The little things …

Amazon Kindle 3

1 Peter 2:2-10

A couple of weeks ago, I went on a rather convoluted trip covering six states in 60 hours. This is what I do: I’m a missionary who travels constantly to preach and teach and witness.

Halfway through my trip, I discovered that I somehow had managed to lose my Kindle.

Y’all know what a Kindle is, right? It’s the Amazon e-reader that literally changed my life as a missionary. It kept me sane and kept me company when I was alone, a stranger in a strange land.

I’m very partial to my Kindle. I have about 400 books on it, and it has traveled the world with me. Partway through my travels, I realized I had left my Kindle on the plane.

I tried valiantly to get it back, I really did: I called the airlines, I filed a report, I went to baggage claim (where I found someone else’s Kindle, but not mine), I called Amazon, I even posted a note on Facebook (you know, just in case) … to no avail.

But my Kindle didn’t show up. And didn’t show up …

So I ordered another one, and pretty much gave up on ever finding the one that was lost.

Imagine my surprise, then, when last Wednesday I received an email from a man saying that his son had found my Kindle on the plane and had tried but failed to connect with me on Facebook. That morning, the teen-ager asked his father: Can you find the owner? He did.

The father and I had a marvelous conversation, not just about the Kindle but about our families and my service as a missionary and what I do and what he does, and where I’ve been and where he wants to go. In the end, I sold the once-lost-now-found Kindle to him for a severe discount, telling him that the balance of its worth was my gift to them, because they not only found my Kindle, they took the time and made the effort to track me down.

Then, because I’m a social creature, I shared my good news on Facebook.

The responses were astounding! People from all over the country commented, all seeing such good news in this story. This is wonderful, they said. You all are blessed! they gushed. This is a soul-to-soul connection, they wrote. This is not a co-incidence, one opined, but a “God-incident.”

Now … I know this story really only affects a few of us, and in the grand scheme of life it means very little. But for those of us involved, it is an important story. Because out of my carelessness, a new connection, a “soul-to-soul” connection has been established.

One little thing has brought us together – a family in Cincinnati and me, a missionary who gallivants all over the country on a weekly basis.

This, my friends, is what the Apostle Peter is talking about in his Epistle this morning … he’s talking about the little things of life, the little things we do not because we have to do them, but because we belong to God.

When Peter writes that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy tribe (that’s a better translation from the Greek than

The Apostle Peter

“nation,”) God’s own people,” he’s not talking about us saving the world single-handedly.

Peter is talking about us saving the world one little thing at a time.

Remember … Peter is writing this letter to people who thought Jesus was coming back any second now – only Jesus hadn’t come back yet. So Peter is instructing the people how they are to live until that moment happens.

Does this sound familiar?

Doesn’t this sound rather like what we just went through yesterday, with the alleged Rapture that Harold Camping and his followers told us was going to happen at 6 o’clock last night?

Now you and I can laugh and make jokes about Mr. Camping and his predictions.

But in Peter’s day, Jesus’ followers were just as confident as Mr. Camping’s followers that the Risen Lord was due back at any second.

And since the Risen Lord hadn’t come back yet, Jesus’ followers were a bit confused, and rather anxious, and a tad uncertain how they were to live their lives.

So the Apostle told them:

You are a holy tribe … you are God’s own people. Your job, your mission, is to live your lives in holiness.

In every little thing.

We live holy lives when we love one another as God loves us. Every word we say – or don’t say … every gesture we make — or don’t make … everything in our lives is to reflect God’s wild, radical, inexplicable, eternal love for us.

I know this sounds rather simplistic. But the truth is, those little things we think aren’t all that important? The ones we may be tempted to think don’t really matter … especially in the greater scheme of life? They are important and they do matter.

Because those little things add up. Those little things are the mustard seeds that start out so very small and grow … and grow … and grow … into huge bushes. Trust me, you plant a mustard seed and it will grow so big so fast that you’ll be astonished. You think kudzu is bad? Try mustard. It’s one of the little things.

Face it, my friends: We live in a world that does not support us in our calling as God’s own people, a holy tribe. We live in a world that tells us we have to get ahead – and leave others behind. That tells us we have to spend, spend, spend, buy, buy, buy … so that we can die with the most toys. That whispers that it is OK to forget those in need … because those in need? They’re not us.

But we are God’s own people.  We are God’s holy tribe. And we are not called to live our lives as society tells us. Because we are, as Father Michael said in his sermon a few weeks ago, homo eucharisticus, thankful people whose mission is to live lives of thanksgiving.

And we do that one little thing at a time …

We live lives of love because we are created in love. Remember: God did not need to create us. We are not necessary to God! God is necessary to us, but we are not necessary to God! We know this is true, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so we cannot possibly be necessary to God. Which means that God wants us, that God desires us, that God loves us into being.

And since that is how God created us – in love — that is how we are to live our lives: In love.

This is our calling.

This is our mission.

This is what it means to be a holy tribe. To be God’s own people. To be homo eucharisticus.

And it doesn’t matter what the world has to say about this, what society tries to teach us!

