Sunday, March 31, 2013

Different Approaches, Same Truth

The Rev. Robert P. Travis
Easter Sunday Sermon – 11:15am Rite II Eucharist Service, Church of the Ascension, Knoxville
    1. Text: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118 
    1. :1-2,14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, John 20:1-18

RCL 4/24/2013

Sermon Text:
As I was thinking about Easter this week,
the song “White Blank Page” from Mumford and Sons
came on my Pandora.
One of our parishioners turned me onto them.
And thanks to him I can proudly say I was listening to their music before they won the Grammy.
One line in their song struck me like a light in a dark room,
“Can you kneel before the King, and say I am clean?”
While I’m not sure what they meant,
Of course you can imagine the King I was thinking of,
He is the risen King we are here to celebrate.

Only later when I looked at the lyrics to that song,
did I notice the powerful connection at the end,
to the reading we have today.
The last line is, “oh, lead me to the truth,
and I will follow you with my whole life.”

In the gospel we just heard,
we see three people who knew the Lord,
and their different ways of being lead to the truth,
a new truth,
one that they had heard of,
but really did not believe
until they experienced it for themselves.
The truth that their master and friend,
whom they had seen executed
in the most brutal manner just days before,
had really defeated death,
just as he said he would.

Mary found the tomb empty,
and went and found Peter and John.
Peter and John run to see for themselves.
Like boys in a race,
they run hard, and John outruns Peter
to get there first.
Did you notice that?
How the gospel passage points out twice
that John got there first?
There’s some kind of point that the gospel of John
is trying to make there,
but that’s not one I’m dwelling on.
Sure John got there first,
but he stopped just short of going into the empty tomb.
What caused him to stop short?
Was he afraid of what he might see?
Peter couldn’t beat John in the race there,
but runs right past him at the entrance,
and boldly, maybe even brashly
enters the tomb, to find it empty.
Well, almost empty, as the grave clothes were still there.
Why did he run right in?
What gave John pause
but did not have the same effect on Peter?
John follows Peter in,
and when he sees for himself,
he believed, even though he did not yet understand.
Whatever it was,
that lead to their different reactions
to the tomb,
Peter and John seem to leave the scene and go back home,
almost as quickly as they got there.

And then there’s Mary,
the scripture doesn’t say she ran with them,
but she was certainly there,
when they considered the empty tomb,
and after they went back home.
Mary stood there weeping by the tomb after they left.
Her weeping shows us that even though she knew
the tomb was empty,
she did not get what had happened.
By staying with the truth for a while,
maybe because she doesn’t run away from her grief,
maybe because of her patience,
she gets rewarded with the first
face to face encounter with the risen Lord.
He greets her by name,
when she at first does not recognize him.

Often we want to focus on Mary,
who meets the risen Lord on this glorious morning.
But was she the only one who was saved,
by his death and resurrection?
Certainly she has a privileged position,
in relation to the other disciples.
She becomes the apostle to the apostles,
when she is the first to say
“I have seen the Lord!”
But beyond that position,
is her salvation any more sure than theirs?

Some in this area
would say, if I haven’t personally encountered
the risen Lord Jesus,
in a specific event I can point to,
then somehow I’m not saved.

I imagine some of you have encountered that theology.
I heard it recently from a girl who was getting baptized here.
She was excited to tell her mother
about the baptism,
and this woman told her daughter,
“just because you’re doing that doesn’t mean you’re saved.”
Which sounded to me like,
“If you don’t meet the Lord the way I and my friends do, then you’re not really saved by him.”

Can you imagine if Mary had said,
“I’ve seen the Lord, so I’m saved and you’re not!”
As you can hear,
I see something totally different in this Easter Gospel.

Each of these three people pursued the truth
in different ways,
and each encountered that truth differently.
It was the same truth, of course,
that Jesus had been crucified,
died, and on the third day left the tomb empty.
The same truth we preach each and every Sunday,
for the last two thousand years.
Because we find that this truth
is always good news to someone.
But the original disciples found and engaged that truth
in different ways.

