Reconciled through Christ

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.

The written version of the sermon is here:

Yesterday’s memorial service for Dudley Stone brought together two worlds: the world of the parish church and the world of the theatre. To most of us, that combination of people seemed right and natural. But this has not always been the case with the Christian Church. Though theatre as we know it grew largely out of medieval cathedral communities and their dramatic and humorous re-telling and ad-libbing of biblical stories, the church often was at odds with theatre and acting.—both of which were thought to be corrupting influences.

Here in New York, St. Malachy’s Roman Catholic Church is nicknamed the Actor’s Chapel, our own Church of the Transfiguration since 1870, when the Little Church graciously hosted a funeral for a notorious actor. Often joining us through Zoom Evening Prayer from St. Stephen’s Church in London is the Rev. Lindsay Meader, who is Lead Theatre Chaplain for the Diocese of London and Senior Chaplain of Theatre Chaplaincy UK.

Whether we think of the theatre world versus the church world, or some other possible opposing group:  Democrats/Republicans, Vegans/Meat-eaters, Vaccinated/Unvaccinated, and that deadly rivalry: Yankees/Mets…. We seem to have a tendency to spot “the OTHER.” Having diagnosed “the other” asserts our own identity, and the longer we go in that direction, the more solid are the walls we build – whether real or imagined.

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians gets to the point pretty directly, though Paul writes in terms that may sound strange to us today. Paul writes about the circumcised and the uncircumcised, hardly a topic one might expect for a Sunday morning in July. But he’s really just using shorthand for a conversation about Jews and Gentiles, Gentiles being everyone who is not Jewish. By the time of the Letter to the Ephesians, the early Church was filled with at least two kinds of people—some were former Jews who had decided to follow Christ. Many probably still thought of themselves as Jews, even though they had, in many places, been driven out of the synagogues. But these Jews who followed Jesus were also successful at inviting non-Jews to join the movement. There was the Ethiopian Eunoch, there was the Centurion Cornelius, and before long there were many, many more.

But there’s a conflict going on in the early church at Ephesus. It’s not exactly clear what the problem is, but some scholars think it has to do with new Jewish converts who felt like, since they were Jewish (circumcised), they gained a more immediate entry and a higher status in the community than those who were Gentile and had never been Jewish. Among some early communities there was even the question of whether a Gentile man who joined the Christian Church should become circumcised like a Jew in order to be a good Christian. Should Gentile women adopt the customs of faithful and orthodox Jewish women? These questions may sound strange to us today, but they were HUGE question for early Christians.

It’s in this atmosphere that Paul preaches, “You who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.”

Paul goes on to write with assurance to the newly converted, “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”

Paul says that we, all of us, are to be one household. If you go to Israel today and look at any of the archeological sites you can see what a household in the first few centuries looked like. It might be a couple of rooms, but then when the children grew older, a sleeping loft might be added on. Then when a child grew up and got married, an addition would be built on to the house, and so the household grew. With each new addition, another room would be added. It didn’t matter if the new person was liked or disliked. It didn’t matter whether they brought anything in particular to the household. What mattered is that the new person was family, and they were welcomed, and they were included.

While the media and perhaps a bit of animal instinct in us easily feels threatened by those who are different or who appear to be on opposite sides of an issue, sometimes the information is skewed. Several days ago, an opinion piece in the New York Times by a health care policy professor at Harvard points this out. Dr. Anupam B. Jena points out that while “While the politicization of the pandemic is undeniable, the focus on it has obscured a simple truth: Everyone has made sacrifices, no one has been spared, and the shared experience of the last year and a half has been sorely underappreciated relative to the differences.”  (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/16/opinion/covid-risk-birthdays-study.html, accessed July 17, 2021).

The data also suggests that while there are some large disparities that fall along political lines — in vaccinations, self-reported mask use and closures of businesses and schools — people’s actual behavior may not have been as polarized. What people were willing to take risks for during the pandemic have been quite similar.

He goes on to explain the enormous number of people who gathered – even at the height of the pandemic—to celebrate birthdays. Other big issues like whether adolescents should be vaccinated show differences among political affiliation and geography, the differences are not always as great as the media suggests.

There is a temptation to be with those who agree with us. The new Viking Cruise commercials shown on PBS offers its message, “welcome back to the world,” that their trips provide the opportunity “connect with other like-minded people.”  While we all might feel those urges from time to time—can you image a more boring world:  one in which everyone agreed with all of your opinions, assumptions, prejudices, and values?

In today’s Gospel, even Jesus seems to want to cordon off the faithful, and pull them away. It’s a little bit like here, as in a few other places, Jesus suggest, “these are the ones to whom I’m called to minister among. These and no more.” And with that, Jesus tries to go off to a “lonely place.” It’s almost as though Jesus, himself has enough of a following, an already-full-plate, a more-than-full agenda. But then, before long, Jesus understands that God’s love is for everyone, and that there is no end to the wideness of God’s mercy, to the fullness of God’s fellowship.

Whether it is the worldwide Christian Church trying to get along, or the Episcopal Church, or a local parish like this one—the good (but sometimes difficult) news of the Gospel is that all are welcome.

It doesn’t matter if you are a life-long Christian or even a theater person! It doesn’t matter if you are still trying to figure God out. God spreads a table before us in the presence of those who trouble us. God anoints us with holy oil, and fills our cup until it’s overflowing. God’s goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

May God continue to remind us of his holy welcome, and may God continue to show us how to welcome one another.

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The Sense of Faith

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.

The written version of the sermon is here:

As we all know, one of the strangest effects of COVID-19 has been the way the virus often affects the senses of smell and taste. One study has suggested that almost 80 per cent those with COVID lose their sense of smell or taste.

Because of COVID, or perhaps just because of this time of year, our senses can feel a bit heightened, can’t they? There have been days this spring, when it was almost overwhelming to walk through the park because some of the trees were so fragrant—almost to be stinky. We’ve been hearing firecrackers, and will hear the thunder-like sounds of the fireworks tonight. We see green, with all the rain, and we see people—a welcome sight after a year of distance and quarantine.