Every moment of our lives, because we are God’s own, we are called, in every little thing, to live in the same wild, radical, inexplicable, eternal love for others that God has for us.

And we know what God’s incredible love looks like, don’t we? We know the way and the truth that lead us to life.

By caring for those in need. Mourning with those who are mourning. Rejoicing with those who are filled with joy. Feeding the hungry. Giving water to the thirsty. Making the blind see and the deaf hear and the mute sing and the lame leap for joy! By proclaiming the year of the Lord not once every fifty years, but every year!

We know how to do this and we can do this!

But … we can’t do this all at once! We can’t just wave our hands and cure the world of all its ills. Because we are not God!

But we are God’s holy people.

And as God’s holy people, we can cure the world one little thing at a time.

We can live our lives in love, every single moment of every single day in everything we do, big, little or anywhere in between.

We can take the time to greet the stranger … and let her know she is welcome. We can let that person who is in such a great hurry on I-65 pass us … without saying a bad word, without making a gesture we will regret. We can, as Robert Fulghum once famously wrote in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learn in Kindergarten: Hold hands crossing the street. Help little old ladies. Share your cookies. (You think sharing your cookies is not important? Let me tell you, I’ve lived in countries where we didn’t have enough to eat, and anyone who shared a cookie with you let you know that you deserved to live!)

We can hold this child Timothy Alexander, who was baptized this morning, and tell him, over and over again, that God loves him. That we love him.

We do not have to save the world all by ourselves.

That is God’s job.

Our job, our mission, is to save the world one little thing at a time.

You know … like returning my Kindle … even when you don’t have to.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta echoed Peter’s words when she said, “God does not demand that I be successful. God demands that I be faithful. When facing God,” she said, “results are not important. Faithfulness is ….”

In every little thing.

Mother Teresa even gives us guidance on how we are to live our holy lives:

‎”The good you do today,” she said, “may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.

“What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

“People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway.

“Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway.”

You want to live as God’s holy people? You want to show the world what it means to be homo eucharisticus, to be God’s holy tribe?

Do good.

Be honest.

Help those in need.

Give the world your best.

Every single day.

In every little thing.

And if I ever lose my Kindle again?

I’d appreciate it if you’d return it to me.

Amen.

Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter, 22 May 2011, Year A, at Christ Episcopal Church, Bowling Green, Kentucky.

 

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In defense of seminaries

(Written for Episcopal Cafe)

Tis the season for graduations, including those at seminaries across the United States. Within a matter of a few short weeks, Christian churches will be flooded with hundreds of new graduates, most newly ordained, to serve as ministers.

It should be a time of great celebration … unless, of course, you read Jerry Bowyer on Forbes.com. According to Mr. Bowyer, all these graduations, all these newly ordained clergy, are not a matter of rejoicing but of sorrow.

Mr. Bowyer claims, in columns published on April 20 and May 11, that seminary is, basically, a waste of time. Clergy are not trained properly in seminary, he says. Among the claims he makes (some of which I and many others found astounding) is that learning about such topics as Church History and Theology does nothing to prepare a person for leading a congregation.

Peanuts, 1967

Really?

Why, just the other day, I had to call upon Church History, Litugrics and Theology to talk with a congregation about why they might want to consider moving their altar away from the wall, and having the priest actually face the congregation. We talked about why the altar was up against the wall in the first place, about the importance of including the people in the celebration, the fact that Jesus never celebrated a “Eucharist” as we know it, and that at the Last Supper, he sat (actually, he most likely reclined) around a table, passing the bread and cup around. What does that mean to you theologically? I asked the people.

That same day, I drew upon my theological training to talk about why a congregation might want to consider changing its building plans, making handicapped access the priority, and leaving a new office to a latter date. How hospitable is it, I wondered, to make handicapped people wait years more to get into this church, just so a new office could be added? If you were in a wheelchair, would you like to be told you have to go to the back door to get in? What message are you trying to send?

I use my education in pastoral and systematic theology nearly every day of my life, when I am working, when I am with family and friends, and even when I am alone. I use my studies of Scriptures for my preaching, my teaching, my pastoral care and my personal spiritual time. My education in Christian Ethics informs almost every decision I make. Christian Education classes taught me about working with children and youth, and helped me learn how to preach and teach at all levels.

In other words, I use my seminary education every day of my life. Yet Mr. Bowyer claims that I could have learned all of it on-line, and that that would have been sufficient.

Mr. Bowyer laments the fact that seminary is a three-year graduate program, and focuses on how much it costs. (He also writes as though all married seminarians are male, “with a wife and children in tether,” which makes me wonder which seminaries he has visited, where he attended and where he has been teaching. In his second column, he harshly castigated those who called him out on this, but that’s not my point here …)

Yes, seminary does take three years. Yes, it is a graduate-level institution in many churches (but not all). Yes, there is a lot to learn. You see, most of us who go to seminary do not have the prerequisites all taken care of. Some graduate programs require prerequisites; most seminaries do not.

