Sermons

St. Michael's Sermons

Rev. Ben Garren

Two Kinds of Freedom

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 7, 2017
by The Rev. Ben Garren

Readings:
Acts 2:42-47
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10
Psalm 23

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Supper at Emmaus (1628)
by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1606-1669

Our Road to Emmaus

A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 30, 2017
by The Rev. David Benedict Hedges, n/BSG

Readings:
Acts 2:14a,36-41
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

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Prelast and St. Thomas

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2017
by The Rev. Ben Garren

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1601-2) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1573-1610

Readings:
Acts 2:14a,22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31
Psalm 16

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Correggio - Noli Me Tangere - (Do not hold me.) 1518

Correggio – Noli Me Tangere – (Do not hold me.) 1518

Three Kinds of Faith

A Sermon for the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Day), April 16, 2017
by The Rev. David Benedict Hedges, n/BSG

Readings:
Acts 10:34-43
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

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You Are the Salt of the Earth

A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 5, 2017
by The Rev. David Benedict Hedges, n/BSG

Readings:
Lesson: Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)
Psalm: Psalm 112:1-9 (10)
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16)
The Holy Gospel: Matthew 5:13-20

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its
saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown
out and trampled under foot.”

“Salt of the earth” is one of those earthy turns of phrase that bring character to our language. One of those sayings we use, often without even realizing it comes from the Bible. When we say someone is the salt of the earth we mean that someone has a simple, basic decency, honesty, and goodness about them. When Jesus uses the phrase in his Sermon on the Mount, he doesn’t just mean someone who’s an all-around solid friend. He’s bringing to bear a whole bunch of uses and meanings of salt. Salt is part of a sacrifice. The book of Leviticus provides instructions for offerings of grain, which were made alongside offerings of animal sacrifice. These grain offerings and burnt offerings were occasional expressions of devotion to God by individual worshipers. “With all your offerings, you shall offer salt,” we read – perhaps simply as a way to make the offering more flavorful to God!

Salt also had a connotation of loyalty and fidelity – eating together was often called “sharing salt,” and doing so established a relationship between people. Salt was a purifying element. The prophet Elisha purified a spring that produced bad water by casting salt into it – and to this day when we make holy water, we add salt. There are the more well-known uses of salt as well – it seasons food and brings out the flavor; and it is used in curing and preserving foods.

So – if we are to be the salt of the earth, we are to be people who offer ourselves to God and who make our own offerings as well; we are to be loyal and faithful folk; we are to purify those around us; we are to preserve the good in the world, and of course, we are to put a dash of flavor into our lives – bringing out the best in what we say and do.

And we should be bringing out the best of the world around us – we  should add our flavor to the society we inhabit – we should be bringing out society’s best ingrained tendencies toward fidelity, toward purity of heart, toward noble self-offering for the greater good. And like salt cast into bad water, when we see society going off track, our work as disciples of Jesus should be to purify our society. We must be ready to call out the injustices and misdirections that go on year by year.

Right now we are in a particularly dark time in the United States. Our newly chosen leadership are taking us in a new direction which is guided by unfortunate and reprehensible leanings toward fear, prejudice, and greed. Every day we read or hear about a new order which seems to tear a little bit more at the social and political agreements which have governed our nation’s life. Likewise, every day we find that our system of checks and balances is struggling to provide necessary correction. It is a rapidly shifting sequence of events – we are on something of a political roller coaster. And great numbers of people – immigrants, refugees, racial minorities, LGBT people, women, and their allies are holding on for dear life – for this is not a thrill ride but reality – real lives and real livelihoods are on the line.

Brothers and sisters, this society needs us Christians to be salt. It is our job, given by Jesus Christ our Lord, to bring out the best, and to stand up to name the injustice and the threats to our society that we see around us. Every one of us should be on the phone or writing to our elected officials once a week or more. And every one of us should be alert to ways we can help people who need a voice to stand alongside them.

Now, some folks might say that social and political action like this are unrelated to our religious practice; you might think I should keep this sort of thing out of the pulpit. But turning to the prophet Isaiah, we read a dialogue about how suspicious God is of a religion and a religious practice that are disconnected from societal concerns for justice and freedom.

