Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Re-presenting the Living Christ to Others

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Easter 6A Sunday Sermon – 8 and 10:30am Service, Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN

5/29/2011

Scripture Text: Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:7-18, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21

Sermon Text:

It has been bothering me, maybe for a longer time

than I previously thought,

what the non-Christian world sees of Christians.

Maybe you have heard what Mahatma Gandhi said,

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.

Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”


How long does it take for people to understand,

that the living nature of Jesus Christ,

his death, his resurrection

and his continuing to live in the world

is most clearly revealed to others

in how we treat each other

and the world around us?


Little kids seem to get it,

as they get most things that are explained best without words.

Sometimes we see this when they make mistakes.

A father whose kids I baptized called me once to tell me,

that his older son was going around the house

just a few weeks after the baptisms,

chasing his little brother with some water,

he would catch him and say,

I baptize you in the name of God, Father Rob,

and the Holy Spirit.”


I am humbled by that naturally,

but at the same time,

I'm not going to deny the truth in it,

because I know I re-present Christ,

to everyone who knows that I am a Christian.


You might say,

well, you're a priest,

you have to do that,

and I'm sure glad I don't have to do that.

But ordination is in this sense

little more than a job description,

The truth is,

you do, by virtue of your baptism,

we all have to re-present Christ to the world around us.


My friend Paul is a song writer,

and I have a favorite song on a CD he gave me.

The song describes how this little boy sees him,

one day at Church,

and Paul attributes this to his beard and his hair,

but I think it's deeper than that.

Paul overhears this little boy telling his mother about him,

(sing)

I've just seen Jesus,

I saw him over there,

I knew him from the Bible,

but now I know he really cares.

He knew how bad I've been today,

but he smiled at me anyway,

now I know that he's alive,

'cause I've seen him with my eyes.”


I couldn't help but think of that song,

when I heard today's Gospel reading,

when we see Jesus in those around us,

that is the clearest way we know He's alive.

As Jesus said, Because He lives, we will also live,

and when people see us fully alive,

full of love,

they see Him.


All of our readings today, in some way,

are about the Risen Christ,

Jesus being alive,

being able to be known.

That is what makes our religion unique,

we believe that we can actually know God,

in the person of his Son,

through his Holy Spirit.


Jesus also says to us, his disciples

if you love me,

you will keep my commandments.”

But when you hear that,

and hear what I have just said,

you might be thinking that we have to somehow,

try harder,

be good enough,

become enough like Jesus through our own efforts,

to make him alive.


That is not at all what I'm saying.

Jesus immediately follows his statement

about keeping his commandments

by talking about the Holy Spirit.

In our translation he calls the Holy Spirit,

an Advocate,

in others, a Counselor.

The greek word is παράκλητος (Parakletos).

A parakletos was a nautical word,

for a ship that would come alongside and help.


If a little ship was in distress,

a parakletos, a bigger ship,

would be sent to come along side and help the little ship.

It literally means, the one who comes alongside and helps.


This is the Holy Spirit,

who Christ says will be with us forever.

Not just when we're in distress,

but of course that's when we notice His presence the most,

but forever, because we need a parakletos forever,

if we're going to re-present the living Christ,

to each other and the world around us.


Jesus says we know the Spirit of truth

because he lives with us, “abides with you”

and he will be in us.

That is the great part of the resurrection of Jesus,

because you know,

when he became incarnate among us,

he humbled himself,

but he also limited himself.


By becoming a human being, fully human,

Jesus could not be everywhere,

and with everyone

at the same time.

But now in his resurrection,

through the power of the Holy Spirit,

he can be alive in each one of us

present with and through each of us,

at the same time.


He says the world will no longer see him,

as it doesn't,

but we will see him.

Those who love him, he will love,

and will reveal himself to them.


If you love him, but you don't think

he has revealed himself to you yet.

You might try what my Aunt Joanna did,

she is a very creative woman,

and a brilliant thinker,

and at my parents suggestion

when she was struggling to know Jesus,

she went off by herself,

and said once, “Jesus, if you're really alive,

reveal yourself to me in a way I can understand.”

