Monday, April 16, 2007

"The ABC is coming, The ABC is coming"

For those of us old enough to remember "The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming", that flick that spoofed all the Red drama that characterized my youth, I think that we may be putting our hopes in the attendance of the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) in a similar bucket as those of the old movie. I do not believe that meeting with the ABC will provide a solution to the problems in the Episcopal Church (TEC) any more than the appearance of a broken down Soviet submarine did to the people of the movie. But it may be the beginning of Perestroika within the Anglican Communion.

That the ABC has been avoiding meeting with the leadership of TEC since his appointment has been obvious. His numerous meetings with conservative elements in TEC has been ominous at best and subversive at worst. I can understand that the ABC did not want to interfere in what was initially seen an internal issue in TEC. However, the omnipresence of CANA, IRD and AAC leaders in the ABC's vision as well as the spreading around of financial resources from the Uberright has made what should be an issue within the American church, an international breaking point.

I am grateful to +Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem for his open letter to the ABC to meet with the House of Bishops (HoB) and/or the Executive Council. That letter became a catalyst, I believe, for the HoB to make a unanimous call to Dr. Williams to be with them for a time a prayer and discussion. That letter voiced a concern that many were feeling but not articulating.

We do know that ++Jefferts-Shori invited the ABC to come to meet with the HoB but was told that he couldn't work it into his schedule. Often times men have difficulty hearing what women say the first time, especially when those men are not accustomed to listening to women's voices. Perhaps the ABC will now understand that ++Katharine DOES speak for TEC!

Unlike many Americans, I do not believe that American needs to be listened to anymore carefully than any other nation. And if the Uberright had not started to interfere in the African churches with their self-righteousness, this would be an internecine squabble with in the American Church. But like the Bishop of Honduras used to say: "Being in bed with America is like an ant in bed with an elephant. It can be done but the ant is always nervous." Our size and our resources make the less wealthy national churches nervous. That nervousness needs to be assuaged and only conversation with the ABC and HoB can help assuage it.

That the ABC is coming is a good and perhaps holy thing. I do hope the differentiation that characterized the HoB in their April communication will continue to serve the Church in September. The issue is not to force the ABC to think differently. It is an invitation to be with--to be IN communion. It is time. And thanks to all on either side of the Pond who made it happen.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Tomb is Empty

Holy Redeemer Lutheran
Binghamton, NY
April 8, 2007
“The Tomb is Empty”

Luke 24: 1-12
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

I don’t know if you have ever noticed, but in the four Gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, the stories of the Resurrection are different. In Mark there are no appearances of the risen Christ but a promise that he will come to the disciples in Galilee. In Mathew we hear of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in Galilee. In Luke, as we heard this morning, an angel tells the disciples that he is risen and it will be next week when we hear of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus. And in John we hear Mary finding Jesus in the garden in Jerusalem.

It is well worth your looking up these bible passages at your leisure and reading the different stories of the Resurrection. One isn’t right and the others wrong. They are just four different accounts of the mystery of the Resurrection that people told and which were set down some 30 to 80 years after the event. But there is one thing that is common to all of these stories: In each Gospel, the tomb is empty.

In each Gospel we are brought quickly to the apex of the story of Jesus. These gospels are not about Jesus’ life and death anymore. They are not about his teachings or his ministry, who he healed or even raised from the dead. They are about the fact that something powerful happened not just to Jesus, but for all humanity. In Luke, when the women go to prepare his body with spices, they find the stone rolled away. They could not find his body. Then two in white, which all of his followers would have identified as angels said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.”

The tomb is empty.

Most of the time when we say that something is empty it is a negative thing. We even have psychologists telling us that if we see that something is half-empty we tend to be negative people. To see life based upon on what we don’t have creates a need to get more ---to spend our lives trying to fill up the voids in our lives. We often refer to the emptiness of our lives or the vacant place within ourselves as something that needs to be crammed with meaning. And yet when we find this scene in Jesus’ life we find that it is the emptiness that carries the weight of meaning for the Christian.

“Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified and on the third day rise again,” the angels say to the women. For the Christian to believe that Christ is risen and not in the tomb of death, is THE statement of faith. The earliest creed in the Church was: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” It was in the past and it is today, and it will be forever, the most basic understanding of the Christian faith. When you try to type out Christ is risen, on your computer, you will find that the grammar correction will automatically say “Christ HAS risen”, but that is not the statement of faith! It is not past tense. It isn’t past perfect even. The faith tells us that Christ IS risen. It is something that is going on right now and has been going on for 2,000 years. The tomb continues to be empty, because he is risen as he said.

The Empty Tomb is the sign that life is full.

Philip was a nine year old that was what we might call developmentally disabled. He had difficulty keeping up with his fellow classmates. The children in his Sunday school class were often impatient with him. One Easter the teacher of the class brought some plastic eggs that you can get at the dollar store and told her class to find something that symbolized the resurrection an put it in their eggs and then return to class. One girl found a butterfly and placed it in her egg. A boy found a blade of new grass and put it in his egg. Another boy thought Jesus was the rock and placed a small stone in his egg. But when Philip returned he had nothing in his egg. “Oh Philip, you didn’t do it right,” the kids said. “That’s stupid.” “I DID do it right.” Philip said. “The tomb was empty.”

As so often happens with slow children, Philip died that year. At the offertory at his funeral his Sunday school classmates processed up to the altar each laying their empty plastic eggs on the altar. They too understood what Philip had said: “The tomb is empty.”

We no longer need to fear death because the tomb is empty. We no longer need to fear what life has in store for us, because he is risen right here and now. We no longer have to fret about what we are to eat, or what we are to wear. We no longer have to worry that our children are going to be ok. We no longer have to wonder about how our lives are going to work out because the tomb is empty.

The grace that is worked for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the kind of action that tells us that God is about saving all of creation. This does not mean that we do not have to do our part. This does mean that we have to assume the responsibility for the gifts God has given us. But all too often we humans forget that God is still working out our salvation in that empty tomb—that it is God who is still gracing us with the love he showed in raising his Son.

The empty tomb becomes a metaphor for our lives. It becomes a way for us to face life with hope. If death cannot stop us, what need we be afraid of? If life is given in the quiet of the tomb, why should we be scared of what death might bring? If grace is flooded upon us even in our sinfulness, what is keeping us from turning our lives over to Christ? It is in the empty tombs of our existence that God comes close to us, raises us and restores us so that each part of our life can be filled with those resurrection moments—that we can know the meaning of life eternal.

It is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we see our own lives. But it is also in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we can see the gift of others too. When we lay down our own fears, then we can look in to the lives of others and find in them the salvation that God holds out to them as well. It is in the empty tomb that we find that we do not have to fill up our voids to the exclusion of others. There is room on this wee earth for all God’s children. It is in the empty tomb that we come to know that Ultimate power comes from God and that all other power is false.

The story of the resurrection is timeless. It is not a matter of what happened 2,000 years ago that makes a difference in our lives today. The story of Jesus is our story. His life is our lives. It was his faith in God that allowed him to know that death was not the end. And it is our faith that allows us to look into those empty places in our lives and know that it is not the end. For us the empty tomb must be the place where we find the faith to make this world a place that is different. It must be our willingness to face the powers of this world with God’s power knowing that eternal life is always ours. It is in the voids of our worlds that we must be willing to show forth God’s love to those who do not think as we do. Like the women at the tomb, we must hear the angels, though. We may not look for the living among the dead. We must, as Church look for those who need to know the love of God and share it with them. And we must be about the tearing down of power structures that are not of God.