The chapter we heard from this morning was written at time when there was great uncertainty in Israel. Most of the nation’s leaders had been taken away to Babylon in a mass deportation into exile. At this point, some of those leaders were begining to return, but the monarchy, the Temple, and many of the institutions that provided social stability had been obliterated. So there was a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety about what sort of future God might have in mind – and what the people ought to do.

So the people cried out to God, and fasted – they made rituals of lament to God in sackcloth and ashes. But they did not feel that God was listening to them. They were doing all the right things religiously, but with no apparent answer. So they called out to God, “why are you ignoring us?”

God calls the people out – they may be fasting, but such a pious practice seems to be out of step with the way they are living their lives. Their religious customs are not integrated into the rest of their lives – as individuals or as a nation. “You fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist – such fasting will not make your voice heard on high.” The fasts are coexisting side by side with oppression of the workers, selfish greedy gain, speaking evil and pointing fingers.

Instead God lays out a plan for righteousness in Israel – rooting out injustice, liberating the oppressed, sharing bread with the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, clothing the naked – and not hiding in shameful sins, but openly practicing good and building a just society.

A fast that is pleasing to God, or for that matter, any religious practice – fasting, prayer, Baptism, Communion, Bible study, stewardship and tithing – to do these things in a way that pleases God means to integrate these things into our whole lives – both as individual Christians, and as a church community, and as faithful citizens. We do these things in order to get in touch with God, so that he might guide us and strengthen us to do his will. If our religion does not lead us to work for right relationships with others, and if our religion does not lead us to work for a just and peaceful society, then friends, we are doing it wrong.

Religion and politics do not mix, we are told – but Isaiah’s prophecy shows us quite clearly that our religion should guide our politics. It doesn’t mean that our religion should make us Democrats or Republicans, but that no matter our opinions, the way we do citizenship, and the goals to which we set our efforts should be guided by a quest for justice, peace, equity, and righteousness. This is what it means, in part, to be salty people – to be the salt of the earth.

In the First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul points out that this is going to be tough work. We speak a wisdom, Paul writes, that is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. Rather than taking our cues from the political flavor of the month, we look instead to God’s wisdom – a wisdom revealed most clearly in the vision of Jesus Christ crucified. Paul points out that the rulers of that age – political and religious leaders – crucified Jesus because they did not understand the truth of the divine wisdom that he offered. And it is clear to say that the rulers of this age understand it no better. I do not limit this to the present administration. The rulers of nations in our time must all come to terms with the fact that their power comes at least in part from the power of bullets and bombs and killer drones. To rule in this way is to turn one’s power over to the world, and away from the way of the Cross.

For the cross is foolishness to the world – it is power rejected and reversed and turned upside down – it is our own power given up entirely, and it is entrusting our lives entirely to the unseen hand of God. It is not to be understood by our own rational minds, nor by our corrupted and fickle hearts, but solely by the grace of God and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

This too is our saltiness – to reject the perpetual strivings of the world for power, for money, for hierarchy, for success, for safety, for superiority. Our saltiness is to seek God’s wisdom in the suffering – in the wretched – in the huddled masses yearning to breathe free – and to serve God by serving these who so dearly need our help and our voices and our support.

In this way we become the salt of the earth – we become people who are faithful, people who purify the society around us, people who offer ourselves in sacrifice, people who bring out the best of human ability, people who flavor the world with the savor of God’s invisible and eternal wisdom. And we become God’s light in the world. In the midst of darkness and troubled times, we let this wisdom shine everywhere we go, not that people might give glory to us, but to our God in heaven.

Finding Jesus on the Migrant Trail

Samaritan supplies for migrant trails

Supplies and a shrine for immigrants lost in the Arizona desert. Photos by KFB.

