Monday, April 25, 2016

everyone will know

St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh

In this Easter season it is a bit of a shock to find ourselves in this passage thrown back to the events of the Last Supper. The disciples have gathered together around a table one last time, and on this special occasion Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet. Judas, at Jesus’ suggestion, leaves the group to go and betray Jesus. In a few short hours, Jesus will be arrested, the disciples will scatter, and Peter will deny Jesus three times.

Rather than preach against Judas (or Peter, for that matter), Jesus speaks of glorification and love. To glorify God means to acknowledge God’s true character. And God’s true character is love, personified in Jesus Christ.  

Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment, to love one another. What does it mean to love in this way? I’m not talking about romantic love or the cheesy kind of love that you might find in movies or on a motivational poster with a large mountain or field of flowers in the background. I’m not talking about a reciprocal love, where each person contributes to the relationship. I’m talking about the kind of love that does not seek to be repaid.  

Jesus demonstrated this love throughout his life, but nowhere more simply than in the events of the last few days of his life. On his last night with his friends, Jesus washes their dirty, smelly feet and shares a final meal with them. Just before Judas leaves, Jesus gives him a piece of bread. How hard must it have been to look one of your friends in the eye and feed him, knowing he was going to betray you for a few coins? And to wash the dirty feet of one of your closest friends, foreseeing that he was going to not only abandon but even deny that he knew you? They will never have the opportunity to repay Jesus in person for his kindness, his selfless love. And yet he does it anyway, right before giving his life for all of us.

So how can we imitate Jesus’ self-giving love? Jesus never promises that it will be simple. Loving in this way comes with a price, and is not always very rewarding, but it is the clearest way to demonstrate to others the love of God.

After Hurricane Katrina hit the shores of the gulf in September of 2005, a few of the people in my campus ministry group went down to D’Iberville, Mississippi, near Biloxi, to assist in cleanup efforts. Katrina had decimated the region; we drove past bridges that looked like carefully stacked dominoes that had been knocked over and flattened houses with only staircases remaining, stairs now leading nowhere. Our mission was to help clean up a local grocery store that had been converted into a donation storage site, and to organize the donated materials coming in to the store. As we worked we met a couple from Alabama. When this couple had heard how badly the hurricane had affected the people of Mississippi, they jumped into their truck and made their way there to offer their help. As the week passed and we got to know the couple better, it became clear that they did not have much money themselves. In fact, later that week they received calls that their water was being shut off back home. We asked them why they stayed here and helped when they had things they needed to attend to at home; without hesitation they replied that they were not so bad off, but the people here had lost everything, so they wanted to stay and make a difference. Needless to say, their selfless act of love made an impression on me.  

Ultimately, to love in this way is a choice. Just as we confess that we sin “in thought, word, and deed,” we can demonstrate the love of God “in thought, word, and deed” (BCP 360). God will be known through acts of love. Jesus will be known through acts of love. This is how we live out the resurrection. Each time we participate in acts of love, Jesus is made known to us once again.

How will Jesus—how will God—be known through you?

members of our campus ministry taking a break

bridge stacked like fallen dominoes

house destroyed by Hurricane Katrina

Monday, April 11, 2016

God makes us enough

St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh
Easter 3, Year C, 2016

May the words I speak and the words you hear be God’s alone. Amen.

Today we are presented with two examples of call stories. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear the powerful story of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. When the curtain opens, Saul, who we know more commonly as Paul, is “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples” and other Christians (Acts 9:1). We know that this hot-headed young man has been fervently persecuting the disciples of Jesus—he is not only present at the stoning of Stephen, but stands watch over the coats of the people doing the stoning. Saul is actively seeking out ways to put an end to the movement known as “The Way” because he believes that they are teaching lies about God. People in that time are not as flippant about faith as many people tend to be these days—for him teaching incorrectly about God is a grave sin and a matter of life and death. And so one of the biggest enemies of the earliest Christians, who still consider themselves Jews at that point in time, is a fellow Jew. And his purpose for traveling to Damascus is to capture these people he perceives to be enemies of the faith.  

