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Easter 6A RCL    May 21, 2017

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14: 15-21

As we think about our first reading today, we remember that last Sunday, Saul was witnessing the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. At that point in his life, Saul was a major persecutor of the followers of Jesus. Soon, Saul would be walking on the road to Damascus and would have an encounter with the risen Lord that would change his life. So profound was this transformation that Saul received a new name—Paul.

Since we last saw him, Paul has been spreading the Good News among Gentile people. His ministry has taken him to such places as Philippi and Thessalonica. Now, he is in Athens, a cosmopolitan city, a center of learning, and a city with temples and monuments to the many Greek gods.

Paul is well educated. He is familiar with Greek writers and scholars and with Greek philosophy. In his sermon, he quotes two Greek writers, Epimenides, who wrote that “In God we live and move and have our being,” and Aratus, who said that we are all God’s offspring. (Carl Holladay, Preaching through the Christian Year A, p.277.)

Paul is delivering his sermon at a kind of speaker’s corner in front of the Areopagus, a place where people representing many points of view were welcome to give speeches to the gathered crowds. Paul honors the knowledge and traditions of the Greeks. He tells the people that their tomb dedicated to an unknown god actually is a monument to the Creator of the world, the God of all peoples. This is an excellent example of Paul’s evangelistic approach: he honored the culture of the people to whom he was speaking; he approached them on terms that were familiar to them. This is one reason why he was able to share the new faith in a way that reached people of all classes and levels of education. This gave him the ability to start new communities of faith wherever he went.

As we look at our reading from the First Letter of Peter, we remember that this letter, which was addressed to household slaves and aliens living in Asia Minor, was designed to help these faithful followers of Jesus to survive during a time of persecution.

God does not want anyone to suffer persecution of any kind. God does not want us to suffer. We live in an imperfect world that is not operating according to God’s vision of shalom. But these people were indeed suffering under persecution, not only from the Roman Empire, but also from their own masters and others on a more local basis. The main theme of this letter is that, whenever we are going through times of suffering, we can remember that our Lord suffered the worst that tyrants and despots can do, and he came through it all. Most importantly, he is alive and present among us right now to give us the gift of newness of life, life in a different and richer dimension.

Our gospel for today directly follows last week’s gospel, in which Jesus tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, Believe in God, Believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” This is one of the most comforting and encouraging and strengthening passages in the Bible. In God’s house, there is room for everyone who sincerely wants to be there.

Now, in the following text, our Lord is getting even more deeply to the heart of the Good News. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If we love him, we will love our neighbor as ourselves. We will love and serve others as he did when he was here on earth.  Jesus will be with us. He says he will not leave us orphaned. We will not be alone.

He is going to send the Holy Spirit to be with us. And he says, “Because I live you also will live.”  He says, “You will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” St. Paul knew exactly what Jesus was talking about. He said. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are made fully alive in Christ. We are given the grace and power to do his work in the world. And we are connected with our Lord with bonds of love that nothing can break.

There is a beautiful canticle for the Easter season in the Book of Common Prayer, and I would like us to say this together as a prayer of joy and faith. It is on Page 83.

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
   therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
   but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin once for all;
   but the life he lives, he lives to God.

So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
  and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.
Christ has been raised from the dead,
   the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since by a man came death,
  by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die,
 so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.


Easter 4A RCL May 7, 2017

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

Our opening reading from the Book of Acts gives us a dynamic snapshot of the early Church. “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They studied together. They reflected on what the apostles had taught them.

They still went to the Temple each day because they still considered themselves part of the Jewish community. But they also met in each others’ homes to pray together and to share in the breaking of the bread. Their whole mission was to share the love of Christ with each other and with everyone they met. That love caused them to share everything in common. They took care of each other. If someone had a need, that need was met. And because of the depth of their love and faith, new members joined them every day.

As we continue to read the Book of Acts, we will see that controversies came up early in the Church’s history, and they have continued into the present time. But that quality of love and caring, centered on the presence of the risen Christ at the center of the
community, has held the Jesus movement together for over two thousand years.

Our psalm today is one of the most beloved psalms in the Bible. Each of us has turned to this inspiring song of praise many times in our lives.