As advanced as humankind seems to be and seems to be becoming, we really are usually people of our senses, aren’t we? When we’re cooking, we go by smell and sight to determine if something is cooked. When we plant in the ground, we look for shoots or sprouts to know whether something is, in fact growing. When someone promises to undertake a certain task or project, we wait and we listen and we watch to see what will happen. We look for evidence.

But when it comes to our relationship with God, so often, we’re called to live by another sense, or by something beyond sense—we’re called to live by faith. Like a parent teaching a child to walk, it can feel like God is urging us, teaching us, pulling us up so that (as St. Paul puts it) we can learn to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel is called upon again and again to walk by faith, to believe that God is leading him and is showing the way. In today’s reading, Ezekiel is warned that there are going to be lots of people who will not get it. They won’t understand. They will try to see, but their eyes will fail them. They will try to hear, but their ears will be of no use. But, God says, “if you’re true to yourself, and true to the person I’ve called you to be, then they will know one thing: a prophet has been among them.” So don’t be afraid, don’t be dismayed, just keep praying and moving and being faithful.

Jesus has the same problem in many places as he preaches and teaches and heals. In today’s Gospel he runs into local opposition. The very people who know him best cannot reconcile the Son of Mary with the Son of God. It’s doesn’t compute. It’s doesn’t flow. It can’t be charted out and explained and rationalized and proven. To perceive Jesus as the Christ, to receive Jesus as the Son of God, come to redeem us and live in us and be with us through death and into everlasting life— this takes faith.

There are lots of ways of developing our sense of faith.

First, there’s the lessening of other senses, in order to promote a particular sense.
In the Fourth Century, women and men left the cities and went into the desert to look for God. These desert mothers and fathers and those who have taken matters of the Spirit seriously ever since have prayed for a balance in the senses so that faith might be developed more strongly. There is a tradition in some places of maintaining “custody of the eyes” so that one’s gaze might be directed more upon God. There is the tradition of fasting, so that one’s hunger would be less for carbohydrates and more for Christ. There is the tradition of silence so that the inner voice of God’s Holy Spirit might be heard. Christian ascetics take seriously this spiritual training of the senses—the training, itself being a kind of faith—so that a deeper faith and reliance upon God might be developed and sustained.

Second, we can train the senses. Aromatherapists and oenologists know this, but also, many others. Those who lost their sense of smell because of COVID are encouraged to do a kind of “smell training.” Pick a smell you used to really recognize: the smell of coffee, of lilac, a particular fragrance. And practice breathing it in, over time, and many have found this helps bring back their sense of smell quicker. Doctors suggest one try this for a few minutes, twice a day.

And in some ways, “smell training” is a little like “faith training.” Jesus encourages us to ask, to reach out, to pray—whether we believe or not, whether we have the words or not. And the Church traditionally invites us to pray twice a day—Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.

And third, there’s simply asking for God’s presence. If you’re trying to develop your sense of faith, praying is one good way to do it—the Lord’s Prayer, the Serenity Prayer, the Prayer of St. Francis, or even just the simply prayer, “Help! God, if you’re there, answer.”

The old question of which comes first: the chicken or the egg has an analogous one arising from today’s scriptures. Which really comes first? Faith or evidence of faith? Faith or mighty works? “Jesus could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” It’s as though somehow their unbelief, their lack of believing, their disbelief, and their skepticism prevented them from seeing or receiving any miracle that Jesus might do among them.

But we can all deepen our sense of faith. Whether it’s through long walks, visits to quiet places, a retreat or even silence in the midst of a crowd, may we take some time this summer to practice training our senses, and to include in that an openness to developing a deeper sense of faith.

May the Holy Spirit develop within us the kind of faith that leads us through loving trust; that allows God to work wonders, make miracles and do mighty works.

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Open to Healing

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.

The written version of the sermon is here:

Broadway re-opened last night with its first show since March of last year. Early in the show, Bruce Springsteen said, “I am here tonight to provide proof of life.” Traffic, shops and restaurants, tourists, less restrictions on masks and socializing—it all kind of helps us “provide proof of life,” as Springsteen put it.

As people of faith, affirming life is what we do—and it’s at the heart of our scriptures. I love the first reading today, so much, and am surprised it’s not used more at funerals–

God did not make death,
And does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome . . .
God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity . . .

On this last Sunday in June, celebrated as Pride Sunday, when LGBTQ people celebrate with color and craziness—it’s about life. While we enjoy rights and privileges in most parts of this country, there are still 71 jurisdictions in the world that criminalize sexual activity between persons of the same gender. Eleven countries use the death penalty against homosexuality. I will not be visiting the legendary rock churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia any time soon, lest they learn of my marriage and put me in jail for a year.

And so—for all of its extravagance and pushing the envelope—LGBTQ celebrations are about affirming life. They’re about celebrating the power of life to go on, even in the face of prejudice, in the face of violence, in the face of fear or injustice, in the presence of a pandemic—whether it be of AIDS or SARS…. We affirm life and thank goodness our church is on the side of life and more life.

Today’s first reading sings of the power of life, and in the Gospel, we see people who move towards the life of Christ in search of healing. And they find it. Through Jesus Christ, they find new life.

Jairus, a leader in the local synagogue, sees Jesus approach, and when he does, he falls on his knees. Jairus is a religious big shot, one of the very sort of religious leaders who so often is threatened by Jesus. But here, Jairus is reduced to his knees, like a begger. His daughter is sick, and so nothing else really matters to him at this point—not his position in the synagogue, not his wealth, not the rest of his healthy family, not his own health— instead, here he is begging, hoping, praying for help because his little girl is sick and things are looking bad.

Fast forward a bit to Jesus making his way to the village where Jairus’ daughter lies. Mark the Evangelist loves to begin a story, interrupt himself with another story, and then complete the initial one—and that’s what he’s doing here. Jesus makes his way, but a huge crowd surrounds him. While probably everyone in the crowd had his or her own prayer, hoping Jesus might answer it, one lady in particular reaches through the crowd and places her hand on Jesus’ robe.