A Sermon for “Immigration Sunday,” May 29, 2016
by The Rev. John Fife

Readings:
Lesson: Leviticus 19:33–34
Psalm: Psalm 96
Epistle: Hebrews 13:1–2
The Holy Gospel: Matthew 25:31–40

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Love Something New

Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_018

Pentecost. Panel from the Maesta Altarpiece of Siena. Duccio, di Buoninsegna, d. 1319

A Sermon for the Day of Pentecost, May 15, 2016
by The Rev. Ben Garren

Readings:
Lesson: Acts 2:1-21
Psalm: Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Epistle: Romans 8:14-17
The Holy Gospel: John 14:8-17, (25-27)

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The Ascension

The Ascension
Copley, John Singleton, 1738-1815

Meaning of the Ascension

A Sermon for Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2016
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Mallory

Readings:
Lesson: Acts 16:16-34
Psalm: Psalm 97
Epistle: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
The Holy Gospel: John 17:20-26

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Peace I Leave with You!

Peace I Leave with You!
Tile from Peace Wall in Hamilton, New Zealand

Peace of Jesus

A Sermon for Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 1, 2016
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Mallory

Readings:
Lesson: Acts 16:9-15
Psalm: Psalm 67
Epistle: Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
The Holy Gospel: John 14:23-29

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Peter and the Resurrection Life

A Sermon for Third Sunday of Easter, April 10, 2016
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Mallory

Readings:
Lesson: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Psalm: Psalm 30
Epistle: Revelation 5:11-14
The Holy Gospel: John 21:1-19

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Milecastle 39 on Hadrian's Wall. Credit: Wikimedia.

Milecastle 39 on Hadrian’s Wall. Credit: Wikimedia.

Walled Out, Walled In, Walled Up

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter,  April 3, 2016
by The Rev. Dr. Clare Yarborough

Readings:
Lesson: Acts 5:27–32
Psalm 118:14–29
Epistle: Revelation 1:4–8
The Holy Gospel: John 20:19–31


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The Macklin Bible -- The Marys at the Sepulchre

Smirke, Robert, 1752-1845 ; Sharp, William, 1749-1824. The Macklin Bible — The Marys at the Sepulchre, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Fear Not

A Sermon for Easter Vigil, March 26, 2016
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Mallory

Readings:
Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 and Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18
Ezekiel 36:24-28 and Psalm 42, 43
Romans 6:3-11 and Psalm 114
Gospel: Luke 24:1-12

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The Passion and “A Word to the Church”

A Sermon for Palm Sunday,  March 20, 2016
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Mallory

Readings:
Liturgy of the Palms
The Holy Gospel: Luke 19:28-40
Liturgy of the Passion
Lesson: Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm: Psalm 31:9-16
Epistle: Philippians 2:5-11
The Holy Gospel: Luke 23:1-49


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A New Thing

A Sermon for Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 13, 2016
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Mallory

Readings:
Lesson: Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm: Psalm 126
Epistle: Philippians 3:4b-14
The Holy Gospel: John 12:1-8

Check this out on Chirbit

Selected Sermons from 2015:

Fr. John R. SmithWhy be Afraid?

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 7B, June 21, 2015

By Father John R. Smith

Readings:
1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 (or 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16)
Psalm 9:9-20 (or Psalm 133)
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41


My favorite museum in the world is the one on Princes Street in Edinburgh, Scotland. I went in the door with my traveling buddy, David Carey in 1973. Immediately, I liked the way the museum was organized. David and I agreed that we would spend two hours in this glorious place. The first room had a couple of paintings from Titian and then each room led to other periods and styles. We were on a kind of schedule, so I reminded David again, checked out the painting of Titian for a minute or two and then left David to go at his own pace and took off for the next rooms, upstairs, all over. I had a ball getting the clearest vision of the evolution of painting I had ever seen. I’d go back in a minute!At the two hour point, I found myself coming down the stairs having enjoyed myself so much and eager to share thoughts about our experience with David. There was David! He had stayed and made a sketch of the very first painting by Titian and had not seen the rest of the museum, that I had so much enjoyed, at all! When I started my foot-tapping routine and reminded David that the two hours were up, he said cheerfully, “Ok, I’m ready to go.” When I pointed out how much he missed, he excitedly showed me his drawing and explained the intricacies of Titian’s work.

