Sunday, April 26, 2015

We Have This Treasure in Clay Jars

Bearing Witness to the Lordship of Jesus
with All Faith and Humility

RCL • Year B • Easter 4
Acts 4:1–12 (RCL 4:5–12)
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16–24
John 10:11–18

Watch on YouTube here

“You Are Witnesses of These Things”
If you weren’t here last week, I am sorry to say that you missed out on a wonderful sermon that was delivered by our guest preacher, Don Compier, who is the dean of the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry and who also serves a Spanish-speaking congregation in Kansas City. In his sermon, Don spoke passionately about what it means for us to be witnesses of the Resurrection. Today I want to return to that theme.
     Following his resurrection on Easter morning, Jesus appeared to his disciples for a period of forty days until he was taken up into heaven. One of these appearances occurred on the evening of Easter Sunday. Two of his followers had just returned to Jerusalem, and they were telling the other disciples how they had been encountered by Jesus on the road to Emmaus and how Jesus had made himself known to them in the breaking of the bread. (This recognition scene is the subject of the relief that stands above and behind our altar here at St. John’s.)
     Anyway, while these two disciples are excitedly telling their story, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst. The disciples are all surprised, to say the least. Some are downright terrified because they think they are seeing a ghost. Jesus tries to alleviate their fear by pointing to the holes in his hands and feet. He says, “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). And just to make sure that he has left no room left for doubt, the Risen Jesus takes a piece of broiled fish and eats in their presence. 

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Love Bids Us Welcome — Easter Sermon

Good Morning, I Know It's Easter
As many of you know, I was ordained as a deacon back in August of 2013, and then I became a priest in June of last year. Esther, our six-year old, has been very interested in all of this stuff, and she has been very supportive. For example, yesterday, I was sharing with Rebekah some of my plans for today’s sermon. Esther was listening in, and she interrupted our conversation and said, “Daddy, I know how you can begin your sermon.” I was grateful because making a beginning is so often the hardest part. And so, let me begin my sermon today in the words of Esther:
“Good morning, I know it’s Easter.”

I know it’s Easter. But what does it mean to know it’s Easter. At its most basic level, Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus. Easter is about how God literally raised Jesus from the dead, the same Jesus who, just days earlier, literally died a humiliating and torturous death, with a cry of abandonment on his lips. Why did he die? Why was he raised? These are strange things. So if we want to understand them, if we want to know what they have to do with us in our daily lives, then we need to take a few steps back to gain some perspective. We need to put them into context, because these strange events that have taken place these past three days, are not the whole story, but the climax of a much larger, grander Story.

Friday, April 03, 2015

He Bore the Cross of My Shame — Good Friday Sermon

When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were overcome by such a deep sense of shame that all they could do was hide themselves from one another and from God. The real tragedy is that they—and all of their unborn children, that is, we—no longer experienced God's presence as a blessing, but as a curse. 
     From that moment, God has worked to restore humanity, to set it free from its original shame and all of the sin, violence, and death that have resulted. This work climaxes on Good Friday where God cures like with like, where God cures our shame by enduring shame.

An audio file can be found here.

Stories of Shame
On Tuesday, I was in Topeka at the annual Chrism Mass, where the priests and deacons and the Bishop gather together to renew our ordination vows. After the service, we had lunch. And I sat down next to one of my colleagues who was talking about his Holy Week sermons. He said, “This year, I am not going to be talking about shame and guilt.” That made may me a bit nervous because that’s all I had been planning to talk about. My friend said he wasn’t going to heap shame and guilt upon his congregation by preaching about how they were the cause of Jesus’ death. Well, I am not planning to do that either. But we’ve got to talk about guilt and shame, for without them we simply can’t make sense of Jesus’ death.

So, tonight, I want to talk about shame. More specifically, I want to talk about “original shame,” which is related to the idea of “original sin,” but which is far more fundamental to our human situation and far more relevant to our daily lives. But I must warn you, tonight’s sermon is only the first part of the story, you will have to come back on Easter Sunday to get the Rest of the Story. Tonight, we will look at three stories of shame.

Story Of Shame #1:  Adam and Eve
The first story of shame is an old story, a very older story. It’s the story of the first man and the first woman, the story of Adam and Eve. You know this story. In the beginning, God plants a garden in Eden, and it needs tending. So God creates Adam from the dust of the ground, and places him in the garden to till it and keep it. Later God creates Eve to be Adam’s partner in this work. They are the perfect couple, ideally suited for one another. And so, life in the Garden of Eden is idyllic. There is plenty of food, there is meaningful work, and “they are naked and not ashamed.”

But turn the page, and things fall apart rather quickly. The crafty serpent convinces our first parents to eat from the one tree in the entire garden that is off limits to them, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And when they partake of the forbidden tree, everything changes. In an instant, their eyes are opened, and they now know that they are naked. Shame washes over them to such a degree that they can no longer bear to be in one another’s presence. They try hiding themselves from one another, but the best they can do is fashion some makeshift clothing out of fig leaves.

That’s what shame does. Shame causes us to hide ourselves from other people, and so cuts us off from one another. And when we are disconnected from others, we are prone to all manner of sin and violence. Even brothers will kill one another when they are disconnected and operating from a place of shame. In short, shame brings about a kind of death, wherein we are separated from ourselves, from others, and especially from God. That’s the next part of the story.