It is desperation (which is a kind of faith) that makes her do it. She has tried everything. She has gone to doctors—this one and that one—and there is no help. If she were living in our day, no doubt she would have seen even more doctors—(if her health care plan allowed it) specialists, technicians, geniuses, quacks—anything, anyone, to try to help her. And so, the woman pushes forward, she reaches out. She practically lunges at Jesus in what is her final prayer.

Jesus feels power go out of him. The woman is healed and is made whole again. She is restored to life. But this story is an aside, an insertion into the other story of Jesus going to the house of Jairus.

And so, back to the other story line. Jesus makes it to Jairus’ house. He sees the little girl and is told that she has died. But Jesus touches her, he tells her to get up, and she is healed. She is made whole again. And she, too, is restored to life.

The scriptures leave us with miracle stories, stories more wonderful, so much better than belief, that we are tempted to leave them in the land of storytelling. We are perhaps tempted to leave them with happy endings in the realm of make-believe.

The scriptures today don’t explain everything. They don’t give a recipe for miracles, but they do point us in the direction of God’s healing.

From the stories of Jairus’ daughter and the woman in the crowd we can see that for there to be healing, there are usually at least two conditions present:

The first is that there is an openness to God, a reaching towards God.

And the second is that there is what could be described as a “reaching towards God with others.”

The first is faith. And the second has to do with being in relationship. Faith is present whenever there is healing. But this is not to suggest that healing is somehow proportional to faith. There are some preachers who may suggest that. They will tell you that if you don’t see the healing in your life, then clearly you’re not praying the right way, or you’re not praying hard enough, or something else in your life is out of balance. But (I think) there’s a special place in hell reserved for such preachers.

Though Jesus says to several different people something to the effect of “your faith has made you well,” it does not necessarily follow that if one is not well, one doesn’t have enough faith. Faith is usually present when there’s healing, but it’s the kind of faith that is open to God’s moving. We sometimes limit our expectation of healing because we look for a cure. But sometimes healing brings something different from a cure. Healing can give us new strength. It can give us new confidence. It can bring us Christ himself. In healing, God works like a good doctor, working best when we give God room to work, not limiting God’s work by what we think we want or think we need. With such faith, we can pray for healing, resting in the knowledge that God works and wills nothing but the very best for us.

Faith is a part of healing, but notice also that in scripture, as in experience, healing rarely happens in isolation. It happens when two or three are gathered. It happens when one is brought into community by prayer, or by intention. Sometimes the reaching with others involves touch. In the Gospels, it was often the touch of Jesus himself. Sometimes it was the touch of friends who brought one into relationship with Christ. And after the Resurrection and Ascension, it happens that through the touch of the disciples, God’s healing begins to spread. It’s not so much the apostolic succession of bishops that makes the miracles happen. Instead, it’s apostolic succession as the deposit of faith and hope is passed down person to person, faithful community to faithful community.

And we pass it on, still.

In our day, we may be tempted to think that healing comes only through professional healers with medical degrees, or at least through specially gifted people who are healers, but the truth is that, more often than not, healing happens through ordinary people, when we reach for God together, with the touch of one person to another.

Ann Weems is a poet who writes about our relationship with one another, the relationship that can encourage healing. In one poem, she writes,

I see your pain and want to banish it with the wave of a star,
but have no star.
I see your tears and want to dry them with the hem of an angel’s gown,
but have no angel.
I see your heart fallen to the ground and want to return it,
wrapped in cloths woven of rainbow,
but have no rainbow.
God is the One
who has stars, and angels and rainbows,
And I am the one
God sends to sit beside you
until the stars come out
and the angels dry your tears
and your heart is back in place
rainbow blessed.

Whether we walk in parades and wave flags, or make a call and send a note. Whether we simply pray for ourselves and others—we can’t say exactly when, where, and how God’s healing may come. We don’t even always know what that healing will look like. But what we learn from the scriptures today is that, like Jairus and the woman who touched Jesus, if we reach for God, and if we reach for God with one another, the conditions are good for God’s healing to flow.

Let us pray for healing. Let us look for healing. And may the almighty Lord be now and evermore our defense and make us know and feel that the only name under heaven given for health and salvation is the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In that name, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Amen.


He is the Way.
Follow him through the Land of Unlikeness;
you will see rare beasts and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
you will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love him in the World of the Flesh:
and at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

                     W. H. Auden For the Time Being (a Christmas Oratorio)

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Traveling with Christ

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.

The written version of the sermon is here:

After a long year of being cooped up, a lot of people are beginning to travel, or at least beginning to think about travelling. Many families are getting together for the first time, this Father’s Day weekend, to celebrate Dad, or the memory of Dad, or to combine with Juneteenth, or simply to give thanks for vaccines and the ability to move around and be together.

Maybe for all these reasons, as I listen to the scripture readings for today, I hear in them a kind of travel narrative. In today’s readings there are accounts of people who have been places. They have seen things, and they have been changed. 

In the very short reading from Job, God reminds Job that Job really has not been to as many places as he thinks. But God takes Job back.  But then in words and images God recounts to Job what it was like at the beginning, when God laid the very foundation of the earth. When God says to the very seas themselves, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed.’” No, for all Job’s experience, put in that context, he really hasn’t seen very much at all.

With a word [God] called up the wind–
an ocean storm, towering waves!
You shot high in the sky, then the bottom dropped out;
your hearts were stuck in your throats.
You were spun like a top, you reeled like a drunk,
you didn’t know which way was up.
[But] then you called out to [the Lord] …
[and] he got you out in the nick of time.
He quieted the wind down to a whisper,
[and] put a muzzle on all the big waves.  (The Message, Psalm 107)

This trip across the Sea of Galilee quickly becomes the kind of travel story you hope you never have to tell—“Remember the time.” Remember that time in the storm. Remember that time when we got lost. Or even more tragic, remember that time when it felt like a storm and we lost someone we loved. The disciples are afraid and so they wake up Jesus who looks at them with surprise. He speaks and the storm is stopped. The disciples are stopped. Time is stopped. “Peace. Hush. Be quiet. Be still.”