He did reveal himself to her,

and she started a series of artwork

that has stretched through her life, dedicated

to showing how he had revealed himself to her.


That is exactly what the rest of the readings say,

about what happens next.

In the psalm we said:

Bless our God, you peoples,

make the voice of his praise to be heard.”


In the first letter of Peter we heard,

In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord”,

that means make him the ruler over your deepest self,

as far and as deep as you have ability.


Then, when Christ is alive in you,

there will be a certain hope that sets you apart

from other people, to other people.


So Peter tells us to

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone

who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you,

yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

I would say, well of course we'll do it that way,

because Jesus lives in us,

and he would do it with gentleness and reverence.

But it seems that Peter knew something that we know today.

That even when Christ is alive in each of us,

we still have parts of us that tend towards our sinfulness,

until the end in which we are finished

being made perfect in Him.

So he cautions us to make our testimony of Jesus,

how Jesus is alive in each of us,

with Gentleness and Reverence.


That seems to be the Episcopal way,

and it is something we can and should uphold,

but gentleness does not mean to refrain from saying it,

or to be ashamed of saying it.

We have a special way of being part of the body of Christ,

and there are those who will respond to our

way of expressing the Gospel when other expressions

would cause them to run away.


So we have a responsibility to be ready,

to share the gospel,

in our own way, with those we meet and know.

This is one way in which Christ will reveal himself,

to those who want to love him, whom he loves.


Think about the people in your life,

who revealed Jesus Christ to you.

How did they do it?

Who told you, with words or actions,

what it means to be a Christian,

what it means to have Christ living in you in the world?

Can you do the same,

or will your way of expressing His life in you be different?


Regardless of how we make our defense,

regardless of how we proclaim the gospel,

Peter reassures us, we need not fear,

the way the world fears,

we need not be intimidated.

That's because we have the Advocate,

the parakletos,

to come along side us and lead us in the truth.

He is the Spirit of Truth,

and we can rely on him,

to testify on behalf of Christ,

and he will do it through our very lives.


And when he does,

just like that little boy did when he saw my friend Paul,

others will say,

I've just seen Jesus,

I saw him over there,

I knew him from the Bible,

but now I know he really cares.”


I hope you will come to have that experience.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Roll Away Your Stone

The Rev. Amy Morehous
Easter 5, Year A
May 22, 2011
Church of the Ascension

Roll Away Your Stone

Acts 7:55-60

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14


How does it feel
To be on your own

With no direction home

Like a complete unknown

Like a rolling stone....

----- Bob Dylan

Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we can find.

Don’t leave me alone at this time,

For I am afraid of what I will discover inside.


You told me that I would find a home,

Within the fragile substance of my soul.

And I have filled this void with things unreal,

And all the while my character it steals.


The darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?

And yet it dominates the things I seek.


It seems as if all my bridges have been burned,

You say that’s exactly how this grace thing works

It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,

But the welcome I receive at the restart.

---- “Roll Away Your Stone,” Mumford and Sons


Well, how many of you were surprised to wake up this morning and find that the world hadn’t ended? Anyone? I would guess that Harold Camping and his supporters are pretty surprised. And very disappointed. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, Harold Camping is the self-taught Bible scholar and Christian radio network owner who bought 1,200 billboards across the country. His organization spent more than $1 million dollars to tell us that the world was going to end yesterday. (You’ll be happy to know I did write a sermon anyway, just in case he was wrong.)

Well, we can laugh at poor Howard Camping and his followers all we want. I will admit that I did when I first heard the story a few days ago. So did Jay Leno, and David Letterman, and John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. But he isn’t an isolated case. There are lots of Howard Campings in the world, motivated by many different things. Some of them are sincere. Some of them are mentally ill. Some of them just like the attention. But most of them really believe what they’re telling you, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. There are times when emotion takes over, and facts become irrelevant.

There’s one particular emotion that comes into play, one that seems to make reasonable people into unreasonable mobs. It’s woven through many of our readings today, and it’s in many of the comments that Harold Camping’s followers made to the media before this most recent “Day of Judgement”. One follower said, “We just want people to be afraid for the fate of their immortal soul, and know that there are still a few hours left to cry out to God for mercy.”

