May 7, The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Kristin White

The Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 7, 2017

John 10:1-10

Bishops carry croziers, the name for that fancy long crook, a sign of their symbolic role as shepherd of the people. Last Saturday in Indianapolis, John and I and about 1500 other joyous people got to witness, for the first time, a woman: the retiring tenth bishop, Cate Waynick, hand her crozier to another woman: our friend, Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, now the eleventh bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis.

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Today we celebrate what churchy folks refer to as Good Shepherd Sunday. Our lessons revolve around Jesus as the good shepherd – the one who promises to leave the 99 in order to go find one lost sheep, and then to carry it home over his shoulder; the one who must go to care for his sheep who are not of this fold, and who promises to return.

We just prayed and sang the 23rd psalm, those most-familiar words: “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, and leads me beside still waters…surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” We will sing, “Shepherd of souls, refresh and bless,” and “The king of love my shepherd is.” Language of the good shepherd will weave its way throughout our prayer and worship.

The tricky part of all this is the parallel. I don’t find it all that difficult to imagine Jesus as the good shepherd – tending, leading, and caring for his flock. The hard part is that those who follow him are the sheep. And sheep are most often – and mistakenly, I believe – described in unlovely ways…as smelly, messy, and dumb. So who wants to be compared with that?

I come from cattle and sheep country, a place where wars actually raged between cattle ranchers and sheepmen (as they were called) in the 1890s.[1] They all grazed their livestock on the same open lands back then. And cattle ranchers didn’t like sheep, because sheep eat everything – so the ranchers saw the sheep as stripping the land where they hoped to have their animals roam and be fed. And many of the ranchers held the sheepmen in a certain amount of contempt, not just because they couldn’t stand sheep, but because the shepherds did things differently. Cattle are driven from behind, back then always by men on horseback, with whips and shouts. You can’t do that with sheep; they’ll get scared and try to run around behind you. Sheep have to be led by someone who is in their midst. So instead of riding horseback, shepherds have to walk with their animals. Sheep don’t follow strangers, and they won’t go anywhere without being led there by someone they trust, who goes ahead and shows them that it will be okay.

Today’s gospel testifies to the wisdom of those who follow. “The sheep hear his voice,” Jesus says as he tells people the parable of the good shepherd. “They follow, because they know his voice. Those who came before were thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.”

No, this gospel does not hold up that “smelly, messy, and dumb” trope for the sheep who follow Jesus. Those who follow in this gospel passage have their own wisdom, their own discernment. They know how to listen, and whom to trust.

And that’s important, because there are thieves. There are bandits. There are those who push and jostle and shout.

It matters, the wisdom and discernment and trust of those who follow.

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In 1915, the Indiana Ku Klux Klan organized itself with a focus on prohibition, education, political corruption, and mortality. Klansmen opposed immigration, wrote and supported laws to limit the number of people moving to this country; it was hostile to Catholics and Jews, was avowedly white supremacist.[2]

By 1922, Indiana's KKK was the largest organization of any in the country, averaging 2,000 new members a week between 1922 and 1923. Membership would grow to 250,000, with nearly one third of all white men born in the United States and living in Indiana joining the ranks as Klansmen. By 1925, Klan membership counted the governor of Indiana, more than half the elected members of the state legislature, and a majority of ranking state and local government officials. People who wanted to run for any office at any level learned that they had to get KKK endorsement if they hoped to get elected.

Thieves and bandits.

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So what does it say, just fewer than 100 years later, that the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis would call a black woman to take hold of that crozier?

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Last Sunday in Godly Play, the children heard the story of The Good Shepherd and the World Communion. The good shepherd leads the sheep from their fold out into the pasture, and then to the table of the good shepherd, where the good shepherd is in the bread and the wine. The telling of the story has the priest eventually stand in the place of the shepherd, the sheep exchanged with the people – children and adults.

Teddy LaRosa has heard the story of the good shepherd in Godly Play every year since he was 2 ½ years old. And Teddy knows that the first kid to get to the parable box during response time gets to re-create the story for himself. So by Teddy’s re-creation, the shepherd doesn’t go anywhere. You can see it on your bulletin cover: closest to the table is this angelic, faceless god-like figure. And the priest is there with the children and the people and the sheep. All creation gathers for the feast, that they might have life, and have it abundantly.

There’s wisdom and discernment in those who follow, a reciprocity of trust with the one who leads. We listen for each others’ voices. We know each others’ names.

I can tell you that there was a claiming of Jennifer as bishop last Saturday in Indianapolis. Members of the black community from all over the country, and beyond – lay people and bishops and priests and deacons – gathered to mark the moment of Jennifer’s consecration, standing with joy to sing together the gospel music of “Total praise.” I can tell you that women came from everywhere to mark that day as well, and the image of the retiring bishop giving her crozier to the new bishop, all under the watchful gaze of the very first woman made a bishop of the church, who happens also to be black, is one I will cherish for the rest of my life. I can tell you that the people of Indianapolis chose Jennifer and called her; they trust her, and they know her to be their leader.

Teddy’s re-creation resonated there, again. God was at that table. The good shepherd hadn’t gone anywhere. There were adults and children, together for the feast. And Jennifer was right there in their midst.

There’s wisdom and discernment among those who follow, trusting that Christ comes to us, that we may have life, and have it abundantly.

