may help you drop the habits that keep you in a unrestful stasis—perhaps dropping the habits that leave you feeling guilty afterward. May your discernment of your rest this summer be life-giving—and may you guard your life-giving leisure. Preacher: Robert Berra

May 27 2018

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. Good morning everyone! How wonderful it is to be back here with you at Church of the Transfiguration! It’s been awhile! And I know that as you drank your morning coffee, you were contemplating the sacred mysteries of the Trinity, being that today is Trinity Sunday. But hey, did you know that the number three is a sacred number? Trinities & sacred threes were actually around long before Christianity. In fact, Trinities & sacred three’s go back to ancient cultures & prehistoric religions! It’s true! Much like how ancient people celebrated winter solstice before the holiday was absorbed by Christianity & became Christmas, (celebrated three days after winter solstice by the way), the Trinity / sacred threes have been around a very long time! So, what is it about the number “3”? Notice the number three is everywhere! Just look at this weekend, it’s a 3 day weekend, it’s Trinity Sunday, & in Isaiah’s scripture reading for today we have Seraphs flying around singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”! And although the number 3 is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, we see patterns of the number 3 in many places. Examples? In Genesis there are the 3 Patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. And the story of Abraham & Sarah being visited by 3 men who were really 3 angels. This story is depicted in the famous Russian icon “Troitza” (Trinity). And let’s not forget the story of Jonah, who spent 3 days in the belly of a whale. And, we see the number 3 is also the number of the Resurrection, where Jesus rose on the 3rd day. Trinities & sacred threes not only exist in religion, but many cultures, in the arts, music, mythology, and yes, even in mathematics & the sciences! Can you think of any? Celtic art – Celtic art has many designs based on three. spiral Greek mythology – 3 Furies, the 3 Fates, and 3 main gods; Zeus (land), Hades (underworld), & Poseidon (the sea). Eastern religions – Hinduism has the Trimurti; Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer, and Shiva the destroyer, the three top gods that keep the universe going thru endless cycles of life, death & rebirth. In health, wellness & spirituality – “body, mind & spirit”! mindbodyspirit The Sciences – 3 dimensions of space, 3 states of matter; solid, liquid & gas, 3 types of electrical charges; positive, negative & neutral, and atoms have 3 particles, the proton, electron & neutron! And DNA is one of the 3 major macromolecules necessary for life! Math – 3 sides to a triangle, the most stable of geometric shapes. Number 3 is big in Cartoon image of Pi symbolthe Golden Ratio, the Fibonacci sequence, exponential power of 3, cubed. Pi is 3.14. Storytelling – The 3 Musketeers, the 3 Little Pigs…3 Blind Mice, Three Billy goats Gruff, The Good, the Bad & the Ugly! Time – perception of time is described in threes as well, yesterday, today, tomorrow. Beginning, middle, end. Birth, life, death. Symbolically – 3 is a sacred number in many ancient rTriple moon goddesseligions. Symbolically it is similar to the number 7, which means wholeness, completeness. 3 is considered a “perfect” number, the unifier of dualities! Ancient religions – Rule of Three, also known as the law of return. It basically states that whatever energy a person puts out into the world, whether it be positive or negative, it will come back to you threefold. Three is a sacred number in many religions. Triple Moon Goddess, maiden, mother, crone. Music – There are triplets, 3 beats per one beat. Western music tends to be very 4/4 tripletswith a straight ahead beat & rhythm. But in many other cultures, many rhythms are based on three, such as the triplet. It gives a very “circular” feel. And Nikola Tesla, the genius inventor who designed the alternating current (AC) electrical system said “If you want to know the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”20603-Nikola-Tesla-Quote-If-you-want-to-find-the-secrets-of-the-universe.jpg As we can see, the concept of a Trinity & the triadic nature of the divine & sacred threes have been part of our psyche for thousands of years! Are all these things about the number 3 just a coincidence? It does makes you wonder!! One really interesting take on the Trinity / sacred number 3 this is from Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault. She explores this deeply in her book The Holy Trinity & the Law of Three; Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity. She observes that in our modern day Western world we tend to think & view things dualistically in “twos”, such as in opposites, not so much in “threes”. Can you think of a few dualistic thinking examples? “Good vs. evil”, “light / darkness, “two sides to every story”, “this, or that”, “yes or no”, “you are with us or against us”, “democrat or republican”, “liberal / conservative”, etc. There is no middle ground in dualistic thinking, and there tends to be no movement, no flow forward. It’s just “this, or that”! And that is that!! Thus, dualistic thinking can be very stagnating & very divisive, not only politically but also spiritually. It can lead to feeling stuck in a spiritual dead-zone. In fact, if you have been feeling spiritually “stuck” lately, you are not alone! But just look what happens when we integrate a third perspective into the picture… A third force (or idea, or entity, or person) can help eliminate being stuck in the gridlock of dualistic “either-or” thinking. It can lead to something totally new! Synthesis! Thus, three is a unifier of dualities! It is much more holistic (whole). Viewed from the Law of Three, the Trinity in essence is about process. Flow. Growth. Awakening. Transformation. Being that I have been a musician, I tend to think of threes as a triplet, like a circle in time. Musical triplets bring a circular flowing rhythm & groove to music. Like a galloping horse, it has a lot of wonderful energy & feels circular or cyclical, but at the same time feels like it moves us forward! The Gospel story for today is a great example of the difference between thinking dualistically (in 2’s) and holistically (in 3’s). Much like our mainstream modern western world, Nicodemus displays dualistic thinking, very literal & linear. He doesn’t understand Jesus’ teaching on how anyone can be “born again” when they are older. Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus on the other hand thinks much more in metaphors & more three’s. Not at all black and white or “either / or”. He tells Nicodemus, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit… You must be born from above. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” What is Jesus talking about? He is talking about spiritual awakening! So, if you have been feeling stuck spiritually, try thinking, praying & visualizing in different ways. I know, easier said than done. Let go & let the Spirit flow. The wind blows where it will. Don’t try to control it. Let it flow! If your image of the Trinity is a triangle, try praying & meditating on it as a circle of light instead. You may be amazed where it takes you! Let us pray… Almighty and everlaTroitsasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen! [NOTE: The above was a sermon given at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration,Mesa, AZ May 27, 2018 by the Rev. Laura Adelia]

May 20, 2018

It’s Pentecost. Happy Birthday, Church! Since we are a liturgical church, with our liturgy and worship organized around the events of Jesus’ life, and our lectionary selections deliberately chosen to set a traditional and historical paradigm for our celebration of Christ’s life, we can say, ‘of course it’s Pentecost’ because the liturgical year is part of our worship. But if we allow ourselves to get comfortable in our liturgical cycle, and congratulate ourselves on our (generally) well-chosen readings, we may miss the call our Lord extends to us. Now, granted, there are Propers for some weeks that may leave us wondering what the folks who formulate the lectionary were smoking, but we usually draw inspiration and guidance from our readings. If we’re stuck, then sometimes, the Collect will provide clarification. But if not, just maybe, the obscurity is meant to lead us further into Scripture, and maybe, conversation with one another. Not at all a bad outcome. But in this Season of Easter we have just come through, we can clearly see the joyous possibilities to which we have been brought. The readings for today encapsulate this journey! Last Sunday, Deacon Dan spoke to all of us about God’s call on each of our lives. Our Deacon spoke eloquently about what our God expects of us – lives of love and service to God, through love for, and service to, all of God’s creation, especially our sisters and brothers. Transfiguration is truly amazing at this kind of love and service. That’s a good thing. We take very seriously Jesus’ admonition in 1 John, that we can scarcely claim to love God, Whom we cannot see; if we turn away from those sisters and brothers we do see, or from those of whose existence we are at least aware. Now, even when we have an objective, we humans can, and sometimes do, bog ourselves down in conversation over Who, Where, What, and How we make that love and service happen. So we pray that when we like sheep start to go astray in that manner, the Holy Spirit is standing by with a VERY loud wake up call. Perhaps that’s part of what we do for one another; and perhaps we can extend our prayer to the Holy Spirit that we may have the grace to hear God’s call on our lives, however it comes to us. In the reading from ACTS which we heard this morning, Peter astounds us. We all love Peter. He is US. The fisherman we meet in the Gospels often doesn’t know what to say, let alone what to do. But that never keeps him silent, and Jesus is very patient with Peter. Even after Peter denies Christ three times, Jesus states forgiveness three times. Peter finally gets a little cranky with the three times our hero Jesus asks if Peter loves Him, but his answers are always affirmative. And our Lord says “Feed My sheep,” “Tend My sheep,” “Feed My sheep.” Here again, Jesus makes clear our instructions on how to live. And we see that God’s love for US is a “No Matter What” kind of love. Peter is US. Then, on Pentecost morning, when Jerusalem is full of all sorts of people from all sorts of places, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate promised by Christ, descends upon the disciples. We are NOT surprised when those gathered around begin to accuse the disciples of drunkenness, because after all, do we humans not often ridicule what we do not understand? Do we not fear what we do not know? No, we are not surprised at the crowd, but when our beloved Peter, who so often appears clueless, speaks up to defend the disciples, we ARE surprised. Peter is a devout Jew, and he does know his Scripture. Quoting the prophet Joel, his defence of Jesus’ Disciples is wonderful. And we recall that after the Resurrection Peter has boldly critiqued the Temple Establishment – “This Jesus, Whom YOU guys crucified. . .” Peter is given the words he needs in the moment he needs them. Peter is enabled by God to do what God calls him to do. Peter ultimately speaks and writes glorious theology. Look what God does. We LIKE Peter. He IS us. In Peter we see hope for what God will do with us! In the passage from Romans we are reminded that human history has always been painful. We have no trouble relating to the groans of all creation for redemption. One newscast, a little television, a little conversation with our friends and neighbours, and we KNOW through reading Scripture that we humans are still pretty much doing business at the same old stand. And STILL the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Still our hope is in God. Because in today’s Gospel, Jesus promises us all the help and support we could ever need, if we heed God’s call to us. Just like Peter and all the followers of Christ. And thus we understand what the Lord our God asks and expects of us. We know that God does love us amazingly, and we respond to God’s love with love for God and all God’s creation, all the days of our lives, hopefully. We know that God can and WILL use each of us, clueless or not, whatever our supposed weakness. We know What, we know Why, and we know How and When. If we think we don’t, we just need to ask. So, Happy Birthday, Church! THANKS BE TO GOD! Preacher: Susan Smith-Allen