It is among the living that we are to live out of our empty tombs, freed from fear, freed from the bondage to power that is not of God. It is among the living that we are called to love one another in the name of Christ. It is among the living we are to embrace God’s power so that we do not fear it but share it. For this day of Easter proclaims that God’s power is enough. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Maundy Thursday

A sermon preached at Holy Redeemer Lutheran Church, Binghamton, NY

“Why is this night different from all other nights?” This is the question that is asked at the beginning of the Jewish Seder supper on the night of Passover. The youngest child asks this question and begins the telling of the story of Israel’s emancipation from slavery, the protection that God gave them in the desert and the sustenance that was afforded them until they came into the Promised Land.

Passover is this traditional meal that Jesus longed to eat with his disciples. It is the Last Supper in which Jesus places a new meaning on the blessing of bread and wine that are shared. Jesus shares with his disciples his body and blood—his presence as they participate in their most important ceremony of their heritage, of their faith and of their people. “This is my body; this is my blood.” Jesus says. And throughout the past two thousand years we have been celebrating his actions, living again and again this one act of self-offering.

Each Sunday I have been with you I have celebrated this feast of God’s making with you. We have sung and communed with our hearts open wide to God’s gift. I would guess that some of us go through the motions sometimes. And at times it is the most profound act of faith that we do in our week--- this sharing in the death and resurrection of our Savior. And throughout the year we probably find ourselves receiving Christ’s body and blood with varying degrees of attention, understanding, theological awareness, emotion or whatever. But is at the point of our reception of Christ’s Body and Blood something stops us and says to us: “I am with you”. “I am always here” “You can find me in the breaking of the bread even when you can’t find me anywhere else.” That is the promise of Maundy Thursday.

It is the reason why we have come to share our sandwiches and eat our soup. It is the reason that in this most hectic of weeks in the Christian Calendar, we stop and wonder why this night is different from every other night. We wonder what is so important that we should receive Communion so often. We wonder why the ritual is so compelling that it should be celebrated every Sunday.

I don’t know about you but the most precious times in my life has been when the whole family has come together for a meal. It is when we hear all the latest gossip about family members. We also tell all the stories of the past so that the younger members know what it means to be members of the family. It is also the most nerve wracking, the most aggravating and most likely when the most horrendous arguments get played out. It is the nature of families, and it is the nature of family meals, I think. Emotions are high; expectations are high, and we want everything to go right. I remember my mother planning for days what was to happen when the family came—and we are a small family.

I would think it was not so different in Jesus’ day. In the Gospel we hear of the preparations that were made for this Passover meal so that everyone could share this holy time with the Teacher. But what does Jesus do? He did something quite uncharacteristic for the host of the Passover meal in that day. According to John’s Gospel, he went around and washed his followers’ feet. He took a basin of water and washed their dirty, sandaled feet. It is hard to duplicate in today’s society what this act was like, because it was the work that slaves did. Jesus took upon himself the duties of a servant.

In the Episcopal tradition we have the ritual of the washing of the feet in which the priest washes the feet of his or her parishioners. When I lived in CA, it worked pretty well because most everyone wore sandals, but when I came back to upstate NY it is harder to get folks to get rid of their socks for the service. It is generally a bit too chilly on Maundy Thursday. But when it does happen it is a holy moment and in a small parish you can allow parishioners to wash each others’ feet. Many grudges are healed in that kind of service.

In the convent it was the superior of the community who used to wash her sister’s feet. It was a profound sign of humility and service. And yet like Peter we find it difficult to do it or allow it to be done for us. I served the soup tonight for a reason. It is the pastor’s duty to feed her people whether here or downstairs.

Whether we find in Maundy Thursday the sign of Christ feeding us in the Eucharist or we find in Christ the humility of servant-hood, the symbol of God’s saving action, it doesn’t matter. This night is different from every other night because Jesus attached to that Passover story a way of participating not only in God’s love for us, but also to participate in one another’s lives at a profound level. We have been called to receive the love of one another and to give God’s love to one another. We not only offer it, but we receive that which Jesus intended us to receive: God’s love.