 

[1] https://oregonhistoryproject.org/articles/historical-records/central-oregon-range-wars/#.WQ9cobzyvow

[2] a great deal of information about Indiana’s Klan history can be found here: http://www.theindychannel.com/longform/the-ku-klux-klan-ran-indiana-once-could-it-happen-again

April 30, The Third Sunday of Easter

Deacon Sue Nebel

            You probably did it the first time as a young child, and probably many more times again as an adult.  You stood at the edge of a lake, a pond, or maybe just a nice deep puddle.  You stretched out your hand and dropped a small stone or a pebble into the water.  Then you stood there, watching intently, as a small circle formed where the stone had dropped and disappeared.  Then gradually more and more circles formed, spreading out on the surface of the water.  Smaller ones in the center, surrounded by increasingly larger ones. I don’t know about you, but I never fail, even as an adult, to be amazed by the sight of those circles.

            The stories of the experience of the Resurrection are like those circles.  They begin small and get bigger and bigger.  At the Easter Vigil and on Easter Day, we hear the stories of the discovery of the empty tomb in the early morning. Not many characters involved. Some women and an angel or two.  In the version of the story in Matthew, two women, Mary Magadalene and another Mary the stone rolled away and Jesus’ body nowhere to be found.  They rush off to tell the others.   In the account in John, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb alone. Stunned at what she finds, she runs to tell Peter and another disciple. The men rush to the tomb to check out what she has said. In both stories, we have the first post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus. In Matthew, he appears to the women and the disciples.  In John, Jesus appears only to Mary Magdalene and she then tells the others, “I have seen the Lord.”  The empty tomb.  The stone dropped into the water.  Circles starting to form.

             In last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus appears again. By now, it is evening.  The disciples are in a house, somewhere in Jerusalem, gathered in fear.  Jesus comes to them.  He shows them his wounds and breathes on them.  And then the words, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  The hint of what lies ahead. A bigger circle is forming.  The disciples will not remain in this small place.  They will not sit still, paralyzed by fear, and do nothing.  Jesus is going to send them out to do the work that he started. 

In today’s Gospel lesson, this one from Luke, another post-Resurrection appearance. A  larger circle. Jesus now appears to people who are not part of the small group of women and men closest to him.  On the road outside of Jerusalem, Jesus joins two of his followers who are headed  to the village of Emmaus, some seven miles away.  They do not recognize him. They are discussing the extraordinary events of past few days. When he asks them what they are talking about, they are astonished that he does not seem to know about what has happened.  So they recount the events.  Then Jesus begins to teach them, interpreting the scriptures for them.  As they approach the village, they invite Jesus to join them.  At the table, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them.  Suddenly, they recognize him, and in that same moment he disappears.  They say to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was interpreting the scriptures to us?” Instead of staying in Emmaus, they return to Jerusalem to tell the smaller group of disciples what they have experienced.  Jesus teaching them on the road and how they knew him in the breaking and sharing of bread.

Scripture and shared meal. Key elements in this story.  The pattern of the earliest days of the Jesus Movement.  People gathering in homes to share a meal.  Telling stories about Jesus. Wondering and talking together about the meaning of all that he taught them.  Then going out from those gatherings to spread the good news about Jesus. To live out his teaching to love another.  To build the Church.  We have come a long way since those early days.  The church has become a huge, complicated institution.  We have taken the simple pattern of word and shared meal and dressed it up. Made it grand with vestments and music. Scripture read from lecterns.  The stories and teachings of Jesus proclaimed from the center aisle.  The meal, the Eucharist, begins at a large table, front and center with elaborate coverings and silver vessels.  Words that remind us of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples.  Words that give expression to layers of meanings we have given to the simple actions of sharing bread and wine.  “This is my body, which is given for you.”  “This is my blood of the new Covenant.”  “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Word and Sacrament.  The framework, the basic structure of our common worship.  It is probably most familiar to us in what we do each Sunday morning when we gather here.   With some variation in seasons like Advent or Lent, we follow the same pattern, week after week.  We listen to the Word. We share the bread and wine of communion. This is how we learn about Jesus.  This is how we come to know and experience Jesus as a living presence in our hearts and in our lives.  It is our road to Emmaus experience. Not a one-time, heart-burning-within us moment, but something we do over and over again. The familiarity of its pattern shapes and grounds our faith.  It strengthens us to go out from this place and continue the work that Jesus and those early disciples started. 

Yesterday was the consecration of Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows as Bishop of Indianapolis, a grand event with all the pomp and circumstance the Episcopal Church can muster.  Lots of people from our diocese were there.  Kristin and John White, Andrea Mysen and Rene Brandt and Sadie and Ascher among them. At the same time yesterday, I was at the funeral of Rebekah Rimkus. She was the wife of Bill Rimkus, a deacon in our diocese.  A time of sadness, honoring a woman who had died of brain cancer at the age of 63.  Two very different liturgies, yet both taking place within the basic framework of Word and Sacrament.  A framework that is pliable, flexible.  Opening up to include unique elements. In the consecration: an examination of Jennifer, testimonials to the validity of her election, the giving of symbols of her new position.  In the funeral, space for a eulogy given by one of Rebekah’s daughters, a poem as one of the readings, interment of her ashes in the parish columbarium.  