May 6, 2018

I want to share a funny story that happened at our house last week. It probably doesn’t connect with anything in today’s lessons. Last Saturday, I bought muffins for our vestry retreat. There were four muffins left over and I brought them home. I suggested to Jan that I might take them to church on Sunday for coffee hour. I was surprised that Jan didn’t want them to go anywhere. She wanted the muffins to stay in our house. I didn’t pick up on her strong statement very well. You see, we never have muffins at our house for breakfast and Jan chooses to eat things that don’t have carbohydrates, so I didn’t understand how important it was for her that we keep the muffins for her to eat. So, on Sunday, silly me once again suggested that I might take some of the muffins to church. Jan said, something like, “Why do you keep trying to give away my muffins?” I learned that while she doesn’t usually eat muffins, she really likes them and wanted these muffins to stay in the house. I agreed. Before we left for church, Jan took great care to put a note on the muffins that they had to stay in the microwave so that our daughter’s dog wouldn’t eat them. Unfortunately, our son-in-law left the muffins out by mistake after warming the baby’s milk in the microwave and they were eaten by the dog. Jan didn’t get her muffins and I didn’t take any muffins to church. Jan and I had a good laugh about that outcome. I thought to myself that God must have decided that if we are going to disagree about what is going to happen to the muffins, then neither of us will get them. Or maybe this was such a small thing that God didn’t really decide to do anything about the muffins. I do know, however, that God wants us to treat each other with love and to remember that we are all children of God. In the epistle for today, there is a verse about how we treat children of God. It goes like this, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” I like the way the Contemporary English version of the Bible says it, “If we love and obey God, we know we will love God’s children.” Let’s spend this time remembering all the different ways we are God’s children and what it means to love and obey God. It seems appropriate to do that this Sunday, family Sunday, when we are especially reminded of our children. There are so many references in Scripture to help us realize that we are all children of God. One of my favorites is this verse from Galatians 3:26 and 27: “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” It is through our baptism that Jesus has chosen us as children of God. I also like this quote from 1 John 3:1 “See what amazing love the Father has given us! Because of it, we are called children of God. And that’s what we really are!” In Romans 8:14: we are told that “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Scripture is clear that everyone one of us is a child of God. We have been adopted as God’s children through God’s love. Jesus made sure that we are children of God through his life and work and sacrifice. As we live in the spirit and ask the Spirit to guide us we continue to live as God’s children. The acceptance that we are God’s children can actually be overwhelming. We sing about it in songs taught to young people like All God’s Children of the World. We write about it. Here is what Maya Angelou once said, “I believed that there was a God because I was told it by my grandmother and later by other adults. But when I found that I knew not only that there was God but that I was a child of God, when I understood that, when I comprehended that, more than that, when I internalized that, ingested that, I became courageous.” As we follow in Maya Angelou’s footsteps, we too become courageous. We live in God’s love and we share that love with others. Knowing that we are God’s children lifts us up but today’s lesson is about how we respond. The reading from 1 John encourages us to love God and to follow God’s commandments. I sometimes wonder if it is easier to love God than to obey the commandments. But that is a silly idea. The truth is we show our love by doing what God commanded us to do. And the model we have for doing God’s will is Jesus. In the gospel today, Jesus spoke of following God’s commandments and abiding in God’s love. The word abiding isn’t used much anymore. I think abiding has a sense of continuity to it. Synonyms include enduring and everlasting and permanent. Abiding in God’s love is a commitment that we make for our entire life. Abiding means accepting the gift we have been given. In particular, it is about the gift Jesus gave us in his death and resurrection. It is about the water and the blood that came from Jesus when the soldiers pierced him in the side. It is the gift of life that Jesus gave for us. It is the promise of everlasting life. That is why we choose to abide, to choose an everlasting love. This week, I once again felt a strong connection between our epistle and our gospel reading. The gospel speaks of following the commandments of God. It speaks of the love of Jesus and the love of God. The epistle has similar words about God’s love. These two scriptural texts seem to be perfectly paired with each other. Last