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SERMONS by The Rev. Patricia Cunningham
Pastor Trish comes to Trinity+St. Peter with diverse experience from ministry in three dioceses of the Episcopal Church. Ordained at Christ Cathedral, Hartford, in 2007, she has served churches in transition in Connecticut, Colorado and Minnesota. She has also been a chaplain in two hospitals, a nursing home, a women’s prison, a yacht club and an outdoor ministry to the homeless. Her particular passion is ministry to and with young adults.
Happy Pentecost! Pentecost is the feast day that occurs fifty days after Easter, from the Greek word, PenteKoste which means fifty days after Easter. And though we don’t celebrate it with giving gifts or with some cartoonish, children’s character like Christmas and Easter, Pentecost is one of the three most significant festivals of the Christian church.
It is the day we spend some time thinking about the Holy Spirit. If we were Pentecostals, we would spend a lot more time thinking about the holy spirit. And not just thinking about it but speaking in tongues, or glossalia, falling down-slayed in the spirit-perhaps even laughing or crying or moaning or swaying or dancing. I have witnessed all of these forms of behavior in Pentecostal services. But we Episcopalians are far too cerebral and far less emotional in our worship preferences.
However, there is no getting around the dramatic events described in Acts 2 that we read this morning. The disciples are huddled together in fear of the authorities. And suddenly the howl and the force of the rushing wind appeared in the room. It must have been like they were standing on the edge of the cliffs near the Cliff House on a windy afternoon. Except that they were inside. We are familiar with the voice of God speaking in a whisper, the still, small voice in the wilderness, but this is not like that. This is a wild, uncontrollable wind that must have been terrifying.
As I said, there is no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny associated with Pentecost, but the Holy Spirit is often represented as a dove who descends gracefully and gently from heaven. The dove, white for purity, may coo or carry an olive branch in its beak. But it is certainly a peaceful image. In fact, the dove is also a symbol of peace. However, the Holy Spirit, as depicted in Acts 2, is no peaceful breeze. It is a rushing wind and tongues of fire. The holy spirit chooses to express itself in the most radical form of two of the four elements of nature, air and fire. Clearly the holy spirit does not come to provide comfort to the poor beleaguered disciples. It comes to shake them up even more.
Interestingly, in Celtic Christianity, the Holy Spirit is portrayed not as a dove, but as a goose, a wild goose that cannot be tamed to carry messages like a dove or a pigeon. It delivers messages of its choosing, as member of the triune Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In fact, we used to say, Holy Ghost, to give you some idea of the sort of mystery we are dealing with here. The Holy Ghost is not to be messed with, and like a wild goose it cannot be tamed or contained.
Gerald May wrote a wonderful story about finding God in nature. He heads out of the city one Friday evening on a camping trip in the mountains. He sets up camp and the next day he is up with the dawn, portaging his canoe to a large lake. The beauty and silence is broken only by the soft sound of his paddle hitting the water. In the distance he sees a pair of beautiful bald eagles. He stops paddling, and just sits there, hoping they will come closer. And soon he is rewarded as they come toward him and he loses himself in this spiritual reverie, praising God for the beauty and awesomeness of the created world. Feeling so humbled by the privilege of being able to enjoy the sublime beauty of these soaring raptors high above him but coming ever closer towards him as he sits in the canoe. Until finally they have descended many feet and are now directly above him, so he lifts his head up to commune with their awesome grace and beauty and has he does, one of the eagles lets go of a huge dump of white bird poop that landed all across his face.
Yes, God speaks to us in ways that are designed to shake us up and to disabuse us of our quaint notions that nature, or life, or even our own fate can be contained and controlled by us. The Holy Spirit is more wild goose than peaceful dove.
If someone were to make a movie of the scene from Acts, there would have to be special effects to capture the rushing wind and the tongues of fire. What do you make of it? Jews from all over the Meditteranean world were gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish Festival of Weeks: Pious, observant Jews, speaking dozens of different languages. And each of them heard a message in his own language from the disciples who seem to have acquired the power to transcend their own limitations and to speak directly to every man there. What do you make of that? Could it be that the disciples were speaking truth that so deeply resonated with each person that each person knew instinctively, in his heart that it must be true?
One of the beautiful things about living in San Francisco is the diversity here. I don’t have to tell you that Christians are a minority here. We don’t share a spiritual language with the majority of people in San Francisco. And so how wonderful it is to meet someone who does share our spiritual language. And even though they may be from a different culture, language and ethnic background than ourselves, we are able to trust what they are saying because we understand its truth in our deepest core.
Could this be the “spirit of truth, “ to which Jesus refers in this Gospel passage from John?
“This is the spirit of truth that the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you and he will be in you.”
The spirit of truth resides in the heart of each one of us and when we listen with our hearts and speak from the heart then there can be no language barrier. These are the people to whom we should listen: those who speak from the heart.
For me, one of the most appealing qualities of the play “Aint it so,” and the plays of August Wilson that have been performed by Multi Ethnic Theatre is that they are all about people speaking from the heart. People who have been oppressed, people who have suffered, people who have lived on the margins do not have the luxury of living their lives in their heads, on the cerebral plan, unscathed by the exigencies of life. The African American experience has produced music, writing, dance and theatre that is filled with the spirit of truth and that spirit is often speaking truth to power. Thus we call it prophetic.
Are you and I called to be prophetic? Have you ever witnessed injustice? Perhaps you yourself have experienced being treated as the “other” rather than the preferred social group in our culture, “white, male, and heterosexual.” Or if you are part of the dominant social group, then perhaps you suffer in solidarity with the oppression of minorities.
We have a code in our house for white privilege that results in discrimination against African Americans. That code is Little Kim. I am almost embarrassed to tell you how this code came about. David and I were watching an episode of Dancing with the Stars. Among the contestants were a middle-aged, white country singer who danced like a wooden puppet and the black female R and B singer, Little Kim. Can you guess who was the better dancer? Yes, it was Little Kim. And yet who was advanced to the next round? The stiff jointed white country star. This is a rather frivolous example but it does illustrate an insidious phenomenon in this country that continues to pervade the air like an invisible but poisonous gas; racism. David was so incensed that he vowed never to watch another talent competition style show again. Until we found the Voice. But as we watch the show we are very sensitive to the dynamic of racism in the way that popular vote that determines the winners.