In the Gospel, we see Jesus calling Peter to leadership over his sheep, God’s people. This comes on the heels of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus during Jesus’ trial. Think of the events of the past few weeks: Jesus enters into Jerusalem to cheering crowds, but by the end of the week their cheering has turned to jeering. There’s the meal in the upper room where Peter first refuses to have his feet washed by Jesus, and then overcompensates and wants his whole body washed when Jesus insists that he must be washed in order to remain one of Jesus’ disciples (John 13:1-10). Then soldiers come to arrest Jesus while they are praying in the garden of Gethsemane and Peter draws a sword and cuts off the ear of a servant, despite hearing Jesus teach about loving one’s enemies (John 18:10-11). Next Peter denies he is a follower of Jesus, not once, but three separate times (John 18:15-18, 25-27; Mark 14:66-72). Peter is nowhere to be found when Jesus is crucified, and it takes women followers and a secret disciple who is not one of the twelve/eleven to bury him because they have seemingly all abandoned Jesus (John 19:38). Then after three days people begin to see Jesus appear again. It’s a lot to process, and so to make sense of it all, Peter goes back to do what he knows best: fishing.

We may wonder why Jesus calls such bumbling people, in the case of Peter—or in Saul’s case, violent people—to do God’s will, but this is not a new thing; the Bible is full of stories of imperfect people being called to do the work of God.

God chooses Sarah, a barren woman way past the age of childbearing, to become the mother of many nations (Gen 17, 18). Her immediate response is to laugh at the thought, and yet she bears a son named Isaac, the first child of what becomes God’s chosen people.  

When God needs someone to rescue the Israelites from slavery at the hands of the Egyptians, God calls Moses, a Jew raised by the Egyptian royal family, who has killed one of the guards for beating a Hebrew slave (Exodus 2:11-15). When God approaches Moses in the burning bush, Moses protests that he cannot be a great leader because he has a stutter (Exodus 4:10). And yet God uses this murderer with a speech impediment to lead God’s chosen people to the promised land.   

The most famous and beloved king of Israel is David, who begins as the youngest son of a shepherd until God chooses him to succeed Saul on the throne (1 Samuel 16:11-13). Once in power David has an affair with a married woman and has her husband killed, although he later repents of his wrongdoing (2 Samuel 11). This adulterous man with a humble birth ends up being the greatest king of all Israel, and his son Solomon, the wisest one.

When God becomes incarnate and takes on human flesh, God chooses a poor young woman to bear and to raise Jesus, the Son of God, as her son. And Jesus, in turn, chooses simple fishermen, hated tax collectors, and other lowly people to be the ones to follow in his footsteps and spread the message of God’s love through Jesus Christ.

Peter, one of the innermost disciples who denies Jesus three times, is offered a threefold redemption—three chances to say yes to Jesus where he has previously said no. And Peter goes on to become an incredible preacher, converting 3,000 people to Christianity in a single day, and eventually becomes known as the first pope (Acts 2:41).

God also chooses Saul, Christian persecutor extraordinaire, and converts him to Christianity where he begins going by the name he is better known by, Paul, the apostle to the nations. God takes one of the most vehement opponents of Christianity and instead of just moving him out of the way, turns him into arguably the most influential person in the Christian faith, other than Jesus himself.

God can use us, too.

The Kingdom of God has not yet been fully realized on earth. That’s where you and I come in. Look, we all have flaws, but even if we don’t think we have much to contribute, God is able to use us to further God’s work in the world. Work like caring for the sick, the homeless, those in prison; the marginalized. Work like promoting peace and justice and respecting the dignity of every human being. Work like learning about our faith and coming together to worship this God who loves us so completely and unabashedly.

And as we have seen countless times throughout the Bible, “God doesn’t call the equipped; God equips the called” (Rick Yancey, The Fifth Wave). Even God’s Chosen People are chosen not for their virtues or by their own merit, but because God loves them.

We are not enough on our own, but God makes us enough. Don’t think that God can’t use you. God is calling us. All we have to do is say yes.