week, we learned that when we love one another God lives in us. This week it says that when we love God, we love one another. It sounds as if these are two opposite theologies. But it is as if love leads us in all directions. Loving others means God is in us. Loving others, the children of God, means that we love God. It is like a circle of love lifting us up and bringing us close to God and each other. Jesus spoke of another gift. It is the freedom to live as his friend. We are no longer servants, he said, but rather his friends. Our friendship means that we are no longer bogged down by sin. We follow God’s word because we have been taught by Jesus. We understand the truth that is found in Jesus. Of course our friendship doesn’t make us equal to Jesus. It instead makes us able to live our lives in joy and thanksgiving. We often think about following God’s commandments as if it were a hardship. We have to set our mind to it and have a grim determination to see it through. Jesus never saw it that way. When we abide in God’s love, it makes things easier. Our life is no longer difficult or a chore. The commandments are no longer burdensome we are told. Jesus thought of following God’s commandments as something he did with joy. I believe Jesus thought that when he asked the disciples to follow God’s commandments, he expected that they would do so with joy. It certainly gave them a sense of fulfillment, a knowing that they were doing the right thing. We seek that sense of fulfillment as well. We too want to bask in God’s love. That is why Jesus spoke of his own joy and why he wishes for us to share in that joy. It is the joy that is found in obeying God’s wishes for us. Our theme throughout this Easter season has been about God’s love. We understand the gift that has been given to us and we accept that gift which brings us comfort and strength. We understand how Jesus wants us to live and we do so with joy. Most especially we are joyful because we share our love with God’s children. Today, I think about the young people that we encounter, the real children who need our help and support and love. I am thankful that people have worked hard to make a difference for the young people in this state through increased funding for our school systems. I am thankful for the gifts we give to those who need it the most, the backpack program that feeds hungry children. All the while, I remember that everyone here is a child of God, a person who needs our love and support whether they are a newborn or the most mature person in this congregation. Let us cross those barriers that divide us, cross the barriers of age or race or gender and accept and share in the love that we all have as children of God. Amen.

April 29, 2018

Today, we hear a lot about grape vines and branches. It takes a lot of time and work to produce grapes. A new grape vine may take up to three years to produce fruit. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, pruning a grape vine is not a little thing. “Pruning maintains the vine's form, size, vigor, and next season's fruiting wood. Grape vines produce more wood than necessary. Typically 70-90 percent of the new growth is removed on a mature vine. Balanced pruning involves only wood produced during the previous growing season. Wood two years and older is not counted or pruned annually in this system.” I am not sure that I am the best one to discuss gardening skills. After all, Jan and I have tried from time to time to grow different vegetables in our garden but not often with a great deal of success. It seems that we are pretty good at growing plants but we are not usually very good at getting vegetables to produce fruit. There are many in this congregation who do a much better job. I am sure that it has to do with skill and I also think they put more time into their gardening. I am also certain that they know much better than I how to coax their plants into producing the most fruit possible. That is what Jesus does for us. In the gospel Jesus spoke about pruning. Jesus told his disciples that he is the vine and we are the branches. Let’s pay attention to the message that Jesus is the true vine. It means that Jesus is our God and the one that we follow always. It also means that Jesus provides us with the Word of God. It is the word of God that feeds us and helps us to bear fruit. As it says, without Jesus we can do nothing that is worthwhile. In the story, the branches that bear no fruit are cut off and thrown away. Notice that Jesus said God removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. It suggests that some people have left Jesus and they must be destroyed. We think of the pruning as painful to us but Jesus must have been pained by those who left him. Those that do bear fruit are pruned regularly. Yes, we are the branches, we need to bear fruit every season. And when we are successful at bearing fruit, our branches are pruned so that we may bear more fruit. This idea of pruning our branches sounds pretty painful. I don’t think that is what Jesus meant. I think a better way to think about this message from Jesus is that Jesus wants us to always be healthy. Healthy comes in several different ways. It means healthy in our relationship with God. It means healthy in our relationships with other people. It means healthy in body, mind and spirit. For me, then, being pruned is more like having your nails cut than it is like having a finger cut off. The reason pruning would help is not that we should be punished, but that pruning promotes health of the whole person. It is more about taking away the growth that we have done and going back to basics. It reminds us that we are not able to produce fruit on our own, rather it takes Jesus to help us produce fruit. It means staying close to Jesus as our source of nourishment. We need pruning because we may have started to think that we can do it all on our own. We may have forgotten that we need Jesus. Jesus feeds us with the words of scripture