Yes, the Holy Spirit is a wild goose that wakes us up and stirs us out of our complacency. And yes, it calls people to prophecy, to speaking truth to power about injustice, delusion and deceit wherever it can be found. And as I read the newspapers, I see that there is no shortage ofopportunities to call out greed, self-serving complacency and aggression against member of minority groups. But what does this have to do with you and me? On this Pentecost Sunday, let us remember that the Holy Spirit is here, with us now, in us now, provoking and empowering us to speak with the spirit of truth. And as followers of Christ, this is what we must do- we too must be no less than the prophets of this age. Amen.
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."
There is a saying that the role of a preacher is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. I do not necessarily subscribe to that because I think that Jesus alone does this better than anyone else possibly could. No assistance is needed.
The story of the rich young man from the Gospel of St. Mark is one of those stories that continue to cause many of us to squirm a little bit. “Sell all your possessions and follow me,” “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to go to heaven,” “many who are first will be last and, the last will be first,” these are statements that clearly challenge those who are reaping the benefits of worldly success and privilege. Nevertheless it is not quite as simple as rich bad, poor good.
First of all, the rich young man is not Donald Trump or Leona Helmsley. Remember Leona Helmsley. She owned a chain of motels, never used the same towel twice, went to prison for tax evasion and was nicknamed the “queen of mean.” But even Leona Helmsley had her good points. In fact when I was a chaplain at Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut, the wing of the hospital I spent the most time in was called the Helmsley wing, after Leona and her husband.
In Jesus’ day it was assumed that the rich would be the first to go to heaven. Success, defined as owning slaves, andlivestock and producing a big family, was deemed to be a sign of God’s favor. Therefore, it made sense to think that those who seem to be first in this life, will be first in the next life as well. But Jesus turns that assumption on its head. Many who are first will be last in the eternal kingdom: Because it is difficult for a rich person to go to heaven.
But why is that? Is it because God loves the rich less than the poor? Are the rich somehow more sinful than the poor? Is that why Jesus tells the rich young man to sell everything?
The rich young man himself does not seem to be a bad person, he is not an arrogant playboy. On the contrary, the young man seems to have a passion for doing the right thing. He is humble of heart and eager to learn from Jesus, kneeling before him and pressing him for more guidance about what he should do. He recognizes the goodness of Jesus and sees him as able to impart the spiritual knowledge for which he finds himself thirsty, despite having it all in life. Have you ever known someone like that? Someone who had it all, yet never felt satisfied? There was an old Peggy Lee song in the 1960s called, “Is that all there is?” It sums up this sentiment that all of our hopes and dreams in this life may come true and yet at the end of the day, you find that there is still something missing. What could that something be?
When I took a class with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he called that missing something the God-shaped hole inside of everyone. What is missing is a relationship with. God. And this is why Jesus points out that it is more difficult for a rich man to go to heaven, why? Because it may take longer for a rich man to realize that he needs God. Wealth insulates people from facing some of the harsh realities of life. Insecurity around getting your basic needs met is a good reason to pray, and pray without ceasing. Lack of good health care is a good reason to pray, and pray without ceasing. Living in an area rife with violent crime, and worse yet, raising children in an area like that is a reason to pray and pray without ceasing. For those people who find themselves more fortunate, who are able to wield power due to status, finances and other social markers of privilege, it may not be apparent that they are not in control of life until a tragic life event shows them otherwise. Many people seem to discover God at a vulnerable time in their lives. Someone dies, or they get sick and realize that they are not as powerful as they had thought. They are not really in control.
And being rich and powerful is a distraction from pursuing the spiritual life. I’ve known people who watched the stock market obsessively. They live and breathe according to the fluctuations of the market due to the investments of their wealth. Power and wealth seem to become an addiction. People will do anything to hang onto it. Organize their whole lives around hanging on to their position and managing their possessions. They don’t possess money, they don’t own things, their money possesses them and their things own them. This is why Jesus says it is difficult for a rich person to go to heaven. He or she may be too busy managing and hanging onto the things of this world to hear or recognize God’s voice in their life. Their lives and their hands are already so full, they don’t have time for God or the ability to receive God’s blessings of deep joy and peace.
These folks are friends with people whom they know can help them. They work hard to appear successful. They use up a lot of energy worrying about how they and their families appear to the outside world; it becomes a priority. And therapists are kept busy because real problems are not addressed and they surface at the wrong times and in the wrong way. Being rich and powerful carries huge burdens, and while there is less insecurity about meeting basic needs, other insecurities rise up to take their place.
The rich young man in the story is very much like the millenials today. He has a great deal of anxiety. He has followed all of the commandments, and yet, he knows that it’s not enough. There must be something that he is missing. He is anxious. Just like so many young people today-- are anxious. A study two years ago found that millennials have the unfortunate distinction of being the most stressed out generation alive.
According to the American Psychological Association, and Harris Interactive Polls, more millennials reported they had depression (19 percent) compared to 14 percent of adults between 34 and 47 -- from "Generation X" -- and 12 percent of adults between 48 to 66 -- "Baby Boomers" -- in addition to 11 percent of seniors 67 and older. Same went for anxiety disorders: 12 percent of millennials surveyed had been diagnosed, compared to 8 percent of Gen. Xers, 7 percent of boomers and 4 percent of the oldest age group.
The reason for this added stress among Millenials was explained like this, “ They were sheltered in many ways, with a lot of high expectations for what they should achieve. Individual failure is difficult to accept when confronted with a sense you're an important person and expected to achieve. Even though, in most instances, it's not their fault -- the economy collapsed just as many of them were getting out of college and coming of age -- that does lead to a greater sense of stress.”
“Growing up with a sense that you are an important person and expected to achieve,” that sounds like a lot of pressure. Is this how the rich young man felt?
Those of us who have tried and failed a few times learn that it is normal not to be first, all the time, and that it this is just fine. It is normal to fail, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t succeed at some time during the future.