Fear. That emotion is fear. “We just want people to be afraid.” It’s the thing that resonated through the readings for me, as I wrestled with them. A crowd stones Stephen to death out of anger, and fear. Jesus has just told the disciples of his death, and they are perplexed and fearful about their future. That’s a very human reaction, to be afraid of things we don’t understand. I think the idea of the apocalypse makes us uncomfortable, and we laugh at it, because somewhere in our heart, there’s a tiny shiver of fear. “What if they’re right? What if we really don’t have as much time as we think we do?”

The crowd that murders Stephen is furiously angry with him, and afraid that the things he’s been saying just might be true. It’s not immediately obvious why the crowd is already angry, because the lectionary editors left out most of Stephen’s sermon that leads to his brutal death. If you don’t know who Stephen is, he’s one of the seven who are called by the apostles to be set apart, to help take care of widows and orphans, to help serve at the table, and to preach the Gospel of Christ’s resurrection. That group of seven were the first deacons. You ask any deacon about Stephen, the patron saint of all deacons, and we all suppress an urge to mutter dire warnings about shooting the messenger. Indeed one of the cornerstones of a call to the diaconate is the willingness to speak the Gospel truth, even when it is unpopular. When I agreed to take up the call of the diaconate, I foolishly agreed to stand up here and tell you things you don’t want to know.

Stephen is dragged before the council because people are upset with his preaching about Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Responding to their accusations, Stephen gives a very long and mostly boring sermon that is primarily a history lesson, demonstrating how their ancestors had a long history of ignoring God and God’s prophets at crucial moments in history. But suddenly at the end, Stephen’s sermon changes course, and goes straight to the juicy parts.

Stephen says, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers.”

Now you know why the crowd is so angry. Few people respond well to being called stiff-necked murderers. Then to add insult to injury, Stephen has a vision of Jesus at the right hand of God. Stephen’s claim that he can see God is the ultimate blasphemy, and brings about his immediate and violent death.

Walter Brueggeman says that Stephen was talking to people who “didn’t want to hear the Easter news. They wanted to keep the world the way it had been, under old management, with a certain set of assurances and practices that they treasured.” Stephen, like Jesus, threatens the status quo. That’s what the resurrection of Christ does - it radically rearranges the order of things. The last suddenly become first. Grace outweighs judgement. Darkness become light. Those who want to hang on to the world just as it was become fearful, because their whole way of life will change.

The disciples are also full of fear. They have just been told that their friend Jesus, their hope for a new life, their possible Messiah will be betrayed by one of his friends, that he will suffer, that he will die. They feel as if all their hopes were in vain. But don’t worry, Jesus tells them. Don’t worry, because I go ahead of you, to make a place for you. For all of you. You will see me there later, and there will be room enough for everyone.

But the disciples reply out of their disappointment, and confusion, and fear. Worry? Of course we’re going to worry. We don’t understand. We don’t know where you’re going. We don’t know how to get there. How can we know? Why don’t you just show us God, so that we can really understand? So that we can believe?

We’ve all asked that, haven’t we? We’ve shaken our fist at God and said “Show yourself!” - after a terrible diagnosis, or a terrible loss, after the very fabric of our lives has been rewoven into a pattern we don’t recognize. “Show us your Holy self, God, so that we may believe, so that we won’t be afraid any more.”

We may think we know more than those followers of the apocalypse whom we ridicule. We may believe that we are far more civilized than the crowd that stoned Stephen. We may assume that we are more full of faith than the perplexed disciples. But I’m not sure any of those are true. I think we all fear a great number of things these days. We fear that the world we know is changing into a world we don’t know. We’re afraid that we don’t know enough, or that we know too much. We’re afraid of people who are different than ourselves. We all fear that at some deep level there will never be enough to go around. Not enough food. Not enough money. Not enough time. Not enough love. We fear that we ourselves will not be enough, that we will be weighed and found wanting in the sight of God, and our neighbor.