As we have said earlier, the First Letter of Peter was addressed to Christians suffering persecution under the Roman Empire in Asia Minor, or what is now called Turkey. Scholars tell us that the letter was especially addressed to slaves and aliens. This section of the letter actually begins, “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle, but also those who are harsh.” Today, we know that slavery is wrong. Two thousand years ago, these words were written to give encouragement to people who had no power and were suffering because of their faith. They were encouraged to remember how Christ suffered on the cross and
to follow his example of courage. We can imagine that this message could have given hope to those who suffered in slavery here in our own country. But I believe that our Lord would also want us to say that no one should be enslaved in any way. We are called to help free those who are the victims of domestic violence or human trafficking
or any other form of slavery.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday, and our gospel comes from the tenth chapter of John’s gospel. Jesus has just healed the blind man, and the Pharisees are investigating the healing and challenging Jesus at every turn. Jesus has just told them that they are spiritually blind leaders.

Jesus presents us with a typical scene from the Middle East. There is a large sheepfold in the village, surrounded by a stone wall. In the wall there is a gate. There is even a gatekeeper, so this must be quite a large village. The sheep go into the fold to spend the night in a protected place. In the morning, the shepherds come to get their sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd, and the shepherd goes into the fold, calls to his sheep, and leads them out. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd. They will not follow anyone else.

His listeners do not seem to understand what he is saying, so Jesus tells them, “I am the gate for the sheep.” He has implied that he is the Good Shepherd, in contrast to the thieves and robbers who might come to harm the sheep, but now he says that he is the gate into the safety of the fold. Jesus is our good shepherd, and he is also “the
way, the truth and the life.” By following him, we go into the safety of the fold and we are under his care and protection.

And he tells us, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Following him brings us into another and different kind of life. We call it eternal life, life in his kingdom. It is life in another and deeper dimension. As we follow him and spend time with him and learn from him and pray with him, we are changed.

Let’s review the context of our gospel this morning. Jesus has just healed a blind man on the sabbath. The Pharisees are upset because Jesus is not following the law. Our Lord’s description of himself as the Good Shepherd is his response to the Pharisees, some of whom have abused their power and have become wealthy as a result. For example, some Pharisees would become spiritual advisors to widows and, in the process, take all of the widows’ savings.

Jesus puts the needs of people before everything else. In Matthew’s gospel, he makes this very clear when he says, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me….Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these, who are members my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36, 40b) His care for us, his flock, translates into our care for others in his Name.

Each of knows his voice. Each of us knows when our Good Shepherd is calling us. Each of us is trying, with his help, to follow him faithfully. He knows each of us, our strengths and our weaknesses, our gifts and our flaws, and he loves us with a love that nothing can

As we reflect on our readings today, we can remember that our brothers and sisters in congregations two thousand years ago were following him, and our brothers and sisters in Asia Minor, living as aliens and slaves, found hope and strength in him. Our brothers and sisters in the Coptic Church in Egypt and in Syria, and Yemen, and Iran, and Pakistan. and many other places, remain faithful in the midst of persecution.

May each of us listen for his voice. May all of us together listen for his voice.P And may we follow him with faith and hope and love. Amen.

Easter 3A RCL April 30, 2017

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

Our opening reading is a continuation from last Sunday’s passage. Peter tells the gathered crowd that Jesus is Lord and Messiah. The people are “cut to the heart” because of the death of Jesus, and they ask Peter what they can do? He tells them that they can repent, that is, confess to God that they are truly sorry and that they want to change their lives; they want to follow Jesus. The end result is that three thousand people are baptized on that Pentecost. Because of the powerful faith and witness of Peter and the other apostles, scenes like this continued to happen, and they are described in the Book of Acts.

In our second reading, from the First Letter of Peter, we remember that he is addressing people who are living under persecution. They are in exile because they are following different values and living different lives from those around them. Their lives have been transformed through meeting Jesus. Peter reminds them and us that we are now trusting in God and that our faith and hope are set on God. Peter calls them and us to love one another deeply from our hearts because we have been born anew.