Faith is movement. If we are in love with God, and or if we have the slightest bit of belief that God is in love with us—that love will change us. It moves us from place to place. I don’t know where this travel narrative of Holy Scripture intersects with your own movement today. It may be you’re in a good place, settled with your faith, confident with your relationship with God, collected in the midst of a sea of calm. Some of you are in that place: give thanks and draw strength from this time. 

All kinds of storms come our way.  Family can sometimes blow through our lives like an unruly storm. Sometimes we feel adrift and in a boat all alone. At work the winds can pick up now and then and we feel under attack. In relationships, the seas are not always calm. Even our church seems sometimes to be moving into deep waters, feeling alone in our particular boat while other churches seem to prefer the safety of the land, or the assurance of charted waters. But our faith allows us to be like those first disciples: to hang on to each other for the ride, to stay close to God our savior, and to look ahead without fear. 

W.H. Auden names well the landscape of our lives. Of Christ our travel guide, he writes


He is the Way.
Follow him through the Land of Unlikeness;
you will see rare beasts and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
you will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love him in the World of the Flesh:
and at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

                     W. H. Auden For the Time Being (a Christmas Oratorio)

We don’t always pack the way we should.  We’ll forget things here and there.  The weather may change on us. As Anne Lamott has written, “The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines.” (Traveling Mercies).

We have the little things that sustain, but even more, we have God our Savior surrounding us, leading us, pushing us, holding us, carrying us, loving us always and forever. 

May we look out for each other along the way. May we enjoy the scenery and be strong and faithful travelers.

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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The Faith that Grows Seeds

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

 

We’re very sorry, but the audio connection with Facebook failed for our June 13 recordings. We are trying to find answers for this and apologize for the problem. 

The written version of the sermon is here:

On this first of the ordinary Sundays, the Third Sunday after Pentecost, our worship returns to a familiar pattern.  We again have a prayer of confession.  We use green on the altar and in the vestments.  The music and hymns lead us to think about God in all God’s majesty and mystery, in broad and sometimes general ways.  The Church continues to observe feast days here and there, almost like exclamation marks in the narrative of God’s love for us, but most of the Sundays through the summer offer us space to grow and develop, to think and mature in our faith. And especially in today’s scripture readings, there’s a lot that is growing.

Growth runs through our scriptures today. In Ezekiel, God plants a tree as a symbol and reminder that God tends and cares for all his creatures, no matter what may come: storm, drought, or disaster. Both Ezekiel and the Psalm reminds us that those who allow God to do the planting–who let God be the Master Gardener—all those will flourish and bear fruit and live fresh, new lives season after season, even into old age.

Today’s Gospel comes in the form of a parable, or several parables—those stories that allow us to identify with various characters as the wear the story again and again. Because of this, whenever we read or hear a parable, there’s an invitation for us to step inside and try on some of the different characters and attitudes. Which one speaks to us today? Which one fits best? Which one challenges or offers comfort?

For example, in today’s story, you may identify with the sower, the one who plants seeds and hopes for the best. Whether seeds or seedlings, the hope is that there will be growth. It may be an idea or a practice or a project that you’re just beginning. You do a little to get it started, but then it’s out of your hands. It may be taken out of your hands, or other things may grow to overshadow your project—maybe there is the equivalent of a storm, or maybe the birds in your world eat up the seeds you’ve sown. But if you’re the sower, you make an initial investment and then over time, you have to manage your relationship to the seeds you’ve planted. How much will you try to control? How much will you let go? When will you ask for help?

On the other hand, you might hear today’s Gospel and identity a little with the seed. Perhaps you feel like you’ve been placed in a certain place—a family, a relationship, a workplace, a social situation. Where you’ve been placed might be fertile ground with lots of resources and room for growth. Or, it might be a rocky place, full of challenges and rough spots.

Or maybe you’re just trying your best to put down roots somewhere, trying to find something that will stay still long enough to enjoy the sun, to absorb the rain, to find the energy and life within yourself to grow, to expand, to become.

For a number of reasons, one can feel like the seed—waiting on outside forces and trusting God. One can feel as tiny and insignificant as a mustard seed. But it’s those times that it’s especially important to remember that built into every seed–deep down–is the capacity to grow into something useful and beautiful.

The birds, too, play a part in the parable. The birds take shade. They find rest and refuge. Someone else has done the major planting and much of the growing, but one day, the birds too, might be called upon to add just the right component to God’s unfolding kingdom.

Jesus tells these parables to help us understand what he calls the Kingdom of God. This “Kingdom of God” is not so much a literal place as it is EVERY PLACE–, every place where God’s intention is allowed to take root and grow. The kingdom is full of mystery—it grows at its own rate. Some parts can be planned, laid out, and organized. But other areas of the kingdom are up to God’s own good grace—we have to let go.

Given where we are moving out of the pandemic, it might be that we feel like any seeds we might be trying to plant are either inconsequential or get blown away in the storm of the day. 

But that’s where faith comes in. With faith, we can also see God’s movement and growth in the hidden places. We see what initially looks only like pain and misery. We see disease and violence and poverty. We see a terribly distorted version of the world God has created. But then, with eyes of faith, we look closer. We can begin to see the seeds for compassion, for sharing, for sacrifice, and for healing.

Today we baptize Dylan, who is just beginning to grow. In that way, she’s like a little seed, full of potential and wonder, beauty and love. In baptism we add water. With Holy Oil we add nourishment. And with our prayers, we lift her into God’s love so that the light of Christ bloom in her life to bear good fruit.

Friends, the kingdom of God grows around us and within us. May God continue to grow us in faith and love.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Corpus Christi Sunday: Reflecting on the Sacrament of Holy Communion

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.