So, my Gospel challenge and question to you today is this: Do you approach the Good News that Christ brings us from a place of love, or from a place of fear? Because the reality is that we aren’t enough. We will never work our way into God’s good graces, we will never earn our way into heaven, we will never accumulate enough stuff to validate our existence. No matter how smart we think we are, we will never be smart enough to think our way into heaven. No matter how much time we have with those we love, it will not ever be enough. All our worst fears are true.

But here’s The Good News of Christ: we don’t have to be enough. The grace of God is a free gift, and there is always enough of it to go around. God loves each of us with such a great love to be beyond our comprehension. God does not parse it out, drop by tiny drop, but unleashes it on the world. The Rev. Mike Kinman once wrote “We don’t have to worry that our lives will not be enough...because our lives don’t belong to us. They belong to Christ. All we have to do is to sit at Christ’s feet and ask, “What would you have me do? How would you have me love?” Then all we are asked to do is to give it our best shot, and know that it will always be enough, that it will always be okay,” (even when it isn’t) “and that God will always provide what is most important: God’s loving embrace.”

We don’t have to hold on to the good news of the Gospel tightly, because it’s meant to be shared. Because Christ came not just for the meek, and the mild, and the righteous - he also came for the angry, and the frightened, and the incomplete and the envious. God loves our neighbor - all our neighbors, no matter who they are - and God also loves us. Each of us.

So if you live in fear, for whatever reason, I urge you to bring that fear forward today when we celebrate Holy Communion, and drop it. Leave it at the altar with Christ, and go forth from here with the assurance that God can hold all those fears, and more. Go forth knowing the Good News of Easter - that perfect love has cast out fear. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” Go forth from here “to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”

And all of God’s people say, “Amen.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A May 15, 2011

The Guardian at the Gate The Reverend Dr. Howard J. Hess


I. Introduction: The Guardian at the gate. This morning we enter into a familiar story. This is Good Shepherd Sunday. In John’s Gospel, Jesus described himself as both the shepherd who protects his sheep and the gate through which the sheep as a flock enter into the safety of the fold. We know that we are the sheep, and the metaphor seems ever so clear. Yet, I wonder if this familiar set of images has lost part of its original power due to our cultural distance from the world in which Jesus lived. Israel is a rocky land, some of which cannot support cultivation. This rocky land is useful only for herding. The landscape Jesus walked upon was often harsh, not at all lush and green. Many people were poor, living on the margins and scrounging day after day to meet basic needs. When Jesus saw his people, he knew that many of them desperately needed care and protection.


And Jesus knew that, like sheep, his people would often wander into danger or experience a catastrophe brought on by the forces around them, such as the wolves that also lived on the rocky land. When Jesus described himself as a shepherd, he was taking on the identity of the guardian, the protector, the nurturer, and the one who would stand between danger and his sheep. When he describes himself as the gate to the fold, Jesus gave further definition to his self-description. The gate is the interface between where the sheep rest and the rest of the world. The shepherd watches through the night in two directions. If a predator tries to enter into the fold, he puts himself in harm’s way; if a sheep tries to leave the fold and wander off, becoming alone and vulnerable, the shepherd re-directs the sheep back into the safety of the fold. Jesus was telling his people that as the good shepherd, he protected them from the harm that might attempt to intrude into the fold; he also protected them from their own inclinations to wander and thus become unprotected and vulnerable. The Celts call places where we encounter Christ the “thin spaces.”


II. How easy it is for us to wander off. And how easy it is for us to be endangered by challenging events in our lives. Phillip Keller, who lived as a shepherd for eight years, has written a book entitled A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.” According to Keller, sheep can become “cast down.” A “cast down” sheep is not a sheep that has become discouraged and depressed, but rather a sheep that has fallen and turned over on its back. The sheep is unable to get up by itself. When sheep lay on their back, gas begins to collect in their stomach. The gas hardens the stomach, cuts off the air passage, and can lead to suffocation. In addition, the sheep’s legs become numb in that position. Only the shepherd can restore them. The shepherd must make great effort to get the sheep back on its feet. The process used by the shepherd takes patience. The shepherd rolls the sheep on its side and massages the legs to stimulate circulation. Then he begins to talk in a reassuring tone to the sheep, “Everything’s going to be alright. You’re going to make it.” He gently lifts the sheep up, and, because it cannot stand on its own, he holds the animal while the sheep regains its equilibrium. When the shepherd is sure the sheep has recovered and can stand on its own, he begins his walk back to the fold, lovingly encouraging the sheep to follow him.