Another study shows that Millenials have a special type of anxiety called fear of missing out, or FOMO. Due to the 24/7, round the clock updating, trending streaming live culture of social media, young adults feel pressured to stay online and connected at all time, for fear of missing something. Fear of missing out, a new and proven anxiety disorder-- an unintended consequence of social media. Not just possessions, and the need to hang onto them, but a new distraction to eclipse spiritual development.
What would Jesus say today to a young start-up founder? Sell your possessions? Or get off your phone! Put down that tablet! And don’t work so hard!
Jesus is not coming down on the rich to make this point about how we need God to know the kingdom of God, how we need God to know eternal life. The point that Jesus is making is that over-concern with this life will keep a person from preparing for the next. Anything that allows no time for developing connection with God, with others and getting to know oneself and how God is working in one’s own life, should be brought under control and put into perspective. If attachment to your wealth is keeping you from experiencing God, then let go of the wealth. If it is an obsession or an addiction, then let go of that obsession or addiction.
The good news is that Jesus loved the rich young man, and Jesus loves you and me too. God is yearning for us to notice Him and to want to be in relationship with Him. So whatever is holding you back from noticing God in your life, put it down, leave it behind you and follow Christ. Amen.
Work/Life Balance on the Christian Path
A young female engineer was walking down Mission Ave. at midnight, having just left her job, when a frog jumps out from a homeless encampment, stops right in front of her, looks up into her eyes and smiles. Good evening, lovely lady, the frog says. This is going to sound weird, but I am actually a prince in disguise. One kiss from you and I will leave behind my froggish appearance and transform into a handsome prince. The young engineer picks up the frog, puts him into her backpack and continues walking. “Hey, what’s going on here?” The frog calls out from inside the pack. “Aren’t you going to kiss me so that I can be the prince you’ve always dreamed of?” “Absolutely not,” replies the young woman, “ I have zero time for a relationship right now, and a talking frog, now that’s cool! “
This silly example illustrates a post modern condition—people seem busier than ever before. Too busy even for relationships, in some cases. When did busy-ness become a virtue? As a result of the industrial Revolution perhaps? Prior to the industrialization of the Western world, society was largely agrarian. People made their living from the land, as farmers. Life on the farm brings with it a natural rhythm of work, rest and play. Once the seeds have been planted, there is a lag time before the harvest. Then it is time to get busy again, reaping what has been sown.
The Christian teacher, Parker Palmer writes this about summer:
“Where I live, summer’s keynote is abundance. The forests fill with undergrowth, the trees with fruit, the meadows with wide flowers and grasses, the fields with wheat and corn, the gardens with zucchini, and the yards with weeds. In contrast to the sensationalism of spring, summer is a steady state of plenty, a green and amber muchness that feeds us on more levels than we know. “
With the Industrial Revolution, “muchness” was no longer just a characteristic of summer it became the goal of life 365 days per year. “Production, progress, productivity, produce.” People began to be valued according to their ability to function in the machine of capitalism How many widgets could be produced in a day? And if the boss happens to look over in your direction, you’d better look busy. Perhaps this is how busyness became a virtue.
In addition, there is a little theological concept called predestination. John Calvin, one of the pioneers of the Reformation, theorized that if God is omnipotent, all-powerful, and all-knowing, then human beings must be predestined to end up either in heaven, or in the hot place. Predestination means that one already has a ticket on the train to heaven, or one is left standing on the platform when that train pulls out.
Sociologist Max Weber thought about predestination and he made an interesting connection to the work ethic. In his book “ The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” he says that because of the idea of predestination, capitalism became the predominant economic system. He said that predestination creates anxiety. The uncertainty about whether one is a member of the elect, creates a drive to prove to oneself and others, that one is predestined for salvation. And how do you prove that you are one of the elect, predestined for paradise? By virtuous living and hard work. Expressions such as “idle hands are the devil’s playthings,” came into being.
Hard work was idealized and held up as yardstick against which a person’s character was measured. Today, things have shifted a little. We are a post-industrial society. Not many of us work in factories, foundaries or on the land any more. So how do we prove that we are among the virtuous? By staying busy. Not just hard work, but “busyness” itself is considered a virtue today. If you ask someone, “How are you?” You will rarely hear, “I just don’t have enough to do.” Even retired persons are quick to say, “I’m busier than ever, even though I am retired.” What is that about?
While it does seems as if more and more people are becoming aware of the idea of work-life balance, the signs of this idea taking root are not promising. In latest crop of businesses, the start-up software companies, working around the clock seems to be the norm. In fact, for some of the most successful young entrepreneurs and engineers, a date with a potential romantic partner can look like a joint work session: they are in the same room, but each person is on their laptop, working around the clock, as well as checking in with all of the social media that they feel obliged to which they must post and follow.
It’s a lifestyle that could not be more removed from the agrarian days of rural life when bedtime happens shortly after dark and people rise the next day with the sun. With so many people amped up on Peet’s, or Philz or Starbucks, sitting in coffee shops at all hours of the day or night, the natural rhythms of the seasons or even night and day have little bearing on post-modern life. When do people rest and recreate?
As Henri Nouwen points out in the reading we heard this morning, busyness is a symptom of worry. Worry, or anxiety, keeps people on their phones, and laptops. I know this from personal experience. And with all of this busyness, it is all too easy to lose a sense of one’s center, who was is at one’s core. Jesus calls us back to our center. Jesus invites us to remember who we are, beloved as children of God, not just cogs in the post-industrial, globalized machine. Jesus calls us to come away to a place of rest and re-creation.
To return to John Calvin for a moment, he wrote in his seminal work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, “Knowledge of self is the beginning of the knowledge of God.” When people are constantly busy, working, always connected through the world of virtual reality, and over-stimulated by a relentless cocktail of information, entertainment and caffeine, where is the opportunity to get to know self, let alone God?
Jesus invites his disciples to “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Why would Jesus say that to his disciples? Obviously, Jesus was not a workaholic and he does not want you to be one either. Work-life balance is the Christian way, not work, work and more work. In fact the only way to know yourself and to know God is by setting aside time not to work. We think that discipline is all about working, but true discipline is about finding balance between work, rest and recreation. There is an interesting word, “recreation,” literally—“re”-“creation.” If we are to be fully who God created us to be, we must be allowed to re-create. God created each one of us to be a co-creator. We are God’s hands, heart and mind on earth. If we are to do God’s work, we must stop working and re-create ourselves from time to time.