The written version of the sermon is here:

This morning, weather permitting, some churches will be taking the Holy Sacrament and leaving church.  They’ll be leaving the church building and walking through the neighborhood.  A few churches did this on Thursday and others do it today in a celebration of Corpus Christi Day, carrying the Blessed Sacrament out into the world, for all to adore and celebrate.

When I was first ordained, I served at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and the practice there on Corpus Christi is to move through Times Square and then back into the church.  Every year, we would end up with ten, twenty, maybe fifty people following us back into church.  A part of it felt absolutely medieval, but another part felt like exactly the right kind of expression for a church in Times Square.

I still remember the rector of another parish hearing about the outdoor procession and getting very upset about it He was offended, he wrote in a newsletter article.  He felt that this walking through Times Square with the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood was a “dangerous practice,” since the Sacrament might easily be defiled, disparaged, or misunderstood.

Christian history reminds us of conflicts between Christians and often—mixed up in the politics and the power plays—there were differences in belief around the Eucharist (the Greek word for “thanksgiving”) or Holy Communion.  The extreme Protestant view (Baptists, some Presbyterians and others) would hold that the bread and wine (whether fermented or unfermented) are symbols and reminders of the loving meal Jesus shared with his disciples in the Last Supper.  The extreme Catholic view, which many call “Transubstantiation” holds that through the words of the priest, the bread and wine substantially and objectively become the body and blood of Christ.  Each Mass is (what some have called) an “unbloody sacrifice.”

Those of you who know the Anglican tradition or are used to the Episcopal way of viewing things will not be surprised to know that the Anglican view (of which the Episcopal Church is a part) is somewhere in the middle.  Our church’s official belief is in the Real Presence, though we don’t specific or demand that one understand the mystery of the Real Presence in exactly the same way.

Anglicans often recall the words of John Donne(1572–1631): “He was the Word that spake it;  He took the bread and brake it; And what that Word did make it; I do believe and take it”  (Divine Poems. On the Sacrament.)

In addition to historical conflicts and modern-day differences, the Holy Eucharist brings danger also when we take it seriously.  It can be dangerous because it can change our lives.

Jesus says in today’s Gospel puts it, “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” And that’s where the danger really begins.

We can think about what it means to “abide in Christ,” to take the Body of Christ into our bodies by noting what our Book of Common Prayer says about the Eucharist.  Way in the back of the Prayer Book is a section call simply “The Catechism,” and in the part about the Holy Eucharist, the Catechism outlines what it calls “the benefits of the Eucharist.”

“The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our unions with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.”

And hidden within each of these benefits, there are dangers and possibilities.

When we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are forgiven. We are forgiven again. Our sins are washed away at Baptism, but the ongoing accumulation of sin in our life meets its match in Holy Communion. Saint Ignatius of Antioch called the Eucharist the “medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, … that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.” This is dangerous medicine, then, for anything or anyone who might be interested in keeping us in sin. The devil will not look on such medicine as innocuous or harmless, nor will his minions. And so, the Eucharist helps us. Like good medicine, it increases our resistance level. Like vitamins, it strengthens us.

The second benefit according to the Catechism has to do with strengthening our union with Christ and with one another. In a culture that suggests we should live only for ourselves, that we try to obtain all that we can for ourselves with little regard for others; in a culture that in any way lifts up people like the Kardashians as important, relevant or meaningful—- the unifying work of the Blessed Sacrament is dangerous stuff.

In Communion we are reminded that we need each other. The common cup and common bread underline that we are not so different from one another as we are sometimes led to believe. Barriers of race and class and education, differences of national origin, or sexual orientation or marriage status are dissolved in the common chalice. They are diluted by the cleansing water of the Holy Spirit. And the blood of Christ, which is to say the blood of God our Creator, restores us into once again being fully human even as it fills us with what is fully divine.

Finally, the Body and Blood of Christ, this holy Sacrament, gives us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Mindful of the present, grateful for the reality of here-and-now, we are made aware in the Eucharist that we are also living toward a great feast that has no ending.

On Memorial Day our country paused to remember those who have died in service for us, for freedom and for the opportunities that this country symbolizes.  Danger and promise are all wrapped up in the idea of service, but we honor those who have died for our country, just as we honor those who have died for Christ by stepping through fear and danger and holding on to faith.

Strengthened by the Body and Blood of Christ, let the danger begin. Let us risk blasphemy, as Jesus did, as we try to show the Body of Christ to the world. Let us risk being misunderstood, as Jesus did, as we go out of our way to feed the hungry, to lift up the poor, to release those held in captivity. And let us risk the danger of faith, as our Savior Jesus did, taking up our cross daily and following him wherever he leads.

Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day …. the one who eats this bread will live forever.” May we live into these words, both dangerous and delicious.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Dancing with God on Trinity Sunday

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

We regret that on May 30, our  11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist did not broadcast properly on Facebook Live. Please join us again next Sunday.

Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.

The written version of the sermon is here:

Jesus tells Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  Older translations used other terms, with Jesus saying that no one could see the kingdom of God unless the person was “born again” or “born anew.” Nicodemus asks him, “How can this be? How can someone be born when they are old? How can that happen?”

Jesus goes on to try to explain to Nicodemus what he has tried to explain to his friends, to the people at Cana, to the woman at the well, to the tax collectors and the religious officials. Jesus tries to explain to Nicodemus what he had tried to explain to his disciples again and again and again: that one must be open to the spirit. One must be open to the cleansing of baptismal waters. One must be open to God as God moves and makes his way among us. For God has SO loved the world, that God has come into it. God was born in the world, that we might be born again and born to eternal life.  To be born again, to be born anew, to be born from above– has to do with our being open to God however and whenever God comes to us.

The way that God calls us, the way that God meets us, can change over time. For the person who grows spiritually, the way we perceive God and the ways in which we meet God should change over time. A child who is loved by her parents may easily understand God as a parent. Learning to love the stories of Jesus, we may come to know God most powerfully through Jesus. Listening to God through the whole of life, the ups and downs, and all of the mysteries—we may become more attune to God as Spirit.  God finds us through whatever means meets us best.