We can imagine the frightened sheep as it hears the familiar voice of the shepherd calling out, and the relief as the shepherd draws close. And imagine the compassion and commitment of the Good Shepherd – to search far and wide for that which is lost and may be at terrible risk. As I have lived my life, I have come to more fully comprehend how little control I, as one sheep, have in so many situations and how utterly reliant I am upon the Good Shepherd who seeks me out in surprising and profound ways, particularly when I need him most.


III. I’d like to share an example of encountering the Good Shepherd that occurred at the end of our sabbatical in Madagascar. Earlier this month Peg and I were able to spend some time with The Reverend Patsy McGregor who hosted us there. We shared this story with her because it took place after the period of time we had spent with Patsy and her husband, Bishop Todd. By way of background, Peg and I were to spend our final week in Madagascar at St. Paul’s Episcopal Seminary, located more than an hour from the capital Tana. The conditions of the very rough road to the seminary require four-wheel drive. As many of you are aware, at the end of our last week Peg became very, very ill. At first I was concerned, then I became truly afraid. I can say that Peg and I both felt like a “cast down” sheep, far from the fold, unable to right ourselves, vulnerable, and in danger. We were able to reach the seminary Director by phone. Five hours later we arrived at a small private hospital owned by a family of Malagasy Episcopal physicians. The hospital provided Peg with exceptionally responsive care. She stabilized and improved sufficiently to begin the long journey back to Knoxville.


On the final day, the hospital gave us our bill. Inclusive of all charges, the bill was $685.00. We knew we could delay payment and file a claim with our travel insurance. But we wanted to pay the bill in full to honor the hospital staff for their good care. However, no credit cards were accepted, and we had carefully avoided having a lot of Malagasy cash at the end of our time there. Roughly two miles from the hospital was a bank with a 24-hour ATM. I decided to walk there. The road from the hospital to the bank is dangerous, has no sidewalks or railings, and runs beside a deep gully. Before I left, Peg and I prayed. Peg’s prayer was “Please send Howard a guardian angel to protect him on this journey. Keep him safe, Lord.” I began my trek, struggling to keep my balance on the edge of the road as the cars and motorcycles whizzed by. Then I saw a small, old rusty taxi waiting ahead. It was just parked there. I leaned through the car window and asked for a ride. The driver smiled knowingly and opened the door with a coat hanger. After I sat down beside him in the front seat, I look up at his rear view mirror and saw a card hanging that read in English “St. Michael, The Guardian.” I looked at him and said, “I think you are the Guardian.” He shook his head yes. He drove me to the ATM, where I was able to withdraw all the cash I needed. He waited and watched, as it was a crowded place, and then took me back to the hospital. Where did this Guardian come from? I do not know. Can we always count on having such a dramatic experience? I do not think so. Can we always rely upon the Good Shepherd to seek us out and set us right side up as we are flailing around? Always ~ we can always rely on the Good Shepherd.


IV. Conclusion. I believe that Jesus Christ is trustworthy and close to us in a personal and compassionate way. The last sentence in today’s Gospel tells the tale. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” In The Message, this sentence is translated as “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” The image of the Good Shepherd is not intended to depict Jesus as a sentimental figure who used good word pictures in his teaching. No, the Good Shepherd is one who knows each one of us by name, fights for and protects us in ways we often do not even know, and yearns to be connected with us and to connect us with one another. The Good Shepherd comes to meet us at the gate wherever that gate may be. I’d like to share the following Celtic prayer, which is my prayer for you today:


God be with you

And grant you to stand in “thin places”

where

the Presence is deeply known

and Mercy abounds

and Wisdom flourishes.