One wanted to get there fast, faster than his friend,
but stopped just short of going all the way.
He had to wait for a friend to enter the truth with him first.
One couldn’t quite keep up,
took a little more time to get there,
but once he got there dived right in to see for himself.
And one let her heart lead the way,
and stayed in her grief,
until Jesus met her right where she was waiting.

All of these people were lead to the truth,
and all of these people followed him
with their whole lives,
for the rest of their lives.
I don’t think it would be hard to say that all of them
experienced Jesus’ salvation in their own way.

Did it matter, which one came to Jesus which way?
No, the fact that they were redeemed, saved by Jesus
had nothing to do with their actions
it was something that Jesus had already done.

Which one of them could kneel before their king,
and say, “I am clean?”
At the moment they saw the empty tomb probably none of them could, but not because they did not deserve to.
Jesus had already made them clean.
The recognition and understanding
of their being free from sin
and death would come much later.
Even if they couldn’t recognize it fully,
he would stand before them, and say
“you are clean.”

He would even give them his peace,
and his own Holy Spirit,
even before they fully comprehended,
the depths of their salvation.
But you’ll have to come back over the next few weeks to hear more about that.

What matters today is that the deed was done,
the stain of sin was cleaned,
death was defeated.
And everyone is given the opportunity,
for a new life in Jesus.

Which of these disciples do you identify with?
Some come to the truth slowly, but completely,
some come to the truth fast, but take a while  
before they really are willing to get into it all the way.
Some think that it’s too late for them.
And get so caught up in their grief,
that they’re about ready to give up.
But it is never too late.

On our Alpha Course we talk about this woman,
who is a missionary in Hong Kong,
Jackie Pullinger shared the Gospel mostly to drug addicts, gang members and prostitutes.
While she focussed her early efforts on young people,
and found many miraculous stories of
youth experiencing the saving truth of Jesus risen for them,
the story that strikes me most is
of an older woman,
a worn out prostitute,
72 years old, named Alfreda.
She was too old, obviously, to work her trade,
and addicted to heroin for so long, for 60 years,
that she had to inject her back every day because her arms and legs were too used up.
She would squat outside a brothel
by the drain of an open sewer during the day,
and poke it with a stick to keep the sewage flowing.
And she even at that point in her life,
when most people would say it was too late for her,
came to believe that Jesus had died
and rose from the dead for her.

And that Good News turned her life around,
She started living and worshipping
with Jackie’s community of Christians,
and even met a guy who was in his mid 70’s
named Little Wa, who had also recently come to know that he was saved by Christ.
They got married,
and Alfreda walked down the aisle dressed in white,
made clean and pure only by the grace of her Savior Jesus.

She can kneel before her king and say,
I am clean.
It was all thanks to Him,
and what he did for her,
for me,
and for you.

It’s never too late,
even if you have been hovering outside the entrance to the tomb, not sure if you want to look in.
For if you had been the only one in the world,
Jesus would have died and defeated death and the grave,
for you.
He loves you that much.
And the good news is, He already did that for you.
He already gave you his whole life,
and you can follow him with your whole life,
just as Mary, John, and Peter did.

So can you kneel before your king and say “I am clean.”
Surely you can.
Thanks to him you can.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Amen.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Unto The Very End

The Rev. Amy Morehous
Maundy Thursday
Church of the Ascension
March 28, 2013

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus et in opso jucundemur.
Timeamus et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Amen.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ's love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.
Where charity and love are, God is there.  Amen

This Palm Sunday, I hope it will surprise to know I was in a foul mood. In fact, it has been pointed out to me that I am characteristically cranky most Palm Sundays. This I do not dispute.

In the past I’ve attributed it to being tired from Lent, or anxious about the many details of Holy Week. But this year, none of those have been true. Yet I was still quite evil.