The early church spoke of the Holy Trinity as having to do with God’s indwelling, with God’s mutual outpouring and movement into. The Trinity was understood as a dynamic: the Father always pouring love and light and energy into the Son, the Son always pouring himself into the Spirit, and the Spirit moving back into and around the Father and the Son. The word that some theologians have used to describe this continual activity of God is very close to the Greek work for dance, and so it became a popular way of speaking of the Trinity as a kind of dance of love. Brian McLaren puts it well when he writes,

“The Father, Son, and Spirit live in an eternal, joyful, vibrant dance of love and honor, rhythm and harmony, grace and beauty, giving and receiving. The universe was created to be an expression and extension of the dance of God—so all creatures share in the dynamic joy of movement, love, vitality, harmony, and celebration.” (Sojourners, March 2006)

With God there’s always dancing. And we can never be quite sure where God may lead.

In San Francisco, there’s an Episcopal Church that worship God with dancing in mind. The Church of St. Gregory of Nyssa is a church that was founded to try to reclaim the sense of wonder and celebration of the early church, and a famous part of their liturgy includes dancing.  Dancing is so much a part of the church, that when they built a real worship space some years ago, they did it with the particular idea of making room for dancing, for crowds and crowds of people to dance around the altar and with each other.  But even more amazing to me than the dancing parishioners is that on the walls, all around the inside of the church’s rotunda, there are pictures of the faithful—faithful saints of every age, class, custom, and condition—88 saints, and they’re all dancing.  

Dancing together are Sojourner Truth, Miriam, Origen, Malcolm X, Elizabeth I, Iqbal Masih, and Teresa of Avila. You can see who’s included HERE.

One of the longest-named holy people in from the Anglican Tradition is Samuel Joseph Isaac Schereschewski, a missionary who went to China to share the Gospel.  But arriving there, he became ill with a disease that left him paralyzed, so his plans changed.  Rather than give up, he stayed, and worked slowly and painstakingly at translating the Bible into Chinese, which he did.  As he put it, “except for the illness and the wheelchair,” he could never have accomplished that particular work.  And so, Schereschewski is pictured there, too, in his wheelchair, holding on to Ella Fitzgerald on his left and Pope John XXIII on the right.

This picture of saints dancing reminds us that “to dance” often appears to involve primarily the body.  But as any of us who feels awkward, or constrained, or restricted in any way knows, the dance begins inside long before it ever manifests itself.  The dance can be interior and intensely spiritual. The dance can be outward and explicitly political, such as the silent, haunting dance of the mothers of the disappeared who protest the violence and disappearance of their loved ones in El Salvador, in Chile, and in too many parts of the world.

God invites us to join in this dance of love—the love of God that overflows into all of creation. It doesn’t matter if we feel a little awkward. It doesn’t matter if we don’t think we know the steps or that we might stumble and fall occasionally. We’ll learn the steps. We’ll lean on each other, and we’ll continue to grow stronger in God’s love even as we invite others to join us.

May we, like Nicodemus— like all the matriarchs and patriarchs, saints and martyrs—may we be born from above. May we be open to God in whatever way God reveals, and may we have the faith to join the dance of God’s eternal love. 

In the name of the Holy and undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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Spiritual Gifts

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.

The written version of the sermon is here:

Just before the pandemic, I went into a hardware store on the Upper East Side and was surprised to find myself in a conversation about the Holy Spirit.  I was wearing my collar and the person behind the register noticed it and began with, “You’re a minister. Can I ask you a question?” And I said, “Sure.” He asked, “Do you believe in the gift of the Holy Spirit?”  But before I could answer or ask exactly what he meant, he went on to express what I often associate with Pentecostal Christians. He wanted to know if I, personally, had received the gift of tongues.  If I had, he wanted to come and visit our church. But if not, then he would pray for me.”  It was one of those times that I wished I had more scripture committed to memory so that I could have answered his Bible-quoting with some of my own—as if that might accomplish anything.  I got out of the store as soon as possible, leaving him a little disappointed in me.

I think a lot of us associate gifts of the Spirit with that sort of dramatic, over-the-top experience. Speaking in tongues, snake handling (like we read about them doing in Appalachia) or instant healing, like they used to show on television and probably still do somewhere.

But the story from Acts is about the Holy Spirit’s wild and unlimited flow into the world.  The Spirit is not restricted to a couple of strange behaviors. 

In his First letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul describes a fuller picture.

There are varieties of gifts [ Paul says] but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

That loaded word, Pentecostal, has to do with the Day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate today. The “pente” of Pentecost is just like the “pente” of Pentagon. It means five. And Pentecost is the day that is fifty days after Easter. Originally, this coincided with the Jewish feast of weeks, or Shavuot. As we heard in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, that fiftieth day after Easter was when the Holy Spirit appeared to the disciples in a strange and dramatic way. They were overcome by something, and they were changed.

The Acts passage says that the apostles received a gift of tongues, that each one could hear others speaking in a language that made sense to each. And while that is no small thing, there are other places in scripture that talk about the gifts of the spirit. The spiritual gifts go far beyond the ability to speak in tongues or understand another’s tongue. Pentecostalism is the religious movement that highlights the gifts of the Spirit, but especially the gift of tongues, and arose especially in the late 19th century, as a movement of evangelical revival in Great Britain and in the United States. Pentecostals are the people who participate in this movement, like the man I met in the hardware store.

But there are other spiritual gifts.

As I’ve grown in my own faith, and especially as I’ve grown in my own experience of the Church and Christians who populate the Church, I’ve changed my mind about what a Pentecostal looks like.

As I reflect on MY experience of the Holy Spirit in the Church, I see what Paul is talking about. There are those with gifts of tongues, but the way I’ve seen it is not so much through the miraculous speaking and understanding of languages.  But instead, I think of the teacher I know who is able to put complex thought into simple language, so that it can be understood. I think of the person who always has just the right word of grace to speak—which brings peace, brings healing, and brings hope. I think of the person who can speak the truth in the midst of cloudy gibberish.

