Sunday, April 23, 2017

Way to Go, Thomas!

Second Sunday of Easter
John 20.19-31
St. Gregory’s, Long Beach

I often start off sermons for the Sunday after Easter – for which the Gospel reading is always the story of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas – with some statement like “poor Thomas. He always gets a bad rap.” But not this year. Instead, I say, “Way to go, Thomas!”

Now sure, when, on the evening of Easter, of Jesus’ resurrection, he appears to all the disciples except for Thomas, and when the disciples later tell Thomas of their encounter, Thomas famously responds, “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” (Jn 20.25b). A comment that has forever labeled him as “Doubting Thomas.” But casting this in a less than positive light is neither fair to Thomas nor particularly helpful for us. If anything, Thomas is to be applauded. After all, he is merely being honest.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

It Has Just Begun . . .

Easter Day
Acts 10.34-43; Colossians 3.1-4; John 20.1-18
St. Gregory’s, Long Beach

Spoiler alert! Christ is risen!

Although the details of the Easter narratives as contained in each of the four Gospels vary in specific details, in all of the accounts women are the first to arrive at Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning. In John’s version, Mary Magdalene, common to all the accounts, is the only woman to come to the tomb that morning. Having a women be the first witnesses to such a monumental event is a remarkable thing in and of itself. In that day and age, women were not considered credible enough to give testimony in Jewish courts. Yet, women were the first to offer witness to the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead, just as he promised. And Mary Magdalene is the first to have a face-to-face encounter the Risen Christ.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Earthshaking News

Great Vigil of Easter
Genesis 22.1-18; Exodus 14.10-31, 15.20-21; Ezekiel 36.24-28; Romans 6.3-11; Matthew 28.1-10
St. Gregory’s, Long Beach

“Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it” (Mt 28.2).

In Matthew’s account, the resurrection is heralded by an earthquake. And if you remember back to our Passion narrative on Palm Sunday, at the moment of Jesus’ death, “the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Mt 27.51b). Coincidence? Of course not. In the Hebrew scriptures earthquakes are often interpreted as a signs or manifestations of God’s power and authority. We see this reflected by the response of witnesses at the crucifixion – “when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Mt 27.54).

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Friday, April 14, 2017

What God's Love Looks Like

Good Friday
Isaiah 52.13—53.12; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9; John 18.1—19.42
St. Gregory’s, Long Beach

We once again enter into God’s time. We now find ourselves standing at the foot of the cross, looking up at our Lord, nailed there, dying a horrible death. How did we get here? Our minds reel with the memory of the events of the past few hours. How a meal of unity quickly gave way to an act of betrayal. How a celebration of God’s justice gave way to an act of injustice. How an impassioned message of “love one another” gave way to hate-filled cries of “Crucify him!” How a celebration of life gave way to a sentence of death. It’s hard not see evil and hate in this gruesome scene.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Model of Loving Service

Maundy Thursday
John 13.1-17, 31b-35
St. Gregory’s, Long Beach

As we again enter into God’s time, we are gathered in the Upper Room with Jesus and the disciples. We are here to celebrate a special meal. This is the Passover feast, instituted some 1,200 years before as the children of Israel are preparing to flee Egypt – the meal described in our Old Testament reading. A meal that is established as a “perpetual ordinance” for the Jewish people. But tonight, that meal takes on a new meaning for those of us who follow Jesus. In God’s time, this meal commemorating the liberation of our people takes on a greater significance. Jesus takes the bread and wine, common elements of the meal, and gives them new meaning only possible in God’s time. The elements of a past meal are signified with meaning of a future event – Jesus’ death and resurrection. Elements of bread and wine becoming Christ’s body and blood, given as a symbol of Christ’s redeeming life and work. Given as a new covenant for the salvation of us all. Given as a sign and a promise of a deeper form of liberation – liberation from sin and death. In God’s time, in this one meal, we are experiencing the beginning of the Exodus toward new life in the Promised Land, and a New Exodus toward eternal life in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.

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Sunday, April 09, 2017

In God's Time

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday
Matthew 21.1-11; Matthew 26.14—27.66
St. Gregory’s, Long Beach

How do we make sense out of what we have just witnessed this morning? Throughout Lent we have talked about being on a journey. The journey we make with Jesus to Jerusalem. Today, we have arrived at the gates of Jerusalem. And suddenly, we find ourselves in the midst of a disorienting time warp. We find that time is suddenly compressed. We have traveled the span of five days, from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, in the space of a half hour. In this brief time, we have gone from shouting “Hosanna!” to shouting “Crucify him!” We have gone from raising palm branches to raising Jesus on the cross.

The events of these five days are clearly defined. Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He celebrates his last meal with his disciples on Maundy Thursday. After supper, Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying. He is then betrayed by Judas, one of the Twelve, whereupon he is immediately arrested by the temple soldiers. He is taken to the house of the high priest, where he is put on trial. As the trial is ending Friday morning, Peter denies Jesus three times. Jesus is then taken to Pontus Pilate, the Roman governor, for a second trial. Being found guilty, Jesus is tortured, and then led away to be crucified at Golgotha.