Amen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Infinite Presence

The Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24:13-35

Infinite Presence


“Then they told what had happened on the road,

and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

I have always known that my parents love my brothers and I very much. That was very clear in the home where we were raised, and it continues to be clear in the healthy relationship that we all still enjoy with one another. (I mean not that everything was just always peachy. I was known to get the old wooden spoon once in a while!.........You know its a funny thing, those wooden spoons never quite hurt like you thought they would. I am actually quite thankful for that come to think of it!) Personally though, I don't think I ever was really able to fully understand just how profound my parent's love for my brothers and I was and continues to be until I was blessed with children of my own. For me, it was in the birth of my own children that I realized just how deep and unconditional the love that was given me really was.

I have also learned something else through this experience of parenthood, and it has to do with the love of a mother. I do not wish of course to say that a father's love for his child is somehow less than that of a mother's, but I must admit that what I have seen in the kind of love my mother has for me, and in the kind of love my wife Carla has for our children shows me that a mother's love for her child is, well, just different. It just seems to be somehow special. It seems complete. Tender and sweet, yet stern and powerful. A mother's love seemed to be ever present. In our struggle and hurt they showed us compassion and protection, in our need for guidance and correction they put us in our place, and they joined us in celebration through our joy and accomplishments.

Even now as grown men and women, adults and perhaps parents ourselves, out on our own and living our own lives, I think that voice and guidance is still often heard for most of us, almost like a second voice of conscience. The love of our mother's still remains. Actually, I would even argue, though I do not know from personal experience, that even in death, as I have seen with my wife Carla and her mother Pilar, the mother-in-law who I never had the honor of meeting but who I feel I know so well, I would argue that a mother's love is so big that their presence, their voice and their guidance still seem to carry on within us even in death. The care, the compassion, the encouragement, correction and the guidance. The somehow Infinite Presence.

Of course, this being Mother's Day, I was thinking about such things as I was preparing for this morning, (and let me take this opportunity to wish all the special Mother's with us today a very happy and blessed mother's day) but it kind of all of a sudden struck me that this idea of a strangely constant and ever present love is actually exactly what I was hearing in this morning's Gospel lesson about the road to Emmaus. That is what I believe our Gospel lesson today highlights for us. Now, obviously, I am not saying that I saw a message of infinite motherly love in this lesson, though I suppose that would make for an interesting sermon! However, what I clearly did see was a very important message for us all about the constant love and infinite presence of our Christ.

We encounter Jesus this morning at an interesting time. Three days ago He was crucified, died, and was buried, and all that His disciples know is that His tomb had been recently opened and found empty with the exception of an angel explaining that Christ had been raised. At the very moment we see Him this morning, Jesus is accompanying two of His relatively unknown followers on their way to Emmaus, somehow without their knowing it. The disciples are frustrated, confused, and they explain to the hidden Christ in their midst of the incredible events that have recently taken place, and they speak of the fact that they do not fully understand what has just happened nor what it all means. They are looking for their Lord, and yet, He is with them all along. Ever present.

Now, I find it interesting that biblical scholars suspect this story we call the road to Emmaus to be a later addition to Luke, and they highlight several points which make this story suspect. The writing style does not seem characteristic of the author of Luke. The story of the road to Emmaus is unique to Luke and does not appear in the other synoptic Gospels other than a slightly similar story in Mark, and the main disciple in this story, Cleopas, is never mentioned in any other scriptures and therefore is not known, while the other disciple walking with him is never even named at all. So, on one hand, this piece of scripture does seem to be quite out of place. However, the uniqueness of this scripture alone does not at all mean that there is nothing of worth in this morning's Gospel lesson. Actually, on the contrary, I heard a very clear message from this morning's scripture. You see, what I believe we are to realize this morning and live into always is exactly what the disciples in today's scripture had not yet discovered at first, and then quite abruptly witnessed in the breaking of the bread, the infinite presence of Christ. For them, the Messiah had been found, then He disappeared. Bewildered, they went searching for Him, but didn't realize until it was revealed to them that He is risen indeed, and that He was with them all the while. I think the lesson is not very different for each of us today, though we stand on the other end of the Resurrection. We are to realize the infinite presence of God.