When I hear Paul’s description of spiritual gifts, I think of those who work for the “common good,” as Paul puts it. And there are those who participate in miracles—not just miracles of healing (and they do happen– sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly).

In Romans 12:6-8, Paul again talks about different spiritual gifts.  He says,

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; administration, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

The Day of Pentecost invites us to not only pray for new spiritual gifts, which we do and will continue to do in the season after the Day of Pentecost.

But also, and especially THIS Pentecost, I think the day also invites us to take inventory of the ways the Holy Spirit has moved among us in the last year and to give thanks.  The gift of fortitude has been by our side. The gift of resilience continues to keep us flexible and open. The gift of tongues has allowed us to speak and hear and encounter God through technology and computer programs we never thought we’d become so good at.

On this day, we celebrate the coming of God’s Holy Spirit in surprising and startling ways. Let us be open to God’s Holy Spirit and let us all be more faithful Pentecostals.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Jesus Prays for Us

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

On May 16, something went wrong in our recording of the 6 PM Community Eucharist. Please join us next week.

The written version of the sermon is here:

Most of you know that on Thursdays, we send a weekly newsletter from the church by email. If you read last week’s, then you probably saw that I explained in the opening article how the Vestry has approved our tip-toeing forward out of the pandemic. We are adding a final congregational hymn at 11 AM beginning next Sunday, and in June, we’ll be having a simple kind of coffee hour time outside, offering a time to catch up with one another. Just after we sent that email, the Center for Disease Control issued its new guidelines around mask-wearing outside and inside.

Though a part of me felt like my and the vestry’s thoughtful, careful discernment was all just wiped away by the CDC, another part of me was also gleeful at the idea of not having to wear a mask all the time. Even though we’ll keep wearing masks in the church until the Bishop of New York says we can take them off, the sort of whiplash effect of the day was yet another once of those experiences for me that we’ve all had this year. We feel conflicting emotions at the same time. While we weren’t so crazy about the recent past, confronted with an uncertain future, we hang on to what we can. Most of us don’t like change and don’t really like ambiguity. We don’t like being in-between.

This Sunday is an in-between kind of Sunday—between the Ascension of Jesus Christ, which was celebrated last Thursday, and the Day of Pentecost, which comes next Sunday. The Book of Acts describes the Ascension, coming 40 days after Easter Sunday. Jesus finishes talking with his disciples, a cloud surrounds him, and Jesus disappears in the cloud. When he had vanished, two men in white robes stood there and said to the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

And so, we’re a little like those disciples, standing between the Ascension and the full gift of Christ’s Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Jesus has ascended (whatever that might mean) and the Holy Spirit is about to burst on the scene with the blast of Pentecost, (whatever that means.) Given the odd nature of this day, we might well understand the disciples’ posture, staying still, gazing into heaven, wondering what it all means.

In the reading from Acts, the disciples are just beginning to re-organize themselves after the betrayal of Jesus by one of their own—Judas—and the death and resurrection of Jesus. In that Jesus appeared among them for some time after the resurrection, and then seemed to ascend to the Father, the disciples have somehow themselves been brought to new life and are ready to move out in God’s will. They choose Matthias and they move out in faith.

The disciples can go forward—just like we can move forward through any difficulty, any fear, any grief, any pain—because they remember the words of Jesus. They remember Jesus’s words, they repeat them, and through prayer and worship and celebrating the Sacred Meal, they feel Christ’s presence among them.

The Gospel for today comes from a portion of John’s Gospel in which Jesus is trying to prepare his friends for the life ahead, for life without him. Jesus knows that their faith will be tested. It will be hard to keep faith in his teachings when he is gone.

Bishop N.T. Wright, (Retired Bishop of Durham, England) suggests a contemporary way of reimagining Jesus’s words. Imagine a young mother, he says, who is about to leave her children in the care of her parents, the grandparents of the child. The mother makes a careful list, reminding the grandparents of the children’s favorite food, their sleeping habits, their play schedule, and all the other things that go into caring for the children.

One can imagine a mother in that situation giving detailed instructions as to how each child should be looked after, not because she didn’t trust her parents to look after them but because she did.” (John for Everyone, p. 94)

Jesus prays for his disciples and friends. He asks God to protect his friends and followers, and all “those who will believe through the word.” Jesus doesn’t ask God to take us out of the world—he knows that it is through people like us that the world can be changed—but he does ask God to protect us from evil, to keep an eye on us, to look out for us, to keep us close.
Jesus prays for us. This means everything. It means that there is a link between us and God, even when we might feel like we haven’t really done our part, or when we feel like we might have messed up that link. That Jesus prays for us means that when we have a tough decision to make, it means we don’t make it alone—he prays for us. It means that even as we try to figure out what it means to be a person of faith and integrity in relationships, at work, in social settings… Jesus prays for us, and is pulling for us to figure it out, and make our way through.
Jesus prays for us and it’s his love that carries the weight of the prayer. It’s his love for us that keeps that prayer in the presence of the Father. When we add our love, then there’s even more in the conversation. It’s through the asking, the answering, and the silences in-between, that prayer works.

Jesus prays for us, and with his spirit we can pray for each other and for ourselves. The prayer moves through a kind of frequency that is based on love– or even when it’s not quite love, but simply friendship, or concern, or regard—it serves as the medium through which prayer moves.
In the 80’s and 90’s studies were done on prayer. Often these were done where a person was not told they were being prayed for, or the person praying might have no relationship with the person being prayed for. Sometimes such prayer experiments were done using things other than people. The results, as you might expect, were inconclusive, at best. But some are doing newer studies, not so much trying to prove causation, but exploring the possibilities of prayer, of there being some connection between two people, and whether that connection can affect a person or both people, for good.

If we are like the disciples in the Book of Acts, standing and gazing into heaven, looking for Christ, we’ll probably be looking a long time. But if we look inward through prayer, if we seek to meet him prayerfully in the Sacraments, and if we prayerfully look in one another for the risen Christ, then the clouds may come and go, God is God, and God’s “the steadfast love endures for ever.”

