Acts 4: 5-12 Psalm 23 (page 612-613 in the Psalter of the BCP) 1 John 3:16-24 John 10: 11-18 Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron 4th Sunday of Easter,
Acts 4: 5-12 Psalm 23 (page 612-613 in the Psalter of the BCP) 1 John 3:16-24 John 10: 11-18 Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron 4th Sunday of Easter,
The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – April 12, 2015 – Easter 2, Year B: John 20:19-31
Happy Easter! Still!
We get to say that for fifty days as we celebrate resurrection right up through the day of Pentecost. And actually every Sunday all year is a celebration of resurrection, that’s what we are about in this place all the time. But during the actual season of Easter that we hear the resurrection stories, we sing the “Alleluia” hymns, we decorate to proclaim that “He is Risen!” and we pray the prayers that remind us what it means to be a resurrection people.
Now on the second Sunday of Easter we always hear the story of Thomas, “The Twin.” Note that he’s not referred to as “the doubter” in the gospel although that’s how tradition has come to speak of him. Thomas was the one who needed more than the disciples testimony in order to believe and so he’s gotten a bit of a tough rap through the ages. Even after all the other disciples had come to believe, Thomas was clear with them that he needed to see for himself: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe,” Thomas told them.
And so Jesus came back to the room where the disciples met again. And that in itself was a beautiful thing, a gift of sorts. Jesus came back again and without hesitation, gave Thomas what he needed. The famous artwork by Caravaggio depicts that moment with Thomas actually placing his hand in the side of the wounded yet risen Christ. It’s a powerful piece that communicates both the humanity and the grace of the encounter as Jesus actually guides Thomas’ hand to the wound in his side. There was touch and there was forgiveness; there was reconciliation and there was recognition of a miracle all wound up in Jesus’ granting Thomas and the others a profound, resurrection-like peace.
And so here we are today and one of the things I always do on this Sunday is remind us that there is room in this place for doubt, for questions, for the kind of wrestling that Episcopalians believe strengthens faith rather than threatens it. I have told you before that I consider Thomas one of the patron saints of the Episcopal Church because I know that many of us found our way here, or stayed here in this denomination because there’s room for us to question and to continue searching even as we proclaim a budding or a changing, evolving faith.
Life brings new questions to us all. And our needs change in terms of what sustains belief in us. And so we make room for the kind of growth that comes from doubts and that springs from honest questions of faith. As a general practice, we invite the Thomas’ in to be here among us; we even call out our inner Thomas’ and ask them to be at home here. And it’s important that we make that known to all who come.
I want to take this one more step this morning, because making room for Thomas is an important piece this story but this isn’t only a story about an individual’s journey in faith. This isn’t only about Jesus accommodating Thomas. I think that Thomas is also giving a gift to the Body.
Here’s what I mean:
Thomas actually calls the Body of Christ to a certain level of accountability in this story and in our story too. He demands that there be some evidence behind what we say, and what we preach, and who it is that we say we are. I think Thomas very faithfully raises the bar for how we come to express being the Body of Christ, for how we are church for one another and for this world. He raises the bar because he wants resurrection to be more than testimony. He wants it to be an experience.
Remember that Thomas came to Jesus having seen all that went before this moment. He’s often quoted as the one who needed to see more, but sometimes I think Thomas’ challenge was that he’d seen too much. For several years at this point in the story, Thomas had witnessed all the people who needed healing; they’d come to Jesus in droves. He’d seen all the people who were hungry gathering in crowds around Jesus asking for bread. He’d walked with Jesus throughout the entire region and so Thomas had seen the brokenness in this world. And in this gospel, Thomas was actually the only disciple who had said that he would follow Jesus all the way to the cross. So he’d watched the arrest, the trial, and witnessed the crucifixion too.
And so when it came to resurrection Thomas’ bar was high because his experiences had been painful and they had been real. So words alone weren’t going to do it for Thomas.
And he makes me wonder if words alone ever should.