When was the last time that you recreated? What do you do to relax, unwind and re-create? What do you do to re-create your connection to God? To center yourself and get in touch with who you are at your core?
Jesus invites his disciples to a quiet place. Can you find a quiet place each day in which to pray? And perhaps do some devotional reading? Have you ever spent time with the little booklets called the Day by Day reflections? There are many other resources for devotional reading as well. How about spending some time in Bible study? Do you have a good knowledge of the Bible? Or are you like most Episcopalians, whose Christian education stopped in childhood when you graduated from Sunday school? Are you ready to mature in the knowledge of your faith?
Jesus wants to lead you to green pastures, beside still waters so that you can get to know yourself, who you are in your heart. Pay attention to just how busy you have become. Jesus says, come away and rest for a while. Find a solitary place and a solitary time. Nurture your spirituality, so that you can truly know yourself and also grow in your relationship with God. Christ is our peace and is calling you to spend time in his presence today and every day. Amen.
From Making All Things New: An Invitation to Spiritual Life
by Henri Nouwen
" ..there is little doubt in my mind that the experience of being filled yet unfulfilled touches most of us to some degree at some time. In our highly technological world, it is hard to avoid completely the forces which fill up our inner and outer space and disconnect us from our innermost selves, our fellow human beings, and our God.
One of the most notable things characteristics about worrying is that it fragments our lives. The many things to do, to think about, to plan for, the many people to remember, to visit, or to talk with, the many causes to attack or defend, all these pull us apart and make us lose our center.
Jesus responds to this condition of being filled yet unfulfilled, very busy yet unconnected, all over the place yet never at home. He wants to bring us to the place where we belong. But his call to live a spiritual life can only we heard when we are willing honestly to confess our own ...worrying existence and recognize its fragmenting effect on our daily life...Only then can a desire for our true home develop."
Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called "the uncircumcision" by those who are called "the circumcision" -- a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands-- remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Pentecost 4: June 21, 2015 (Father’s Day)
“Fatherhood and God: Who’s your daddy? ”
Happy Fathers’ Day! When I was a little girl, I used to think that my daddy was God. Anyone else care to admit that they felt this way? I grew up in the 60s and 70s: A time when my mother’s job, was that of professional homemaker. And her day would consist of cleaning, shopping, childcare, laundry, with a break to watch a soap opera and perhaps take a nap, and then cooking the evening meal. After that she would shed her work clothes, change into a dress, do her hair, put on makeup and be ready for my father’s return with a VO and water, a delicious meal and children ready for bed. My father would sweep in, high-spirited and ready to dispense encouraging words, hugs and kisses to all. And then we would go to bed and I would wonder whether my father and God were the same person.
Mom and us kids belonged to one realm of existence, the quotidian, nitty-gritty world of mundane life, and my father belonged to distinctly other world altogether. His world was a mystery to us, but we knew it was wonderful. It was the world of the Mad Men television series, except that Don Draper was to all appearances,
Ward Cleaver, not the sybarite of the three-martini lunch. The operative assumption of the culture was that Father Knew Best.
Luckily my father was a benevolent ruler. As you might safely assume, he was “the fun” parent. In retrospect, I see that he was the happy parent. He routinely came home bearing gifts from chocolate eclairs that our mother told us we could not eat before dinner, to toys and novelties from his many travels. Is it any wonder that my view of God is of a loving, generous and gracious parent?
Most of us have conflated the idea of a human father with God. It is deeply engrained in our religion. But what about if your father was absent? Neglectful? Impossible to please? Abusive even? How might that influence the way that you experience God?
A woman theologian by the name of Roberta Bondi wrote about her personal difficulty in reconciling her concept of a father God, with her own earthly father. It seems that he had abandoned her mother early when she was a little girl, and she felt abandoned also. When she came to know him later in life, he seemed impossible to please. How could the heavenly father love her unconditionally, she thought, when she was not good enough for her earthly father?
And then Bondi realized that God is not like a human father at all. In fact, God is way beyond what we can conceive God to be, so even though we call him “Father,” we should not take this too literally. We make God smaller and more manageable by thinking of God in human terms. But basically, God is way beyond our knowing.
You at St. Aidan’s know and demonstrate through your use of inclusive language that God is beyond gender. God is not male or female. However religious language has mainly spoken of God as male and the consequence of framing God in male terms is to see maleness as part of God’s nature, to the exclusion of femaleness. This cannot be right.
Jesus himself refers to his longing to gather up the people of Jerusalem as a mother hen gathers up her chicks, (Luke 13:34) Jesus was male, but even he saw that he had a feminine side as well. And of course, if God is the supreme being, then God is both male and female and everything else in between.
Yet Jesus does refer to God as his father. He actually calls him Abba, or daddy. And of course, he teaches us to address God as Our Father in the prayer he taught us. The problem comes when define fatherhood in the narrow terms of a biological relationship. Jesus was expressing the nature of a relationship in calling God “Daddy,” but it had nothing to do with gender and everything to do with love.
God loves you more than any parent or any other human being can love you. This is the Good News. So if you have not known unconditional love in your life, do not despair, your father or parent in heaven, the creator God, loves you more than you can fathom, so that even the hairs on your head are numbered. (Luke 12:7) God loves each one of you more than any earthly parent could love you. And you don’t need to do a thing! God loves you just the way you are!
Perhaps you know that in your mind, but find it hard to accept emotionally. Can you accept that God loves others that way--unconditionally? God loves everyone unconditionally. And this is why we are called into relationship with others, to love one another as God loves us. God has no hands, feet, voice or heart on this earth, apart from ours. Each one of us is called to be a representative of the Father in the world--in fact, each one of us is called to be a father and a mother, in becoming “generative,” or caring for others beyond our own needs. Very often this looks like the role of parent.