When Jesus spoke the words in today’s Gospel, I think his heart was probably heavy, as he anticipated leaving the people he loved. But his heart was also full, as he gave thanks for his time among his friends and family. The humanity of Jesus shows us how we can be most loving. But the divinity of Jesus reminds us that God comes into us to make us holy—not only so that we might more completely recognize God, but also that we might gradually become more like God.

Thanks be to God that Christ prays for us and prays within us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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The Love Christ Calls us to Show

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Community Eucharist

The written version of the sermon is here:

When I lived and worked in midtown, I used to pass the big Robert Indiana sculpture that spelled LOVE in giant letters, arranged in a block. It was at 55th Street and 6th Avenues, though I understand it’s been removed for restoration. It used to be fun to watch people pose with it in interesting ways. Everyone was drawn to it. Everyone felt like they could approach it.

Love is like that. It seems approachable. But its easy proximity can also hide some of its complexity.

How can the same word express my love of chocolate, my love of a brown sweatshirt, my love of my mother and father, my love of my spouse, and my love of this parish? I love them all, but in truth, I love the things I just listed differently.

Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Love one another.” That’s clear enough—but is it? If most of us were we’re honest, we might admit that Jesus’s commandment to love one another is overwhelming.

It’s an ideal, but it’s unobtainable by most of us. In my own life, I realize the impossibility of those words when I’m honest enough to admit that, in truth, I don’t always like everyone—much less, love them. Some people are difficult. And yet, I have the words of Jesus in my head, that I “Should” love… and without really thinking about what that means, I feel burdened and unworthy by the reality of how far I am from the goal.

We can all feel a bit unworthy, if we read about those first Christians with a kind of “stained glass” lens. We read how the earliest Christians were known by the love they showed for each other. And then we look at our church or denomination or the fragmented state of Christianity, and notice that we don’t always love very well. Us or other Christians are not especially noticed for being loving.

I recall the wonderful honesty of a former parishioner, who would say, “I know Jesus tells me to love my neighbor, but sometimes I have to love from across the street.” And while she meant that as a kind of confession, she was actually naming a kind of love that has just as much integrity as other kinds of love. It’s just that the English language doesn’t invite us to reflect on different kinds of love.

Just as love is not always straightforward or clear in our world—it’s more complicated in the scriptures, too. Especially in John’s Gospel, there is a lot of complexity around this idea of love.

John uses different words to talk about love—there is (the Greek word storge) the love that is really more of a simple affection for someone.

There is (philia) the kind of love one has for a friend.

There is eros, (not really erotic, in the way our culture uses it), but eros is the romantic love that involves feeling, romance, and a kind of longing.

And there’s the love John talks about most for Christians, the love of agape.

Jesus doesn’t call us to feel eros toward everyone we meet. We are not created for, nor expected to feel warm fuzzies every time we encounter someone. He calls us, he commands us, to love one another, but he commands us to love with agape love.

Agape love describes an attitude. This agape love has to do with a willingness to yield to the other, a kind of availability for others. In full expression, it has to do with giving of one’s life in sacrifice for another. Agape seeks to serve others and moves out of oneself into the realm of others—quite honestly, whether we like them or not.

This is the kind of love we hear about in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. We might get a little tripped up by the strange language of the “circumcised” and the “uncircumsized,” but this is basically spiritual shorthand to talk about those followers of Jesus who were raised as Jews and those who had come to faith in Jesus, but were foreigners, non-Jews, outsiders. In a preview of the Day of Pentecost, Peter is just astounded that God’s Spirit has fallen on these newcomers, these foreigners, just as fully as God’s Spirit has fallen on those who were raised in the faith, followed all the religious traditions, and always said their prayers. Peter is able to love the newcomers because he sees the fruit of their faith and sees evidence of God’s love for them.

Agape love is powerful stuff because it begins with God, not with a good feeling you or I might have. God gave himself to the world. God’s love came to live with humanity in the work and person of Jesus. That love of his has been let loose in the world making it possible for that same love to move through us, if we let it.

This is the love of God moving through us, and it has nothing to do with how nice I am, or how holy I am, or even how good we might be— it is the pure and perfect love of God that flows through us, sometimes in spite of ourselves. Agape love doesn’t even depend on the object of its loving power. This kind of love loves the other person not because they are worthy or good or in any way inspire love, but simply because it is the nature of God’s love to love. And that unloving person, by the grace of God’s love, can eventually be loved into being loving.

In C.S. Lewis’s little book, The Four Loves, Lewis quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson pointing out that when someone says, “Do you love me?” They’re really asking, “Do you see the same truth?” Or at least, “Do you care about the same truth, as I?”

C. S. Lewis elaborates on this. He points out that the person who goes through life simply looking for friends may never make any. This is because the very condition of making friends is that we should want something beyond the friendship. The friendship must be about something. Those who have nothing can share nothing, and those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.

Lewis points out that when friendship is based on agape love, the friendship doesn’t depend upon the particulars of this person or that. We become friends without knowing or caring about whether a person is single or in a relationship, how the person earns a living, or where the person lives. The real question remains, “Do you see the same truth?” “Do you care about the same truth?” Lewis suggests that friendship based in agape love is a little like world leaders from independent states who meet on neutral ground. In the neutral space they are freed from their contexts. They are freed to be something new.

This is a good day to think about love, this day many celebrate as Mother’s Day. Many of us have enjoyed a good and loving relationship with our mothers and today is a natural and easy day. But others have a more complicated relationship and the day shares in those complications. Some perhaps have never felt love from their mother and so find they find the whole notion perplexing.

But just as a mother’s love might be multi-leveled and complex, and our love for a mother might be complicated, we are called to be people of Christ’s love. The love of Christ is not a kiss to be caught, but rather, a willingness to look beyond the self for a truth that can be shared. To love one another means to give of ourselves—our money, our talents, our minds, our hearts, and to give to others that they may be loved into loving. This is how we will be saved. This is how the world will be saved.

Thanks be to God for the love of Jesus Christ that moves through us, that changes us, that brings us to God.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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