I thought of this story/experience and David’s concentration on the Tit

ian painting, because there is a very famous painting by

Rembrandt: Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee - 1633

Rembrandt: Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee – 1633

Rembrandt entitled “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” It was part of the Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum collection which was stolen in 1990. No one knows where it is to this day. Any way, if a picture is worth a thousand words, this one sure is! There’s this fishing boat being tossed by the waves and wind. Rembrandt’s play of lights and darks are fantastic: sky, dark and ominous, and waves catching furious light. (Wow, what an art critic I am!) There are 13 SoBs (Souls on Board: 12 disciples and Jesus). Eleven faces are full of terror, one disciple is vomiting over the side.

Only Jesus, asleep and resting, and one other, looks to be at peace, as the boat is wracked by the storm. The one, besides Jesus, who seems at peace, looks out from the scene and seems to be looking right at anyone looking at the painting. They say this is probably a self-portrait of Rembrandt himself! He seems to draw the viewer close and say “Why, are you, too, afraid? Where is your faith?”

(I was directly asked this question of my flight instructor when I objected at his leaving the aircraft and telling me to go solo fly it! He asked: “You’re a Priest aren’t you, don’t you have any faith?”)

The frightened disciples cry out to Jesus: “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” Talk about blasphemy, of course Jesus cares!

But that’s exactly what the disciples and we do all the time: We say to Jesus (with various levels of emotion) “Don’t you care about us!?” “Take care of us and all our problems!” We forget that Jesus is sleeping in the boat because he trusts us and our skills at getting the boat through the storm! He’s with us for sure, catching a few zzzzz’s, nothing real bad is going to happen to us, unless we panic. I’m leaving this boat and take my chances and swim to shore on my own!

But the truth of this Gospel scene and the main lesson of the painting is: No one on this whole earth cares more for us than Jesus Risen. Hopefully, our response is not fear, fear, and more fear, but “Thank you, Lord, Thank you, Lord, Thank you, Lord.”

Faith and trust are the opposite of fear. If you’re ever fearful, trust! We need to remember that Jesus is in the boat with us at all times. He may seem to be sleeping, or maybe he’s just watching how we are going to handle things: with fear, bringing upset and turmoil, or with love and trust. Like my flight instructor story. I get back from my solo landings, excited, heart pounding, and go back to his office and find him listening to music with his feet up on the desk, calm as a clam!

And talk about the disciples’ fear of the storm. When they wake Jesus up and he does calm the wind and waves with a word, they are even more fearful (you can see it in the Greek text more clearly) than ever. They are in the presence of the living God! “Who is this that even the wind and sea obey him?” OMG! So they, like us disciples of Jesus live in fear of nature (the storm) and fear the Presence of the Almighty (the Word) all the time. We don’t want to go through the storm and we don’t want to allow God to really act in this world on our watch! We prefer a nice low-grade fear to living in faith!

What’s the message of all this? Relax, take a short-cut to faith that by-passes fear, fear, and more fear. Like the disciples, we will get to shore through the storm and Jesus will lead us on new adventures. We can take heart in the oft-quoted words of Julian of Norwich, the distillation of all her mystical experience and insight: “All will be well, all manner of things will be well!”

"How can Satan drive out Satan?

“How can Satan drive out Satan?

It Happens All the Time

A Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost,
June 7th, 2015
By Father John R. Smith

Readings:
Lesson: 1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
Psalm: Psalm 138
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
The Holy Gospel: Mark 3:20-35

When you’re a kid on the playground, one of the things you see is the phenomenon of the “pig pile.” Kids are playing and one of them gets attention, for good or ill, and someone calls out the name and pushes the kid to the ground and all the other kids run and jump on the singled-out one forming a “pile” which, if you on the bottom is very unpleasant because you’re getting the air squashed out from you from the weight of everyone on top. Pig-piling, scapegoating, blaming, accusing, pointing the finger, is part of human culture. As long as we’re not on the bottom we don’t mind taking part or a least watching from a distance. This is how the majority of people experience peace in this world: make sure others are singled out, watch them get piled on, avoid being in the pile if you can, look on from a distance, and you find a relative peace.In today’s gospel, Jesus has been doing some good things and when he wanted to rest and eat something with his disciples, a crowd formed again. Some of the scribes from Jerusalem were in the crowd. They perceived Jesus to be a threat to their religious viewpoint fashioned from the Law. If Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath, which was against the Law because such an act was considered “working,” then Jesus was evil, there was no question about it, end of story.