and Jesus feeds us in the communion service. Jesus also feeds us by sending the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us. In the 19th century, there was a Dutch Reformed missionary named Andrew Murray who was sent from Scotland to South Africa. Murray ended up writing about 200 books, one of which was called “The True Vine”. It was a book about today’s gospel reading. Murray matters because he believed that Christians were free to experience the grace of God. I like that. He wrote this about Jesus as the vine. “Christ Jesus said: I am the Vine, ye are the branches. In other words: I, the living One who have so completely given myself to you, am the Vine. You cannot trust me too much. I am the Almighty Worker, full of a divine life and power. You are the branches of the Lord Jesus Christ. If there is in your heart the consciousness that you are not a strong, healthy, fruit-bearing branch, not closely linked with Jesus, not living in Him as you should be—then listen to Him say: I am the Vine, I will receive you, I will draw you to myself, I will bless you, I will strengthen you, I will fill you with my Spirit. I, the Vine, have taken you to be my branches, I have given myself utterly to you; children, give yourselves utterly to me. I have surrendered myself as God absolutely to you; I became man and died for you that I might be entirely yours. Come and surrender yourselves entirely to be mine.” I would say that Andrew Murray’s words fit nicely in our thinking in the 21st century. I would say that the most important message in today’s gospel is about Jesus as the one. Jesus feeds us and comforts us and gives us strength. That is what I hear Andrew Murray wrote. But the gospel is never just about comfort and sustenance. It is always about what we are called to become. Jesus told us that we are called to be fruitful. During this Easter season we have been reading from the gospel of John but we have also been reading from the letter which is called 1 John. It is not nearly as well known as the letters from Paul. As with many scriptural books, we don’t actually know who wrote it. It may have come to be called 1 John because it does mirror in some ways the gospel of John. The clear message from 1 John is about God’s love which is the basis for salvation. It was out of love for us that God sent Jesus to live among us and to sacrifice his life for us. It connects so well with the image of Jesus as the vine and we are the branches, doesn’t it? This passage from 1 John, is like a reprise of what Jesus himself said, that we are to love one another. 1 John adds that we love because love comes from God. “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” And later, “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” Isn’t it wonderful to think that when we love others then God lives in us. So we are fruitful when we love one another. When we love one another, then we do things for other people. Loving one another means that we help those who are less fortunate, we take care of people when they are sick, we console others when they have lost loved ones. We come together to show hospitality to each other. We make sure that someone who is alone is not forgotten. Andrew Murray offered these words, “How can we glorify God? Not by adding to His glory or bringing Him any new glory that He has not. But simply by allowing His glory to shine out through us, by yielding ourselves to Him, that His glory may manifest itself in us and through us to the world.” I am sure that when Jesus was telling us about pruning, he wanted us to get rid of the sins in our life. Whatever has come into our life that separates us from God needs to be gotten rid of. But when we listen to 1 John, I think pruning is more about bringing ourselves back to Jesus, perhaps going back to the word of Jesus for sustenance. I would say it is about trying to do as Jesus did, to love others and to show our love in the way we talk to others and care for them. Let us allow Jesus to feed us so that we may feed each other. Amen.

April 22, 2018

There are times when people are given names that are funny. I knew someone who was called Imma Pigg. I saw the name of a lawyer who called herself Sue Yoo. There is a man who was named Dyl Pickle. I have seen wedding announcements where the combined names are cute. How about the announcement of the impending wedding between Looney and Ward? Or the couple whose names before the wedding were Hardy and Harr. The credits on a movie listed a gentleman named Chris P. Bacon. I am sure you could share many other examples of funny names. More often names are serious. Children are frequently named after someone in the family who was truly admired by the parents. The name connects a child to that other person in a special way. Perhaps the child feels as if they carry on the family name and legacy. Names are important. Some of us are thankful for the name we were given and others wish it were different. Some even choose to change their name. William Shakespeare once suggested that the person was more important than the name and that is true. Romeo and Juliet struggled with the divides created by their families and at one point Juliet spoke about the meaning of names in this famous passage, “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. It wouldn’t matter if you called a rose a thorn, it would still be beautiful. But the family names Montague and Capulet made a dramatic difference in the lives of Romeo and Juliet. God changed the name of several people in Scripture. Their new names were a better indication of the characteristics or calling of that individual. The name Abram means “High Father” and God decided that a more appropriate name was Abraham which means “father of a multitude”. God also changed the name of Abraham’s wife Sarai which means princess to Sarah which means “mother of the nations”. The name Jacob means “heel catcher” or “the one who grasps the heel” because Jacob held on to the heel of his twin