And there is another reason for three years of schooling: formation. Asking a person to go from being who they have been to being an ordained person, living a life under vows, is not something that should be taken lightly. And many of us needed that time to leave behind those portions of our old lives so that we could be the person God is calling us to be now.

Mr. Bowyer also tells one tale – one tale! – of a man who somehow made it through both Bible College and seminary without, apparently, ever having preached in public … anywhere. After ordination, this person found he could not preach. He simply could … not … preach. His life went to hell in a hand basket, Mr. Bowyer says.

Um? Really?

This man went through an accredited seminary and somehow, he never once was asked, or even forced, to preach? And because of this one man’s experience, Mr. Bowyer believes that seminaries as a whole don’t do their jobs?

Really?

I took a fully year of homiletics in seminary. I preached at my field education parishes throughout the year, and at my summer internship. I preached in classes. I even was blessed to preach, one time, as a senior, in my seminary’s chapel. Was I nervous? Good Lord, yes! Sixteen years later, with literally hundreds of sermons under my belt, I still get nervous. I get so nervous I get dry-mouthed, and have to tuck an Altoid in my mouth before I can preach. Nerves are part of the job: After all, we preachers are attempting to say something intelligent about the Word of God! If that doesn’t make you nervous, I’m not certain what will. (Actually, if it doesn’t make you nervous, there might be an ego issue running here.) I didn’t have to wait until graduation and ordination to find out whether I was suited to the pulpit or not.

Mr. Bowyer also claims that many mainline denominations, including The Episcopal Church, over the years have followed “leftie fads” and are guilty of “indulging in ideological tourism.” Apparently, going to seminary means you become some kind of radical leftie, according to his columns. I don’t know what I’m supposed to think about this, but his comments rather remind me of those made by others who like to throw stones at churches that engage in social justice issues.

The only point on which Mr. Bowyer and I agree is the cost of the seminary education. It’s high – too high, in many cases. And far too many students leave seminary with huge amounts of debt, then are hired for jobs that pay well below any national average for holders of graduate degrees. Me? I never incurred debt in seminary. Of course, I received dozens of scholarships and grants, because I worked very hard to get even the smallest gifts (you want to give me a $50 scholarship in exchange for me filling out some forms and writing an essay, I’m on it!). I also worked up to three jobs at a time – because I didn’t want any debt. I cobbled together the money any way I could, and still managed to graduate in three years. So it’s not as though graduating from seminary without debt is impossible. It’s simply very, very hard.

Mr. Bowyer claims that technology is the solution, that we can find almost all of the courses on-line, and that what can’t be taught on-line can be taught through apprenticeships to experienced ministers. I can point out many problems, including the potential for abuse, with that system, too.

Do our seminaries need to change, to adapt to new realities? Absolutely. Many seminaries over the years indeed have changed, and they continue to adapt. More part-timers are attending seminary now. Courses have been added, and others dropped, to reflect the new realities of our world. Any seminary that won’t change and adapt needs to re-examine its mission statement, and look again at the church for which it is preparing its graduates.

And do we need to do something about the cost of seminaries? Without a doubt. Ministers in general do not get paid a whole lot of money. Having enormous debt coming out of seminary limits their choices.

But trashing the whole system and claiming that what is taught in seminaries in not necessary, not good for the greater Church?

Absolutely not.

Mr. Bowyer might want to think again before he applies such sweeping generalities, because in this case, he’s missed the mark.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and a proud graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary, Class of 1997. This column ran on 19 May 2011 on EpiscopalCafe.com.

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Seroquel overdose

John 10:1-10

It is odd, in the midst of Easter season, to be thrust back into the life and times of Jesus as he walks purposefully toward Jerusalem and his death, to hear again his words, not as the Risen Lord, but as the itinerant rabbi from Nazareth, castigating those in power, telling stories that no one can really understand.

But this is where we are on this 4th Sunday of Easter. No resurrection story for us this day: Rather, a return to the teachings of Jesus, the teaching of the Good Shepherd, of Jesus being both the good shepherd and the gate to the sheepfold.

Now, we could spend our time today looking at what it means to be a sheep – are they dumb or smart? Dependent or independent? – and how that makes us feel, and how we really don’t know much about sheep anymore, because we are not an agrarian society and we don’t have sheep wandering our streets and fields.

Or …

We can spend our time concentrating on out what it means to be led, to have someone

Good Shepherd, He Qi

(the Risen Lord?) calling us – by name  — and leading us through our lives. We can spend our time together this morning figuring out what it looks like, what it feels like, to follow the Risen Lord so closely that we practically step on his heels, and how the Risen Lord leads us to life abundant (or, as Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message, to “real and eternal life, more and better life than [we] ever dreamed of”[1]).

In this Easter season, we are called to focus on just what a risky business it is to do that which God has commanded us: to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves, and how risky it is to do what Jesus commanded us: to love one another as he loved us. And believe me, living as the Risen Lord calls us to live is very risky indeed .

Start with being called. We all know what it means to be called, don’t we? To be called by name?

Because someone is calling us all the time.