The scribes try to get the crowd worked up, singling Jesus out. “He has Beelezebul, and by the ruler of demons he casts out demons.” Jesus continues teaching in parables and then finally responds to the taunts with, no kidding, the Million Dollar Question: “How can Satan cast out Satan?” To Jesus’ way of thinking, which he hopes will be his followers thinking also, it is impossible for the Evil One to cast out the Evil One, or violence to cast out or stop violence. It might appear to for a time, but it will be short-lived and continue its destructive ways. Jesus goes on to explain that, only by allowing the Holy Spirit to enter human relationships and culture can a true and lasting peace be created in this world. And unfortunately, God the Holy Spirit is blasphemed, ignored, considered irrelevant, all the time! Demonstrated by the lack of mercy and forgiveness between people and nations in the world. This is the “eternal sin,” the sin against the Holy Spirit which cannot be forgiven.

How can Satan cast out Satan? The short answer is: It happens all the time! We are constantly confronting Satan’s power in this world and, instead of letting the Holy Spirit guide us, we resort to accusing, pointing the finger, slander, and murder, all of these the modus operandi of Satan. Where you find accusation of a victim, pig-piling, the lynch mob mentality of self-righteousness there is Satan. Where there is defense of a victim’s humanity, forgiveness, mercy, refusal to hit-back, there you have the Paraclete, the one called alongside to defend the victim, there you have the Holy Spirit.

We’re reminded this morning that God wanted to be the King of his people, but they demanded Samuel to give them a human king like all the peoples around them. Kings need armies to defend their power and also need to provide a steady stream of victims, to maintain a semblance of peace and control. Our world has plenty of kings and many, many victims. Is it all too late for us now? Can we never go back to a different way of living? Jesus Christ says it still is possible, it’s not too late for everyone to realize and experience a new way of living, to create a new culture, to bring in God’s Kingdom. This is the Good News! Jesus is open for relationships, not just to his blood relatives, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you,” but Jesus desires a relationship with every person who desires to be part of a new, transformed, culture. Who are Jesus’ relatives? He looked at everyone standing there (probably the Scribes too) and then said: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Let’s not throw up our hands and listen to Satan’s taunts: You can’t know the will of God! On the contrary, we will hear every Sunday for the next 25 weeks what God’s will for us is straight from the mouth of Jesus and his own example in the Gospel. We just have to put in into practice, and we can, with the Holy Spirit’s help. It happens all the time!

Amen!

Meat on the Bones

Holy Trinity . Rublev, Andreĭ, Saint, d. ca. 1430"

Holy Trinity . Rublev, Andreĭ, Saint, d. ca. 1430

A Sermon for Trinity Sunday,
May 31st, 2015
By Father John R. Smith


Readings:
Lesson: Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm: Psalm 29
Epistle: Romans 8:12-17
The Holy Gospel: John 3:1-1


Check this out on Chirbit “Meat on the Bones”
Sermon for Trinity Sunday (Year B)
MP3
(should play with iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc.)

The Shepherd’s Other Folds

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. Courtesy of http://www.churchhouseclipart.com/.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. Courtesy of http://www.churchhouseclipart.com/.

A Sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday,
April 26th, 2015
By Father John R. Smith

Readings:
Lesson: Acts 4:5-12
Psalm: Psalm 23
Epistle: 1 John 3:16-24
The Holy Gospel: John 10:11-18

There’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time and I wonder if you have been thinking about it too: The Eucharistic Prayer always uses the “past” tense in talking about what Jesus accomplished in his life, death, and Resurrection. For example in Eucharistic Prayer B which we are using on the Sunday’s during Eastertide it says, “In him, you have delivered us from evil, and made us worthy to stand before you. In him, you have brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.”

