Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2021

Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 25, 2021 – Acts 4:5-12; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18 – STEM-Wide Morning Prayer via Zoom

Today Jesus tells us that he is the good shepherd and that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The good shepherd is different from the hired hand, he explains, because when the hired hand sees a wolf coming, he runs away. The good shepherd not only stays with the sheep, he lays down his life for them.

If it wasn’t clear before, it should be by now that this is no ordinary shepherd. In fact, “good” is probably an understatement.

I’ve never known any full-time shepherds. It’s not as common of a profession in 21st Century Tennessee as it was in 1st Century Palestine. But I imagine even back then that you’d have been hard pressed to meet one who was willing to die for his sheep.

Therein lies the point. Jesus is no ordinary shepherd. An ordinary shepherd would probably, like the hired hand, have run away. Or perhaps an ordinary shepherd would have sacrificed a weakling in order to protect the pride of the flock, or defend only a particular sheep that, despite his better judgement, he had named.

But the Good Shepherd? The Good Shepherd doesn’t risk his life only for the sake of a sheep that he’s especially fond of. The Good Shepherd neither fights off the beast nor scapegoats a lamb. Instead, the Good Shepherd willingly lays down his life to save the entire flock.

A sacrifice of that magnitude is based on a lot more than affinity or fondness. It requires nothing less than the Love of the One from who all love comes. That Love—God’s capital-L Love—is precisely the Love of the Good Shepherd who says, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

This is the Love of the God who knows humanity and divinity inside and out. This is the Love of the Shepherd who knows what it’s like to be a sheep, and a sheep who knows what it’s like to be nabbed by a wolf.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the living, breathing, flesh-and-bone manifestation of a Love so divine, so profound, so perfect that even after 2,000 years here we are still gathered together to celebrate it. But let us be clear. We do not only celebrate this Love because it led the Shepherd to lay down his life for us. We celebrate it chiefly because by laying down his life he took it back up again.

This is the paradoxical promise at the center of our faith: in dying Jesus was raised to new life.

We share in that same death and that same resurrection. When we renew our baptism each year during the Great Vigil of Easter, we are reminded that when we pass through the waters, we are buried with Christ by a baptism into his death so that we might be raised with him to new life.

By virtue of our baptism then, we share in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That’s important, not because it is some sort of “fire insurance” that saves us from burning for eternity, but because it has real-life implications for how we live our lives now.

In this post-resurrection world, we embody the risen life of Jesus. Here. Now. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. Always.

So not only are we inheritors of Love strong enough to bring back to life that which was three days dead, but we are called to proclaim it. Take Peter for example. In our lesson from Acts this morning we find him in the custody of the authorities after healing a man in the name of Jesus.

Peter says, “let it be known to all of you . . . that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”

These words comprise one of the first sermons ever, in which Peter is testifying to the promise of the power of Jesus whom God raised from the dead. Because Jesus has new life, says Peter, so does this man have new life. Because Jesus has new life, so do each of you have new life. Here. Now.

Peter also says something that a lot of 21st Century Christians have trouble with. He says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Some hear it as exclusive. And indeed, it is hard for us not to when for generations we have heard Christians whose primary means of invitation to the faith is something akin to, “Believe or be damned to the fiery pits of hell!”

But I don’t think Peter’s message is meant to be exclusive. He is merely expressing his sincere belief that by raising Jesus Christ from the dead God acted once on behalf of all humanity for all time. As a result, no human person or entity can claim to have exclusive access to the power of God.

Yes, the claim comes from an unashamedly Christian perspective. It places Jesus’ resurrection as the hinge-point of salvation history. But, at its core, it also means that no person can with authority say, “Unless you believe like I do, you’re damned for all time.” That is not, nor has it ever been, the central message of Christianity.

The keys to death and hell have already been to Jesus given. And he has unlocked the door and thrown the devil out. Been there. Done that. Already taken care of.

God became human, the Shepherd like the sheep, even to the extent of death. By dying he destroyed death and by raising him to new life again, God has brought us all into free and lasting life in the presence of our redeemer. We are now united with God in resurrection life.

That means it’s never not Easter.

That means we are at present filled with the true Love of God.

That means eternal life begins at the font, not the grave.

Peter is simply inviting us to live like that’s the case. Do you hear the difference? The focus of Peter’s sermon is not what the resurrection is going to for us when we die. The focus of Peter’s sermon is what the resurrection means for us now, as we live.

Jesus’ resurrection changed Peter’s life. And by the power of the Spirit and in the name of the God who made it possible, Peter wants you to know that it can change yours, too. Here. Now.

How exactly?

Well, there are far too many examples to name here. But one that seems especially fitting for today comes from our reading from the first letter of John. It is this: if you happen to find yourself with all the goods of the world passing by someone in need, do not refuse to help them.

You just might begin to get the idea. 

Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2020

Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 29, 2020 – Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; John 11:1-45 – STEM-Wide Morning Prayer (via Zoom)

At this point in the season of Lent, the lectionary makes it ever clearer that we are inching our way toward that glorious day of resurrection.