Part of what this story tells us is that as Body of Christ we have a responsibility to be more than our words. We have a responsibility to be an experience of all those things that we say we are about, a visible, tangible experience of forgiveness, reconciliation, love, healing and peace. That’s what the Thomas’ of the world need. That’s what the Thomas’ in us need.
The words matter a great deal, but only because they shape us. The words have genuine, transformative meaning when we embody them (which is in itself a theological, Christological statement). “The Word became flesh” is how this gospel began and it’s how we are to live, as Body of Christ. It’s the shape we take that matters most to the Thomas’ of this world.
Absolution takes hold when our sides are open enough to receive those who seek forgiveness. The passing of the peace means something even more when we reach out beyond our own walls and be that peace for others. “The gifs of God for the people of God” transforms all of us when all of God’s children are welcome and encouraged to receive that for which we hunger. And proclamations of “Alleluia!” truly change lives when lives that have been changed are willing to be that kind of new life for the world everyday.
There are so many people in this world who are hungry for an experience of resurrection. People who are tired of just words. Or people who are exhausted by the words and the actions of faith actually contradicting each other. Thomas set the bar high while demanding something of us that is gift to us all. While he’s growing in faith, Thomas’ needs grow the Body in our ability to offer that faith, to proclaim it and live it with integrity. The opening collect put it as a prayer: “May we show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith.”
The good news of the gospel is that that as Body of Christ, with God’s help we’re up to the challenge. Not a perfect people by any means. We are a wounded people who, like Thomas, have seen a lot; but we are on the rise, we are always on the rise.
So place your hands, those who hunger, those who search, those who hurt. Place your hands, those who question, those who doubt, those who fear. Place your hands those who have seen too much or have yet to see whatever it is you need to believe.
Place your hands, all you people of God. And help us rise with you.
The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – Sermon preached on April 5, 2015 – Easter Day
So I think the scariest thing about resurrection is that we don’t expect it, we aren’t looking for it, really. And so when resurrection comes, we don’t know what’s happening.
And yet it’s how the story plays out every time! Every year this is where we stand. At the empty tomb. The bolder rolled away. Angels present. Jesus risen.
This is how the gospel story plays out every time, and the message is that this is how our story plays out too! That’s the grace. So, if you hear nothing else this morning here this: This isn’t only about Jesus rising from the dead (which is news enough,) it’s also about us. This is our story too! Resurrection comes. Not every minute. Not every hour. Not every day. But every time.
Resurrection comes. Resurrection always comes.
It’s why we’re here this morning, among other reasons, I know: your parents made you, or your spouse made you, or you felt like “it’s Easter so we have to get the kids to church.” Or maybe you work here and your boss would have had some questions for you tomorrow if you weren’t here this morning. There are always other reasons and frankly some of those reasons help us when we need them to, but really, we’re here with candles lit, lights on, flowers everywhere, and Alleluias all around because resurrection happens! And if there’s anything we need to celebrate, if there is anything the world needs to hear, it’s this: Resurrection comes. And so there is hope.
There is always hope.
Now the women in the gospel didn’t expect resurrection that first Easter morning, either, nobody did. Even tough Jesus had told he disciples in language as explicit as, “In three days I will rise again,” they still didn’t know what was happening. Resurrection took even those who had been walking every day with Jesus completely by surprise.
Now granted a lot had happened since Jesus had laid out for them how the story was going to play out. They’d watched him get arrested and put on trial. They had seen him mocked and condemned and killed. At least one of them had betrayed him at least one of them had denied him and most of them had fled for cover in the midst of it all. And there had been witnesses to his body being laid in the tomb. So they knew without a doubt that he had died. And so it’s hard to blame them for resurrection being last thing they expected to find that morning.
And I think all of that is true of us too. We wake to each morning having seen a lot, having lived a lot. Sure, we’ve heard the promise of good news. But we’ve also watched the nightly news and the numbers of tombs whose boulders seem unmovable are extremely high. We’re putting one another on trial at every turn. Condemnation of all kinds runs rampant in this world. The tendency toward mocking has hit an all time high. Unfair, unjust deaths are everywhere. And so it’s no wonder our expectations are off. It’s no wonder resurrection is unexpected and even a little scary. We’re getting far too good at all the other options.