Every day of our lives, we hear the siren song that beguiles us, that beckons us …

To get ahead.

To leave others behind.

To spend, spend, spend … buy, buy, buy!

Every single day, someone out there tells us that we need this new thing or that new thing, that our lives will be incomplete unless we forsake all else to get that particular thing of the day. Do we buy an iPhone 4 or wait for the iPhone 5? Do we get the iPad 2? Or the latest Xbox?

Every single day, someone out there tells us that if we would just do this one little thing – fudge a little on our taxes (“no one will know”) … ignore pleas for help from strangers (“someone else will help her”) … beg off caring for a friend (“she’ll be all right”) – if we would just do that, we will get ahead in the world.

Every single day, we hear the message that if we just work harder, or do this one extra task, or this one little favor, or get this one more promotion, or defeat this one other enemy, we will be able to rest secure.[2]

So we know what it means to be called … because someone is always calling us to stray from the paths of righteousness that the Risen Lord asks us to tread.

Turn your back on all of that, plug your ears so you can’t hear or don’t pay attention to those calls, and listen instead to what the Risen Lord has to say, and trust me, the world will tell you you’re wrong. You’re crazy. You’re a loser. You’re just like one of those people who thinks the Rapture really is going to happen next Saturday, and that the end of the world is coming in October.

See what I mean when I saying that following the Risen Lord is risky?

Face it:

In this world today, in which something like 20 percent of us have more than enough … way more than enough … and 80 percent have nowhere near enough in their lives … enough water, enough food, enough medicine, enough education, enough work, enough money, enough security … it is risky to lead lives of love, instead of hate; to help instead of harm; to share instead of hoard; to give instead of take.

In our society, we aren’t supposed to love wildly, radically, inexplicably and eternally. Far too much of our society is focused on hating someone, on not trusting anyone, on labeling people (Unpatriotic? Un-American? Liberal? Conservative? Left? Right?), on dividing people.

But the Risen Lord, who died for us – for each of us – and who was raised for all of us – didn’t teach us to live like that. He taught us to love. Wildly. Radically. Inexplicably. Eternally.

Society tells us not to live, not to love, like this. But the Risen Lord is calling us, beckoning us, leading us into exactly this kind of life.

This is the Easter season, my friends, when we focus on the fact that God loves us so much that he destroyed death – he demolished death! – so that we can have abundant life! So that we can have lives so much better than anything we ever dreamed of!

Our lives are not supposed to be focused on how much stuff we have, on how many things we can buy, or who has the most toys when they die!

Abundant life isn’t about stuff!

It’s about loving.

It’s about giving.

It’s about caring.

Think about it: What would our world look like if we dared to follow the voice of the Risen Lord, each and every day of our lives?

If we were to focus not on ourselves, but on each other?

Even if those others are people whom we do not know, do not see, have never met and probably never will meet.

• • •

I have been reading a lot lately about how the Church needs to change – not just to adapt to changes in society, but to change how it goes about its business. We are a Church that came into its glory through the Roman Empire, which once despised Christianity and then catapulted it to the religion of the Empire. Our vestments, our hierarchy, the way we do business – far too much of it has been based on the glory days of old.

Now, many voices are crying for us to make straight the crooked paths in the wilderness so that we can bring about this new way of life, a life focused on loving each other as Jesus loved us.

This new life means that we are going to have to do exactly what Jesus did: Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, cure the sick, proclaim the Good News that God indeed does love us, the Good News that sets us free from the fetters of a society that doesn’t care enough, that doesn’t love enough.

The Risen Lord is calling us each by name so that we can be the ones to make this new life take root – in our hearts, in our families, in our churches, in our jobs, in our society, in our world.

We are being called out of the tombs of our lives so that we can have this new, abundant life right here, right now!

I know, I know … it is much safer for us to stay home. To do things the way we’ve always done them. To listen to the siren song of society.

But there is another voice out there, another song being sung for us, a song that calls each of us. By name. Right now:

Come. Follow me.

Love one another as I have loved you.

This other song is being sung by the Risen Lord, who seeks to shepherd our lives along paths of righteousness, so that we do not simply survive what life throws at us but thrive in the goodness of the Lord. When we listen to that song, when we allow the Risen Lord to be our shepherd, we find new meaning in our lives. We thrive. We have purpose. We find fulfillment. We know, and we are known. We accept, and we are accepted.[3] We love, and we are loved.

I don’t know about you, but I can tell you that I’m willing to take the risk of following the Risen Lord on the paths of righteousness if it means I will thrive … be fulfilled … be known … be accepted … and most of all, be loved.

That’s a risk I am more than willing to take.

Anyone else want to engage in some risky business?

Anyone?

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 15 May 2011, Year A, at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, Montpelier, Va.



[1] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message (NavPress Publishing Group, 1993), John 1:10.

[2] Paraphrased from Sarah Dylan Breuer, Dylan’s Lectionary Blog: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A, on www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2005/04/fourth_sunday_o.html, 12 April 2005.

[3] Paraphrase of Professor David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., Abundant Life, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=475, 8 May 2011.