Our collect this morning will have us praying, even among the swift and varied changes of the world, for hearts fixed where true joys are to be found. In other words, for hearts fixed on Jesus.

As Christians, we certainly hear echoes of the resurrection life in this morning’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. 

“. . . Suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together . . . there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them . . . the Lord God [said,] ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live’. . . and the breath came into them, and they lived.”

Here we have Ezekiel witnessing the work of God, which is the restoration of God’s chosen people. But, more important than Ezekiel’s witnessing of God’s work is his participation in it.

God does not simply restore these dry bones in the presence of Ezekiel. God leads Ezekiel to the valley where the bones lay, and God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones on God’s behalf. Make no mistake—the work is God’s—but God invites Ezekiel to participate in it.

Likewise, God invites you to participate in God’s work this day and all days, even in the midst of your own dry and desolate valleys. Even in valleys of sickness, or grief, or isolation, God enjoins you and empowers you to participate in the work of creation and re-creation which never, ever stops.

I bet you do it all the time; maybe without even noticing. 

Did you support—in a safe and appropriate way—a struggling small business this week? Did you send a text, or make a phone call, or leave a message for a friend? Did you pray for someone less fortunate than you, someone who you thought really needed it? Or did you pray for someone a lot better off than you? Someone who doesn’t think they need your prayers at all?

God empowers you to do all these things and more, even when—especially when—you’re caught in the doldrums of life. 

It’s ironic that sometimes in the worst of situations we realize the greatest of blessings. It is actually quite miraculous how God can change your perspective in an instant.

Earlier this week I heard someone say, “My family is talking more. We’re staying in touch regularly. We’re checking in on each other every day. Sometimes it’s hard to get off the phone. We cannot physically be together, but it is as if we have grown closer in spite of—or perhaps because of—our distance.”

Perhaps you are comforted to know that you do not walk through these low and lonely places alone. You are joined, not only by the faithful assembled here and across the virtual scope of Christendom this day, but by the people of God in every age.

God’s people have been walking through dry and desolate valleys for a long, long time. Some have even written about it, prayed about it. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” You may have heard it before.

This morning’s psalm puts it a bit differently. “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.”

Whatever words are used to convey the message, the fact remains that the people of God have been here before. And now, not only in our Lenten season but in this time of physical isolation, we find ourselves waiting for the Lord once again. Waiting for the Lord, as Psalm 130 says, “more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.”

For Christians, this time of waiting is not passive. It is no time for boredom and complacency. Christian waiting is active waiting; it is expectant waiting.

It is the kind of waiting we experience each year during Advent and Lent. As Dr. Wright said during last Tuesday’s Bible study, this is “waiting in a particular direction.” We know what’s coming next.

God’s people know that things are going to get better. God’s people know that they will be recalled from exile and set back upon their own soil.

God’s people know that the scattered bones will once again be wrapped in flesh and filled with the breath of God. God’s people know that, as soon as Jesus finishes crying, the newly-resuscitated Lazarus is going to walk out of the tomb.

God’s people know that the pandemic will end, that the economy will begin to recover, that they will see their friends and family members again and be able to hug them up close.

We know these things, not because we cling to a naïve faith that ignores the suffering of the present time, not because we deny the desolate nature of this period of waiting.

On the contrary, we know these things because we see reminders of the resurrection all around us, every day. People re-build after storms. Volunteers travel thousands of miles to lend a hand. Leaves grow back on trees. Babies are born. New crops take root. Retirement accounts slowly begin to grow again. New jobs are created, obtained, learned.

Yes, crucifixion is evident as well. People get sick, and some die. Jobs and businesses may be lost. Communities will be changed in ways no one could ever have imagined.

But no matter how hard the crucifixions may be, they never have the last word. The last word is reserved for the Word which renews us in the wake of every obstacle. That Word to us is Love.

And so it is in Love we wait. Yes, we grieve, we work, we watch, we weep. But most of all we love because we have been through this before, and we know exactly what awaits us on the other side.

Resurrection power

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost – November 10, 2019 – Luke 20:27-38 – Trinity, Winchester

Throughout Luke chapter 20 Jesus has been at the Temple in Jerusalem contending with all sorts of folks. Today he’s talking with the Sadducees, who we are told do not believe in the resurrection of the dead.

They ask Jesus about resurrection using an example. “If a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.” If there were seven brothers, they ask, and each of them married the woman, but all died childless, who’s wife will she be in heaven?

The question is complicated. At its core it’s about resurrection, but it also brings up the notion of levirate marriage, the practice by which an ancient Hebrew man was compelled to marry his brother’s widow and to have children with her in his brother’s name.

This component of the Mosaic law might seem odd to us. Lest we are tempted to judge this practice based on the norms of our own day, we should recognize that the law is not without virtue.