Some weeks ago I attended a meeting within my own tradition regarding the sharing of communion with the Methodists. A couple of older clergy were there greatly concerned about the Methodist’s understanding of Holy Communion. There was some talk about transubstantiation, consubstantiation and a few other ‘substantiations’ that I hadn’t heard of. Finally I asked: “What is the purpose of a communion service with the Methodists? Isn’t it to make Christ present to the whole of the community? Is it necessary to wonder HOW or WHEN bread is made body or wine is made blood? Isn’t it enough that we stand in the mystery that none of us understand that God may make God present when God wishes? We need but be willing to name what God has done and claim it as God’s continuing work among us.”

An Episcopal colleague of mine tells the story of five-year old Margaret who had been receiving Holy Communion from an early age coming to the communion rail with two of her 5 year old friends and their dad. Dad wanted his children to receive Holy Communion when they understood what it meant. The children were holding their hands out to receive like Margaret, but dad was trying to hold them back. Then Margaret said “Don’t worry, I will share and she broke her host into three parts and gave them to her friends. My colleague said to the dad: “Don’t stop this! They understand the meaning of Eucharist better than we do.” Sometimes it is the child in and among us that allows us to know the profound mystery of God’s love.

I have to admit that even though I looked all over the website at and the last 10 years of The Lutheran magazine, I could find no description of what Holy Communion means except that Lutherans accept that it is the Real Presence of Christ. Is there anything more that needs to be said? Do we need to parse out what that means, or can we accept that definition for gift? I am certainly comfortable with that description. And when others ask, tell them that as Lutherans you believe in the Real Presence of Christ. What we will do tonight around this altar is share bread and wine and most of all God’s love.

The bread that is broken and the wine that is poured out for us is nothing less than Christ. It is through that brokenness that we know healing; it is through that pouring out that we know what it means to be give our all for Christ. And when we receive it, we participate in 2000 years of other faithful people claiming and spreading the love of God too. We participate in our Savior’s gift of grace by living out that love every day of our lives. And if we don’t get it right all the time, we stand in that saving goodness that makes up for all our frailties.

This night is different from any other night because the Passover we celebrate is one of liberation from the fear of everything. It is a participation in the security of God’s love. It is a celebration of the greatest mystery of our faith. It is the living into of Christ’s saving action. It is all of these things and more---way, way more. We need but know God’s forgiveness, God’s acceptance, God’s generosity, God’s comfort, God’s mercy to know that Holy Communion signs for us the wholeness of God’s friendship with us.

This night is different from other nights because we find that it is through this sacrament, this sign of God’s love we understand that when we participate in this Holy Communion we are called to love others. We are to call from our society to live out the justice that Christ’s death demands. We are nurtured by this sacred meal so that we can by grace live out fairness and wholeness not only for ourselves but for others too. It is not enough to just “receive our Jesus” and return to what we have been before. This night calls us to live up to the life Jesus calls from us—the life he lived in honesty and truth. It is not enough for us just to “eat and run” in this holy meal. The Eucharist is not ‘fast food’ wolfed down on the way to something else. This Holy Communion is the center of our lives. To eat this bread and drink this cup means that we honor what God has done for us by sending us his Son. And as a response to this holy meal, we commit ourselves to living lives that proclaim God’s love in every aspect of our lives.

This night is different from every other night because we are invited to live the story once more. We strip the altar in remembrance of Jesus’ Passion and transparency. We honor God in our actions this night as well as honor ourselves with God’s gift of Christ to us. It is the sign of our trusting in the God who makes all life have meaning, who promises life eternal, who gives us signs of Jesus’ presence among us in flesh and blood, and who graces us with saving love every moment of our lives. This night is different from every other night because we have come to believe that Christ is present as he said he would be in the breaking of the bread and in the service of our fellow human beings. AMEN