Look at Jesus in the storm, in today’s Gospel story. The wind whips up the waves on the Sea of Gallilee, which is really a lake, right? Has anyone here seen it? It is really about the size of Lake Tahoe, so it’s not like they were out in the middle of the Pacific. But the disciples are terrified. So they go and wake up Jesus, who must get tired of being the only adult in the room: He is understandably irritated, he rebukes the wind and the sea, and then has a choice word for them, before going back to sleep apparently.
We see this time and again, Jesus is the parent, and the disciples are the kiddies. Rivaling like siblings, in need of constant direction, unable to put their own needs last, as he stays awake alone the night before his crucifixion. Jesus the Son certainly fulfilled the role of surrogate father for these young fishermen, who may well have been teenagers themselves, as a few of them seemed to have outlived him by many decades.
And what about our man Paul? Did you catch his tone in the second letter to the Corinthians this morning? He sounds beleaguered, spent, having sacrificed everything. He sounds like a Dad. He writes,
“We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way- (come on now kids, its up to you.) We have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, (and so on,) poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. “Paul is like a Dad stuck with his kids student loans!
“We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return-- I speak as to children-- open wide your hearts also.”
Paul is learning what all parents must learn: Our role is to sacrifice and to expect little or nothing in return. This seems to be the role that Paul took on in founding the early church communities.
What about your church community here ? The one thing that I would ask you to remember is this: Think big, Think big. God always has bigger plans for us than we have for ourselves. Think big. This may mean making a personal sacrifice. This may mean putting yourself into the role of a parent who can pour your love and energy and resources into the church, and then let it go to a new and uncertain future without the need to exert your control.
Let us pray that God fills you with confidence and strength to be a good father, and wisely to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Abide in me....John 15:1-8 May 3,2015
When I was a child there was a playground game called Whiplash. As the name implies, this game was not without risk of bodily injury. But I grew up in a time in which if you didn’t come home with at least one bloodied knee, you weren’t really playing. In an age of helicopter parents, this game would probably be considered too dangerous for kids today.
Here is how the game was played: A large group of kids would hold onto each other’s arms, monkey grip style, that is one kid’s hand going up to the elbow of the next kid, everyone side by side in a long line. And then the object was to try to detach people from one another’s grip. So the whole line would spin, and pull and whip around until people could not hold on any longer and became detached.
For some reason, this image comes up for me when I think about Jesus as the vine and us as the branches. Perhaps you go straight to the picture of the grapes, dangling from the vine. In this wine producing state, the grapevine is surely a familiar image.
Jesus often used everyday images to show people eternal truths, calling Himself bread, a light, a door, a shepherd, and now a vine. These statements in the Gospel of John always begin with the two words: “I am. ” And this reflects the passage in Exodus in which God tells Moses: I am who I am. The parallel is intentional. Jesus is God’s Son. He is also the vine and we who follow him, are the branches.
Jesus was not introducing a new idea by using the metaphor of a vine and branches. In the Old Testament, God's vine was Israel. God used Israel to accomplish His purpose in the world. God was the vinedresser; He cared for the vine, trimmed it, and cut off branches that did not bear fruit. Readers of the Gospel of John, early Christians who were also Jews, would have been familiar with this image. Their faith told them that throughout their history, they were a people under the care of the vinedresser. When they suffered, they believed that it was because they were not bearing the fruit that God had intended for them.
Jesus says to abide in him, because he is the vine and we were created as branches to bear good fruit. People often wonder whether life has a purpose. Here is what our faith tells us—you were created to bear good fruit. And you probably do so in your individual lives. Together as a community, we bear good fruit by providing a Christian witness in lower Pacific Heights. We welcome visitors and newcomers into worship and fellowship. We serve those who need our help through the feeding programs, Open Cathedral, the jail ministry, and the doorstep ministry. One of us alone could not do as much as we can do as a community, by staying together as a bunch of grapes, if you will.
Fruitfulness is the goal for all of humankind. You will recall in Genesis that God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. This can be interpreted beyond the idea of procreation. Whenever you use your creativity to produce something good, you are being fruitful. This can manifest in many ways. Perhaps you are good at mediating conflict. Perhaps you are good at hospitality, at making people feel welcome and at ease. Perhaps you are good at leveraging finances to make good things happen in the world. There are as many ways to bear fruit as there are individual human gifts.
But we often lose sight of our own unique gifts to create and to be fruitful. I wonder what gets in the way? I have observed that often it is fear and anxiety. We predict negative outcomes. We are always considering the risk of using our gifts. We become stymied, stale and barren of fruit. Jesus says, abide in me. Surely this is the antidote to fear and anxiety, abide in Jesus-- whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light-- and let him take on himself your worry and anxiety. Jesus wants us to be our highest selves.
I wonder what it is that keeps us from abiding in Jesus as a society? The United States is a highly Christian country, and yet Christian values do not drive our world. Instead, we are driven by profit margins, by competition and by consumerism. What would happen if we valued spiritual development, compassion and living in harmony with other people and our environment over our individual material interest? Mahatma Gandhi pointed out that if Christians truly lived according to the principals we profess, there would be far fewer wars, and far less greed and far less unhappiness in the world. With more Christians in the world than those who profess other faiths, what is it that keeps us from living our lives consistent with Jesus’ teaching?
Franciscan teacher and writer Richard Rohr may have the answer to this question and it has to do with the history of the Christian faith. He writes:
“The last great formal persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire ended in AD 303. Ten years later, Christianity was legalized by Constantine I. After this structural change, Christianity increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order, especially concerning war and money. Morality became individualized and largely sexual. The Church slowly lost its free and alternative vantage point. Texts written in the hundred years preceding 313 show it was unthinkable that a Christian would fight in the army, as the army was killing Christians. By the year 400, the entire army had become Christian, and they were now killing the pagans.