brother Esau when they were born. The name Jacob also described his desire to receive the blessing of his father which he later accomplished to the chagrin of Esau. Much later God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Israel means “May God prevail”. It was the name given after Jacob fought with the angel, for the name can also mean “struggles with God”. In the New Testament, Jesus changed the name of Simon to Peter which means “rock”. Jesus said he would be the rock of the church. After his conversion, Saul’s name was changed to Paul which means, “small or humble.” Paul may have been small but I’m certain that he was humble. I would say that in each case in which a bible character’s name was changed, it signified that his or her life had taken a new direction, their life had a new meaning. Their new names signified their new role in life. Our baptism is a time when we think of names as well and the meaning of the name. The parents are asked in the baptismal ceremony to name the child and later we hear that the child is marked as Christ’s own forever. Names matter. Today, we focus on the importance of our own names. While our names may have been given to us by another human, the important message for today is that our names are known by God. The collect summarizes the lessons for today with these words, “Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads”. God calls each of us by name. God knows each of us individually and is there to protect and guide us. This personal relationship we have with God is something we can hold on to when we are troubled and when we are comforted. For God knows each of us by name. The Message that God knows each of us by name and cares for us is clear in the gospel lesson. Jesus told us that he is the good shepherd, watching out for us and accompanying us as we seek nurture and solace. But Jesus did not stop with the notion that he cares for us. Jesus said, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” The relationship between ourselves and Jesus is one on one. And Jesus is ready to do whatever it takes to make our life whole. He said, I will lay down my life for my sheep. There is nothing more that we can ask for than this. Jesus’ words are similar to those found in Psalm 23. That is when we say the Lord is my shepherd. Psalm 23 reminds us that God is constantly guiding us, helping us to find our way. And God’s wish for us is that we are well fed, comfortable and safe from our enemies. There was a song written by Carole King called “You’ve Got a friend.” Carole recorded the song as did James Taylor in 1971. The refrain goes like this. You just call out my name And you know wherever I am I'll come running to see you again Winter, spring, summer or fall All you have to do is call And I'll be there You've got a friend I know that the song is about relationships between humans. But I think the words apply to our relationship with God as well. God is there for us and all we have to do is reach out and call God’s name and God will be there for us. Because God knows our name, God will respond. As I said earlier, names are important. And we sometimes mistreat the names of other people. There is an expression that says, “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” It is often used to deflect the name calling that happens between children. I cannot tell you how many times my last name was used as a negative term when I was young. I have heard every possible interpretation of the last name Saik that you could imagine and I’m sure many of you could share stories about how your name was made fun of. Name calling may not hurt us physically but I would say name calling can be damaging to our emotional state. There could be no greater knowledge of this than what we find in politics today. It seems that name calling has become even more significant than it ever was. People in politics who do not agree call each other by names that we should not even repeat. But today, I ask you to think about names that you may call yourself. I believe that we are hardest on ourselves. We know full well what we have done that is wrong and we often speak about ourselves in negative terms. We may refer to ourselves as a sinner or as a mean person or as someone who has not done good things for others. We might know ourselves as someone who has messed up a relationship with others. The names we give ourselves may be accurate but they may also be keeping us from being what God has called us to be. In contrast, I ask you to focus on what God calls you. Please remember that God calls you by your own beloved name. God will treat your name with respect. In fact, God may give you another name that describes that to which you have been called. If you have not heard of any other name that God has given you then please accept the declaration that God has called you as God’s child. It is another indication that God knows you as an individual and that God will protect you and prepare you for only the best in this world. Desmond Tutu once said, “most churches when they have images of the good shepherd, they show Jesus carrying a nice fluffy lamb. Now fluffy little lambs don't stray from their mommy's. The sheep that will stray is the most obstreperous, troublesome one.” It doesn’t matter what we think of ourselves. We may be the worst of the worst. We may be the one who sins the most. But we still belong to Jesus and Jesus cares for us because we are his own. We turn one more time to the gospel. Jesus didn’t just say that he would lay down his life for us. He took it one step further. He said, “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” I hear that as a reference to the resurrection. Jesus died so that he could rise from the dead and show us the way to eternal life. Jesus gives that gift to each of us, by name. What greater gift could we have than that? Let us be thankful for God knows each of us by name, not as a number in a crowd but as a person of importance to God. Amen.