Our gospel today is from Luke. As in last week’s gospel, it is the first Easter. This is one of the most beloved gospel stories, the Walk to Emmaus. Two followers of Jesus are going along the seven mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They know that Jesus has been crucified. That is a fact. Some of the women have been to Jesus’ tomb, have found it empty, and have had a vision of angels telling them that Jesus has risen. Some others in the group have gone to the tomb and found it empty.

We know that one of the men is named Cleopas. The other remains unnamed. We do not know for sure where they are from, but I think they probably live in Emmaus and are heading home. When we have been following a great leader and spiritual guide and he is brutally killed, sometimes our instinct is to head home, where we can be with people we love, and regroup.

They are walking along, grieving over Jesus’ death and wondering: has he really risen from the dead? They are in deep grief because they know he died on the cross. But they are also having glimmers of hope. Could it be true? Could he have risen? They did not go to see the empty tomb themselves, but people they knew and trusted saw that reality and experienced the vision of the angels. Could they trust all of that? Could they allow themselves to hope? They are talking about all these things.

Suddenly a stranger is walking along with him. They do not recognize him. In all of these post-resurrection accounts, this happens over and over again. There is something different about Jesus. He looks like himself, but he also has changed. Also, people know that he has died, and that is the reality they are dealing with.

The stranger asks them what they have been talking about and they tell him what has happened. They go over the whole story. I imagine they may be shocked when he tells them how foolish they are not to believe what the prophets have said. Then he gives them a short course in the scriptures. They still do not recognize him.

As they near the village of Emmaus, Jesus walks on as if to continue his journey. They offer hospitality to him because night is coming. He goes in to stay with them. When they sit down to eat and he breaks the bread, they recognize him. But then he vanishes.

Then they are able to tell each other how he set their hearts on fire when he was talking about the scriptures and how their eyes and hearts were opened to the truth.

They get up and head back to Jerusalem, where they find the eleven apostles and their close friends gathered. The apostles tell the two men that the Lord is risen and has appeared to Peter. The two men, in turn, share their encounter with the risen Lord on the Road to Emmaus. As time goes on, the risen Lord will appear to different people here and there until they all realize that he is alive.

When we have seen or experienced something terrible, as these two men and all of Jesus’ followers had experienced his crucifixion, the horror of the thing is so dark and overwhelming that it is almost impossible to hope. We feel paralyzed. Often after a tragic experience such as that, we feel nothing. We are numb. That is a protective mechanism the body has in order to help us keep going. It is called psychic numbing.

As time goes on, we are afraid to feel anything. Like these two men, we find it difficult to hope again. I think that is part of the reason why they don’t recognize the living Lord. They know for certain that he is dead. And they do not dare to hope for anything else.

But there he is, a stranger on the road. There he is, walking with us, asking us what is going on in our lives and we are telling him about these horrible things that have happened, things he knows all about because he has endured them—he is with us in all our sufferings—and then we realize. There he is. He has come through it all and is leading us. Like the biblical Good Shepherd that he is, he is out ahead of the flock, helping us to stay away from the bad water holes and leading us to good pasture, telling us that there is always hope and leading us into his vision of shalom—peace, love, and wholeness for each of us and for the entire creation. New life.

And always, always, he makes himself known to us in the breaking of the bread.  Always, no matter what, he is with us. Amen.

Easter 2A RCL April 23, 2017

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

On most of the Sundays of the Church year, our first reading is taken from the Hebrew scriptures, also called the Old Testament. During the Great Fifty Days of Easter, our first reading comes from the Greek scriptures, or New Testament. This helps us to focus on the fact that we are an Easter people.

Our opening lesson takes place on the Day of Pentecost. Just prior to our reading from today, the Holy Spirit has filled the disciples with the gift of being able to speak the languages of the known world at that time. All the people who have come for the feast of Pentecost are able to hear the Good News in their native languages.

Our reading for today is Peter’s sermon preached to the people who had just experienced this amazing event. They were wondering what all of this could mean. Peter links the ministry of Jesus to the reign of  the great King David, the most beloved and revered king of the Jewish people. That is to say, Peter does what any good preacher does. He presents his message in a context  that the people will understand. He ends with some words which sum up the  Good News, “This Jesus God raised up, and of this we are all witnesses.”