Sometimes I ask myself: If Jesus has accomplished all this, how come the world continues to be so ensconced in so much evil, error, sin and death? Why were 30 Ethiopian Christians taken out and beheaded this past week for their faith? Is this the Love that John was talking about when he said “he laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” The world and media sees this as a terrorist act by a group (ISIS, radical Islamic state who only want like-believing Muslims as citizens) who needs to be destroyed, but as followers of Jesus we can look at them as believers who were martyred for their faith. They refused to deny their faith in Christ and convert to Islam so they suffered the penalty of death.

This puts in relief the radical statement in the last verse of the Acts of the Apostles today: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” So, when the Caliph’s representative asked those Christians if they would convert to Islam or be put to death, they lived out their belief in Christ to the end. They kept their faith in Jesus because there is “no other name by which we must be saved.”

Many Christians today react to the exclusivity of that statement. Many Christians would state the popular refrain: We all believe in the same God. What’s the big deal?

I do believe it is important, who it is that brings us “out of death into life.” But what if the exclusivity of “Jesus alone” grates on our sensibilities? We don’t want to disrespect other religions or understandings of God. Perhaps it’s because, for too long, Christians have seen other faiths or belief systems as “rivals.” This is too bad, really, because what we believe the death and resurrection of Jesus does for us, is done not just for us but for all. As we love him, we love all of humanity, the brothers and sisters we have in this world. There is no more rivalry for followers of Jesus. We live into what Jesus has accomplished by his death and Resurrection. We refuse to be rivals with others who believe differently, we love them and refuse to be in conflict with them. We love Jesus and follow him, hoping that the benefits of this following (eternal life) will be given to everyone who desires those benefits.

It comes down to the Jesus’ statement in the Gospel today: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, cares for all sheep, even those who are not immediately in the fold. He gives his life for all the sheep. The context in John’s gospel for Jesus’ reference to himself as the good shepherd comes from chapter 5 where Jesus healed a paralyzed man at the Sheep Gate. The Sheep Gate is where the shepherd led all the sheep into a holding area (a side point: our whole notion of animal husbandry comes out of this sacrificial context) where one sheep after another was led in to be killed by the priests in sacrifice. Jesus calls himself the good shepherd because he is different from most shepherds, he doesn’t just drop off the sheep like the so-called “hirelings” who deliver the sheep for slaughter and runs off. Jesus stays with the sheep and is sacrificed with, and more importantly, for the sheep.

The point of all this is, that Jesus Christ, incarnate Son of God, took our human nature and come among us to bring an end to the sacrificial culture that has been with us from Adam and Eve’s disobedience and Cain’s slaying of his brother Abel. Jesus paid all the debts that we hold over one another as individuals, nations, and races. He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin (violence) of the world! With Jesus example and Grace controlling our wills, we step back from the culture of death, from requiring death from others who harm us, and enter into God’s abundant life. Those who believe have eternal life. They have passed from death into life.Jesus has won the ultimate victory over death once for all, it’s done, it’s accomplished, but we still need to live into it, by extricating ourselves from the sacrificial systems of the world, especially the ones aimed at the poor who are always the first sacrificed so that others may have and keep more, and, in doing all this, show our trust in God and the fruits of the Resurrection, with our whole being.

This is very Good News! Amen!

No Darkness at All

In him there is no darkness at all. Photo by KFB.

In him there is no darkness at all. Photo by KFB.

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter,
April 12th, 2015
By Father John R. Smith


Readings:
Lesson: Acts 4:32-35
Psalm: Psalm 133
Epistle: 1 John 1:1-2:2
The Holy Gospel: John 20:19-31

This is the first Sunday in what we call Eastertide. All the scripture readings of the liturgy during this time are chosen for the benefit of those newly baptized to introduce them to some of the most important teachings of their faith in Jesus. The readings are most useful for us who renewed our baptismal covenant last Sunday as well, as we make a fresh start in our following of the Lord Jesus.
The First Letter of John was written especially to those beginning the christian life. In today’s passage we have one of the most important and radical teachings of our Eastertide journey:This is the message we heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

