The Posture of Worship

New in the Pew (c) 2007 The Church Pension Group

This cartoon hangs behind me in my office, and it came to mind every time I read through the Gospel lesson for Sunday.  I can’t get out of my mind how the change in posture of the woman bent double changed everything about how she saw the world, but most especially, how she approached the Lord her God in worship.

Luke tells us that when she finally stood straight, for the first time in 18 years, her reaction was to praise God.  Liturgically, this makes sense since standing is the traditional posture of praise.  For 18 years, the woman was bound to a posture of reverence and penitence, but on this day, she was able to stand up straight and claim the fullness of who God made her to be.

In The Episcopal Church, we do all sorts of stuff with posture: Episcopal calisthenics, we call it; but do we give any real thought to how our  posture affects our relationship with God?

Set Free to Build the Kingdom – a sermon

You can listen to it here, or read on.

Generally speaking, I like things that are done simply.  I’m not a fan of clutter.  For example, I love our new Saint Paul’s logo.  It is very simple, just a black and white cross, but it carries a lot of underlying value.  The cross is based on the Celtic crosses that make up the decorations throughout the 1928 chapel: hanging in the reredos, providing support in the altar rail, and even built into the altar that Chuck Kelly built us a few years back.  It ties us to our history, both to the old chapel at Saint Paul’s and further back to the role of the Celts in the development of Christianity in England.  In its current form on the cover of your bulletin, it is striking, clear, and my favorite, clean.  My affinity for simplicity meant that I was overjoyed this week as I prepared to preach and found a description of the Church year that had only two parts!  Usually, the Church year is broken down into six seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and the interminable season after Pentecost; but this was just two!  Oh I was so thrilled!  My Biblical Scholar crush on David Lose grows and grows!

“The first half of the lectionary year – from Advent to Ascension – is typically called the ‘Season of Christ’ and attempts to answer the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’  The second half of the year – from Pentecost to Christ the King Sunday – is named [the] ‘Season of the Church’ and addresses the follow-up question, ‘And what does it mean to follow Jesus?’”[1]  I find this really helpful as a preacher because it gives me a first question to ask as I study a new text each week.  Here, as we approach the middle of our twenty-six week long “Season of the Church” it is helpful to approach our Gospel lesson by asking the question, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” “What are the hallmarks of discipleship?”

First, it means that we should have no fear.  “Do not be afraid, little flock,” Jesus says to his disciples, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  “Do not be afraid,” is a common refrain in Scripture used as the prelude to an announcement of the wonderful works of God.  In Luke’s gospel, “Do not be afraid” gets used at six, very important, times. An Angel of the Lord says it to Zechariah announcing that the aged and barren Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist (1:13).  The Angel Gabriel says it to the Virgin Mary announcing the she would give birth to Jesus (1:30).  An Angel of the Lord says it to the shepherds tending their flocks by night announcing the “good news of great joy for all people” that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem (2:10). Jesus says it to Simon [Peter] as he called him to leave his nets and become a fisher of people (5:10).  Later, Jesus says it to the crowd of thousands as he exhorted them to not be ashamed to confess his name (12:7).  Finally, Jesus urges his disciples to “not be afraid” in our current passage because God desires to give them the kingdom (12:32).  This is the starting place for the rest of what we heard this week and the rest of what we will hear over the next fourteen weeks, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure – it is God’s ‘intention, plan, and delight’ – to give you the kingdom.”[2]  God desires nothing more than to see his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, and he wants you to be a part of it.  This lack of fear should set us free, should give us faith and confidence, to follow through on the rest of Jesus’ advice.

The second hallmark of discipleship in today’s lesson is almsgiving.  “Sell your possessions, and give alms,” Jesus says.  Having been set free from fear and assured of the promises of the Father, our first job as disciples of Jesus is to be generous.  The generosity that Jesus calls for in this passage isn’t the kind of generosity that is good for the Church as Jesus doesn’t say, “sell your possessions and give your money to an institution.”  Instead, Jesus calls his disciples and calls us to take care of the poor and needy.  We are set free from a theology of scarcity and empowered to be generous in serving those in need.