The Christian church became the established religion of the empire and started reading the Gospel from the position of maintaining power and social order instead of experiencing the profound power of powerlessness that Jesus revealed. In a sense, Christianity almost became a different religion! This shift would be similar to reversing the first of the 12 Steps to seek power instead of admitting powerlessness. In this paradigm only the "winners" win, whereas the true Gospel has everyone winning. Calling this power "spiritual" and framing success as moral perfection made this position all the more seductive to the ego and all the more disguised.” (Adapted from Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer, pp. 48-51;
and Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 100)
Christianity came unmoored from Jesus’ message of meekness and vulnerability when it became the official religion of the conquering Roman Empire. Over the centuries it has been used by nations with imperialist agendas to usurp the rights and livelihood of indigenous peoples all over the world. Missionaries often conflated religion with the acquisition of power and wealth as they accompanied explorers and colonizers from Europe to the rest of the world.
From this perspective we can identify the trajectory on which Jesus’ message was radically altered to fit an altogether different agenda of power and domination in the world. But how do we miss the point of his teaching in our own lives? Just like the children’s game of whiplash, there are forces that try to separate us from the true vine. What are these forces in your life? What is separating you from Jesus?
In our Contemporary Reading this morning, Henri Nouwen points to a fundamental mistake that we make in confusing success with fruitfulness. Nouwen points out that bearing fruit as a Christian is not synonymous with being successful in the world. We spend a lot of time and energy in achieving goals that make us look successful in the eyes of the world, but perhaps that energy could be better spent in pursuing the fruits of the spirit.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes about the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” What would our world be like if these values were taken more seriously and put into practice by all who claim to be Christian? It would be a good start to better, more just and more sustainable world for us all.
You and I can do more together, than we can alone, but each one of us must make a decision about what we will prioritize and value in our lives. Will we abide in Jesus and trust him to take on our fear and anxiety so that we can risk pursuing our best selves? Or will we be separated from vine by the forces within us and outside of us that want to separate us from Christ? As Nouwen points out, we are fruitful when we give up the struggle and embrace our vulnerability. When we can do this, we are ready to abide in Christ. Amen
Jesus: The Good Shepherd.... John 10:11-18 April 26,2015
I remember the first moment that I fell in love with worship. I was a teenager in Sydney, Australia and a student at Loreto Convent, Kirribilli. Several times a year, the whole school walked down the road to Our Lady of the Star of the Sea Catholic church in our school uniforms and we worshipped together as a community. Praying and singing together with my friends and classmates was a powerful experience for me. I felt part of a community and part of something bigger than myself, and it felt good.
Growing up, my family had moved many times. By the time I was 14, I had already lived in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Arizona, Boston, New York, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. With all the moves, we never really had the opportunity to become part of a community. In addition, my parents were not churchgoers, so I sort of discovered church on my own.
Worshipping with my school community gave me a sense of belonging and connection with others that had been absent from my life. Perhaps you have found this to be true of being part of this community, here at Trinity † St. Peter’s. Each one of us has a deep yearning for connection, for community, for unity, deep-seated within us as we are created by God.
We are created to live in community. Trinity†St. Peter’s is a community and I hope that each of you will week by week reach out to people you don’t know in this community, in particular to newcomers, to get to know one another better. If you want community, it is up to you to create community. I am only one person, one member of this community. Each of you has a part to play in creating community here. Each of you has gifts to share. Each one of you is important to our life together. What are the gifts that you can share with us?
St. Paul loves to use the image of the body to describe how we are united as a community. And he points out that each member of the body has an essential role to play, no one more important than the other for full functioning. So if you want to run, walk, or dance, you need a brain, legs, feet, body, arms, hands, all working together. Similarly, if we want to enjoy community events, we need planners, or brains, we need publicists, or voices, we need cooks and food preparers, or hands and we need servers or legs and feet, if you will. What role do you see for yourself in making Trinity†St. Peter’s a real community of love, mutual support and service to others who need our help?
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads us into community. Some of you may come here for the music. Some of you may come for the friendship of certain individuals. Some of you may come here for reasons of which I am not aware. But ultimately, we all come here because of Jesus: some aspect of his teaching and or the real presence of the risen Christ in the world today draws us here. And this is a good place to be. This is a place to be reminded of who you are when you are your best self. This is a place of our highest aspirations for a better world. This is a place for spiritual nurture, for a sense of meaning and purpose and for a sense of belonging. Jesus herds us together in the hope that we will live in unity, not uniformity, but together as individual children of a loving God.
Jesus is the good shepherd, who cares for us more than he cares for his own life. We have known others who have made this kind of sacrifice. Military personnel are asked to put their lives on the line to serve the people of their country and millions have lost their lives to this pursuit. Law enforcement officers do the same thing. But the relationship of a shepherd with his or her sheep is different. There is an intimacy, a knowledge that comes from the hands on care for the sheep that the shepherd gains. It becomes personal. Those of you who have raised animals know what it is like to care for a creature that is totally dependent on you to keep them fed and safe from harm. This is the role of a shepherd.
Sheep herding is a universal activity. Sheep are raised in India, in every country in Europe, in North America, Australia and New Zealand, where there are more sheep than people. Shepherds have been around for at least five thousand years, beginning in Asia Minor. In arid lands the shepherds need to keep the sheep on the move to find grazing. They often travel through mountainous terrain. At first they carried a staff or tall stick. And then the stick developed a crook at the end, with which a shepherd could reach out and grab a fallen sheep by the neck and bring it back to safety. A bishop’s crozier is often a very fancy version of this. And the symbolism is apparent: the bishop, as Christ’s representative, is charged with bringing sheep who have strayed, or as we say, sinned, back into the fold. I have yet to see a bishop actually grab a person by the neck with a crozier, but that would be quite entertaining.
Jesus does not resort to this technique either. Instead, he tells us that his voice will gather us and other individuals, people who are not already part of the flock as well. Followers of Jesus are charged with bringing others into the fold in the great proclamation to go and make disciples in every corner of the world. As we live into the great proclamation to bring others into the fold, what might this look like? How might we be Christ’s voice in the world? Teresa of Avila reminds us that Jesus has no hands, feet, heart or voice in the world, except ours. How might we help other sheep to hear Christ’s voice in the world?
We step outside of this sanctuary into a world that needs to know about Jesus’ teaching. It’s a world with a wider disparity between rich and poor than any time since the Depression. It’s a world in which people increasingly interact with their electronic devices, rather than face to face. It’s a city in which individuals whose basic needs for shelter, guidance and healing are not met, so they have arrived at their last resort, life on the streets. It’s a world in which we continue to dishonor our duty to care for the environment.