I was cranky. I was annoyed. I was any number of things. I didn’t want to do what was expected of me. I would honestly rather not. Only this week did I realize why I am usually so out of sorts.

You'll notice that I used two words quite a lot -  "I" and "me". Fourteen times, if you were counting. That was one problem.

But the most complete reason is summed up in one word: denial. Denial and I had been cooexisting quite happily for some time.  

On Palm Sunday we hear the reenactment of Christ’s Passion and death, and we say, “Crucify! Crucify him!” along with the crowd. All our best efforts at denial come crashing down around our ears, just as they did for the disciples. And like the disciples, we can react to that realization by channelling our grief into anger. While none of us have struck off a slave’s ear with our swords, or denied Jesus three times, in our anger, in our discomfort with all the dark parts of Holy Week, it is easy to deny Jesus' death.

I was angry that Christ would die. I am angry that He will be beaten, and mocked, and die an excruciating death reserved for the lowest common criminal. I remain angry that 2000 years later, we human beings still do unspeakable things to one another, that our common humanity includes deep, dark parts of desperate inhumanity. We abuse one another, call each other names. We persecute, we hate, we divide ourselves from each other and from God. We fear one another, and that fear becomes anger, and that anger becomes hate. Too frequently, we feel powerless in the face of that destructive circle of emotion.

We are here tonight with our human hearts, hearts that deny and grieve, hearts that are angry and desolate. We gather tonight to commemorate this Last Supper with our friends, to serve and console one another. Tonight, we affirm with one another that Jesus offers us not only the ultimate consolation, but salvation. Jesus doesn't call us to anger, even righteous anger - He calls us to love.

Christ would remind us that even though He knows each of us individually, loves each of us individually, life in Christ is not only about each of us, individually. We are not only here for me, me, me and I, I, I. With Christians all around the world, we gather tonight as the very body of Christ on this earth. We will break bread, we will wash each other’s feet, we will celebrate the Eucharist together. We will sit vigil with Christ together through this long night.

Christ calls us tonight into relationship with one another, just as we are. Whether we are angry, whether we are grieving, whether we are broken - Jesus calls us, each of us, into loving relationship, to live in service with and to one another.

And why do we do that? We do it because Christ commanded us. In His last commandment to us, He asks us to do a hard thing - to love. Where there is anger and betrayal and denial He brings healing and peace and love. Hard love, the kind of love that walks through death and destruction, through pain and suffering, and comes out on the other side.

Why do we companion one another through the hard events of our lives? Why do we sit by the bedside of loved ones as they are dying? Why do we have lunch with a friend who is suffering? Why do we feed those who are hungry, wipe the tears of those who cry? Why do we break bread and share the wine together?

We do it for love, following His example. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”

To the end of His life?
To the very end of time?
To the end that we will, in response, love one another?

Christ commands us to love because it is love that defeats death. Love defeats denial, and anger, and division, and injustice, and all the many desperate circumstances in which we find ourselves.

In love, we walk together with Christ through His death. Before new life happens, something has to die to make room for it. Tonight Christ goes to do just that, to be betrayed and denied by those He loved. Tonight, He goes to die, so that the Resurrection may be a possibility. Tomorrow He will stretch out His arms upon the cross, and offer himself, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.

Together we are loosed and set free from our anger, and our hate, and our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Together, tonight, we break the bread and drink the wine of communion. “For as often as (we) eat this bread and drink the cup, (we) proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (I Corinthians 11:26)

Tonight, may we proclaim the Lord’s death, so that we may anticipate His resurrection.

Tonight, may we shed the chains of our anger, and put on unbounded love, the love that Christ has so generously given us. Tonight, may we receive the boundless love of God in Christ into our lives, and may we have the strength to let that love overflow into all parts of a world in need of it.

In the very name of Christ, who sees us, knows us, and loves us, even unto the very end.