 

 

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Walk on, walk on …

Luke 24:13-35

(Before the service at St. Philip’s, I was introduced to the congregation as a former missionary in Haiti. I also had gotten lost on the way to church, and had to ask for help getting there.)

Before I served as a missionary in Haiti, I served in Sudan, in the Diocese of Renk, for four years. While I was there, I lived on the border between the North and South, on the border between Arabs and blacks, on the border between Muslims and Christians. It was a very tense time, because the civil war had just ended and they were beginning their movement toward independence, which happens on July 9 of this year.

Where I lived, we liked to refer to as “beyond the back of beyond.” That’s how far away it was. It was 250 miles south of Khartoum on the White Nile River. It was 250 miles to the next white person, and it was 250 miles from chocolate ice cream. If I wanted chocolate ice cream, I had to go on the terrible roads up to Khartoum, but to do so, I had to pass through up to 50 military checkpoints, with a bunch of people who didn’t like me. They didn’t like me because in Sudan, I had five strikes against me before I even opened my mouth. I was a white, female, Christian, American priest. At every checkpoint, there would be somebody who had an issue with one of those five.

So I would stay in Renk – after I would fly into Khartoum, I would go down to Renk, and I would stay there and not go back and forth to Khartoum because it just got to be too dangerous. It was not just dangerous for me; it was dangerous for the Church in Sudan, because the government in Khartoum – the government – is a fundamentalist, Islamic government, and was actually friends with the late Osama bin Laden. They had real issues with Americans, and they did not like Christians, and they were not impressed with white, female, American priests. What the government would do is check up on me, and through checking up on me, it would spy on the Church, because the government in Khartoum despises Christians and it despises the Episcopal Church of Sudan, which is the fastest growing portion of the Anglican Communion in the world.

I was there for three months and then I got thrown out because the government likes to play these games. Then I received permission to come back and when I got back, I got what is called my “residency visa,” which made me fully subject to all the laws of Sudan. Being an American wasn’t worth spit. And it made life even more difficult for all of us, so I stayed for six more months, then came back to this country for some work, and then went back to Sudan.

I had been there long enough that there were days when it was difficult. There were days when I wanted to know whose stupid idea this was, for me to move to Sudan. (Mine.)

And then April came. April is truly the cruelest month in Sudan. It’s 140 degrees every day. We were living on the edge of the Sahara Desert. We had a gallon of water per day in which to bathe. I had to filter every drop of water that I drank or it would kill me, because it came out of the While Nile, which is filthy.  There was no electricity. There were no fans. I taught under a tin roof. And I reached a point where my faith began to waver some.

I didn’t lose faith in God.

I didn’t lose faith in Jesus Christ.

What I lost faith in was my call, and whether I actually belonged there in Sudan.

And so I wrote an e-mail to a friend of mine.

Now because we had electricity on a very sporadic basis, and because the Internet was just beginning to spread over Sudan, there were days when nothing would go out over the Internet. It could take weeks for an email to go out. I had a friend who wrote to me every day and I would write a message to her.

Now … I would write them, but they wouldn’t go anywhere. One of the emails I wrote to her was actually 32 printed pages long. Every day, I would say, “Well, the Internet’s not working, but let me tell you about today.” In that 32-page-long document, I wrote to her and I said, “I am not certain what I’m doing here any more. I am not certain that this is what I’m called to do. This is hard. And we’ve had nothing setbacks. Even though we have a peace agreement, we do not have peace. It’s really, really difficult right now.”

My friend, God bless her, wrote back to me (and I have to quote this, because I get this quote wrong all the time), she sent back to me a quote from a U2 song – y’all know U2, the band, and Bono, its leader? – that’s called Walk on, walk on.

All my friend sent to me was the song’s refrain:

“Walk on, walk on …

“You are packing a bag for a place none of us has been

“A place that has to be believed to be seen.”[1]

You are packing a bag for a place none of us has been,

A place that has to be believed to be seen.

That song could be theme song for this morning’s Gospel from Luke, the story of the two people on the road to Emmaus. They are walking along, having left Jerusalem. Now remember, this is the third day. They have been followers of Jesus. They have seen Jesus perform miracles. They saw him feed the 5,000 – heck, they helped Jesus feed the 5,000. They have seen him cure people, restore sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf, and speech to the mute. They have seen the lame leap for joy. They have experienced the love and the joy and the hope of this man, whom they were convinced was the Messiah, and then … then he was arrested. He was beaten. And tortured. And crucified. And they laid his body in the tomb.

These two people are walking along the road, and all of the joy, and all of the love, and all of the hope, is gone. It’s in that tomb. With Jesus. Even though the tomb is now empty.

The baggage that they are carrying … this suitcase that they are carrying … is filled with despair … and loss … and very real fear that either the Roman authorities or the leaders of the Pharisees are going to come after them, because they have been followers of Jesus.