But today is about adjusting those expectations! It’s about reminding ourselves that resurrection comes. Not every minute. Not every hour. Not every day. But every time.
Resurrection comes. Resurrection always comes. So are you looking for it? Are you expecting it? What would new life look like in your life? In our church? In our community? In this world?
Now it’s hard to answer those questions if you’re helping to hold the boulders in place. Let’s just name that tendency here and now. Come on, be honest . . . we all do it and Easter is a good time to stop. Either jump in and do some pushing – like in that story of Lazarus when it was the people who moved the boulder so that the miracle of new life could walk forward – or step back and allow the angels to do their work like we heard in the story today.
Easter calls for both – an engaged effort on all of our parts toward helping new life come to be in this world, along with a humble recognition that we can’t force resurrection. That final, ultimate Grace comes from God.
The good news is that God is doing that work, always. In fact that’s what God is fundamentally about: moving boulders, opening tombs, bringing new life. Resurrection!
So today permission has been officially, divinely granted us to change our expectations, as scary as that might be. Resurrection will take us to new places. Resurrection will challenge us. Resurrection will change us. And if we share a bit of all of this, we can begin to change the expectations of our world too. And who knows what might happen then.
The story we heard today is our hope. This is our future, all of ours. Resurrection is how the story ultimately plays out, every time.
May we expect it to be so.
The Rev. Jennifer Adams – Sermon preached on April 3, 2015
I’m coming down here in the aisle to preach, because this is where I want to be today. Not alone up there, although it never really feels like that. You’re never very distant. But today I want to be right here, so that we can reach out to each other more easily. So that we can huddle if we need to. So that nobody is alone, because today, of all days, nobody should have to be.
I actually think that is the message that’s tucked in to the story of Good Friday. Nobody is alone in this. Humanity’s not even alone in this. “This” meaning life, “this” meaning death, “this” meaning hurt or suffering or injustice. I think that’s the message tucked in to this story of Good Friday. And I think that ‘s the message that Good Friday wants to tuck inside of all of us.
“Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” The beloved disciple was with them too and while none of them have gotten the fame that Judas or Peter or Pilate have gotten over the ages, they were right there at the foot of the cross, together.
And while they were standing there on what had to be the most painfully complicated day of their lives, they were given something. Standing there by the cross, they were given one another.
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother. And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home,” the gospel says. So on this of all days, the people at the foot of the cross became family for each other. And none of them had to be alone on this day or any day.
And so sometimes I’ve wondered if Good Friday is actually the birthday of the church. I know we have resurrection coming, so rebirth is on its way. And our numbers are higher on that day so in every way it’s more celebratory. But on that day the women and the disciples all just ran in lots of different directions, frightened by the empty tomb. I also know that traditionally we acknowledge the church’s birthday on Pentecost fifty-three days from now – because that’s when we celebrate that the Spirit came upon the disciples. And so I promise that on Pentecost, we will celebrate birth.
But I wonder if today is a birthday too, or we should at least let it be. This is that moment in the story when some of the people who loved Jesus sat together, close enough to reach out to each other, aware of the needs of the other and present to the suffering of this world. Together they watched the sky go black. They experienced their leaders’ fears. They knew the disciples’ struggles. They shared their own pain and confusion and the unknowing of it all. And in the midst of all of that something amazing happened.
Something holy happened.
As they sat there, God was not only present in Christ, but God was present to them too. And this is a miracle not to lose today. God was present to them – redefining their way of being together. God was showing them how to love and giving them to each other. They became household right there at the foot of the cross. I would argue that in many ways, they were at least beginning to be church.
And so I want to say that as hard as this is, we’re OK here today. We’re beginning again here today. We have been called to be church here in this place, maybe to help rebirth the church as a people who know our place among the suffering of this world.
Here at the cross God is showing us how to love. God is giving us one another. So remember to stand close enough to reach out to one another and to others too. Behold our brothers, our sisters, our kids! Behold one another as church! Because from this place, maybe most especially in this place, God is holding us.