Hebrew law provided for levirate marriage for the care and protection of widows at a time when the larger society shunned them. This law is a sign of God’s grace, protecting those who otherwise would have been left with nothing.

However, even as we recognize the law’s implicit grace, I think we can still critique it. Grace-filled though it may be, we cannot ignore the patriarchal nature of this practice.

The custom of levirate marriage assumes that men have a certain amount of ownership of women. A woman’s survival in this ancient near-eastern society required a relationship with a man and the bearing of his children.

I bring this up because even two-thousand years later, while the position of women in our society has certainly evolved, it isn’t necessarily where it needs to be.

There are several ways in which men still claim ownership of women’s bodies: unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate jokes, slanderous gossip, and even legislation. Consciously or unconsciously, there is some element of control that men in our society simply are not prepared to let women have.

In light of this, what is our response as faithful Christians? Well, I think the answer lies in the core component of the Sadducee’s question: resurrection. What do we believe about resurrection? It’s a complex question, but one that is central to our Christian faith.

Each week we proclaim, “On the third day he rose again” and “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

Today’s Gospel reminds us that resurrection has not always been a given. Even today Christians argue about what resurrection really means. Some say that an explicit belief in a real bodily resurrection is the mark of a true Christian.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some challenge the idea of the physical resurrection, seeing it more as a metaphor for our the daily rejuvenation in the world.

Others find themselves somewhere in between. (This is where you can typically find Anglicans . . . in between.) We will never have absolute proof of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, but we are committed to living our lives everyday as if it is possible, because by faith we believe it to be so.

Jesus’ death and resurrection would not have been possible without his incarnation. In the incarnation God became human so that all humankind might be redeemed.

In so doing, God showed us that flesh matters. Even we, in our human state, are worthy of God’s love. Even we, in our human state, share in Jesus’ death and resurrection. That resurrection chiefly reminds us that the way things always have been need not be the way they always will be.

And so we go about our work in the world as redeemed agents of God’s transformative love, bringing signs of life to a world filled with sin and death. It is our duty to pay attention to our present realities, such as the treatment of women, and whenever we encounter those realities as signs of death, we must work to bring about new life.

How do we do that? It starts with the way we treat one another. Remember, flesh matters. Everyone is worthy of being treated with dignity and respect.

For a specific example we need to look no further than those who walk beside us and those who have gone before us. Of course, friends, I’m thinking about Butch Janey. We lost Butch on Tuesday night, but we know he is with us still.

I hadn’t known Butch for 45 minutes when, as we sat chatting on his front porch, he mentioned the women of Blue Monarch. If you are unaware, Blue Monarch is a local organization that assists women and their children who struggle with addiction, domestic violence, and economic inequality.

Butch talked with pride and joy about the work of the organization, and especially the courage of the women there who fight so hard to overcome their struggles.

“I can’t do much,” Butch said, “But I write them letters. We go back and forth. Maybe I’ll slip a $20 bill in from time to time. Their courage gives me hope, and I just want them to know they have my support, and God’s support, too.”

Friends, that’s resurrection. Butch knew it then. Now, he knows it even better. And by God’s grace, so will you.

Take him by the hand

The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene (transferred) – July 23, 2019 – John 20:11-18 – St. Mary’s Convent, Sewanee

Today’s gospel lesson is the same one that was read at my grandmother’s funeral in April. As all good Episcopalians know, the rite of Christian burial is a service of resurrection. Grandma was a Methodist, but she knew it, too.

What made this lesson all the more poignant was the fact that her funeral took place in Lent, during the week before Holy Week. It was as though we had arrived at Easter a bit early. The arduous passion-tide of Holy Week had been supplanted by a vigil watch over the bed of a dying family matriarch. 

The events of her death and preparation for her funeral were, as all deaths are, a holy time. But it was also an extremely sad time, a time in which the promise of resurrection was desperately needed. 

That’s exactly where we fine Mary Magdalene today. She’s in the still, quiet garden just before dawn, and she’s desperately in need of some hope. Boy does she find it. 

She sees the angels in the tomb and then turns to find the gardener and questions him about the whereabouts of Jesus’ body. “Mary!” he responds. Just like that she realizes that he isn’t the gardener at all, but the risen and living Lord.

We’ve all been to the garden before, perhaps in the dark days after the death of a loved one. We, like Mary, desperately needed some shred of hope. Maybe for you it was in the wake of a divorce, a job loss, or an injury. 

As Christians today, when we find ourselves in the garden we can rely on the well-worn promise of resurrection in all its 2000-year-old glory, but for Mary Magdalene it was all just beginning. She was the first one to discover this promise. 

There is a sense in which, even though we already know what awaits us on the other side of Good Friday, we too must discover God’s resurrection power for ourselves. 

My Grandma once told me that during the hardest time in her life, when she, like Mary Magdalene, stood weeping and alone outside of the tomb, “Jesus found me like a friend, took me by the hand, and never let me go.”