How can you bring the good shepherd’s voice into this world? Can you call attention to injustice? Can you help to address the root causes of homelessness? Can you take leadership in caring for creation? Can you use your creativity to create a more beautiful, compassionate and peaceful world? Can you do the work of being a Christian, living as not just another sheep, but as a sheepdog, perhaps, who helps to gather the flock? God wants to lead all of us to the place of still waters and green pastures. And for this to happen, each one of us will need to lay down at least a little bit of our lives for one another. Each one of us is called to follow the voice of the shepherd and to make his voice known to others, so that the world might know the deep joy and peace of God’s saving grace. Amen
Touching Jesus....Luke 24:36b-48 April 19,2015
On this third Sunday of Easter, we hear a second story of a post-resurrection appearance by Jesus. Jesus appears before the disciples and once again, what is the first word he speaks? “Peace” Because they are startled and terrified. They believe he is a ghost. And so Jesus invites them to touch him. Put your hands on me. He says. I am not a ghost. Touch me. You can feel me and I can feel you. We are the same. I am human like you. Remember that song: “What if God were one of us? Just a slob like one of us. Just a stranger on a bus. Trying to make his way home?” Anyone ever feel like that when they are riding on Muni? Anyone ever had a theophany, or experience of God, on Muni?
And then Jesus goes one step further. He asks for food. And he eats it in front of them. For some reason, this story reminds me that Jesus was a young man when he last walked the earth. This request for food, after being reunited with his friends, reminds me of what happens when our daughters, who are young adults, come to visit us. After about ten minutes of conversation, just to be polite, they head straight to the refrigerator, which becomes their private smorgasbord. Friends who have sons have told me that it is worse. Whole cooked chickens can disappear. Jesus just asks for a fish.
What does this touching and eating Jesus means for us? I read an interesting commentary on this passage by someone who is very disturbed by the way that African American men are targeted for excessive violence by so-called officers of the law. Isaac Villegas wrote the passage we heard this morning before our Scripture passages. And he wrote this before the volunteer deputy in Oklahoma shot and killed an unarmed black man who was on the ground, being subdued by police officer. Is there a spate of these cases, or are we just becoming more aware of the danger from law enforcement that black men deal with?
This deputy was a volunteer, but he looked just like a police officer. He wore a uniform, complete with a badge. This is similar to George Zimmerman, the man, followed and gunned down Trayvon Martin in 2012. He a member of the neighborhood watch; an amateur. In another case, on April 7 of last year, Ernest Satterwhite was shot and killed in his driveway by a white officer in South Carolina. One year later, April 7 of this year, another police officer in South Carolina was charged with murdering 50 year-old Walter Scott, shooting him in the back 8 times as he ran away. Cellphone video disputed his claim that the man had pulled a gun. Last year, Eric Garner died in New York City after he resisted arrest for selling cigarettes. On cellphone footage he is repeatedly saying, I can’t breathe. The case of Michael Brown in Missouri last year caused an eruption of outrage all across the country. We have all become more aware of men in uniforms with badges who seem to feel that they can end the life of another human being. It’s as if their uniform is a type of armor that blocks their basic human compassion.
Isaac Villegas raises the question of what happens when these police officers put on their uniforms, pin on their badges and strap on their guns. Do they lose some of their humanity, their ability to touch and to feel? A long time ago, in my youth, I recall coming out of a pub, on Saturday night and happening upon a man being badly beaten by another man. It made me sick to my stomach to watch as punches landed on the soft skin and brittle bone of another human being. It was almost as if I could feel those punches myself. Even though it is the violent man who fails to acknowledge the humanity of his victim, it is he, not the victim who is less than a human being should be. We are given reason to understand the consequences of our actions to others.
Studies have shown that most white police officers do not characterize themselves as racist. They are not consciously racist, but subconsciously, they operate under an implicit bias. What is implicit bias? An implicit bias is a positive or negative mental attitude towards a person, thing, or group that a person holds at an unconscious level. In contrast, an explicit bias is an attitude that somebody is consciously aware of having. Research has found that our implicit and explicit biases often diverge. For example, a person may consciously express a neutral or positive opinion about a social group that they unconsciously hold a negative opinion about.
It could be that many of us operate under implicit biases of which we are unaware. We can go online to find out whether or not you and I have an implicit bias. Whether we have implicit bias or not, my sense is that most of us are guilty of demonizing others, of denying the humanity of other human beings at one time or another. We often complain about certain categories of people. Putting people into categories denies their uniqueness as human beings and thus undermines their humanity.
I was on the social media site Next Door for Lower Pac Heights this week and read the shocking story about an 8 year-old girl who was walking to school with her mother when a homeless man grabbed her around the neck and pushed her up against a brick building. In response, there were a lot of expressions of outrage on Nextdoor. And many of them were against homeless people in general, not just this particular homeless man. Only one woman was brave enough to point out that many of the homeless have particular problems that make normal functioning impossible and that we have a duty to treat them as human beings.
We put on a uniform and a badge when we judge others. We do this with regard to strangers, but also in our interpersonal relationships. How often do we construct armor around ourselves against other people in our lives, rather than seeing them through eyes of compassion? People in leadership positions often seem to be a target. Ultimately all leaders are flesh and blood and fallible human beings. Yet we seem to expect them to super human. It’s a way of shifting responsibility away from ourselves.
Perhaps this is why Jesus asks his disciples for a fish. “I am hungry, “he says, “feed me.” I am a person just like you, and you will no longer have me with you to guide you. So it is time that you take some responsibility for yourselves. “ And now I am hungry, feed me.”
We are all flesh and blood beings, not super-heroes, and we need to care for one another, even those who lead us: perhaps especially those in positions of leadership. You will recall that no one was with Jesus as he kept watch in the Garden of Gethsemane. And how often has President Obama faced criticism, some of it very personal. As he stands before the microphone, he is a sober presence with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He seems alone, as he strives to rise above the petty detractors, like Donald Trump. Those who have sought to demonize Obama have been more successful in demonizing themselves. What do you and I do to ourselves when we willfully ignore the humanity of another, when we lack compassion?