The consecration of a new bishop, a beginning. A funeral, an ending.  Beginnings and endings—and everything in between.  Framed by familiar ritual of Word and Sacrament.  That is our life in the Church.  Within that structure, we welcome new members and say goodbye to others who are leaving to continue their life’s journey in another place.  We bless pregnant women. We give thanks for newborn babies and adopted childen.  We baptize, we confirm and receive people into the Episcopal Church.  We marry couples. We recognize and commission a variety of ministries. In all of those events, we hear the Word and share the meal. .      

Two people in the fading evening light, heading from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Encountering a stranger.  Then the dawning light of recognition: it is Jesus.  Known and experienced in hearing the scriptures interpreted and in the breaking and sharing of bread.  A small, simple beginning.  What a long way we have come since then.

 

 

 

 

Easter 3; Year A

Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-3,10-17; 1 Peter:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

           

April 16, Easter Day

Kristin White

John 20:1-18

Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have designed it that way.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is hard to find. It’s in the Christian Quarter, just inside the walls of the Old City. I can tell you that I managed to find it three times – two of them in the dark, and on my own – but I couldn’t tell you how. I wandered down what seemed like a side street, which emptied into another, got thoroughly lost on one of those occasions and asked directions from a kind vendor who must have guessed I didn’t have a clue about where I was, and eventually found the church…a different way, each time.

There’s no grand entrance. If you were here for last night’s Vigil, you would have seen on the cover of our bulletin a photo of the archway to the plaza outside the church. It’s marked by an Israeli Defense Force checkpoint and camera, by a hand-painted sign, with a sign above that urging orderly behavior – no pushing or running.

The church was under construction when our group made pilgrimage in January, which added to the chaos. But that church strikes me as a place that probably always has a certain amount of chaos and complication anyway.

In the second century, the emperor Hadrian built a temple to Venus over the site believed to be Jesus’ tomb. By some accounts, he did that to deny Christians access to the place they had been returning to worship since the time when Jesus was resurrected and ascended.

In the year 325, the emperor Constantine, the first to officially tolerate Christianity, reclaimed that space. He called for a church to be built that would enshrine Golgotha, the place of Jesus’ crucifixion, and the tomb, also the place of resurrection.

It’s a big space, as you can probably imagine. And it has been shared for a very long time by different churches – the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic, the Roman Catholic are primary, though Syrian Orthodox and Egyptian Coptic and Ethiopian Christians also hold sway. The key to the church has been held by a Muslim family, the Joudeh family, for 850 years. Their “new” key is 500 years old. A member of that family unlocks the doors to the church every morning at about 4:00.

It’s a big church, with a long history, held dear by many people who have to find a way to share. You can imagine the chaos and complication in the years between 325 and now. There have been fires and fights, persecutions and restorations.

At any given moment, you might walk in the door, next to the marble pillar where pilgrims have traced and carved crosses for centuries, see people laying rosaries for blessing on the anointing stone just inside, hear an orthodox priest chant evening prayer as folks light candles at the place of the crucifixion, join a line that may take an hour, may take much more, to enter the Aedicule, the shrine of Jesus’ tomb.

Chaos and complication are good words for today’s gospel as well. And I’ll confess that, left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have designed it that way, either.

Mary goes in the dark of the early morning to that very place where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands, to find the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. And then she runs back to Peter and the other disciple, and they all run back to the tomb, and somehow it’s important to this gospel writer to say who runs the fastest.

The linens are there, and Jesus is not. The other disciple, the one who runs faster than Peter, sees and believes. And the two disciples go home.

In the midst of all the chaos, all the complication, Mary stands weeping.

Two angels ask her, from the tomb, “Why are you weeping?”

“They have taken my Lord,” she says, “And I don’t know where.”

And then it’s him. He’s right there, but she doesn’t realize.

“Why are you weeping?” Jesus asks Mary Magdalene.

“Just tell me where he is,” she says.

And he says her name. And she knows.

Left to my own devices, I would be inclined to build an orderly and well-signed church, on a main road, with one primary liturgical act going on at a time. Left to my own devices, I would probably wish for a believable and logical story of faith, some kind of provable if-then story, where justice is clean and the moral is clear. Left to my own devices, the gospel we share on the busiest day of the church year would be approachable, recognizable; not chaotic, not outrageous.

It’s a good thing I’m not left to my own devices. Because we need something bigger than that.

Because as hard as it was for me to wander and get lost and found again in the early morning darkness on the way to that church built over the space of cross and tomb, I needed the chaos of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I needed to trace my fingers among those centuries of crosses in that marble pillar at the doorway. I needed to look at the mosaic of Jesus’ body being placed in the tomb (Mary, his mother, helps carry him; she holds his head so tenderly). I needed to see that, at the same time that people wept and prayed at the stone where many believe Jesus’ body was anointed for burial. I needed the frustration of standing in line but not actually ever entering the tomb. I needed the mystery of words chanted in a language I do not know, at the place where Jesus hung on the cross.

We get moments, I believe, where something reaches into the depths of who we are, to the place where both doubt and faith can be found.[1] And in living into the logical everyday, the easily anticipated, the clean and the orderly, I’m not entirely convinced we can see the need for those moments. But chaos? Complication? Confusion and frustration? Well, maybe those disrupt our lives enough that we can find that doubt and faith are not so very far away from one another. In fact, maybe it’s even the case that our doubts bear witness to the power of what it is that we proclaim today.[2]

Because maybe the realities which hold no doubt for us, are also not “large enough to reveal God to us.”[3]

I'll say that again: Because maybe the realities which hold no doubt for us, are also not “large enough to reveal God to us.”[4]

In the complication and the chaos of this day, the Christian faith makes a mighty proclamation, the same ancient claim we will sing as one of our hymns at communion: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life.