Her comment really puts things into perspective. Some Christians go on and on about how they’ve found Jesus, and they’ll ask you if you’ve found him, too. For Grandma it was the other way around: you don’t find Jesus. Jesus has already found you.

Jesus is already beside you. Even in your darkest hour, he’s there. Even when you might not see him very clearly, he’s there. Even when you mistake him for a lawn care professional, he’s there. 

Each of us may discover his presence in our own time, in our own way, but when that moment comes, it’s not that we’ve found Jesus, it’s that we are finally ready to take him by the hand.  

By God’s grace and God’s grace alone you are loved, forgiven, saved, and redeemed. God has been with you from the beginning, and God will never let you go. God even sent Jesus to take on your human nature, to show you how much you matter, and to take you by the hand.

In response to this amazing news, dear friends, you can come to the table again right now, take Jesus by the hand once more, and then go out and introduce him to everyone you meet.

The devil you know

Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 23, 2019 – Luke 8:26-39 – Trinity, Winchester

It’s that time again: Ordinary Time! We’ve made it to the Second Sunday after Pentecost. Last Sunday was of course, Trinity Sunday. 

After two principal feasts in a row, it is perhaps fitting that this morning is a bit more subdued. We are reminded that no matter the day, no matter whether there is organ music or hymn-singing, the risen Christ is with us. 

If you noticed anything weird about today’s gospel, you wouldn’t be the only one. There is, of course, the whole demon-possession thing, but I’m talking about this: Jesus is asked to leave town, even after he exorcised a man of a demonic spirit. 

What’s up with that? 

Upon his arrival to the country of the Gerasenes, Jesus is immediately confronted by a solitary, naked, demon-possessed man. A danger to himself and others, Luke tells us that the man is often restrained in shackles. 

Jesus does what Jesus does. He confronts the demons, who recognize him as the Son of God, and sends them, at their request, into a herd of pigs which run into the lake and drown. 

People from all around come to see what has happened and find the man fully clothed and of sane mind, seated next to Jesus. After hearing eye-witness testimony of the exorcism, you might think they would have invited Jesus to stay for dinner and given him the place of honor at the table, but no. 

Instead, the crowd’s fear takes over, and they ask Jesus to leave. “Go on, pick your stuff up, take your friends, and get out of here. We don’t need you making anymore trouble.” 

At first blush, their desire for Jesus’ departure doesn’t make much sense. Why would Jesus be asked to leave town when he has demonstrated that his power is greater than the demon’s? He has saved their countryman from demonic possession and restored the community to health and peace.

But if we ponder this unusual request for a moment or two more, their insistence that Jesus leave may start to make more sense. 

There is, of course, the economic factor. An entire heard of swine are dead. If I were one of the pig farmers, I would be pretty upset. How did insurance work in the ancient Near East, anyway? 

It goes much deeper than economics. To understand the Gerasenes’ desire for Jesus to leave, we have to look deeper into our own human nature. 

How does the saying go? “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t?” Or in this case, perhaps, “Better the devil you know than the Jesus you don’t.” 

The Gerasenes know evil. They are used to evil. They deal with evil everyday. They chain it up, post guards around it, and hang up those little signs that say “Beware of evil.” “Please don’t feed the evil.” “Must stay at least 20 yards from the evil at all times.” 

We, too, are well-acquainted with evil. We each have our ways of coping with it. Some of us are skilled at keeping it at arms length, while others of us simply choose to ignore it.

Have you ever heard someone say, “Oh, I just can’t stand to watch the news anymore!”? “Whenever I hear that voice I just—smack—turn the radio right off!”

On the other hand, the power of God—the power for good—often seems to allude us. The Gerasenes weren’t so accustomed to it, either. Jesus’ liberating power was unfamiliar to them. When something is unfamiliar, we often find it threatening.

Those among us who are more naturally competitive than others may recall the experience of meeting someone who shares our interests, but has talents that we perceive to be better than our own. We feel jealous of them because we feel threatened by them.

Grandma had the same experience with microwaves. She had no use for one. She cooked every meal from scratch and had perfected each one herself. If she wasn’t afraid of the new technology, she was certainly afraid of what it would do to her lifetime of cooking experience.

Likewise, when we encounter something new it can awaken in us a primal fear.

When a family member dies we know instinctively that things will be different. Fear is a big part of our grief. Who will carve the turkey this year? Who will drive me to the doctor’s office? What will I do with all my time?

Change makes us uncomfortable, even if it appears to be for the best. For some reason we prefer the chaos that we know to the chaos of uncertainty. In other words, our eyes are kept from seeing the good because the change itself is so scary. 

Take for example the woman who gave her husband a bottle of Jack Daniels for the first anniversary of his sobriety. She knew if he drank it he would become belligerent and abusive once again, but that’s the only life she knew how to live. With her sober husband she was lost. Her identity was changing faster than she could cope. 

She had no idea how to function as the partner of a stable person. Even though any bystander would observe that her life changed for the better, she didn’t know what to make of it. 