From this place we can become the kind of household that redefines what it means to do love in this world.
The Rev. Jennifer Adams – Sermon preached on March 29, 2015 – Palm Sunday, Year B: Mark 14:1-15:47
A friend shared a quote with me this week that she heard on the radio. A famous author (whose name she couldn’t remember so I can’t attribute it directly) said something like this: “The suspense we feel when hear a story isn’t the direct result of not knowing the ending.” Even though that’s how we tend to think about it. If we don’t know how the story ends then it will grip us, right? But really, that’s not necessarily true. Knowing the ending doesn’t spoil anything, this author said, because suspense isn’t about the ending at all – turns out that the element of surprise comes primarily from not knowing from how we’re going to get there.
And I think that captures this Holy Week exactly. And I think that captures our lives exactly.
We know the ending of this gospel story. Even non-regular church go-ers know the ending of this weeks’ gospel story. We know next week’s ending too. And the ending never changes. He dies. He rises. And yet it gets us every time.
Nobody came here this morning thinking that we were going to avoid the cross this year. Nobody came here expecting that maybe this time Judas would decide not to betray Jesus or that Peter would decide not to deny him. Nobody expected the trial to turn out differently or that the ending today would be anything other than the cross. And more than that we know that next week there will be angels and an empty tomb. Jesus will have risen from the dead and our cries will have moved from “Hossanna!” through “Crucify Him!” to “Alleluia!”
And we don’t have to pretend that we won’t get there. Because we will. Preachers are already working on what they’ll say next Sunday. Flowers have been ordered. Anthems are being learned. We know where we’re headed.
Jesus rises from the dead and will make all things new.
But there is suspense, no matter how many times we hear this story we hold our breath whenever he breathes his last. Every time. One of the quietest moments in the life of our church is when we read that line.
We even know the conclusion to each chapter that gets us there! That was the last supper with his friends. There was betrayal by one of them and denial by another. He was arrested. He was put on trial and put on the cross. He died. And then he rose from the dead. But even knowing all of that and having heard it over and over again, we wonder somewhere in our hearts, how it is that we’re going to get there.
And I think there is suspense comes because this is our story too and every time we enter this week, it is we who are unfolding, not God. I’m not in the same place that I was last year. Neither is anybody here. Neither is our world. And I wonder every day what God is going to do with all of this. How is God going to get us there? How is God going to get us to that place, that moment, that grace that is new life?
And so I’ve come to think that it’s our story that brings suspense to this day, not God’s. God has given this gift once and for all – to all – suffering with – dying with – rising to new life – redeeming this world – granting salvation. Done, an ending that never changes!
But every time we enter this week we are unfolding still. And so we hold our breath as he breathes his last and we wonder for ourselves, for those we love, for this world how God is going to pull this off. Not two thousand years ago, but now. That’s the real question isn’t it? In the midst of our own suffering, the hurts of this world, chapters whose endings we can already see or can’t possibly see . . . How are you going to get us there this time, God?
Well this week we are reminded that God will get us there, the same way God always has. There are no secrets in this, just mysteries and those are two very different things.
We’ll be invited to eat together. To care for one another. To wash one another’s feet and the feet of those in this world for whom walking is painful or hard or long. We’ll be invited to honestly acknowledge that betrayals happen and denials do too and sometimes we are the ones who do those kinds of things. We’ll be invited to gather at the foot of the cross and to weep some when we are there, and to become some when we are there, and find that love and hope can find it to those kinds of places too.
And the grace of it all is that as we go through the very simple yet profound motions of the week, as we “do this in remembrance,” and wonder deep in our hearts HOW God is going to pull this off, we’ll come to trust that God already has. And the rhythms of this week will become our own. We will eat and care and serve and weep and wait and see new life come.
That’s how this “peace which passes all understanding” works. It find us in every chapter of the gospel and every chapter of our lives and offers holiness in ways that sustain, forgive, surprise, heal and ultimately, make us new.
And so maybe this week as he breathes his last, we can hold our breath not because the ending isn’t known. But because it is. And it is ours.