It’s massive and chaotic and incomprehensible. It’s the kind of statement you can get lost inside of. And maybe that is a necessary part of it all, a testimony that we are not best left to our own devices, this Easter day, or ever. Because “what we proclaim at Easter is too mighty to be encompassed by certainty, too wonderful to be found only within the borders of our own imaginations.”[5]

She goes to the tomb in the early morning darkness, and he’s not there. And there’s chaos, and running, and the disciples go home. But Mary stands weeping.

“Why are you weeping?” the angels ask.

“They have taken my Lord, and I do not know where,” she says.

“Why are you weeping?” Jesus asks.

“Just tell me where he is,” she says.

And he says her name. And she knows.

Jesus will go on to reveal himself to the disciples – in a locked room; and again with Thomas, whose doubts bear witness to his faith; and once more at day break on the shores of the sea of Galilee, which is the place you can see on the cover of your bulletin this morning.

Thank God. Thank God, on this Easter Day and always, for the chaos and complication that tell us again and again that we are not left to our own devices. Because they’re not big enough to contain God. Because the risk and the promise are so much greater.

Because Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

 

 

[1] Martin Copenhaver, “Pastoral Perspective” Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. 374.

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] Copenhaver, 374

April 14, Good Friday

Deacon Sue Nebel

It has grown so quiet.  It all seems so long ago, the noise and commotion of the morning.  The drama of the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate. The arguments and backpedaling of Pilate and the Jewish leaders. Both sides trying to rid themselves of responsibility for condemning Jesus to death.  The shouts of the chief priests and guards, demanding that he be crucifed.  Later, cruel taunts hurled at Jesus as he hangs on the Cross.  Now it is over.  Jesus and the two criminals who were crucified alongside him are dead.  The crowds have dispersed, rushing off to reach home before sundown.  The women and the Beloved Disciple waited until the bodies were lowered to the ground, so that Mary could hold her son one last time.  Surrounding the grieving woman, the others then led her away.  The soldiers too have left, carrying the bodies of the two other men, probably to a common grave.

In the fading light, two figures. Joseph of Arimathea, a Jew of high enough standing that Pilate has granted his request to be given the body of Jesus.  And Nicodemus, who has become a follower of Jesus.  The two men move quickly with their burden, because the body must be buried before sundown.  In a nearby garden, they wrap Jesus’ body in spices and cloth and place it in a new, unused tomb.  The women will come later, after the Sabbath, to complete the preparation for burial. Their work done, the two men depart. Darkness settles over the garden.  

Darkness, despair, grief.  With the death of Jesus, all hope seems lost.  What now?  His followers promised to be faithful, to journey with him and then did, all the way to the Cross.  What do they do now?  They do what people have done for ages in the face of unexpected change or loss that upends their lives.  In need of a sense of order and structure in the midst of confusion and chaos, they turn to the rituals of their traditions.  They engage in actions that enable them to conclude one part of a story and take the first awkward steps forward into an uncertain future.   

 Like the early followers of Jesus, we too have promised to follow Jesus.  We made a promise in our baptism, a promise that we renew from time to time.  We pledged to accept Jesus as our Lord. To be loyal, faithful to him.  To follow him.  To journey with him on a path that will lead to the final days of his life.  It is where we find ourselves now.  Last night, we entered the Triduum, the Great Three Days.  The long liturgy of our Christian tradition that frames the events of these days.  Last night we remembered Jesus’ last night with his disciples.  We became part of the story.  We shared a meal. We heard Jesus’ words as he shared bread and wine with those at the table with him.  Words familiar to us in the ritual of the Eucharist.  We washed one another’s feet, following the command that he gave to the disciples.  Today, on Good Friday, we follow Jesus through the next part of the journey—the path to the Cross. Crucifixion and death, the rock-bottom part of the story. 

Like the early followers of Jesus, in the sadness and upheaval of this day, we too turn to ritual.  Some of it familiar, some of it unique to this day.  In few minutes, Kristin will bring a wood cross forward and place it here at the foot of the steps.  We will then have the opportunity to come forward and pause for a moment at that cross.  To honor it.  To affirm it as the central symbol of our Christian faith.  To embrace the Cross and its story as part of ourselves.  

Then we will turn to other, more familiar rituals: prayer and communion. Actions that are part of another baptismal promise: to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.  It is what we do each time we gather for worship.  Listen to the stories of Scripture, offer prayer, and share the Eucharistic meal.  Today, opening our hearts and minds to the wider Church and the vast world of which we are part, we will pray the Solemn Collects.  A collection of biddings and responses modeled on ancient prayers of the Church. They are used only on Good Friday. Then, finally, we will share communion, but not in the usual way.  No bringing forward of gifts.  No Eucharistic Prayer.  No consecrating of elements.  Instead, simple prayers and then a sharing of bread and wine saved from last night’s liturgy.

With some sense of order restored, we will depart in silence. To continue the journey and move forward. To the next part of the story.