If you read this in the Greek, I want you to know, Luke is very, very clear. The word that he uses for walking along the road to Emmaus is not the normal verb for walking.[2] The normal verb that you use for walking is peripateo, which means to walk along with some energy. The verb that Luke uses instead is a verb (poreuomai) that talks about trudging along, carrying a heavy load. So these two are walking along, very slowly, trudging, and the baggage that they carry is despair, and fear, and hopelessness.

And then this man appears on the road with them (this is not unusual), and he says, “So, what are y’all talking about?” (I’m from the South; that’s how we say things down there: “What are y’all talking about?”)

And what do they do? They basically diss him, and say, “What are you, stupid? Are you the only guy in town who doesn’t know what was going on?”

Now, let me tell you something. The Romans, they crucified people all the time. Crucifying Jesus would not have made the front page of the Palestinian Gazette. So, really, anybody could have missed the news. But they insult him anyway.

And the Risen Lord says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Didn’t you guys get it? You were followers. This is all old information. You were followers. I mean, don’t you pay attention to the Scriptures?!”

So he opens up the Scriptures to them, beginning with Moses, about how he fulfills everything that has been written in the Scriptures. And their hearts are burning within them, but they’re not quite certain why.

When they get to Emmaus, it’s evening, and trust me, you do not want to be walking around at night in a place like that, just like you don’t want to be walking around at night in Sudan. You just don’t do that. Never mind the wild animals, you’ve got bandits out there. So they do what any good Palestinian would do: They provide hospitality. They say, “Come on in. Spend the night with us because you do not want to be out on the road at night.”

So Jesus comes in and he then does what we call the four-fold method: He takes the bread, blesses the bread, breaks the bread and he gives them the bread. It’s what we do in the Eucharist: Take, bless, break and give. And in that moment, they suddenly realize that this is the Risen Lord! And then he disappears from their sight.

Suddenly, they are excited, because they realize they have finally seen the Risen Lord, and maybe … maybe … it’s time to empty that suitcase that they have been carrying, and get rid of that baggage! Maybe it’s time to set aside the fear, and the hopelessness, and the despair!

They hightail it back to Jerusalem, where the other disciples are. Now, the word that Luke uses in the Greek for “hightailing it back to Jerusalem” is very, very clear as well. It’s darned near running! It’s like a quick trot. Because they’ve got this good news that they need to share!

Now, I ask you to spend a moment thinking: How often in your life have you been filled with despair?  How many times in your life has something happened that has caused you to lose hope? Something that has caused you to be afraid? What baggage do you carry in your life that causes you to trudge along the roads of your lives?

We’ve all had this happen to us. We’ve lost a job. Somebody in our family has gotten ill. Perhaps a child has run out into the street to get a futbol and was killed. We’ve all had these moments of deep, deep despair, when we have lost all hope and we cannot find joy, no matter how hard we look. That moment in your life is the moment that these two disciples were at on the road to Emmaus.

Now, how often in your life has somebody shown up at that moment when you were down in the depths, in the pit? How often has somebody shown up in your life and said, “Let me carry that burden with you”? How often has somebody shown up and said, “Let me take that away from you. Let me give you hope again. Let me restore you to joy. Let me fill you with love.”

Has that every happened to anybody? When you’ve been down in the pit and somebody has come along?

My friends, when that happens to you, you are seeing the Risen Lord. That’s when you see the Risen Lord. When somebody comes along, and says to you, “I will carry that burden with you.” When somebody comes along and says to you, “Do not despair.” When somebody comes along and says to you, “God loves you. And God loves you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And God loves you … and you … and you … and you … and God loves you.”

We see the Risen Lord in our own lives, all the time, but we do not always recognize the Risen Lord in our lives, until our hearts burn within us and we realize that the despair we are feeling? We need not carry on our own. That the pit into which we have fallen? Others have been there, and they know how to get us out … and they will lead us out.  When we can no longer find joy, and somebody comes along and says, “Look! Look at this gorgeous spring day.” We know that God is alive and well in the world when you look at the nature around us – even as you’re sneezing from all the pollen.

You know that there is hope in the world when y’all make these beautiful peace cranes to send to the people of Japan, who are in the pit, who know despair, and who are living in sheer terror that one of those nuclear plants is going to melt down. You are sending the same message that the disciples received on the road to Emmaus.

We are all walking along a road, going to places that people have never been. We are all going to a place that has to be believed to be seen.

Bono’s anthem is the anthem for the road to Emmaus. We are always on that road where we have to go someplace that you have to believe to see.

Sometimes we are the people … sometimes we are the ones … who carry the load for others. Sometimes we are the ones who reach our hands out and say, “Hi. Let me help you with that.” In those moments, we represent the Risen Lord to those who are most in need.

We don’t get to see the Risen Lord the way the disciples saw him. We don’t to see the Risen Lord the way these two men walking along the road to Emmaus saw him. We don’t get to see the Risen Lord the way the 500 got to see him. We don’t even get to see the Risen Lord the way Paul got to see him, when Paul was still Saul and was on that murderous mission, going off to Damascus to arrest a bunch of people who had said they were seeing the Risen Lord, and then he met the Risen Lord face to face while he was sitting on his butt in the middle of the road.