Our epistle comes much later in Peter’s life. Some scholars think that Peter dictated this letter to Silvanus just before he died in Rome. The letter is addressed to Christians who are suffering persecution in Asia Minor, what we would now call Turkey. The Church has grown. There are now congregations all around the Mediterranean Sea. But the Church is being persecuted because it believes in Jesus and refuses to worship earthly rulers. Answering Jesus’ call to be peacemakers, the early Christians refused to fight in the military. They also shared all things in common. For these and other reasons, the Church was  considered by those in power to be subversive.

Peter once again focuses on the core of our belief in a beautiful hymn of praise. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”

What a gift, the wondrous gift of new life in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Every year, our gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter is this inspiring and moving passage from the Gospel of John. Of our three readings, this is historically the earliest one.

It is the evening of the first Easter. Mary has gone to the tomb and found it empty. She has seen the risen Lord and has told the others. The first thing to keep clearly in mind is that they are full of fear. They are hiding behind locked doors for fear of the authorities. The powers that be were quick to clamp down on any insurgent movements. They had already killed Jesus. What would they do now?

Jesus comes right through the walls of their fear. He brings peace, not only peace in the usual sense, but also his vision of shalom, a peace that begins in our hearts and lives and spreads over the whole wide earth, a harmony that not only brings the end of war but unites all people and the whole creation in a way that brings well being to everyone. And our Lord confers on his followers, including us, the ministry of reconciliation.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says that to reconcile is to “restore to friendship or harmony.” (p. 984). Because of their encounters with the risen Christ and the power of his love and healing,  the followers of Jesus were able, with God’s grace, to create communities which lived these values. People were welcomed, no matter what their economic status or education, and they experienced our Lord’s love and healing through the faith and life of the community.

All of this began in that room where the disciples were gathered in fear. That changed when our Lord came to let them know that they had no reason to fear. He called them to go out into the world, go beyond those locked doors, and share his love with everyone they met.

Fear was transformed into faith, and that faith spread the Good News all around the Mediterranean and gave thousands and thousands of people new hope and a new purpose in life.

That is why we are here today. Because that faith means everything to us. It is our beacon in challenging times. We know that the love of God in Christ is the most powerful force in the world. It changes people’s lives. It has changed our lives.

Now, over two thousand years after that first Easter and that first Pentecost, we are called to carry out our Lord’s ministry of reconciliation, to help to build his shalom of peace and harmony.

Grace Church has been doing this for over two hundred years, Thanks be to God.

Gracious God, give us, we pray, the grace to be channels of your peace, your love, your joy, and your healing.  Amen.

Easter 7A RCL June 1, 2014

Acts 1:6-14

Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

John 17:1-11

This past Thursday, forty days after Easter, the Church celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. Our first reading today describes that event.

Jesus takes the apostles to Mount Olivet, a short distance outside Jerusalem.  They ask him whether he is now going to bring in his kingdom. He tells them it is not for them to know the timing of that. It will happen in God’s timing.We can image that they might have felt embarrassed, or scolded. They probably wished they had not asked that question.

I don’t think Jesus is trying to scold them. He is asking them to trust God for the timing of things, and he is letting them know the amazing things that are going to happen. He tells them that they are going to receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. That is going to happen very soon. This coming Sunday we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. He tells them and us that they and we will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. And indeed the Spirit did come upon them, dancing like flames of fire over their heads, blowing like the desert wind–ruach and giving them the gift to speak in all the known languages of the world.

At this point, standing on Mount Olivet with Jesus, they had no idea that this was going to happen. But somehow we can imagine that they realized that he was conferring upon them something very important. In fact, he was passing on his ministry to them. He was telling them that they would receive power from God so that they could go forth and share the good news about Jesus.

Abruptly, he is lifted into the heavens. They gaze up as he disappears into the clouds. Two men in white robes appear and ask the apostles why they are staring. Imagine how the apostles felt, Jesus, who has been with them for so long, day in and day out, eating meals with them, teaching them about the scriptures, giving them such a powerful example of healing and forgiving people. He has been their leader, their mentor, their friend, and suddenly he is gone.