 

 

 

 

Good Friday

Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

April 13, Maundy Thursday

Pastor Frank Senn

Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35

We returned to our homes last Sunday after our Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday services and were horrified to learn about the explosions at two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt. Two suicide bombers detonated explosives that killed 45 and injured more than a hundred worshipers. ISIS claimed responsibility and threatened more attacks on Christians. This has happened before in Egypt, and elsewhere. One of the explosions was set off at the patriarchal church of St. Mark in Alexandria with the Coptic Pope Tawadros II  inside celebrating the Divine Liturgy.

One positive note is that Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar — the leading center of learning in Sunni Islam — condemned the attacks, calling them a “despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents.” There has been some mutual support between Christians and Muslims in Eygpt. Coptic Christians formed a protective ring around Muslim protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo as they prayed during protests several years ago. Then, following threats against Christian churches by Islamists, Muslims guarded the Coptic Christian Church of St. George in Cairo during the liturgy.

These events remind us that gathering for worship can be a dangerous act. Jewish and Christian liturgies originated during nights of great danger. We heard read the story of the first Passover when Jews gathered in houses whose doorposts had been smeared with the blood of a lamb. This was their protection when the angel of death passed over Egypt killing the first born of every family and of every flock. Jews who were gathered for their Seder must have heard the cries of those who lost sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers.

Passover Seders have not been safe for the Jews either. Down through the centuries they became times of persecution. In Europe during the Middle Ages Jews were accused of eating Christian children at their Seders. The riskiest Seders occurred in the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland. These nights of terror are also a part of the Passover tradition and I believe it is sacrilegious for Christians to think they can celebrate Jewish liturgies and ignore this history.

But the night on which our Lord Jesus celebrated a supper with his disciples was also a night of terror. Jesus apparently had his suspicions that Judas was arranging to have him arrested. When we recite the text of the Words of Institution, it usually begins: “On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus took bread…” A disciple’s betrayal is built into our Eucharistic memory.

The synoptic gospels say that Jesus held a Passover Seder with his disciples; the fourth gospel disagrees. John says this last supper was before the Passover. In the chronology of this evangelist Jesus was hanging on the cross, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, at the hour when the lambs for the Passover were being slaughtered in the Temple. Christ’s own Passover from death to life occurred as the Jewish Passover was being celebrated.

We hear the narrative of the institution of the Lord’s Supper from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. He brings the tradition of the institution to bear on the disordered Lord’s Supper celebrated by the Corinthian congregation. For them the sacrament of unity had become an occasion for disunity between different classes of people in the congregation, who weren’t even served the same menus. And the slaves who arrived late at the meal liturgy got nothing. Paul ominously warned those who failed to “discern the Lord’s body” that they “eat and drink judgment against themselves.  For this reason some of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Cor. 11:29-30). The zone of holiness around this Table can be violated.

Some have thought that these social issues were the reason the sacramental meal of bread and wine, received as the body and blood of Christ, were separated out from the agape meal. But that’s not likely the case. It is more likely that the gathering of Christians for their evening meal in the home of a member or in an inn rented for the occasion fell under an imperial ban on all supper clubs in the early second century. Apparently the Roman government felt that subversive discussions could take place at the meal symposiums. And Christians were at least as subversive in Roman eyes as Greek philosophers or Roman politicians. So Christians began celebrating their Eucharist in the morning with just the bread and wine. It was too dangerous for them to meet in the evening, except in the cemeteries, since Romans respected burial and cemetery customs.

Gathering for worship is risky business. It may not seem so for north shore congregations. But here’s a piece of liturgy that is risky for us: the foot washing that gives this Thursday its name—Maundy, an old English corruption of the Latin “Mandatum,” “command.” “I give you a new commandment,” Jesus said to his disciples, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As this ancient rite has been revived in recent years, some worshipers have found it awkward, even distasteful. Some have substituted hand washing in place of foot washing—although some worshipers might recall during Holy Week that Pontius Pilate washed his hands to show that he bore no responsibility for the execution of Jesus. No hand washing. We are invited to wash one another’s feet. And I’ll tell you, it can feel real good. Many of us have been on our feet all day, feet bound in shoes. How good to feels to take those shoes off and put our feet in warm water and have someone wipe them, maybe with a bit of massage thrown in.

Let me tell about a church that does this every week. Central Lutheran Church is a huge neo-gothic stone structure in downtown Minneapolis and every Monday members serve a hot meal to street people. In the Restoration Center they also provide some basic health services. And some of the guests who have been out walking all day long get their feet washed. Church people get down on their knees in front of street people and wash their feet, enacting what it means to be a servant church.

Maundy Thursday gives us the freedom and grace to become the kind of community Jesus envisioned: not one centered on liturgy that remembers things done in the past, but one centered on liturgy that leads us to act in the present—even to risk getting out of our comfort zone. As we contemplate the way Jesus showed his love for us on the cross (which we might do while keeping watch later tonight), we might also be prompted by the Spirit to leave behind things that bind us: fear of the unknown, distrust of those who are unlike ourselves, maybe even our own feelings of inadequacy.

When we are called by the new commandment of Jesus to love one another, we are given liberation from those fears and the strength to respond. Whatever we do because of the experiences of this night will transform someone else’s life as well as our own. Whatever action we take to love another person in Christ may move that person closer to redemption. Whatever we risk of our own comfort and tranquility will be used by God to restore others who are lost and broken. When we’re talking about love, it’s not about us; it’s about those who need to be loved.