Even liberation can be threatening, scary, uncomfortable. It’s not so surprising, after all, the Gerasene response. When faced with uncertainty our first instinct is often to push the source of that uncertainty away. We just want things to be “normal.”

It’s hard to imagine new life when the only thing you know is death. At least death is concrete. At least we know what we’re getting with death. 

“At least when he lived out by the tombs—as good as dead—he could keep control of him. At least back then we knew what he was up to. Now, who knows what kind of funny ideas he’s going to have?” 

The story is not new. We hear it every year on Good Friday. We would rather reject God’s offer of transformative love by nailing Jesus to a cross than accept the promise of a resurrection that we cannot yet imagine.

Jesus comes to the Gerasenes today to give them a glimpse of what resurrection has to offer. It’s startling, it’s dramatic, it’s a lot to take in. 

We can’t blame them for asking him to leave. We are much the same. Take heart, there is still time to learn. Jesus is always right beside us, ready to remind us what new life—what resurrection—looks like. 

I’ve given you examples of it before: overcoming addiction, managing grief, asking for help when you hit rock bottom. I know you’re in the habit of spotting signs of life all around you. 

Whenever you realize God’s liberating power of love it’s only natural to want to take some time and bask in it. Like the healed man, you may want to stay all cozy right up next to the source of your resurrection, but there is a little time for that. 

Simply observing and enjoying these signs of life is not where we stop.

Listen to Jesus. He’s calling you to go one step further. He bids you still today, “Return . . . and declare how much God has done for you.” 

Show yourself to be alive

Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 12, 2019 – Acts 9:36-43 – Trinity, Winchester

During the Easter season we hear quite a bit from the book of Acts. Acts chronicles the early days of the Church, the first communities of faithful disciples, and the early apostles, like Peter and Paul, who led them. 

Speaking of, you may remember that the official name for Acts is “The Acts of the Apostles.”

An apostle is one who is “sent out.” Just as the first apostles were sent out to proclaim the resurrection, Christians continue that work today. That’s what it means to believe in “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” which we confess each Sunday in the words of the Nicene Creed. 

Our Church is apostolic because its members are sent out into the world to bear witness to the power of resurrection and to the glory of the Risen One.

In our tradition bishops are said to be apostles of the Church. As Episcopalians, our bishops (men and women, black and white, gay and straight) are living, breathing reminders of the apostolic faith.

They represent the corporate nature of our faith. Administratively, liturgically, and pastorally, they remind us that the church is bigger than our parish. Most of all, they are the chief witnesses of Jesus Christ in our communities. 

You also share in the apostolic faith because you are a witness to the living Christ, the Christ who not only was raised, but the Christ who is risen, this Jesus who is among us now.

In today’s passage we encounter a model for our Christian witness in the Apostle Peter. Yes, Peter was eventually Bishop of Rome, but before that he was just an ordinary believer, called by an itinerant Rabbi who once bid him, “Follow me.”

Tabitha, the only woman referred to as a disciple in the entire New Testament, is dead. In the wake of the tragedy, the other disciples send for Peter. He comes quickly, finds the widows of Joppa in mourning, clears the room, and kneels in prayer. After summoning Tabitha to “get up,” he “shows her to be alive.” 

The disciples send for Peter in their time of grief because he is a comfort to them, and he represents a link to Jesus. But while the disciples may view Peter as a link to Jesus, Peter doesn’t come to Joppa to bring Jesus with him. In fact, when Peter arrives, he finds the Spirit of Christ already there. 

In the fragrant oils used to wash the body; in the bitter tears the mourners shed; in the very clothes the widows wear, symbols of the love and life of their dear friend Tabitha, the Risen One is already present. 

That’s how it often is, isn’t it? In times of sorrow, when we gather at the bedside of an ailing family member or at the funeral of a loved one, God is already there. 

The vicar may come to anoint a sick parishioner, but she does not bring Christ with her, she comes to show us that Christ is already there.

The bishop may come to preside at the funeral, but he does not bring Christ with him, he comes to point to Christ where Christ always is. 

The mourners may come in droves from all around to give their condolences, but they do so not because they alone can bestow Christ. They do so because Christ calls them to where he already is. They do so to continue the work of resurrection.

Likewise, by raising Tabitha, Peter continues the work of resurrection. Peter shows us that Jesus is with us. Resurrection was not a one-time event; it is a continuing reality available to us all, even today.

As sweet as that sounds, there is always more work to be done. Just because we know that Jesus is always present, doesn’t mean everybody does. In fact, a lot of people don’t, so you need to tell them.

You are sent out to proclaim Christ. It’s your job, not to bring Jesus with you wherever you go, but to call attention to Jesus where he already is. 

That’s hard work, primarily because there are people in the world who think the Church is dead, who think God is dead. They look around and see a world torn apart by school shootings, capitalist greed, and rumors of war. They say things like, “If God is good, then God must not be around anymore.” 