The apostles go back to Jerusalem, back to the room where they have been gathering. And they focus on praying. Waiting and praying. Waiting for Jesus to come again. Waiting for the Spirit. Not a passive kind of waiting, but an active, alive, faithful kind of waiting, .Jesus had gone to the Father. There was an ending, But there was also a new beginning.

In our epistle for today, the theme of persecution and suffering is continued. They and we are actually called to rejoice in our suffering because, when we suffer, we are sharing our Lord’s suffering. We are called to cast all our anxiety on God because God cares for us so much. What a thought, to give all our fears and anxieties to God, knowing that God loves us so much and God will carry them for us. We are also called to discipline ourselves, to be alert, to resist evil, to hang on to our faith, and to remember that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, our brothers and sisters in the faith all over the world, and their faith sustains us. God will “restore, support, strengthen, and establish us.” What a powerful promise.

Our gospel is from Jesus’ final prayer for his followers before he goes out and is arrested in the garden. Jesus says, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.” Jesus has made God’s name known to us. Jesus has made God known to us. We can now call God Daddy or Papa or Dad or Mom or Mama. Jesus has allowed us to realize how much God loves us. Jesus calls us to abide in God’s love.

And then Jesus asks God to protect this little flock, his apostles, and us, so that we may be one as Jesus and God are one. Jesus asks God’s protection for us, Think of what that means. We do not need to be afraid, No matter what may happen, God is with us, Jesus is with us, and the Holy Spirit is with us.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles went back to the upper room where they had been gathering.  Mary and some of the other women were with them.  He had just left them but the two men told them that Jesus would return. He had left, but he had assured them that they would receive the power of the Spirit.

They knew what to do. They gathered and they prayed without ceasing. And they waited patiently with great discipline and focus until God would take the next action. And, as they prayed, I think Jesus, though physically absent, became more and more present to them. He was in their midst. They remembered things he had said and done. They felt his love, his faith, his grace. They were strengthened. So that, when Pentecost came, they were ready. In the power of the Spirit, they burst forth speaking the love and grace of Christ and touching people’s hearts.

This week, let us pray for the gifts of the Spirit. Let us think of our Lord and his love. Let us prepare ourselves for the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. If you have something red, please wear it. Let us open our minds and hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit and the presence of our Lord. Amen.

Easter 5 A RCL May 18, 2014

Acts 7:55-60

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14

Just before our first lesson, in chapter 6 of the Book of Acts, we read that, as the number of believers grew, the apostles could not keep up with preaching and teaching plus taking care of the widows and orphans, so they called together the community of faith—it was not yet called the Church—and asked the people to select seven men to be the first deacons. As you know, it is the ministry of deacons to care for the poor and vulnerable. One of those men was Stephen.

The new faith was attracting many people, but opposition was also growing. Because of his faith, Stephen was arrested, and today we read of his being stoned to death by an angry crowd.

In a manner which reminds us of our Lord, Stephen asks Jesus to forgive the people who are killing him. And then we read a short statement, “…and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” In the verses that follow, we read that Saul actually went into the houses of followers of Jesus and had them put into prison. And then we read of his encounter with the risen Lord and his journey from being a persecutor of the Church to being an apostle of Christ.

Saul was in the crowd watching Stephen become the first Christian martyr. He was a leader in the persecution. He thought he was doing the right thing. The risen Jesus convinced him that he needed to change his life completely. He needed to undergo metanoia, conversion. Saul thought he was doing God’s will. Christ, in his infinite mercy and love, asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” As a result of that encounter and that dialogue, Saul became Paul.

Our reading from Peter is also addressed to a community which is experiencing persecution. Peter emphasizes that they and we are not just individuals standing alone. We are part of a community. We are members of the Body of Christ. We are called “to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

In our gospel for today, Jesus is sitting at supper with his disciples, and he is teaching them. He is trying to tell them that they and we will follow him to heaven and that he is going to prepare a place for us.

Thomas insists that we do not know the way. But then Jesus says those words that ring down through the centuries:  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” If we just follow our Good  Shepherd down the path where he is leading us, we will be with him.