Yes, gathering for liturgy can be a dangerous thing. And no liturgy is more dangerous to the status quo than the one we participate in tonight. Amen.

April 9, Palm Sunday

Deacon Sue Nebel

Palm Sunday.  The beginning of Holy Week.  A marker event in the life of the Church.  We do things differently on this day.  Today, instead of coming into the building through various doors to gather for worship in this space, we went to Puhlman Hall.  A place where we usually gather after the Sunday liturgy, not before.  A large crowd of us gathered there.  Noisy conversation, excited children—a sense of anticipation of what was to come.  After the palms were blessed and distributed, we headed out the door, parading along the sidewalk.  Singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor” and waving our palms.  We must have been quite a sight. People walking or driving along Wilmette Avenue couldn’t help but notice us.  Those familiar with Christian tradition probably nodded their heads, saying to themselves, ‘It must be Palm Sunday.’  Others may have simply wondered, ‘What in the world are those people doing?’

Good question.  What in the world are we doing?  We are remembering. We are remembering the story in the Gospel lesson that we just heard.  Jesus entering Jerusalem, riding on a colt.  Hailed by his followers as a king.  To remember something is to recall it, to relive it. To remember is to re-member, to become part of it.  We do it again and again in our lives.  Remembering, reliving events. Experiencing them again in all their detail. This desire to remember propels us to go on pilgrimagesto religious or historical sites.  To visit significant places in our family history.  We want to be in those places. be part of them, if only for a short time.  Claim their part in our own story. 

As we come to Palm Sunday and look ahead to Holy Week, we begin a process of re-membering.  Becoming part of the story of the last days of Jesus’ life.   We remembered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with our own parade and rejoicing. We will do it again later in this service when we hear the Passion Gospel.  We will hear it read by several people, taking the roles of people in the story.  We will have our own active part. At the beginning of the service, we joined in in acclaiming Jesus as king.  In the Passion Gospel, we will be part of the crowd demanding that Jesus be crucified.  As we move forward through Holy Week, we will continue to re-member. A meal together. Foot-washing. Standing at the foot of the Cross

The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is a joyous, seemingly triumphant event.  And yet, in the version from Luke that we heard this morning, there is an ominous note.  In the crowd are some Pharisees, members of the group that Jesus has confronted time and time again in his ministry.  Responding to their criticism, their arguments, their warnings.  Here in the midst this celebration of Jesus as king, they call out to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”  I think this is more than the usual objection raised by these leaders who want to preserve Jewish laws.  Maintain the status quo. I think the Pharisees are warning Jesus, “You are doing something dangerous.”  It is highly unlikely that this jublilant crowd, proclaiming Jesus as king has gone unnoticed by the Roman authorities.  The Gospel writer focuses on Jesus and his followers.  But is not hard to imagine soldiers or other officials of the ruling government lurking around the edges of this scene.  Taking note of the crowd, the words.  The potential threat to their power.

Our Palm Sunday parade this morning was a kind of public  event. We moved outside  of our building and processed to the church in demonstration of our faith.  We didn’t have to worry if the Wilmette police were hanging around to monitor our activity.  We were claiming a set of priorities, different from much of the world.  But we were hardly posing a threat to civic order.  Yet, this day has its own kind of ominous, dark tone to it.  The events in the world around us, especially those of this past week.  The use of chemical weapons in Syria.  The military action taken by the United States in response.  Heightened tension in the Mideast. A sense of uncertainty, even fear, about what might happen permeates the festive mood.  In the past few days, as I anticipated what we would do here this morning, I wondered to myself, ‘How can we participate in this joyful event in an atmosphere of concern and worry?’ Then I realized that people have been doing this for years, for generations.  Remembering. Being part of.  Entering into the story of Jesus, the stories of Holy Week.  The entry into Jerusalem. The last meal with the disciples.  Betrayal. Arrest and trial. Death.  People have done this in times of peace and prosperity. They have done it in the face of upheaval and conflict in the world. They have done it in spite of sadness, loss, or pain in their lives.  They have been faithful.  Journeying in solidarity with Jesus, as he moves through the final days of his life to the Cross. 

Today, we join with the long line of Christians who have made this journey throughout the years. Today, we—the faithful in this time and in this place--carry the tradition forward.  Holy Week is here.  Let the journey begin.

 

 

 

 

Palm Sunday; Year A

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11;  Luke 19:28-40

Passion Gospel: Matthew 26:14-27:66

           

           

              

           

 

April 2, the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Meghan Murphy-Gill

John 11:1-45

On Wednesday night this week, Andrew, Albie, and I got back from New Orleans, where we’d spent about eight days with our friends and their daughter. Over the course of our vacation, we’d wandered the streets of the Bywater neighborhood, taken streetcars to the gorgeous Garden District, and eaten a lot of 50-cent oysters.

We’ve known our friends for almost a decade and a half. I befriended them shortly after moving to Chicago. My friend was with me the night I met Andrew.

Our friends are atheists. They have been their whole lives. And when we first met, our faith intrigued them. They had lots of questions, asked through a sort of side-eye. Later on in our friendship, it threatened them. I know that because last year, my friend told me so.