April 15, 2018

I wish all of you could spend just one day as a priest. When I go out in public, I am always amazed at how much respect I receive. One of the more interesting situations is how people change their language when I am around. Jan and I have some family members who like to use colorful language. But when they came to visit us, they watched their language the entire time that they were here. I have also had this experience when I play golf. My fellow golfers have often told me how they change their language when I am part of the group. The reaction to a bad shot is not so explicit. It is not that I say something. I have heard bad language before and I am not some prude that believes people must behave just because I am around. It is just that they respect my position. But I do like it when people watch their language whether it is because of me or not. I don’t think bad words are necessary to explain our feelings. It is just that some people have gotten used to using those kinds of words. Today, I ask you to think about how you behave when you are around other people. Are you impacted by their behavior? How do you impact them? Does it matter who is present to determine how we behave? Today, I am thinking about the various encounters that people had with Jesus and with the disciples. If people change when they are around me, can you imagine how they must have acted when Jesus was with them? Not as much as you might think. The first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. Let me give you a little background. Peter and John were going to the temple late one day. They entered the city of Jerusalem and a man who could not walk stopped them and asked for help. Peter told him that they had no money to give him but said instead, “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk”. He helped the man onto his feet and the man followed Peter and John into the temple. The Jewish people were astonished that the man had been healed. Peter uses this opportunity to proclaim the good news of Jesus. I have the impression that the common folk who heard this story marveled at the power of Jesus Christ. But “the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So they arrested them.” In the presence of the miraculous power of Jesus, the leaders of the temple felt threatened and they decided to stop the threat by arresting Peter and John. How would you have acted if you had been there? Now, I want to discuss with you the visit of Jesus with his disciples after his resurrection. Today we read the story from the point of view of Luke. I cannot help but remind you that the passage just before today’s gospel is the story of the Walk to Emmaus. We only read it once every three years and I wish that we would read it more often. In that story, Jesus joins two of the disciples on their walk. They tell him all about their sadness that Jesus was crucified. They have heard rumors that Jesus has risen from the dead but they aren’t sure. They don’t recognize Jesus until the walk is completed and they are sharing a meal with him. In the dialogue, I hear the disciples focusing on their concerns and not really looking to find Jesus. It takes a long time before they realize Jesus is with them. Their inability to understand scripture seems to hold them back. Have you ever struggled to “see’ Jesus in your life because you were too concerned with your own problems? Those two disciples who encountered Jesus on the Walk and the meal run back to Jerusalem and tell everyone that they had seen Jesus. Almost immediately, Jesus appears again, this time in the locked room. The actual sentence goes like this, “While they were standing around and talking, Jesus himself stood among them.” Everyone was startled and terrified, thinking they had seen a ghost. Jesus was present. How might you react if Jesus came into this room right now? Would you be afraid? Would you recognize Jesus? Jesus asked them why they doubted that he had risen from the dead. I remind you that the disciples often had doubts about Jesus even after he rose from the dead. Would we have doubts? How are we like the disciples? What is it that causes us to have doubts? After all, we have the experience and knowledge of years to accept the fact that Jesus has risen. And yet aren’t there times when we wonder whether it really happened? Well it really did happen. I am reassured by the appearances of Jesus not just to the disciples but also to us. Can you consider what it means that Jesus comes to us? For I believe that Jesus still appears in our midst. Matthew wrote about it. He said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Paul wrote in the letter to the Philippians that “ Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. For The Lord is near.” Thomas Merton once wrote, ““God, who is everywhere, never leaves us. Yet He seems sometimes to be present, sometimes to be absent. If we do not know Him well, we do not realize that He may be more present to us when He is absent than when He is present.” When Jesus appeared to the disciples he offered them peace. I say that Jesus comes to be with us and offers us peace. When I began today, I mentioned how some people change their behavior when I am around. I think a better question is how do we change our behavior when Jesus is around? And then, when we realize that Jesus is always around, how might that impact us? There is an acronym that has been used in the last few years WWJD, what would Jesus do? It is a good thought for us to have. Today, I prefer the question what would I do if Jesus were here? And then I realize that Jesus is always here and it helps me to remember how I should be all the time. Another way to look at this is to remember that we are made in the image of God. We then reflect God’s image to others. I often think about the fact that our behavior influences the behavior of other people. Sometimes we know exactly how our behavior has impacted others. At other times, our actions may not show fruit for a long time and sometimes we never know that we have impacted another person. The same is true for how others impact us. We often say to children that they should choose their friends carefully. Choosing friends who are bad will lead children into some bad behavior. That is why we choose good friends. Jesus can be found in others just as sometimes people see Jesus in us. Jesus appeared to many of his disciples after he rose from the dead. The apostles were frightened when they first saw Jesus. They didn’t even recognize him at first. He must have looked different than what they experienced before his resurrection. Perhaps he was taking on the mantle of divinity more than the mantle of humanity. Whatever the change was, we are informed that Jesus was still human, not like a ghost. Jesus’ visits made a lasting impression on the disciples. They may not have responded immediately but before long they went out into the world and proclaimed the story of Jesus. Their response may have been fear and amazement at first but eventually it turned into outspoken evangelism. Today, let us open our souls to the presence of Jesus. We may at first have our doubts, we may simply be amazed, we may not even recognize that Jesus is there. Perhaps the appearance of Jesus will eventually change our behavior as it did his first followers. Through the power of Jesus we have become children of God, just as we read in 1st John this morning. It is a sign of God’s love for us. John wrote, “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” His presence changes us. His actions help us to be different. We are a people set apart, a people who live as if Jesus is with us each day on our journey. May God bless us and continue to be with us always. Amen.