Now, I could be wrong, but I believe this is a message that we Christians need to hear these days. For in reality, are we not ourselves constanlty on the road to Emmaus? I mean, is it just me, or does it not seem that we, like those disciples, are forever seeking, searching, looking for our Savior, all the while we proclaim our belief that He is risen? It seems to me that often times, instead of worshipping and celebrating God, which remember is the actual point of church, we mostly just end up coming to church as seekers desperately reaching out for the slightest touch and yearning for a meager glimpse of the risen Lord. So, therefore, I find myself asking what happened? Where did we go wrong? Where did Christianity lose its grip on the Good News, and when did Christians cease to live out their Easter reality? You and I, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, are constantly on the road to Emmaus.

So this is what I would like for us to take with us from here this morning, the realization of Christ's constant presence with each of us. Let us be freed of our seeking and searching and begin to truly live into our intended reality, inherited through our Baptism, as people who not only acknowledge the ever present God in their lives, but who also recognize that they are some of the very vessels of Christ's love in this world. After all, do we not surround ourselves with reminders of this reality every single time we come together for worship? Is it not the very point of our sacraments to show us that Christ is present even in the very ordinary?

Consider the sacrament of Holy Baptism which we are about to witness in a few moments. In it ordinary every day water becomes both our death to sin and the birth waters of our new life, and those receiving this sacrament go from children of God to vital members of the Body of Christ and living witnesses of the Holy Spirit. Consider the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. In it every day ordinary bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, the ultimate gift of love before our eyes, and we, kneeling before the altar, become carriers and messengers of that love for this world. The One extraordinary God is recognized in the many ordinary things of this world. As Christians, we are always called to this. To take the ordinary, all things, and to see and recognize God's presence in all of it. That is what I see in the road to Emmaus, and that is the lesson I believe we are to take with us today; true belief in the reality of the Risen Christ in this world and in each of our lives.

I would like to end with something that I think speaks very well to our Gospel lesson this morning and something that expresses in a different way my own personal and frequent prayer for our being made open to the constant presence of Christ in our lives. It is a blessing that I learned from a Lutheran pastor who was a close friend of mine, and I think it will serve to drive my point home.

As you go on your way, may you realize that Christ goes before you to lead you; that Christ goes behind you to encourage you; that Christ goes beside you to accompany you; that Christ goes above you to watch over you; that Christ goes below you to lift you up; and that Christ lives within you to fill you with His peace.

Amen.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Consequences of the Resurrection

  1. 2nd Sunday of Easter, 8 and 10:30am Services Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN

    The Rev. Robert P. Travis

    Text: Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31

Sermon Text:

In the storm Monday night a large tree fell at our house,

while we were eating dinner.

It fell exactly the way it should have fallen,

if a professional were taking it down,

and it didn’t damage our house,

or anything of value behind our house.

Still after it fell, I was afraid,


I forgot the message of Psalm 16,

even though it’s one of my favorite psalms

which has comforted me in fear in the past.

I take refuge in you. . .

it is you who uphold my lot.

My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;

indeed I have a goodly heritage.”


By late Tuesday,

I thought seriously about cutting down all the other trees

that surround our house.

Then Wednesday came,

and the cluster of storms,

we have all heard so much about,

and experienced for ourselves.

Our neighborhood got hit pretty hard,

not as bad as some,

worse than many around here,

but certainly not as bad as Tuscaloosa.

Friday I spent the whole day cleaning up the debris,

and I noticed,

that all of the leaves, I was collecting as if it was autumn

those same leaves that

I was hoping weren’t there with their trees anymore,

threatening my house on Tuesday,

had borne the brunt of the hail, on Wednesday,

and spared our house from

the damage our neighbors’ house suffered.

So what was the lesson there?

If anything for me it was not to jump quickly,

and react out of fear

based on something bad that has just happened.


The disciples were in danger of doing just that,

in our gospel reading.

Their Easter, up to the point we read today,

was full of despair, and fear.

We read that first Easter Sunday in the evening

the disciples of Jesus were meeting in a house,

and the door was locked for fear of the Jews.

They were worried about being implicated

and killed for the same reasons Jesus was killed.

And that was a reasonable fear,

given what they had just gone through.

And the fearful world they lived in.