The third hallmark of discipleship is the right placement of our treasure.  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Obviously, this is not unrelated to giving alms to the poor, but I believe that when Jesus uses the word “treasure” he means a whole lot more than money.  We give worth to all sorts of things: prestige, position, and power are given high value in society.  Often, we gauge our value on the success of our children.  Maybe your treasure is the right house in the right neighborhood with the right car parked in the driveway.  For some, their treasure is simply getting to heaven when they die.  Jesus sets us free from all falsely placed treasures and helps us to see that the only true treasure is the Kingdom of God, that gift that the Father so enjoys to lavish upon us.  With the kingdom as our treasure, then our hearts will surely be fixed upon the ways in which we can help bring it to earth by preaching “Good News to the poor,” and proclaiming “That captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”[3]  We have been set free to build the kingdom.

Finally, the fourth hallmark of discipleship in this passage is to be prepared for his return.  “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit,” Jesus tells his disciples.  This version of Jesus’ second coming isn’t one based in fear of being left behind or anxiety over the great tribulation to come.  Instead, Jesus calls on us to be set free from fear and to look with “eager expectation” to the fullness of God’s “consummation of history.”[4]  Sure, not even Jesus knows when it will all be over, but the key isn’t to “look busy” because he might show up at any moment, but to live lives of the Kingdom at all times and in all places because that is what disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ do.  When he comes, the reward will be great for those who are found doing the work of the Father.  Our motivation isn’t fear of the lake of fire, but joy in the wonderful work of the Kingdom of God.  We have been set free to look with hope to the future fulfillment of God’s good and perfect plan.

What are the hallmarks of discipleship?  Have no fear.  Take care of the poor.  Secure your treasure in the kingdom.  And be prepared.  We do all these things in response to the promise that is given to us in Christ Jesus: “it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.”  It is an honor and a privilege to be called to share in the promises and dream of God, and he has set you free to be a disciple.  Go and build the Kingdom.  Amen.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Luke 4:18-19 (para)


Just Preach The Lord’s Prayer!?!

There is a running joke among preachers that if the lessons seem too tough to tackle, you can always “preach the collect” or, in the absolute worst case scenario, “preach the Lord’s Prayer.”  I’ve preached the collect a time or two, but never have I been so bold as to preach the Lord’s Prayer.  Imagine my surprise then, when I opened the Lectionary Page and saw,

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.'”

What does one preach when the lesson is the Lord’s Prayer!?!?!

Back in seminary, St. James’ Potomac did a five week Lenten Study on the Lord’s Prayer.  Whole books have been written on the topic.  I’m certain the “trespasses” vs. “debts” vs. “sins” debate has caused more than one schism.  So, I’m wondering early on a Monday morning, will you be preaching the Lord’s Prayer this week?  I’m tempted.

But I’m just as tempted not to.

The Life of Faith is Proactive

Last Sunday, we heard the story of the Good Samaritan.  If you’ll recall, after a man was beaten and robbed, he was left naked and half dead in a ditch.  As fate would have it, two guys (they were all guys back then) who were among the religious elite came by, saw the man bleeding in the ditch, and passed by on the other side.  As I posited last week, they engaged in active jerkery.

Contrast that story with the Genesis lesson in Track 2 of the Lectionary (which you won’t hear read at Saint Paul’s because we’re doing Track 1 this summer and TKT is preaching on Amos on Sunday) in which Abraham, while sitting at the entrance of his tent, enjoying the warm summer breeze, looked up and saw three complete strangers nearby and went out of his way to welcome them.

When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on– since you have come to your servant.”

Well, he actually went out of Sarah and one of their slave’s way, but the family certain did their best to welcome the strangers.

Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

I can’t help but wonder how “out of our way” we go to welcome guests into our midst.  I’m not talking used car salesman, hot boxing of these people, but do we make them feel welcome?  Do we help them navigate the bulletin and hymn books?  Do we help them understand the flow to the altar rail?  Do we walk with them to the coffee pot after the service is over and introduce them to someone else?  Are we proactive in our welcome?

I’d like to think that most congregations aren’t actively jerky to guests, but I suspect most are at best passive.  They assume everyone knows what H82 or LEVASII or 79BCP means.  They assume that everyone knows how to get communion (or a blessing), how to get signed up for more information, or that a coffee hour even exists.  SHW grew up in a Presbyterian Church where a post-worship fellowship event happened monthly, not weekly.  Coffee hour isn’t as ubiquitously Christian as we might like to believe.