Then Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. And Jesus says that those who spend time with him are in the presence of the Father. Jesus is really saying that he and God are one. If we are in the presence of Jesus, we are in the presence of God. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth.

What are these lessons telling us today? First, Christians are still being persecuted today. The young women abducted in Nigeria were captured because of their faith. We still do not know what has happened to them.

Secondly, Jesus meets us humans wherever we are. Jesus could look deep into Saul and see Saul’s potential. In his love and mercy, he called out to Saul so that Saul could follow Jesus and turn the energy of all that hate into love. Jesus is still calling people today.  He is calling us to share his love and healing with others.

Our epistle reminds us that, contrary to what many believe today, life is not about being a group of disconnected individuals. Life is about community. We are living stone that build the house of God. We are members of the Body of Christ. Jesus has called us out of darkness into light. We are called to spread his light and love. He is with us now, and we will be with him forever.

“In my father’s house are many dwelling places.” our Lord says. There is room in heaven for all who want to be in the presence of God. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for everyone. Just think—Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you! Jesus has prepared a place for all our loved ones who have gone before us.

For us as Christians, this is our reality, that Jesus is our Good Shepherd, that he is the way, the truth, and the life, that he calls us into loving and healing community, that we are not alone, that he is in us and we are in him, that he is risen and alive and that we are members of his living Body, the Church.

May we listen for his voice. May we follow him faithfully.  Amen.

Easter 4A RCL May 11, 2014

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 23

1 Peter 2:19-25

John 10:1-10

In our opening lesson this morning, we have an opportunity to look into the life of the early Church. Gene M. Tucker of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta lists the qualities of the early Christian communities. He writes, “First, they are absorbed in religious teachings to which they are committed.” Tucker notes that they were building on the teachings of the apostles themselves.

“Second,” he writes,  “they have regular fellowship in both social and religious settings. The word for fellowship is koinonia and is best rendered in a dynamic… form—sharing.” Tucker notes that this can also involve the sharing of material possessions and financial resources. He notes that the people engage in what he calls “active care for one another” and that they have a “spirit of oneness.” When we care deeply about one another and listen to teach other and help each other, we do develop a spirit of oneness. The Holy Spirit is with us in that caring.

Tucker continues, “Third, they continue steadfast in prayer.” When a community spends time in prayer, the members of that community grow closer to each other and to God.

Tucker adds, “Fourth, they exhibited a proper sense of awe before God.” What a wonderful way to say it—“a proper sense of awe before God.” Do we feel that sense of awe? I hope so. God is very close to us and very loving, and God is also awesome in the best sense of the word, God is immanent, near us, and God is transcendent—powerful and all-encompassing.

Tucker writes, “Fifth, they grew and flourished.” Because of their love of God and each other, their “spirit of oneness,” their caring and sharing in every way, these communities attracted new believers every day. These qualities are good examples for us to follow all these centuries later.

Our epistle is addressed to slaves who are suffering at the hands of their masters. Although we do not condone slavery, and we are not slaves, this lesson can still be helpful to us. We can gain strength from our Lord in our own sufferings. We are indeed in the care of our Lord, the “shepherd and guardian of our souls.”

In our gospel, Jesus has just healed the blind man and he is being attacked by the authorities. He is commenting on the qualities of  a good shepherd, a good leader.

In Jesus’ time, and still now in parts of the Middle East, shepherds and their flocks will come into the village and the sheep will be put into one sheepfold, one protected area for protection during the night.  In the morning, the shepherds will come. Each shepherd has a different call for his sheep, and, as each shepherd calls, his sheep will separate from the larger flock and follow him.

There is a level of trust and intimacy between sheep and shepherd which is amazing.  The sheep know who their shepherd is. They will not follow anyone else. If we think of our psalm for today, and we imagine being with our shepherd day in and day out, we can begin to get a sense of that intimacy.  Our shepherd leads us beside the still waters where we can drink, He leads us to the green pastures where we can eat. Even when we have to go through dark and scary places, he guides us with his rod and pulls us back from danger with his staff.

After we have gone mile after mile with him and he has protected us from lions and wolves and has rescued us from bramble bushes and thickets, we really get to trusting him. We know his call. We would not go with anyone else. He is our shepherd.