We don’t get to see the Risen Lord in that way. You know why? Because the Risen Lord is in each of us. And it is incumbent upon us – it is up to us – to make the Risen Lord known to each other. To strangers you meet on the road. To your friends and your family. To the babies you’re holding in your laps. (To the person who gets lost on Sunday morning and says, “Really, church is starting in nine minutes and I can’t find it! Do you have any idea where St. Philip’s might be?” And the first person says, “No.” “Do you know where Chapel Road is?” “No.” “Do you know where any church is anywhere in this town?” “No.” “Would you like to come to church with me?” “No.”)

This is our call in life: To make the Risen Lord known.

We take the burdens from other people.

We bless those burdens.

We break those burdens, so that they are not so hard to carry.

And then we give them … we give those burdens back filled with love, and joy, and hope.

You want to see the Risen Lord, you look at each other. You look at yourselves in the mirror. The Risen Lord is within you. There are days when you are the Risen Lord to others, and there are days when others are the Risen Lord to you.

We are on a journey, my friends.

We are on a journey to a place that no one has ever been, to a place that indeed has to be believed to be seen.

Amen.

A sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Easter, 8 May 2011, Year A, at St. Philip’s, New Hope, Pa.

 

[1] (Walk On, Walk On, U2, lyrics by Bono)

[2] Sarah Henrich, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., This passage ‘R Us, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=5/8/2011.

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Cipro dosage for uti

John 20:19-31

Last Wednesday night, I was at an Episcopal church for the installation of the new rector. I sat in a pew with the rest of the clergy, and at one point during the service, the priest next to me reached over and pulled out a card that had been filled out by someone and returned to the pew holder. It was a newcomer’s card – you know, the kind where the parish welcomes you and asks you to share some information about yourself. These cards are supposed to go into the offering plate, but this person put it back in the holder. Because the writer didn’t actually offer the usual information.

This note was actually a plea:

The Doubt of St. Thomas, by He Qi.

“Can anyone tell me if Jesus is real? (it read).

“Can anyone prove to me that Jesus is real?

“I’m sitting here surrounded by people who believe, people who have faith … and I don’t know if I can believe.

“I want to believe, but I can’t.”

This plea was written on Sunday morning, on the first day of the week – on Easter morning. There this person sat, in the third pew on the Gospel side, surrounded by hundreds of other people shouting, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”, not knowing how to believe!

I do not know who wrote this note – it was signed, “Anonymous.” Below that, the author had written, “I’m learning to believe.”

I do not know if this person was male or female, black or white or Latino or Asian, young or old, gay or straight.

All I know is that on Sunday last, on Easter, Thomas showed up at an Episcopal church and in the midst of celebration, surrounded by believers, said, “Wait just a darned second …”

We call today “Doubting Thomas” Sunday. Poor Thomas. Just because he wasn’t in the upper room when the Risen Lord first appeared to the disciples, we mock Thomas for wondering what was going on, and we hang an epithet on him – “Doubting” – as though nothing else he had ever done – none of the faithful following of Jesus, none of the declarations of “let’s go also, that we may die with him” – ever happened or even matter.

But a little warning here:

Nowhere in John’s presentation of the Risen Lord’s appearances in the upper room does the word “doubt” appear.[1]

The Risen Lord does not say to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe.”

What Jesus says, instead, is that Thomas is apistos – without trust or faith. He was just like those other disciples, who had been apistos as well. They were untrusting just like Thomas (remember, when Mary Magdalene came to them that very morning with the news of the Resurrection, they for darned certain didn’t trust or believe her, because if they had, they wouldn’t have still been huddled behind locked doors in that upper room, praying no one would find them!). They had not been pistos – faith-filled – until the moment the Risen Lord had bid them his peace and showed them his wounds.

So when Jesus showed up the second time, a week later, what Jesus literally says to Thomas is, “Do not become untrusting (or faithless) but trusting (or faithful).”[2]

So you see, it’s not that Thomas doubted. It’s that he wasn’t quite ready to trust again – not this soon.

Remember, Thomas had been with Jesus for a large part of Jesus’ ministry. He had walked with Jesus, heard him preach, seen the miracles, felt the hope, saw the love, reveled in the joy …

And then …

Well, then, Jesus was arrested, tortured, killed.

And all those words, all those miracles, all that hope, that love, that joy … all of that had died on the cross and been laid in the tomb, and now … now … just three days later, the other disciples want Thomas, who has given up all hope, to hope again? They want Thomas, who saw his trust violated, to trust again? Just three days later?

You know what Thomas was thinking, right?

Give me a break!

Thomas needed more than just the word of the other disciples – because he had believed once and been burned, and he wasn’t going to get burned again, at least not that easily. It took another appearance by the Risen Lord to convince him.

Sounds just like that person who showed up at that church on Easter Sunday, doesn’t it?

Can anyone prove to me that Jesus is real?

Thomas two thousand years ago … an anonymous person on Easter Sunday 2011 … they’re asking the same questions, they’re caught in the same bind.