She is one of my closest and oldest friends--and yet, with her, I explicitly avoid talking about faith, because I don’t want her to think I’m judging her. That’s what had threatened her in the past, and it caused a rift in our friendship. We didn’t talk for several years. But somehow, now God always comes up. That’s usually thanks to her.

For her, faith is totally nuts. So she has a lot of questions about how Andrew and I, who have so much in common with her and Tim, could have such fundamentally different belief systems. But she is into the idea that Jesus was someone who preached justice. She has hippie roots and and so enjoys the idea of Jesus as a sort of radical hero of the people. She recently confessed to me, because she knows how important this community has become to our family, that she wishes she had something similar--a group that regularly practices rituals that celebrate community and justice--just without the whole God part of it. “That’s fair,” I’ve told her. “But you’d probably be welcomed anyway into an Episcopal community if you really want all those things.”

The problem is not just that she doesn’t believe in God; she thinks central Christian beliefs are weird, if not potentially dangerous--particularly our belief in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. She worries that Christians are not concerned enough about this life we all share in. I think that to an extent, she’s right.

Freda and I found ourselves in another conversation about faith last week. We were soaking in a hot tub while our kids slept. The night air was cool. The oleander blossoms occasionally unmoored from their branches and fell softly from the tree arched above us. (It was seriously amazing.) We were sipping the Sazeracs I’d made everyone--probably how we ended up in such deep, theological conversation. As usual, we disagreed about a few things: I believe in God. God does not factor into her beliefs about the world. I believe that Jesus was more than a nice guy who lived about 2000 years ago. She’s not convinced.

But we agreed on most things, and especially this idea: This world is important. Our friendship is real. The richness of life matters. And it’s crucial that we share it together.

One of my favorite theologians, Edward Schillebeeckx once told a gathering of theologians: Extra mundum, nulla salusThere is no salvation outside of the world. It’s a sort of retort to the conviction, “There is no salvation outside of the church,” a sentiment of breathtaking exclusivism once commonly held by the Roman Catholic Church that just doesn’t go very far in today’s modern world.

Schillebeeckx’s expression captures what one scholar calls his “grace-optimism.” He believed that it’s in creation and human life, where we encounter God.

When we love one another--through friendship--we embody God’s love. Friendship is then a sacrament of divine love. It offers us a glimpse into God’s love for the world.

Mary Catherine Hilkert wrote in America magazine after Schillebeeckx’s death that “These human ‘fragments of salvation,’ as [Schillebeeckx] called them, are a share in the final triumph of God’s grace, which was promised in a definitive way in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Christians are called to participate in the living story of Jesus by ‘writing a fifth Gospel with their lives.’”

In other words: This world is important. Our friendship is real. The richness of life matters. And it’s crucial that we share it together.

I wonder if this is why Jesus weeps for his friend Lazarus in today’s gospel. He knows this to be true. When Jesus dined with Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary had anointed Jesus with fine oil and her own hair. There is no question that Jesus enjoyed the richness of life, that his friendships were real.

Perhaps Jesus weeps because he knows his own death is imminent, that the day when he no longer eats and drinks with his friends in this life is coming. He was fully human, so it stands to reason that he was afraid, worried, and lonely in those fears. What confusing times those must have been for him leading up to his arrival in Jerusalem.

John tells us that Jesus was “greatly disturbed” when he arrives at the tomb. What specifically do you think was disturbing him at that moment? I’m not convinced he knew for sure he’d be performing any miracles that day. I think there was a lot of hemming and hawing on his part. But that when he came face to face with the reality that his friend was dead, in a tomb, he was moved.

And then he brought Lazarus, dead four days, back to life.

It’s an astonishing miracle. It’s so supernatural that it seemingly flies in the face a professed sacramental imagination.

But Jesus didn’t call Lazarus’ ghost or spirit out from the tomb.

He called out to Lazarus himself who walks out of the tomb smelling of the very death he has experienced and risen from. It is Lazarus in body and spirit. “Unbind him, and let him go,” Jesus commands.

This world is important. Our friendship is real. The richness of life matters. And it’s crucial that we share it together.

This is a profound, sacramental moment in the life of Jesus. He is revealing who he is. A grieving friend. A human person. And also God who is the source of life. This moment is sacramental because it offers us a glimpse into God’s love for the world.

“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” Jesus says to Martha.

Now, the friendship I share with my friend is not the same as seeing a someone raised from the dead. And to be honest, I’m a little wary of experiencing such a thing. But I believe. And in my friendship, I see the glory of God, not just in spite of our differences, but probably because of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 26, the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Kristin White

The Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 26, 2017

John 9:1-42

 

Don’t think of an elephant.

Okay, what are you thinking about right now?

That’s actually the title of a book I find pretty compelling, written some years ago by a linguist named George Lakoff. He writes about the way our minds create patterns of understanding, which he refers to as frames. Once that frame is set, all you need is one word or prompt to evoke whatever that frame is. So, my guess, you all have looked at a photo, or read a book, or visited the zoo, or gone on safari, and seen an elephant. Maybe you have even ridden one! When I was growing up, we had Packy the Pachyderm, our beloved elephant at the Oregon Zoo. Packy was born there in 1962, and we celebrated his birthday every year with a peanut butter-flavored birthday cake for everybody who came to the zoo. Whatever your own elephant story, you are very likely to already have a pattern, or a frame, which helps you to understand what that creature is. And that frame is probably so clearly set for you that even as I tell you not to think about an elephant, you’re thinking about one. Aren’t you?