This is a most fundamental insight for anyone wishing to live the Christian life: in God there is no darkness at all. I call this a radical statement of truth because of the fact that since the beginning of time our ancestors and ourselves to this day like our god to have a “dark” side to them. Thinking of all the gods of the Greeks, Romans, and the eastern religions, all have a “dark side.” This would include the God of the Hebrews as well. Abraham is told by God to sacrifice his own son Isaac. And think of all the violent actions in the Hebrew Bible attributed to God– definitely showing a dark side to our Creator God, until Jesus comes along and reveals the true nature of God as lover of all creation and loving Father of every human being as a child, a precious daughter or son, and we realize that all the disasters and killing in the Old Testament attributed to God are mostly, entirely, projections on God of violence wrought by human beings on other human beings.This is the message we heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.What about us today? Why do why we persist or welcome the idea of a god with a dark side as part of our experience of God?Perhaps because it suits us to call upon the “dark side” of our God experience whenever we want to excuse the violent, lethal things that we human beings do to one another. We really want our God to love us, but also have a dark side when it’s convenient for us. It’s something always in the back of our minds. We’re not perfect and really, we hope, neither is God.

But the truth is, as the Resurrection of Jesus attests, that our God is totally about life. Death is our thing. It’s what we do, not what God does. If God is not about death, then we can’t take part in violence leading to death.
When Jesus appeared to his disciples after the Resurrection he says: Peace be with you. What kind of “peace” is Jesus bestowing upon his disciples? We know they were upset at their Lord’s death, they probably were feeling guilty for having fled the scene or denied him, and they might have been arguing among themselves who was to blame or which of them could change what happened. Maybe the old argument they had often of who was the greatest among them. Did Jesus greet them with peace to say “Stop!” Stop the rivalry between them.

Jesus breathes the Spirit upon them and tells them to bring forgiveness to the world. If they don’t get to it, sin will be retained and the world will continue in rivalry and unforgiveness leading to more and more violence and death. How often has this passage been understood as Jesus giving his disciples the power on earth to decide who is going to heaven and who is going to hell? So is Jesus saying spread my forgiving, merciful love in the world (and get to it!) or is Jesus teaching them (and us) to be deciders for who’s going to hell? I doubt it’s the latter!

So far, two teachings have been given to those starting their lives as disciples of Jesus Christ: one, know that in God there is no darkness at all, and two, you are called to be peacemakers in this world.

If we were to add one more teaching to these first two today it would be this: don’t think “I can live this life in Christ on my own,” but instead be part of a believing community that shares.

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possession, but everything they owned was held in common.

This passage has sometimes been described as supporting Communism: no private ownership, everything owned in common.  But the big difference between a christian community and a communist equivalent is the sharing in the christian community is completely non-rivalrous and comes from the heart full of the presence of the Risen Lord Jesus. Everything is a gift of God’s abundance! Communism, on the other hand, leads to increased rivalry over power and scarcity of goods and remains an ideology of the mind that is imposed by the State.

Rowan Williams, the last Archbishop of Canterbury, is quoted as saying that the Resurrection must renew humanity in forgiveness. The empty tomb and the apparitions of Jesus prove nothing really. Only forgiveness rooted in and proclaimed by believers in Christ prove the Resurrection happened. Forgiveness and mercy undergird the three teachings of this Second Sunday of Easter: God is light and in him there is no darkness at all; we are called to be peacemakers in this world; and we are called to live in a community of faith where everything is seen as a gift of God and shared!

With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

So the question is: How will you and I testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in our time?

Easter Joy

Correggio - Noli Me Tangere - (Do not hold me.) 1518

Correggio – Noli Me Tangere – (Do not hold me.) 1518

A Sermon for Easter Sunday,
April 5th, 2015
By Father John R. Smith


Readings:
Lesson: Exodus 132:1-14
Psalm: Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Epistle: Philippians 4:1-9
The Holy Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14