And, of course, we need always to remember that the biblical shepherd goes out ahead of the sheep. There are no border collies here, much as we might admire and love border collies. There is only our Good Shepherd and a host of dangers from wild animals, bad water or no water in a desert environment, lack of good pasture, cliffs to careen over, mountain paths to trip and fall on, and on and on the dangers go.

Our Good Shepherd leads us to all the good things, even to a feast in the face of our enemies. No matter how bad things get, he is there to guide us, and we get through those bad times.

I think the early Christians had a sense of all this. I think they had lived through their own challenges. Their Good Shepherd and ours had gone through the worst of the worst, death itself, and had come out on the other side, looking different enough so that they didn’t always recognize him at first, but gradually, in the breaking of the bread or in prayer or in the study of the scriptures or in a breakfast of fish on the beach, they realized who he was, somehow different but even more himself than he had been before, and they knew that his goodness and mercy would follow them for the rest of their lives and they would dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

Easter 3A RCL May 4, 2014

Acts 2:14a. 36-41

Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

The Easter season lasts for fifty days, until the feast of Pentecost. During this time, alleluias ring through our hymns and liturgies. We do not say the Confession because we focus on the fact that our sins have been forgiven and, through baptism, we are in new life. The paschal candle, symbol of that new life, burns throughout the season. And, each Sunday, we experience encounters with the risen Lord.

In our first lesson today, Peter continues his sermon to the people gathered, and, when they ask how they can respond to what has happened to Jesus,  three thousand people are baptized.

In our epistle, Peter reminds us that we have been born anew and calls us to love one another.

In our powerful and beautiful gospel from Luke, we have the unforgettable walk to Emmaus. It is the evening of the first Easter. Two followers of Jesus are going from Jerusalem to Emmaus. We don’t know exactly why. Perhaps one of them lives in Emmaus. After Jesus had been crucified, and people thought all their hopes were gone, many of them, following a very human instinct, went back home. That’s where we often go,  when everything is falling apart.

At any rate, these two people, one of whom is named Cleopas, are talking about everything that has happened. They can’t think about anything else. Jesus has been crucified, He has really died. They are completely devastated. They are probably wondering what they will do now that these terrible things have happened.  They had planned to devote their whole lives to following Jesus and now he is gone.

Jesus comes along and walks with them, but they do not recognize him. This happens often in these encounters with the risen Lord. Something about the risen Jesus is different enough so that people do not realize at first who he is. Mary Magdalene thinks he is the gardener. These two followers do not see that he is Jesus. We could wonder and speculate about what it is that has changed, but we can never know for sure.

Jesus asks an open ended question: what are they discussing. Cleopas gets a little irritated with Jesus. “Don’t you know what has been happening? Where have you been?” Jesus asks them what has been happening. And so they tell him his own story. They say that some women had been at the tomb early that morning and had seen a vision of angels who told them Jesus was alive.

This lets us know that they are wondering whether this could be true. Is Jesus indeed alive? They are hoping against hope. There he is, standing right in front of them, and they still do not recognize him.

Jesus reviews the teachings of the prophets. They reach the village and Jesus looks as though he is just going to keep walking. But, honoring the tradition of hospitality, they invite him to have supper with them.  When he takes the bread and blesses and breaks it, they finally recognize him in the breaking of the bread. He vanishes.

Then they remember how their hearts were on fire as he discussed the scriptures with them. They rush back to Jerusalem to be with the community of faith.

What a wonderful story, one of my favorites and I think one of yours as well. So often we do not recognize the risen Christ when he is standing right next to us. And how challenging it is to hold on to a realistic and hopeful stance in life. How challenging it is to hold onto faith.

We live in what is often called a scientific age. I was trained in the scientific approach through my undergraduate education, and that approach is supposed to be open to discovery through research. Much of what some people call the “scientific approach” is really just concrete thinking that rules out the spiritual. Many eminent scientists have come to faith simply because of the beauty of God’s creation, whether it be in the immensity of galaxies or the minuteness of subatomic particles.

We humans are not as logical as we sometimes think we are. We see Jesus crucified and we think that has to be the end. Then that colors our vision when he stands right before our eyes!