Well, that’s the author’s point. And another of his points is that once you have that pattern of understanding set, it’s very, very difficult to change it. If someone tells you that elephants are tiny, or that they have fins and exists only under the water, or that they are carnivorous…you’re likely to dismiss that information. The more outrageous the statement, the more inconsistent with our version of reality, the more likely that each of us is not just to dismiss the information, but also, potentially, to dismiss the person who shares it with us.

And the more dear that a frame is to you – the more it says something important about who you are, or what is true about your family or the community you have chosen, or about the nature of the God you worship, or the way you live your life – the more likely, the author says, that you are to protect your frame. The more likely you are, and I am, to shut down the person or the thing that might disrupt what we believe to be true.

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The frame of understanding that the disciples have in today’s gospel is that blindness is a kind of sacred punishment. Somebody has to be at fault, someone must be to blame, for this person to exist in this state of being. It makes things more logical, right? Because if someone has done something wrong, then their actions must carry some kind of divinely proportionate response. So, it follows, that if you don’t do something wrong, then you won’t face into that sort of consequence. Right? And so the chaos is managed. Right?

Well, no, actually. The disciples ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus responds, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

Then he goes about the messy work of restoring the man’s sight, with spit and dirt and a pool called Sent. And as the man begins to see, the disciples lose sight of their frame – because the one that would call him a sinner no longer holds.

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The neighbors and other folks in the community have only known this man as blind. They understand him as a blind man who begs. And that frame is so firmly set that they don’t even recognize the man who has received his sight – even when he tells them who he is.

“Isn’t this the man who used to beg?” they ask.

And some say yes, and others say, “No, it is someone like him.”

He says, “I am the man.” He says it again. He says it again.

The people ask, “How were your eyes opened?” And he tells them.

“Where is the man who did this?” they ask.

Without having Jesus there, without seeing the miracle for themselves, will they risk this scandal of trust? Will they trade their old frame for a new one?

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The Pharisees love the law. They believe it to be a gift from God, and they claim Moses’ authority as they interpret those 613 commandments, the commandments that have been handed down from generation to generation. These are the frame that God has given the people Israel, the Pharisees believe, these are a guide and an explanation of how to live righteous and faithful lives.

It turns out that the day that Jesus spread mud made from dirt and his own spit on the man’s eyes, was actually the Sabbath. And one of the most important of those 613 commandments, in fact one of the very special 10 commandments, is the one that calls people to set aside one day every week for rest and worship and study.

But not, apparently, for the doing of miracles.

When the neighbors and those who have seen the man born blind as a beggar bring him to the Pharisees, the Pharisees ask the same questions of the man that his neighbors have already asked. But instead of asking where the miracle-working man is, the Pharisees cast doubt: “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” Others ask: “How can a man who is a sinner do such things?”

Holy people follow the rules. Sinners are the ones who break them.

The frame is set, and so the chaos is managed. Right?

To preserve their understanding, the Pharisees need Jesus to be the villain of this story – they need for him to be the problem, the rule-breaker, the sinner…and never, never the hero.[1]

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Even the man’s own parents distance themselves from this miracle that defies understanding. When the authorities call them forward, they claim their son, at least, but not the transformation that now makes him dangerous.

The parents are afraid. They live in a community governed by a frame that says the Pharisees’ authority holds, that living according to the rules of Torah reflects righteousness. They recognize that anyone who calls Jesus the savior will be cast out of the life that they know. So when it comes down to it, they “put their own safety ahead of his welfare.”[2]

“We know that he is our son, and we know that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that he can see now, and we do not know who made it possible. Ask him!” they say.

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Almost everyone fails the man born blind, from the disciples who want to blame him as a sinner, to the community that doesn’t recognize him because he is no longer dependent, to the religious leaders who want to condemn Jesus for transforming in a way that doesn’t square with their practice, to his own parents who abandon him even as they seek to protect their own well-being.[3]

The only two figures who remain steadfast in this story are Jesus, and the man whose sight has been restored. He tells the truth and he tells the truth and he tells the truth again.

“You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” the authorities ask. And they drive him out of the synagogue.

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Chaos is a scary thing. And our frames of understanding become dear to us indeed.

In the end, Jesus learns what has happened. He goes to find the man whose eyes he smeared on the Sabbath, and asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

The man whose sight has been restored answers, “Tell me who he is, so that I can believe in him.” Jesus responds, “You have seen him, and the one speaking to you is he.”

“Lord, I believe,” the man says.

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Jesus never promises us that we will not face chaos. Boats find their way into storms, people we love get sick and die, temptation confronts us in spaces of wilderness. There is never a divine promise that we get to avoid the scary stuff of this life; stuff that shows us time and again that we are vulnerable, that we are, in fact, not immortal.

I think that in this story Jesus destroys the frames people have set because, finally, our frames will not protect us from the chaos, either.

But God so loves the world that he comes into it. In the person of Jesus, God comes into the chaos. In this story, he spits into dirt and uses the mud he has made to help a person see. In another, he promises living water. Soon, he will raise the dead.

And soon again, he will pick up his cross.

 

 

[1] Deborah Kapp. “Pastoral Reflection,” Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 2010: 118.

[2] ibid, 120

[3] ibid, 120