I’ll admit, it seems those people have a point. Some days even the most hopeful among us are assaulted by this world’s convincing ubiquity of despair. As long as we stay silent, that’s exactly where folks are going to stay. We must not stay silent. We must not stay silent because we are Christians sent out to continue the work of resurrection.

Even in the freezing cold winter of the soul it is our duty to turn over every rock and leaf looking for life and saying “Show yourself to be alive!”

There are even those in this very community who accuse this very church—Trinity Episcopal Church—of being dead. For whatever reason some folks have it in their head that we have gone astray. 

They say that we are not real Christians. They say that we don’t believe in the Bible. They say that we associate with sinners. They say that we are trying to spread certain “agendas.” They say that we don’t care about Jesus as much as we care about politics. They say that no one even shows up here on Sunday morning. 

We know that none of that is true, but their words make it clear that we have more work to do. The good news is, we have the eternal power of the resurrection to help us do it.

Just like those early days of the church when Peter raised Tabitha from the dead, these are crucial times for our parish, and our Church, and indeed Christianity itself. It’s going to take each one of us, sharing the Good News of the resurrection, to show this town, this nation, and this world, that we go on living in spite of it all. 

Maybe that’s why God raised Tabitha from the dead. God knew that there was so much to be done that he wasn’t quite ready to spare another disciple just yet. Maybe that’s why he sent Peter to say, “Get up.” 

Maybe that’s why he sent Jesus here today to say, “Get up, and show yourself to be alive.” 

The Great Vigil of Easter 2019

The Great Vigil of Easter – April 20, 2019 – Luke 24:1-12 – Trinity, Winchester

Maybe you noticed, there are no shortage of readings to preach from this evening. And we only read five of the nine suggested readings and responses. Some Christians go all night long, praying, reading, and fasting until the sun comes up. We won’t be here that long tonight, but there is something to be said for that tradition. 

After all, the longer one sits in the darkness of the vigil the sweeter the triumphant “Alleluias” sound when they finally do arrive. 

Darkness is a powerful thing. 

Christian metaphors of light and darkness often give us the sense that darkness is bad. It often represents the absence of God, but the truth is, darkness was always part of God’s plan. 

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…Then God said, “Let there be light.’” And there was. God separated the light from the dark, and it was good. 

Yes, darkness was always part of God’s plan.

In Abraham’s darkest hour, as he bound his son and raised his knife, God sent an angel to bless him with the light of his countenance. Because you have obeyed my voice “I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.”

In their darkest days in the wilderness God sent a pillar of fire to light up the night and protect the Israelites from the Egyptian army. He even parted the dark waters, so that they might pass through to the light of their salvation.  

In the darkness of exile God sent the prophet Ezekiel to tell his chosen people that he would bring them up from their graves and give them the light of new life. 

Surely darkness was always part of God’s plan. 

From Thursday night when we stripped the altar, through Friday evening when we venerated the cross, there has been within these walls and within our hearts a shroud of darkness. 

Still covered in darkness, many of us returned this morning to do the things people do when confronted by death. We busied ourselves by sprucing up the church, as for a funeral, making sure everything was just right. 

Even tonight began in darkness. Our celebration of Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead begins in the quiet shadows of the evening.

Yes, darkness was always part of God’s plan, you see, because if it weren’t for the darkness, we wouldn’t be able to see the light.

Sitting in the darkness tonight we could see signs of light all around us: the glorious splendor of the new fire; the radiant light of the paschal candle, that marvelous and holy flame that focuses our attention on the Risen One; even the Exsultet is a light to our ears, a love song from Mother Church to the triumphant Christ. 

The salvation history narratives, ancient stories of our faith, enlighten our memories, and the faint whiff of fresh lilies enlightens our senses. 

It is in the darkness we see the fullest expression of resurrection light. Nowhere is this more prevalent than through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Tonight as we gathered around the font to renew our baptismal promises, we were sprinkled with the water of abundant life.

Our reading from Romans reminds us that we were baptized into Christ’s death so that we might rise with him to new life. In other words, in order to see the light of resurrection, we have to know the darkness of the death of Jesus. 

From the very beginning God has been telling us, teaching us, showing us that darkness is part of God’s plan. At the dawn of creation. In the wilderness. By the Red Sea. In the valley of dry bones. Even at our baptism. 

As people of faith, we need to recognize that darkness is a part of our journey, but we must never mistake it for our destination. 

That’s reserved for resurrection light. 


Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany – February 17, 2019 – 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 – Trinity, Winchester

Listen to this sermon here

Passages like the one we heard this morning from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians get right to the heart of the Christian faith: resurrection.

Paul assures us in the words of our triumphant Easter anthem: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Paul reminds us that Easter is the cornerstone of the Christian faith, the feast of feasts. The day of resurrection defines who we are as a community of believers. “Easter people, raise your voices!”

Each and every Sunday is the day of resurrection. Each and every time we gather, we gather in light of the resurrection. Whenever we celebrate the Eucharist as a community of the faithful we proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection.