I hope that you have some big plans for today. An Easter dinner with lots of people is a great event. Someone in our congregation told me that they were going to have nine people at their house today and they were excited. Jan and I are going to Flagstaff to see our family and we plan to have a big Easter dinner with our family and friends. We can’t wait to see our new baby granddaughter again and her sister. It should be wonderful. There are many other Easter traditions that you may take part in. Easter egg hunts are fun. Perhaps you will have a chocolate Easter bunny. Or maybe the Easter bunny will bring some Easter eggs stuffed with some goodies to your house. Jan has prepared Easter baskets for our children and grandchildren. I suppose we should appreciate the fact that so many traditions have grown up around Easter Day. I am sure that these rituals all started for good reason as people wanted to make Easter special to celebrate. But these various traditions seem to have established a life of their own, no longer connected to the real reason for Easter. In this increasingly secular world we live in, many do not even stop long enough to appreciate that Jesus rose from the dead on this day. After all Easter has not kept the college basketball finals from taking place. I love all of the trappings of Easter. I can easily fall victim to all that happens today and forget why we do it. For example, I love that the Alleluias are back and I am so happy that we have uplifting music rather than the quiet hymns of the Lenten season. Despite all of the distractions and events, each of you has come here to take part in a celebration for the real meaning of Easter, to give thanks to God for the glorious resurrection of Jesus; To take part in the good news that Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us. Through his resurrection we often say that Jesus has opened the gates of heaven. That image is helpful. We so often have fences to protect something we value. In my subdivision, we have fences so that only those who are authorized can come in. And the gates into my subdivision have a code so that only those who know the code can enter. The image of a gate is often used in Scripture. For example, in Matthew Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” The devil cannot stop the followers of Jesus. In the Apostles Creed, we say that after Jesus was crucified, died and was buried that he descended into hell. The idea is that Jesus went and freed those who had died before him and took them up to heaven. Jesus opened the gates of hell. In another passage, Jesus gave Peter and the apostles the authority to forgive sins. Jesus said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.“ It is out of that passage we come to the belief that Peter will meet us at the gates of heaven and will only allow in those who have been faithful. I like to think that Jesus has already opened the gates and Peter is just inside enjoying it. In the Psalm today we ask God to open the gates for us, “Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; he who is righteous may enter.” And in today’s collect, we hear these words, “Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life”. And that is why we celebrate so much on this day. The resurrection of Jesus has changed everything. Jesus rose from the dead and through his rising, he opened those gates for us. In John’s gospel Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?* And if I go and 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.” It was the promise of everlasting life given to us by Jesus. That same promise is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” What joy we have to look forward to. Thanks be to Jesus for all he has done for us. Jesus has opened the gates of heaven to us and Jesus has promised that the faithful will follow him there. It doesn’t get any better than this. Let’s reflect for a moment on the resurrection story. Mary Magdalene arrived first and when she saw the tomb was empty she ran to get Peter and the other disciple. The two men see the empty tomb and even go inside but strangely they do not encounter Jesus. If you came here today and do not feel the joy and hope of the resurrection then you are not alone. Because someone as faithful and well known as Peter was uncertain as well. I wish we knew how Peter felt but we are only told that he did not yet understand what the empty tomb meant. I imagine that Peter struggled with what to think. Is it possible that he thought the authorities took the body of Jesus? Was he afraid that something would happen to him if he shouted excitedly about Jesus being raised from the dead? Was he like Thomas, waiting to see Jesus for himself before he came to a conclusion? We just don’t know. All that we are told is that the two men simply went home. The story might have ended there but Mary stuck around. Mary encountered Jesus and she was the first to go out and proclaim that Jesus was resurrected. Every one of the gospel stories reports that it was the women who told what had happened. Doesn’t it help you to appreciate the role of the women followers? I know that the role of women was different in those days. They had the responsibility to go and anoint the body with oils. And I know that the women might have been able to move around more freely because the authorities would not have worried about what the women were going to do. The men may have been more cautious about their activities. Despite all of this, I would bring your attention to the fact that the women are the ones who go and tell everyone what had happened. They were the ones who got everyone excited. The reading from Acts reminds us that the resurrection of Jesus offers the hope of salvation to everyone. That same Peter, who was uncertain when he first saw the empty tomb had grown so much. Peter had become a leader of the early Christians community and was willing to speak out about his Savior, Jesus Christ. Peter gives the best summary of our Christian beliefs in his talk with Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and other Gentiles. Peter had come to the conclusion that Jesus died for the sins of all and that Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism in order to be faithful followers of Jesus. Let us welcome all who would be followers of Jesus for that is just what Jesus taught us to do and what Peter did himself. I hope that most of you are here today full of joy, full of hope for everlasting life. It might make you wish that you could just sit back and take it all in, absorbing the glory of God and of his son, Jesus. I would just ask you to realize that the story doesn’t end with the resurrection of Jesus, nor does it end with the announcement by Mary Magdalene that she had seen the risen Lord. For Jesus appeared to his followers several times after his resurrection. Jesus continued his ministry of peace and love until his ascension into heaven. The ministry continued as the apostles began to share the story of Jesus with others starting on Pentecost. It continued with Paul who was converted when Jesus appeared to him on his ride to Damascus and Paul began to tell the story of the risen Jesus. And it continues to this day as we share the joy we have with others loudly proclaiming that Jesus Christ is risen today. Amen.