Jesus is alive. Jesus is continuing his ministry of love and healing every time someone gives a cup of water to a thirsty person or digs a well in a developing country.  Jesus is continuing to build his shalom through the power of the Spirit, and the Spirit is very much at work in the Church and in the world. The Spirit is not limited by walls or beliefs or prejudices.

Jesus is alive and at work whenever people love each other and treat each other with respect, wherever and whenever people build inclusive, loving communities, whenever people make peace instead of war.

Jesus is alive. May we recognize him in the breaking of the bread, in his love extended to all people, in the building of his shalom. May we recognize him in each other and in our midst. Amen.

Easter 2A RCL April 27, 2014

Acts 2:14a. 22-32

Psalm 16

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

Our lessons this morning are not in chronological order. In our opening reading from the Book of Acts, it is the feast of Pentecost. People are gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world. It is fifty days after Passover, about fifty days after the first Easter.

Flames of fire dance over the heads of the apostles. The wind of the Spirit blows. And the apostles tell the Good News in all the languages of the world.

Standing with the eleven because Judas has died, Peter preaches about Jesus. He links Jesus with Jewish history and with the reign and promises of the great King David. Peter proclaims that Jesus has been crucified and has risen. At that point, Peter probably thinks that the followers of Jesus will form a sect of Judaism.

Our epistle comes from years later in Peter’s life and ministry. He writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his grace he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

By this time, the new faith has spread all around the Mediterranean Sea, giving hope to people living under the yoke of the Roman Empire, When Peter writes that Jesus has given us “a new birth into a living hope,” he is comforting and strengthening many followers of Jesus who are undergoing persecution.

The followers of Jesus were peacemakers. They did not fight in the Roman army. They were therefore seen as subversives who should be punished and persecuted. They were also noted for the love and care which they showed to each other. An author of the time wrote, “See these Christians, how they love one another.” The promise of a new reality, a new hope, and a new way of living attracted thousands of people to the new faith. The love within each community sustained its members and welcomed new folks to join in the fellowship.

In our gospel, it is the evening of the first Easter. The followers of Jesus are in hiding. They are afraid of the authorities. They have heard that Jesus has risen, but only Mary Magdalene has actually seen the risen Lord.

Jesus walks right through the walls of fear. The first thing he says to them is, “Peace be with you.” Shalom be with you. The vision of shalom, the kingdom of God, where there is peace, where there is love and compassion, everyone has enough to eat and drink; everyone has shelter; basic needs are met; everyone has constructive work to do and the chance to lead a healthy and productive life.

Then Jesus breathes the Spirit of shalom into them and us. That first time, Thomas is not there. He tells the others that he will not be able to believe until he touches the wounds of Jesus.

A week later, Jesus comes again. All Thomas has to do is take one look at Jesus.  Thomas knows that it is the Lord, and that he has come through it all and is here to lead us on a new path. On the spot, Thomas believes.

What does it mean to believe? It is important to keep in mind that belief is not a matter of intellectual assent to a proposition. In other words, when we say we believe, we are not saying, “I believe this on an intellectual level.” Belief involves what Jewish thought calls the heart, but the heart is more than just feeling. The heart is the core of the person, It involves the emotions, and it also involves the mind and the will and the intentions.

Once we see Jesus and we get to spend time with him in loving community the way the early Christians did, it is irresistible. We want to be with him. We want to follow him. We want to live the way he calls us to live, We want to help him build his shalom of peace, healing, and harmony. Other people truly become our brothers and sisters.

Like Thomas, we probably won’t have to touch the wounds of Jesus in a literal sense. We know they are real. We know that he went through all that horror. And we know that he came through it stronger than ever. And that tells us that we can meet challenges. We can endure, and not only endure, but flourish.

This morning, we meet our risen Lord. He breathes the Spirit into us to give us the power to carry out his ministry of reconciliation and to bring in his shalom. He calls us to be peacemakers. He calls us to see every other human being as our brother or sister.

Blessed Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread, in the beauty of your creation, in the faces of our brothers and sisters. Give us grace to help build your shalom.  Amen.