They want to believe.

They just can’t.

Which leads to the question:

How many witnesses do you need to believe the truth?

How many witnesses do you need?

Let’s do a little experiment in faith, shall we?

Let’s see what happens when together, we do something rather unbelievable, and you have to convince others – let’s say, the people at the 8 a.m. service, because I wasn’t here for that – that what is about to take place actually took place here this morning.

Do you see these flowers here?

They are pansies – I know this because I went to a nursery yesterday and specifically asked for them.

They’re pretty, are they not?

They’re lovely harbingers of spring.

They come in an assortment of colors, which I have carefully chosen, because believe me, colors make a difference.

Why?

Let me show you …. (eat pansies)

Mmm … quite tasty, actually.

And yes, just to let you know, it is perfectly safe to eat pansies. Not so much other flowers, but pansies are fine.

Now … if one of you were to call someone who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and tell that person, “You’re not gonna believe it! The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!” that person probably would not believe you.

Because unless I’m sorely mistaken, preachers do not normally eat pansies in the pulpit. It simply isn’t done.

But that’s what I’m doing, isn’t it? (eat more pansies)

Now … if, say, ten of you were to call that same person who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and tell that person, ““You’re not gonna believe it! The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!” there’s a good chance that person still won’t believe you. Because, after all, ten of you could be pulling off an elaborate joke, right?

But what do you think would happen if all of you were to call that person who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and proclaim, “The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!”?

Do you think they would believe? Because all of you were witnesses, and all of you proclaimed the truth?

My friends, I assure you: If enough of you testify to the truth, others will believe.

And the truth is, this morning, I am eating pansies in the pulpit.

So again, the question: How many witnesses do you need to believe the truth?

Going back to the Scriptures and the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, how many witnesses do you need to believe the truth of the Lord’s Resurrection? Because we have witnesses. We have lots of witnesses.

We have the women who went to the tomb on the first day of the week and met the Risen Lord.

We have the disciples, hiding in fear in the upper room.

We have Thomas, who eventually did trust enough to believe.

We have the various other followers of Jesus, who met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus … in their villages … out in the open …

We have the 500 to whom the Risen Lord appeared at once …

And then we have Paul, who then was still Saul, who was on a murderous mission to persecute those who claimed to have seen the Risen Lord, and who met the Risen Lord while sitting on his butt in the middle of the road to Damascus …

Exactly how many witnesses does it take to convince you that the unbelievable is believable?

What does it take to make us move from Thomas’ “I do not trust your story and therefore will not believe” to Thomas’ proclamation, “My Lord and My God!”?

Do I need to eat more pansies to make the unbelievable believable?

Because I will, if that’s what you need.

Just as the Risen Lord made many more appearances to his disciples, which John did not write in his book, because that’s what those disciples needed.

To have their trust restored, to be able to believe again, to become pistos again, Jesus came back, again and again, so that his disciples could know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that he was raised from the dead.

My friends, we are not the witnesses to the actual Resurrection.

But there were witnesses – lots of witnesses, hundreds of witnesses – who saw the Risen Lord, and because of that they became pistos – they trusted again, they believed again.

And because they trusted and believed, we trust, we believe.

That’s why we’re here this morning – because we trust and believe their eyewitness accounts, the ones they have been passed on to us.

So what are we going to do with this trust, this faith that we have received?

How are we going to tell the story in such a way that those who do not yet believe – like that anonymous person who wrote that poignant note last Sunday – can indeed learn to believe?

How are we going to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus?

We don’t get to hear the story of the Resurrection just so that we can put that story in our back pockets. We hear the story, we become pistos, so that the whole world can hear the story, so that all can become pistos.

It’s kind of like me eating these pansies in the pulpit.

It’s a good story, but it doesn’t mean much if you don’t do something with it.

So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to go home and pick up the phone and call someone from the 8 o’clock service (let’s call him “John”) and I want you tell him that the preacher ate pansies in the pulpit. I want you to convince him that this really happened.

And then, I want you to talk a little Gospel. Talk about where you have seen the Risen Lord in your life, today, and everyday. Convince him that the Lord is risen indeed. And talk about where he sees the Risen Lord in his own life.

I guarantee you, there are more Thomases out there. Thomas might even sitting right here this morning. Any one of us could be Thomas.

Whoever Thomas is, wherever Thomas is, he needs to hear from us. He needs to hear that the Lord is risen indeed.

Our mission is to tell the story in such a way that those who are apistos can become pistos, those who aren’t sure, who don’t trust, who want to believe but can’t quite get there, become certain, dare to trust and do believe.

I’ll even give you some pansies, if that will help. (eat pansies)

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Easter, 1 May 2011, Year A, at Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Dunn Loring, Va.



[1] This discussion is based on Brian P. Stoffregen’s Exegetical Notes on Crossroads Christian Resources, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john20x19e2.htm, accessed 26 April 2011.

[2] Stoffregen’s translation, along with The new Greek-English InterLinear New Testament, United Bible Societies’ Fourth, Corrected Edition, 404.

 

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