At Saint Paul’s, we probably get a B- in active welcome.  We’ve slipped back into some old habits of post-worship welcome that we should do away with, but we’re trying.  The life of faith is proactive, and as Abraham can attest, it is certainly worth the effort.

Your sins are forgiven

There are several moments in the Sunday liturgy that I approach with fear and trepidation.  Pronouncing God’s blessing is an amazing responsibility.  Daring to stand at God’s altar, and on behalf of the congregation, offering thanksgiving for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a true joy.  Rehearsing the weekly announcements makes me want to poke myself in the eye.  Above all the rest, however, the largest responsibility of my priestly vocation is standing up, solely, before the congregation after we’ve corporately confessed our sins and proclaiming God’s forgiveness.

“Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, keep you in everlasting life.” (BCP, p. 360)

I feel the weight of this awesome responsibility every Sunday, (and especially on Ash Wednesday), and I’m reminded of this in the Gospel lesson appointed for Sunday.  “Who is this who even forgives sins?” the crowd asks.  The one who dares speak forgiveness stands in a precarious place; be it Jesus (who actually forgives the woman’s sins) or a priest (who speaks on behalf of the Church based on the authority given the Apostles in John 20.23 and elsewhere).  It is a dangerous pronouncement because of how powerful it is.  Forgiveness is a release from debt, a restoration to fullness of life, a chance for a fresh start.  And the good news is that Jesus offers it to us again and again and again.

A lot can change in three years

During the time of Elijah’s ministry, while the LORD was particularly angry with Ahab and his Ba’al worshiping wife, Jezebel, God shut off the rain in the fertile crescent for three years.  It was a drought of epic proportions.  It was a mess in those days, and people were hungry everywhere.  Which is why Elijah’s seemingly simple request, “bring me a morsel of bread” brings forth such a dramatic reaction from the Widow, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”  Elijah, however, has been shown the bigger picture.

Three years ago this week, oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig first rolled ashore on the beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.  I preached on the Widow of Zerephath story the following Sunday (you can read it here), during a time of much anxiety, when it was impossible to see the bigger picture.  Now, as the Lectionary cycle comes back around to Proper 5, Year C, I find myself looking back over the last three years and realizing that what was once a colossal mess has turned out to be a great benefit for my neck of the woods as for the second year in a row tourism numbers are record breaking, building has increased, and life in south Alabama is pretty darn good.  After 18 months of buckling down, caring for one another, and sharing the resources that were available in the midst of a crisis, South Alabama is stronger today than it was in early June 2010.

Just like the story of Elijah and Ahab, however, we haven’t yet touched the root problems that caused the mess in the first place.  We still hunger after cheap oil, and oil companies are still cutting corners to sell cheap and rake big profits, but the word I felt compelled to speak then remains true today, “God is here.”  But boy, what a difference three years makes.

A Pentecost Blessing

I’m about as loosey-goosey as one who has twice taken a vow of loyalty to the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them” can be, but the reality of my low-church, liberal reading of the rubrics, is that here at Saint Paul’s, our worship has a strong Episcopal/Anglican identity even if we do wear cassock-albs and there is nary a chasuble in sight.  For example, rather than offering any blessing that might come to mind in the closing minutes of Sunday worship, we tend to use the blessings suggested in The Book of Occasional Services (2003) instead.

As I read the Gospel lesson for Trinity Sunday, it brought to mind the powerful words of the single blessing option for The Day of Pentecost (which, I would argue is appropriate straight through ordinary time), and while there is a blessing provided for Trinity Sunday, because of the lectionary’s prescribed texts for Year C, I would instead recommend using this blessing at the end of services this weekend.

In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

The Pentecost blessing reads, “May the Spirit of truth lead you into all truth, giving you grace to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and to proclaim the wonderful works of God; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always. Amen.

While our cultural context is ever evolving (or devolving, as the case may be), it is the Spirit whose job it is to guide us into all truth.  Sometimes, this means making tough decisions toward new theologies.  Sometimes, this means being the conservative voice in a culture that seems to have lost its way.  Sometimes, perhaps more often than not, it means living into the mantra of Kairos Prison Ministry: listen, listen.  Love, love.

As I prepare to be the celebrant at three services for Trinity Sunday, I do so fully prepared to ask for myself and on behalf of my congregation, that the Spirit of truth might lead us into all truth, and that we might we made willing enough to go there.

What Should We Do?