The first thing I want to do is wish everyone here a most happy Easter! And where does all the happiness and joy of Easter come from, but from the truth that death is conquered once for all by Resurrection of Jesus Christ.The world/humanity/we declared Jesus guilty and threw every bit of hatred and abuse we could muster at him and then executed him, but God stepped in and declared Jesus innocent and raised him from the dead. People saw him. Disciples/friends, filled with grief, saw him and had their sadness turned to joy.If Christ is not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain. (1 Cor 15:14)The Resurrection of Jesus is the starting point for everything we are about. Death has truly been conquered. The fear of death and loss that causes all the rivalry between people and the violence and suffering that flows from it is done away with when death is eliminated.Resurrection allows all people to relate to each other in new, loving ways. All the old categories, dualities, judgements are done away with: life/death, good/evil, light/darkness, Jew/Gentile, religious/non-religious, Christian/non-Christian. All are invited into LIFE: a whole new basis of relating to everyone on the planet that doesn’t depend on having enemies or expecting some people to be against others as a “normal” way of living.Resurrection is the new “Normal” declared by the Creator of the world. This is the source of our Easter Joy!

The Mind of Christ

Juan de Roleas, On the Way to Golgatha

Juan de Roleas, On the Way to Golgatha

A Sermon for Palm Sunday,
March 29th, 2015
By Father John R. Smith

Readings:
Liturgy of the Palms
Psalm: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
The Holy Gospel: Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16

Liturgy of the Passion
Lesson: Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm: Psalm 31:9-16
Epistle: Philippians 2:5-11
The Holy Gospel: Mark 14:1-15:47 or Mark 15:1-39, (40-47)

This past week, on Wednesday, we celebrated the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord when the angel Gabriel “announced” to Mary that she was chosen to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and be with child, a child destined to be savior of the world. Totally perplexed by the angel’s greeting, she managed to voice her acceptance and allow God’s will to be done in her. God incarnate would be the result.But what does God Incarnate mean? Are we talking about a “human” God or a Divine person who fully shares our human nature? The difference is huge: is the one conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit a human being whose human nature is full of divine power or Someone (with a capital S) who is just like us, with all the same temptations we have, but whose will was so attuned to God (the Father) that he never sinned.Paul’s letter to the Philippians helps answer this question:Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

How can we be urged to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus if He had access to special powers all during his life? We don’t have any special powers! We have to live everyday in faith/trust in God. And because Jesus didn’t grasp, but let go of his divinity, completely emptying himself of it all, becoming a slave/servant among us, we arrive at the conclusion that Jesus who we follow, though God from eternity, has a human nature just like us- bereft of any special powers that would make life in this world easier for him than for us.

The verses directly before Paul calls us to have the same mind as Christ Jesus shed more light on what we are talking about here:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others.

But doesn’t this run completely counter to the way the world operates? Yet, only this attitude of living, if adopted by us, as Mary herself did, will bring us in congruence with the mind of Jesus. Jesus in the Incarnation, never felt he had to exert his personality to compete with his Father. There was never a kind of Frank Sinatra “I did it my way!” Jesus consistently talked of being one with his Father, doing the works of his Father (“I do everything which I see my Father do.”), saying that to see him was to see the Father, all of these statements made in the context of the limitations of human nature he embraced.

Isn’t it true though, that often the world sees Jesus as a “human god” rather than God in real human flesh? Don’t the vast majority of people in the world, in general, and the powers of this world, especially, see Jesus’ life and teaching of love of enemies, non-violence, and forgiveness, as basically impractical for the “real world,” thinking, maybe Jesus could do it because he was “divine,” which gave him special stamina and fortitude, but we’re not blessed with special powers like Jesus was?

This kind of thinking has “real world” implications, when, in every challenge we face:  war, injustice, terrorism, hunger, you name it, from people on the street, to Congress and the Oval Office, and the whole world, consider the teaching of Jesus as irrelevant because there is something special in Jesus’ humanity that we will never share, that we could never act on in this “real world.”. But as all the crises of the world continue to mount up, the whole point of the Incarnation is missed: that the Father, in sending his Son Jesus, has given us a human being that we can imitate fully! Jesus had no special pass or privilege. Jesus was like us in everything. He was not a “human god,” but a Divine person, who in taking on our humanity completely gave up every advantage for himself to show us that we can live like him without rivalry or revenge or impulse to violent self-defense. We saw this in Jesus facing the crowds and the powers of this world in every line of the Passion account this morning.  As Mother Clare and I sing with the children every Tuesday morning: The one way to peace is the power of the Cross. His banner over me is Love. The children get it, we adults need to catch up.

Amen