Paul’s words may get right to the joyous heart of our faith, but they can also cause us to doubt. If there was no resurrection, then what are we doing here? It’s a scary question.

If Christ was not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain. If Christ does not live, then we remain controlled by sin with no chance of escape. If there was no resurrection, then all those who thought they died in the hope of the resurrection actually had no hope at all. They simply perished.

How can we be sure that Christ was raised from the dead?

We live in a world that demands proof. We are a people greatly influenced by enlightenment principles, humanistic values, and scientific advancement. We like certainty.

We have proof that vaccines immunize us against disease, so we inoculate our children. We have experienced how caffeine increases stamina and alertness, so we drink coffee to wake up in the morning. We trust that gravity will keep us anchored to the earth, so we go about our lives free from the worry that we’ll suddenly float off into space.

It doesn’t quite work that way with resurrection though. Resurrection is hard to believe. We haven’t seen it. Of course there are stories of people technically dying on the operating table and coming back to life thanks to modern medical technology. But being executed, buried for three days, and then coming back to life? That’s preposterous. That is simply not plausible!

However, I’m not entirely sure it needs to be. At least, not in any historically or scientifically conceivable way. Our Christian belief in the resurrection does not depend on physical proof of Jesus walking out of a tomb on Easter morning. We’ll never have proof like that.

I don’t know that Christ was raised because I saw live footage last night at 11:00. I don’t know that Christ was raised because I saw a photo in the Tennessean. I don’t know that Christ was raised because I heard a first-hand account from one of the women who didn’t find the body.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m willing to believe it. In fact, I do. It’s just that we can’t prove that Christ was raised by studying a history book or scientific journal. Our proof is not provided by the kinds of sources that you might cite in a term paper.

Our proof is the Risen Christ himself who dwells among us. I know that Christ was raised because Christ is risen. Here. Now. And I know Christ is risen because I have seen resurrection all my life. I bet you have, too.

I’m not talking about tulips springing from amidst the dead leaves. I’m not talking about the return of the robin. I’m not talking about the first spring dew on the kitchen windowsill or a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

As lovely as those images are, they pale in comparison to the woman who approaches you on the street. She takes a chance and asks, “Are you a Christian? I thought you might be. I work at the diner around corner and when I saw you I thought maybe we could talk. I’m really depressed, and I’m having suicidal thoughts. I’ve already broken two appointments with my therapist. I wonder if you would you pray with me. It’s all I can think of to do.”

You know resurrection exists because at the funeral of a loved one Jesus walks up beside you and puts his arm around you as you sing, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” In the space of a few moments you are reminded that life is changed, not ended.

You know resurrection exists because you love a man who struggled for years with addiction. Who lost a marriage, a child, a house, a job. Who went from six-figures a year to hanging out late at the soup kitchen hoping they might be able to spare some leftovers. One day after attending a church service he decided to stay for the 12-step meeting. Now he’s a counselor who devotes his life to helping people find successful paths to recovery just like he did.

You know resurrection exists because everywhere you look there are signs of resurrection, glimpses of the fact that the Risen One just passed by.

I remember that several weeks ago in this very space a woman arrived about 15 minutes into the service. She walked halfway down the aisle and found a seat on the west side. She wasn’t here long, maybe about five minutes. Before she left she looked up and smiled the warm and comfortable smile of someone who knows the love of God, as if she wandered in just to make sure it was still here.

That’s how you know. There are signs of it all around. Signs of the risen Christ.

In today’s passage Paul tells us that if Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain. But we know Christ is risen. So, what if we flipped Paul’s argument around? In other words, since you know Christ is risen, then why do you lack faith? Every day that we walk around in the world we seem to forget that Christ walks among us.

We treat other people as a means to an end. We value money above relationships. We let a person’s political views determine whether or not we love them. We make little to no effort to care for the earth or sustain its resources. Any joy we have we keep bottled up inside instead of sharing it with the world.

You see, I think what’s truly preposterous is not that we believe in resurrection. I think what’s truly preposterous is that we believe in resurrection, yet we go on living like the risen Christ doesn’t exist.

Our job is to proclaim that he does. In thought and word and deed. Our job is to be living, breathing agents of the the good news. I assure you, it can be done.

You’re not responsible for resurrection. That’s God’s job. Rest assured, God does it over and over and over again. Your job is to look for it and when you see it to be grateful and let that gratitude spill out of you.

If you do that, someone just might notice.

Casting out demons

Tuesday, September 5 – Tuesday After Proper 17 – Luke 4:31-37

Better 10 days late than never! Here’s a sermon from a recent Spanish-language eucharist at The School of Theology. (See also the English version below.)