As the Easter season of resurrection continues, Jesus’ message is that God is incarnate and embodied, that God feels and can be touched, hungers and can be fed, not because Jesus himself walks on earth, but because Christ is present with us, in one another, in you and me, in the homeless person and in the person in leadership. Christ is resurrected in us. We are all the same. We are all human. We are all children of God. And when we are compassionate towards one another, we are compassionate also towards Christ. And we honor the God who created, redeemed and sustains us. Amen.
Doubting Thomas...John 20:19-31 April 12,2015
On Easter night, Jesus's disciples are holed up together for comfort with the doors bolted and in fear for their lives. Now the Scripture says "for fear of the Jews," and this sounds anti-Semitic. Sadly the Christian church has always had an element of anti-Semitism and it can be traced to the Gospel of John and passages like this one, in which we picture the faithful disciples living in fear from the Jews who were against their Christian faith. That is not an accurate picture. In fact John, the author of the Gospel, would have been horrified to learn of how the passage has been misinterpreted. Because he himself was a Jew.
In fact, the majority of the followers of Jesus at this time, which was at the end of the first century, or fifty years or more after the crucifixion, were Jews. Faith in Christ was spread primarily through the Helenistic, that is to say Greek-speaking world, through the synagogues. After several decades of this, Jews who followed Jesus and those who did not had become polarized. The non-Christian Jews became intolerant of the Jesus followers and began to object to their presence in the synagogues. Little cells of Christians, such as those in the community of the John, may well have been bitter by their treatment by their kinsmen.
That said, it is not difficult to understand that on Easter night the disciples would have been in a state of high anxiety.| Jesus' arrest, imprisonment, trial, public crucifixion and the disappearance of his body had all taken place within the span of a few days. So the first thing that Jesus says when he appears to them is "Peace." This is often the first thing that God's messengers, the angels, say when they appear to human beings. After all, how fearful would it be to encounter an 8 or 10 foot winged being, or for that matter the Risen Christ in real life? Did you know that peace is the opposite of fear? The quick answer is that courage is he opposite of fear. But if you think about it, It is possible to be courageous, even though one is fearful, but it is not possible to be both fearful and peaceful. So Jesus' first word to his disciples is "Peace."
And then he shows them his hands and feet, to prove his identity. This is the first of several post-Resurrection appearances to his disciples and in each one, they have a difficult time recognizing him. They have seen him die a terrible death. Like us, they rely on their senses to understand the world. The fact that they do not readily accept that their teacher Jesus has been resurrected is a detail that resonates with wonderful authenticity. Who would not have trouble believing their eyes at seeing a dead loved one standing before them?
And then we come to the story of Doubting Thomas. The term doubting Thomas has gone down in history as synonomous with someone who is overly skeptical, but I think this is a mistake. The Gospel of Thomas, one of the Gnostic Gospels was uncovered in the Nag Hammadi archaeological find in 1945. it records lots of information and sayings of Jesus that are not in the Canon of the New Testament. Thomas, Didymus or the twin, in Greek, was one of Jesus' closest and most dedicated followers. He was one of the first disciples chosen and when Jesus announced his intention to proceed to Jerusalem it was he who announced, "Let us go up with Jesus and die with him!" Thomas was a true believer who must have been especially crushed at Jesus' overwhelming defeat by the authorities. Who could blame Thomas for having reservations about trusting in Jesus again? Jesus' resurrection was simply too good to be true and Thomas could not afford to be let down again. If he believed and it turned out to be a lie, he would be crushed. His skeptism is completely understandable. And he is not really skeptical about Jesus, but about what the disciples are telling him about seeing Jesus.
But the character of Thomas in this story, is really a literary device. He is really a stand in for us. Thomas was not there when Jesus appeared to the disciples and neither were we. His doubt is our doubt. In asking us to believe in the Resurrection, we are asked to take a leap of faith that is not open to verification. Thomas asks for and receives verification. But this opens the way for Jesus to make a point that speaks directly to us.
"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
You and I have not seen the resurrected Jesus in the sense that his disciples did, and yet we are asked to believe. This is the definition of religious faith, believing in things that we do not see.
And yet, what those without religious often fail to realize is that there are many things in life that we are asked to take on faith. I have not seen China, and yet I take on faith that it exists. I was not alive during the Civil War and yet I take on faith that it happened. I do not know for certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, yet I trust and believe that it will. In addition, many things exist that you and I cannot see. We cannot see love, but we know it to be real. So too is the power of Christ real in the world today. It is the power of love, of healing and of reconciliation.
Jesus breaths the breath of God, in Hebrew the "ruach" which is synomous with the creative energy of God, Jesus breaths this on his disciples and says these words, " "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Jesus commissions his disciples to bring forgiveness and reconciliation into the world. He empowers them, but also makes their mission a matter of their own free will. "If you forgive the sins of any, if you retain the sins of any." Christ invites his disciples, does not compel them, to receive the creative power of God, the Holy Spirit, to free others from the bondage of sins, by practicing forgiveness and reconciliation. This is the mark of a Christian, of a follower of the way, to wage not war, but forgiveness and reconciliation. And in this way, the power of Christ becomes real in the world, just as the wounds on his flesh were real to his disciples in the upper room.
Some how, over the course of the two millenia of Christianity, the emphasis has been placed on cognitive faith, on believing with our minds, the fact of the Resurrection, the facts of Jesus' ministry on earth, the Creeds of the early church, the authority of Scripture. Now, Christians in our denomination and others are waking up to the idea that Christianity is really a practice more than a set of beliefs. This post-resurrection story challenges the way that we define faith. Is it really about the facts, and our own belief in the Resurrection? Or is it about the truth, which is the power of Christ in the world? In this Easter Season, do you know the power of resurrection in your own life. Do you know that you have been reconciled to God, that you can stand before Him, without fear or shame, confident in His love for you? The disciples encounter the risen Christ and are transformed. They are given the choice to receive the Holy Spirit and to practice forgiveness. We too are invited to practice forgiveness: of one another and of ourselves. On this Second Sunday of Easter are you ready to be resurrected with Christ? Amen