Archive for April, 2017

2017 Easter Sermon

April 17, 2017

In the Name of the Father . . .

Christians all over the world gather today to celebrate and proclaim our oldest credal statement: Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen Indeed!

This Easter greeting is standard in the Eastern Orthodox churches and often accompanied by three kisses on the cheek. I started out Roman Catholic and as a kid in Chicago I don’t remember the Easter greeting. I remember Ash Wednesday, fasting in Lent, giving up something for Lent, and Easter baskets. That’s about all I remember about Easter from my childhood.

When I joined the Episcopal Church I had to learn the Easter Greeting. There was that awkward moment when a church lady said, “Christ is Risen!,” and then gave me that church lady look. Then she fed me my line, “The Lord is Risen Indeed!” and I repeated it back to her, and she looked at me like she was very disappointed in me.

It is hard to get the Easter message right. It is not just a period of ashes and fasting followed by an Easter Egg Hunt. It’s not just Palm Sunday followed by Easter Sunday and remembering the right words to say when someone challenges you with, “Christ is Risen!”

Another wrong move was made by a large food conglomerate last week in England. Now this is the United Kingdom and the home of the Church of England, the CofE, where we Anglicans started. Anyway, Tesco, which is a big company. It’s sort of like Walmart, Cosco, Hannaford, and Stewarts all in one company. They have all those kinds of stores. It was a week where Pepsi, Sean Spicer, and United Airlines had their troubles here in the US. But, over in the UK there was Tesco putting out an advertisement that said, “Great offers on beer and cider. Good Friday just got better.”

Good Friday just got better because Tesco has a sale on beer and cider. Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified on Good Friday! Tesco tried to apologize and say they didn’t mean to offend anybody.

Somebody wrote on Twitter, “like it or not the Easter is also a secular holiday as well as a religious one. Most are traveling to families rather than to church.”

So, I have described something of the situation we are in now. There are many people who only have a connection to Good Friday and Easter as secular holidays. There are people who have a connection to Easter through the traditions and customs of their own church, but they have no idea how to share the Easter story effectively with non-Christians. And I’ve run into a few people in the Episcopal Church who aren’t very helpful to Christians who come from other kinds of churches.

My Faith was deepened when I began to go to Holy Week services. I greatly recommend this. The three church services leading up to Easter are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Easter Vigil. The services are really one connected service. The Deacon does not give a dismissal at the Thursday night service or the Good Friday service. We all leave in silence. All three services are called the Easter Triduum.

On Thursday night the emphasis is on the Foot-washing, the first Lord’s Supper, and the betrayal by Judas. On Thursday night Jesus gave the new commandment that the disciples should love each other. Jesus showed the kind of love he had in mind when he washed the feet of his disciples.

Late on Thursday night, and into Good Friday, Jesus was arrested and put on trial. The disciples abandoned Jesus. Then he was sent back and forth between King Herod and Pontius Pilate. Finally, He was crucified as a sacrificial scapegoat. On Good Friday we see how the powers of this world attempt to restore order by finding someone to blame.

I know that many Christians believe the whole point of Easter Sunday is that God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. I believe that. I also believe that what happens tonight is extremely important. You won’t hear that part of the story in the Gospel until next Sunday, but I will give you a preview.

Jesus, still bearing his wounds visits the disciples and forgives them for abandoning him. This is also from John’s Gospel, chapter 20 and starting at verse 19, right after the Deacon finished a little while ago:

“19  . . . Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Now, to me this is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. The community that formed around the crucified and risen Lord actually did what he said. They took care of each other. They shared their stuff. They did not make Jesus into a martyr and try to get revenge. They forgave each other. They forgave their enemies. They washed each others’ feet. They gathered in the Lord’s name and shared the Mystical Supper.

2000 years later we are here still doing this. We have our difficulties. It is a tough time for churches. But we come together each week trying to be kind to each other. Forgiving each other. We intend to seek the best for each other. We do not celebrate in other peoples’ misfortune. We comfort each other during the hard times, and we celebrate in victories. We belong to the Lord and he is teaching us through the Holy Spirit how to live the Gospel. To be the People with Good News. Amen

re: A question about repentance

April 8, 2017

I preached a sermon on Sunday, March 19, 2017 (Lent 3A), in which I offered an interpretation of St. Paul’s understanding of the “Wrath (of God)” (Romans 5:1-11), and the kind of forgiveness that Jesus promises us in the example of the Woman at the Well (John 4:5-42).

Later that day I received a question by email asking about the role of repentance. The person asking was taught that forgiveness follows repentance. This is the way most people think about God’s forgiveness. Basically, that it is a transaction. I’m not so sure.

I responded pretty much like the following and I have permission to publish it.

St. Paul recognizes the problem of human sin and self-deception (Rom 7:15), but he struggles to come up with a way to reconcile the consequences of sin (misery), God’s anger, and God’s mercy and love.

The Johannine texts (those books attributed to John the Apostle) seem to be a later stage in the development of a more nuanced understanding of the causes of hatred, scapegoating, and violence. For instance, in the case of the story of the Samaritan women at the well (John 4) we have a situation in which Jesus is handling what looks like a pastoral problem.

The woman seems to be held in general disrepute, and Jesus offers her living water. This living water will sustain and preserve her forever. This is a reference to the Holy Spirit. The work of the Spirit directs people to live lives according to the will of God. The Holy Spirit affirms people in their status as beloved children of God. The Holy Spirit guides people toward honest self assessment. The Holy Spirit provides healing and upholds people in their faith in the Lord.

The living water is nourishing to the point of creating in us proper desires that are completely satisfying, and it open us up to the recognition of our deepest and worst sinful desires (without falling into despair or resorting to denial).

Repentance is crucial to moral and spiritual health. In the past it was generally assumed that a person only needed to do some basic self-reflection to arrive at what exactly is in need of repentance. With the knowledge we have now about unconscious motivation, I would suggest that experiences of God’s Grace and the promise of forgiveness tend to produce gratitude and repentance. This is more in line with the way Jesus deals with the woman caught in adultery and the woman at the well.

My own experience in talking with people confirms this. Remorse (not true repentance – “a turning around,” but regret and self-loathing) is late in coming, and often provoked by the experience of unpleasant events or circumstances. This dynamic gives support to the false notion that God actively punishes people by bringing misfortune.

So, finally I come down on the side (mostly) of reminding people they are forgiven, and trusting true repentance will follow.