Sometimes we too become afraid,

when we forget the importance

of the resurrection of Jesus, in every aspect of our lives.

when we forget that because of our Christian life

our “boundaries enclose a pleasant land;”

when we forget that indeed we “have a goodly heritage.”


I had a dream a couple of weeks ago

that has stayed with me,

as is probably the case for you,

that is unusual for me.

Mostly I forget my dreams moments after I wake.

But this one was powerful, and it stayed with me,

and I feel I am supposed to share some of it with you.

This was not what my girls would describe

as a good dream.

In this dream I was struggling to survive,

I was in a world that had most of the things that we have today, but they were arranged differently.

In the area I was living,

everything was broken, and discarded,

and I was trying to survive off of the refuse of others.

(much like the areas we’ve seen this week, devastated by tornadoes)

The way I acted was more like a scavenger animal,

more like a rat than a human being.

And everyone around me was like that,

we were grasping for food,

hiding for protection,

constantly running away from people who would hurt us,

and licking our wounds ourselves whenever we got hurt.


There was no caring, no love, certainly no altruism.


People had not cleaned up this area,

or restored it,

but had just abandoned it,

and left others to scavenge there.

I was part of the lowest level of society,

but we were aware of there being other levels.

somewhat like what existed in India

under the caste system,

with the Untouchables to the Brahmins.

We were like the untouchables, but worse,

because if anyone from the upper levels of society saw us,

they would try to kill us on the spot.


We were not considered humans but vermin.,

No one was considered a neighbor deserving love.

And it was clear as I climbed throughout tunnels and mechanisms of this ultra-stratified society,

that everyone was set on not just getting what they needed and wanted for themselves,

but were afraid both of those above them who would kill them, and those below them whom they would kill

probably because of fear

as they didn’t know we were just like them.


Mostly in the dream I was afraid, deeply afraid,

and that fear seemed to dominate the experience

of everyone around me.


After I awoke,

I realized that this dream was a vision,

of what the world would have been like,

if Jesus had not come,

if Jesus had not died,

if Jesus had not been raised from the dead.

What it also could be like, if we neglect the significance

of death being conquered for us by him who

died and rose again.


We see evidences of that fear in the Gospel today,

and throughout the Bible,

the foundations were already laid

for that kind of horrible world,

the stratification was being solidified,

and Roman society was oppressive to most people.

Fear was already a big part of life.


Even at the tomb, the encounter with the angel

is met with fear, by the soldiers, for good reason,

for they were up against something over which

they knew they had no power.

But even the female disciples were afraid.

And of course, the disciples who had not encountered

the risen Jesus at the tomb

were afraid of the power systems

of the people who had killed Jesus just days before.


If that world had continued,

without the resurrection of the Lord changing everything,

you would not see the restoration that people in our society take for granted after terrible storms,

and devastating tragedies.

Especially among the poorest of the poor,

those who get hit so hard by tragedies

we witnessed this week,

who seem to make the news more than anyone else,

because their situation seems so hopeless.

Followers of Jesus Christ will help them

in the coming days and weeks,

as we should,

maybe you will be among them,

and you will see in a few short years,

that many of those lives will have been restored,

because of the love, we have for our neighbors,

because of the Good News,

that was made possible by Jesus’ conquering death,

the very thing at the root of most of our deepest fears.


As the psalmist says,

You will show me the path of life,

in your presence there is fullness of joy,

and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.”

And the whole gospel was written,

we read so “that through believing,

we will have life in His name.”


Shortly after the disciples encountered the risen Lord,

The reasonableness of the fear was still there,

but the fear was not,

look how the message of Peter had changed,

from “Lock the doors for fear of the jews,”

to “God has given us an inheritance

that is imperishable,

undefiled and unfading,

kept in heaven for you, who are being protected

by the power of God!”


And that message of a living hope,

gave them the confidence to stop hiding,

and to preach openly,

and they were bold

so bold as to proclaim Christ had risen,

at the very real risk of their own lives.


So we as Christians have always been called to do,

to take risks, even to the point of our lives,

for the sake of the good news of Jesus,

for the sake of loving our neighbor

as he commanded us to do.

Then we can rest in the peace that only Jesus can give.

Peace that passes all understanding,

and conquers all fear.