These are the chronological events. A matter of record. These are the events, horrendous though they may be, that we commemorate on this day. The events we will repeat in more detail, in the coming week. Such is the flow of events in our reckoning of time. What the Greeks termed chronos – the linear movement of time from past to present to future. The way we all experience time, chronologically. From where we sit today, on April 9, 2017, this is all in the past. But is it really in the past?

As Christians, we are also subject to a different flow of time – an alternative experience of time. In the events we have witnessed in the last half hour, we have moved out of chronos into the mystery of what is known as kairos. Another concept borrowed from the Greeks and imbued with Christian significance, kairos means “the appointed time in the purpose of God.” Kairos is God’s time. Eternal time. What Peter, in his second letter, describes when he says “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3.8). That God experiences all moments at the same time. Past, present, and future occur simultaneously in God’s perception of time.

Theologically speaking, whenever we worship, we enter into that sense of kairos. When we worship, we, in our present, enter into the events of salvation history and participate in how those events are played out in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God – played out in what we perceive to be some future time. In our worship, all time comes together – past, present, and future – into one moment.

Nowhere – or maybe no-when – is this more evident than in Holy Week. Particularly so in our commemoration of Palm Sunday [slash] Passion Sunday. While we are not readily able to experience kairos other than as a momentary gift from God, we can at least get an idea of it through the compressed sense of time we experience on this particular day. Approximating that all the events of this coming week are happening at once in God’s time.

In our participation in kairos, we have a different experience of the events we heard recounted today. Again, the Greeks have a concept for this – anamnesis, which literally means “remembering.” This is a key concept in our theology of worship. In worship we recall God's saving deeds. This is not simply a passive process of recalling the events we commemorate, but rather is one in which we actually enter into the Paschal mystery – specifically, the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In short, we don’t just recall the events of Holy Week. We are participating in them. We are re-membering them. Made a member of, a part of, what is going on. In God’s time, we are actually there, witnessing the events of Holy Week, alongside Jesus.

In God’s time, we are actually there, at the gates of Jerusalem, as Jesus makes his triumphal entry. We are there in the crowd, waving palm branches as we follow him through the city streets – just as we did during our procession from the garden into the church. We are there with the crowd shouting “Hosanna!”

In God’s time, we are actually there in the Upper Room, as Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples – and with us. The Last Supper. Just as we are there every time we celebrate the Eucharist. We are there at the table as he takes the loaf of bread, blesses is, breaks it, and gives it to us, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Mt 26.26). We are there as he takes a cup of wine, gives thanks, and gives it to us saying “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26.27-28).

In God’s time, we are actually there in the Garden of Gethsemane, after supper, as Jesus goes off to pray. We are there with Peter, James, and John – like them, unable to stay awake for just one hour as our Lord asks.

In God’s time, we are awakened as Judas, accompanied by temple soldiers, comes into the Garden. We look on as Judas goes to Jesus, greets him, kisses him, and in so doing betrays him. We stand by helplessly as Jesus is arrested and taken away.

In God’s time, we are there outside the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, where Jesus is on trial before the scribes and elders of the Temple. All the rest of the disciples, except for Peter, have fled into the night. Maybe we wanted to go with them. But we are here, waiting. And then we hear Peter, confronted by onlookers, deny three times that he knows Jesus. We look on shocked that Peter, the de facto leader of the disciples, would do that. Particulalry after saying he would go to his death for Jesus. But would we have done any differently?

In God’s time, we stand helpless as Jesus is taken to Pontus Pilate. Standing in the courtyard we are dismayed, even offended, by the shouts from the crowd – “Crucify him!” In the aftermath of those frenzied cries, we watch in disbelief as our teacher, our friend, is sentenced to death. We look on helplessly, as he is beaten, mocked, humiliated, unable to do anything.

In God’s time, we follow Jesus as he carries a cross to Golgotha, the garbage dump outside the city. We watch in horror as Jesus is stripped naked and nailed to the cross, then lifted up for all who pass by to see.

In God’s time, we stand at a distance, with Mary Magdalene and the other women, watching Jesus die a slow, agonizing death.


This is what it means to be Christian. Particularly as we begin Holy Week. To be willing to enter into kairos – God’s time. To experience the joys that come with shouts of “Hosanna!!” And to experience the pain and sorrow that come with shouts of “Crucify him!” For it is only by entering into the fullness of this Holy Week experience that, one week from now, we may similarly enter into the fullness of the Easter experience.

May this Holy Week be for you a rich and blessed experience of life lived in God’s time, as you re-member first-hand what this journey is all about, and where it will ultimately lead you. In God’s time.

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Sunday, April 02, 2017

The Promise of Resurrection

Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year A)
Ezekiel 37.1-14; John 11.1-45
St. Gregory’s, Long Beach

Today we begin the final leg of our Lenten journey – the journey to Jerusalem. For next week, on Palm Sunday, we enter with Jesus into Jerusalem, where over the course of what we know as Holy Week, we will witness betrayal, injustice, death. And after that, Easter. And the Resurrection.

Today’s readings give a glimpse of what is to come at the end of this long journey. A flavor of the final victory that is to come. The victory achieved by Jesus. The victory achieved for us.

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