Saturday, May 31, 2014

Meeting God in This Place

Homily delivered at the celebration of 
the 120th ANNIVERSARY OF St. John's episcopal Church 
in Woodward, Oklahoma

a. d. 2014, Saturday, May 31, 5:00 p.m. • Evensong
Psalm 46 • 1 Kings 8:54–62 • Hebrews 10:19–25

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle the fire that is in us.
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and see through them.
Take our souls and set them on fire.  Amen.

Stories and Memories of God in this Place

Good evening. It is so great to be here with all of you to worship together and to celebrate this special occasion. It’s been nearly 45 years since I was baptized in this wonderful place by this wonderful man, Fr. Jones. Little did I know then, that I would one day preach from this pulpit. Granted, I was five weeks old at the time, so I didn’t know much of anything, but you get the point.
     It’s been nearly 33 years since I was confirmed in this place. I don’t have any memories of the service itself, but I still use the Book of Common Prayer that I received that day. I also have a picture from that day. It was taken out on the front steps. It shows a very skinny eleven-year-old boy, with a big grin on his face, despite the fact that he is sandwiched, or should I say squashed, between two giant men, Bishop Gerald McAllister and Fr. John Coil.
     If memory serves, I was six years old, when I received my first communion at this very railing. This took place after a grueling interview with Fr. Jones. Okay, it wasn’t particularly grueling. We sat here in these pews, and Fr. Jones asked me questions about God. I don’t recall the exact questions, but I do remember telling him that my sister Elise would tuck me in at night and tell me Bible stories.
When I was ten, I announced to my mother that, when I grew up, I was going to become an Episcopal priest. Apparently, I am nearly grown up because next week, God willing and the people consenting, I will be ordained as a priest in Topeka.
     I have lots of memories of St. John’s. It was, in fact, one of my favorite places to be growing up. I remember playing bingo in fellowship hall, and the white elephant gifts that were used as prizes. I remember the Saturday work days, where the whole parish came together, and we kids worked side by side with the adults. And I remember how it made me feel, that I was not just a kid, but a full member of the parish.
I remember the midnight Masses, struggling to stay awake, struggling not to fall over on my face as I sat up here on these shallow benches. I remember the Easter Vigils, hearing the great story of Scripture being told by candlelight. And I especially remember the magical moment when the lights came on and strings were pulled and these glorious banners descended from the ceiling.
     Well, I could go on and on with my memories of this place. And I know that, given the chance, each of you could go on and on as well. After all, St. John’s has been here for one hundred and twenty years. So there are hundreds and thousands, even hundreds of thousands of such stories and memories tied to this place. Stories of how God has drawn close to us in this place; memories of how we have drawn close to God through the people of this place.

The Dedication of the Temple

That, I think, is Solomon’s vision for the Temple in Jerusalem. In our reading from First Kings, all of Israel has gathered together to celebrate and dedicate the newly-constructed Temple. King Solomon stands before the altar, and he lifts up his voice to thank, to bless, and to plead with God. He prays that this House, which he has built, might be the place where God meets his people in peace, the place where sacrifices can be offered, sins forgiven, and prayers heard. And surprisingly, Solomon makes these requests, not only on behalf of the people of Israel, but on behalf of all peoples everywhere. For Solomon, envisions this House of God being a house of prayer for all nations.
     In his wisdom, Solomon recognizes that this earthly dwelling could never contain the one true and living God, for not even heaven nor even the highest heaven can contain God. And yet, God could still be encountered there. As it was with the Temple in Jerusalem, so it has been and so it is with St. John’s Episcopal Church in Woodward. St. John’s cannot contain God, no single church or church tradition can. Nevertheless, God can still be met here,… in the water,… in the bread and the wine,… in the prayers,… and in the people drawn together for worship.
     And most of all, God meets us here in Jesus—the eternal and living Word of God, the Risen Christ—who continues to make himself known to us in all of these things.
Thanks be to God.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Another Advocate: Getting Ready for the Holy Spirit

How do we participate with the Holy Spirit in our transformation?

RCL • Year A • The Sixth Sunday of Easter • May 25th, 2014
Acts 17:22–31 • Psalm 66:7–18 • 1 Peter 3:13–22 • John 14:15–21

Sermon available on YouTube COMING SOONER/LATER
and as a PDF by clicking HERE

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle the fire that is in us. 
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and see through them.
Take our souls and set them on fire.  Amen.

It’s the Sixth Sunday of Easter, and I have finally gotten our Christ is Risen response in the bulletin. So if you will turn to the beginning of the announcements, let us proclaim together the good news of Easter. 

Χριστός Ανέστη!   Αληθώς Ανέστη! (3 times)
Christos aneste!  Alethos aneste!

What was Jesus Doing for Those Forty Days?

Jesus was arrested on a Thursday night, executed on Friday afternoon, and resurrected early on Sunday morning. And then, for the next forty days, he appeared to his followers. And that’s where we are today. We are still in that forty-day period between Easter morning and the Ascension, when the resurrected Jesus is taken up into heaven and his resurrection appearances cease. Today is day thirty-six of Easter, which means that this coming Thursday is day forty, and we will celebrate Jesus ascending into heaven and being seated at the right hand of God.
     So what exactly was Jesus doing during those forty days between his Resurrection and his Ascension. According to Acts, Jesus was “presenting himself alive to [his disciples] by many convincing proofs” (1:3). In other words, Jesus was offering evidence to counter the rumors that his body had been stolen from the tomb. His resurrection appearances were also proof that he was not a ghost, not a disembodied spirit, but that he had, in fact, been raised from the dead, flesh and blood, body and all.
     Jesus also spent those forty days talking about the kingdom of God and preparing his disciples for his final departure. And that’s what he is doing in today’s gospel as well. Today’s reading from the Gospel of John is a continuation of last week’s gospel lesson. It takes place during Jesus’ final meal with his disciples. Last week, Jesus told his disciples that he was going away, that he was returning to his Father’s house in order to prepare a place for them. One day he would come back and get them so that they might be with him and his Father forever. But in the meantime, they needed to carry on. Instead of being overcome by loneliness, despair, and fear, they were to put their trust in God and also in Jesus. They were to continue the work that Jesus had begun. And, if they did this, if they stepped out in faith, they would find themselves performing the same works that Jesus did. They would proclaim the gospel; they would welcome sinners; they would cast out demons and heal the sick. In fact, Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me… will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
     But how is that possible? How could Jesus’ followers do greater works than the Son of God—than he who walked on water and turned water into wine, he who fed thousands with just a few loaves and fish, he who laid down his life for the sins of the whole world. And more to the point, what does Jesus mean when he says that his disciples would do greater works than he did precisely because he is going away?
     That doesn’t make any sense.