La lección del Evangelio de hoy puede emocionarnos porque hay un exorcismo dramático: ¡un demonio se confronta a Jesús, y la gente está sorprendida por la capacidad de Jesús para expulsarlo! Pero, después de una reflexión más profunda, podemos encontrar otra verdad en la lección: la verdadera Palabra de Dios, manifestada en Jesús y en su enseñanza. La presencia de Jesús y su enseñanza le molestan al demonio. Después de escuchar la palabra proclamada por el Hijo de Dios, el demonio grita: “¡Déjanos! ¿Por qué te metes con nosotros…? ¿Has venido a destruirnos? Yo te conozco, y sé que eres el Santo de Dios.”

El demonio no puede esconderse de Jesús. Reconoce la Palabra de Dios y sabe que esta Palabra es bastante fuerte para destruir los poderes demoníacos. El demonio grita el nombre de Jesús, tratando así de ganar el poder sobre el. Jesús le regaña al demonio y se niega a contestar sus preguntas. Se le expulsa al demonio del hombre, y la gente lo admira.

Después de mudarse, empezar un nuevo año escolar, perder a un ser amado, o sufrir algún daño, nos damos cuenta de nuestros propios demonios. Tal vez alberguemos unos secretos demasiado incómodos para revelar: adicción, bulimia, odio o indiferencia hacia la creación de Dios. Nada es tan exasperante como que los miembros de nuestra comunidad revelen a nuestros demonios. Cuando esto pasa, los atacamos y, a menudo, tratamos de devolver la atención negativa a la persona que nos desafió.

Los miembros de nuestra comunidad, a diferencia de Jesús, no tienen el poder de echar fuera  nuestros demonios. Sin embargo, nos permiten reconocer y hacer frente a esos demonios. Cuando esto pasa, Cristo se manifiesta en nosotros. Al fin y al cabo, Jesús mandó a sus discípulos, “Vayan y anuncien que el reino de los cielos se ha acercado. Sanen a los enfermos, resuciten a los muertos, limpien de su enfermedad a los leprosos y expulsen a los demonios.” Jesús nos da los instrumentos para hacerlo. Por ejemplo, la Iglesia está dispuesta, en el sacramento de la reconciliación, a ayudarle a volver un penitente a la salud y plenitud de vida. A veces tomamos un cartel y marchamos contra los demonios. Otras veces, podemos simplemente escuchar como Jesús y estar presentes como Dios estaba presente entre nosotros en en el carne.

Jesús, la Palabra de Dios encarnada, que expulsó demonios y enseñó a las multitudes, es el mismo Jesús que vive hoy. Jesús vino a liberarnos de los pecados que nos controlan. Todas las veces que estamos enojados o celosos, o cuando luchamos contra una obsesión insalubre, o cuando no estamos dispuestos a perdonar, Jesús está allí para liberarnos.

Somos bautizados en la muerte de Cristo para que, levantándonos con él, podamos dar testimonio de la promesa de la vida eterna de Dios. Siempre que se nombran a nuestros propios demonios o a los otros que existen en el mundo, y cuando caminamos con aquellos que buscan superar los suyos, actuamos como el cuerpo de Cristo. Eso sí es la resurrección.


Today’s Gospel lesson may excite you because of the dramatic exorcism—a demon confronts Jesus, and all are amazed by Jesus’ ability to cast it out! Upon further reflection you may find another truth in this story: the Word of God, manifest both in Jesus and in his teaching. Jesus’ presence and his teaching agitate the demon. Hearing the word proclaimed by the Son of God exposes the demon and provokes it to cry out, “Let us alone! What have you to do with us…? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

The demon cannot hide from Jesus. It recognizes God’s Word and knows that that Word is strong enough to destroy demonic powers. The demon yells Jesus’ name, attempting to gain power over him. Jesus rebukes the demon and refuses to answer its questions. He throws the demon out of the man, and the crowd is in awe.

After moving, beginning a new academic term, losing a loved one, or being seriously wronged, we become more aware of our own demons. We may harbor secrets too troubling to admit: addiction, binge eating, hatred, or indifference toward God’s creation. Nothing is as infuriating as when members of our community expose our demons. When that happens, we lash out and often throw negative attention back at the one who called us out.

Members of our community, unlike Jesus, do not have the power to instantly cast out demons. They do however make it possible for us to recognize our demons and to confront them. When this happens, Christ is manifest in us. After all, Jesus commanded his disciples to “Go and preach that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, and cast out demons.” He gives us the tools to do just that. For instance, the church stands ready, in the sacrament of reconciliation, to help return a penitent to health and fullness of life. Sometimes we take up a placard and march on that demon. Other times, we simply listen like Jesus would listen and we are present as God was present among us in the flesh.

Jesus, God’s very Word incarnate, who cast out demons and taught the multitudes, is the same Jesus who lives today. Jesus came to liberate us from the sins that control us. Whenever we are angry or jealous, whenever we struggle with an unhealthy obsession or are unwilling to forgive, Jesus is there to set us free.

We are baptized into Christ’s death so that rising with him we might bear witness to God’s promise of eternal life. Whenever we name our own demons or those in the world around us, and whenever we walk with those who seek to overcome them, we act as the body of Christ. That is resurrection.