If I were in the smokey room, sipping a glass of 25 year old MacAllan, and debating the pericopes that would eventually make up the Revised Common Lectionary, I think I would have suggested a change to the Pentecost lesson.  The RCL is quite fond of “Selected Verses,” that is, they are really good at cherry picking the Scriptures to try to make 1) a coherent narrative or 2) force a theme upon the preacher.  I find it odd, then, that in their attempt to not deal with Peter’s exegesis of the Joel and the Gospel, they didn’t jump back into Acts 2 at verse 37.

“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’  Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you n the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may forgiven; and you will receive the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord God calls to him.'” (Acts 2:37-39, emphasis mine)

While pinning down an Apostolic tradition is like nailing Jell-o to a wall, my reading ahead of this summer’s “Mapping Ritual Structures” class has led me to believe that the most ancient of baptismal traditions is Pentecost Day baptisms.  Baptism is, according to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, “Full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ Body the Church.” (298)  That sentiment is stated more fully in the prayer over the neophytes immediately after they’ve been washed with water (and optionally (this action is required, but can happen before or after the prayer), “confirmed” by the laying on of hands and marked with the sign of the cross (with the additional of option of sealing with chrism)).

“Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace.  Sustain them, O Lord, in  your Holy Spirit.  Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere  a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.  Amen.” (308)

As I read Acts 2 and subsequent Church history, the ancient ideal appears to be that when the Gospel message “cuts to the quick” one is immediately baptized, receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, and is fed at the Lord’s table (an addition that comes not too far after Acts 2).  While the tradition would grow to make certain days (i.e. Pentecost and The Easter Vigil) better suited for baptism than others, the reality is that what is happening in the Sacrament is always the Church catching up with what the Spirit is already doing.  The 3,000 who were added to the fold on Pentecost Day were asking “What must we do” because the Spirit was already at work, leading them by way of Peter’s sermon, to life in the Kingdom of God.  The ritual actions of baptism and the laying on of hands are the outward and visible sign of the power of the Spirit already at work.

Even in our very modern liturgy, we don’t presume that the Spirit arrives on the scene in the waters or the chrism, but instead we pray that the neophytes might by “sustained” in the Spirit: that the Spirit might continue the work already begun.  So, as the Saint Paul’s family gathers on the shores of Week’s Bay this Sunday to take our place in 2,000 years of historical precedent and baptize an infant and at least one adult, we do so, fully realizing that God is already at work, that grace has already been poured out, and that the Spirit’s power is working in and through the Church and her members all the time.

What should we do?  Give thanks.  Splash water.  Live in the Spirit.

What do you want to hear?

I am always amazed at the reaction of the crowd on Pentecost Day, as they see before them a group of Galileans, but hear the Good News being proclaimed, each in their native tongue.  Luke tells us that “all were amazed and perplexed.”  This seems to be the appropriate reaction to what is going on here.

The details of the story are a bit vague, so we don’t know how many disciples were gathered together on Pentecost.  The list of languages represented seems to be close to 15, so we can assume that there was more than the 12.  Luke doesn’t tell us if the gathering had spilled out into the streets or if all the commotion was still happening within the house with the crowd gathering outside.  We don’t know if the people could still hear or feel the rushing wind.  Whether or not the tongues of fire that lighted upon the disciples are still visible, Luke doesn’t tell us.  All we know is that people who didn’t look like they should be speaking certain languages were, and everyone was “amazed and perplexed.”  The reaction, however, was mixed.

Some, Luke tells us, asked “What does this mean?”  While others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine!”  Some, it would seem, were hopeful: searching for some deeper relationship with God, while others couldn’t imagine the God that they worshiped acting in such a way.  All of them, we are told, were “devout Jews” and “Proselytes.”  It strikes me that the Church is, in many ways, still split down the middle like the crowd was in Luke’s story.  Some are seeking a living and active God who is always ready to surprise.  Some are longing for God to turn their hearts on fire, to tap into their emotions and revive a lackadaisical spirit.  Others are quite happy with the box that they have placed God in.  They don’t want to be challenged.  They don’t want to be changed.  They certainly don’t want some kind of ecstatic encounter with God that might look unseemly or, as Anglicans are fond of, out of order.

The only difference between these two groups, however, is the expectations they bring to the event.  So, dear Christians, what do you want to hear?  Do you want to hear the Good News proclaimed in a language you can understand that will change your life forever?  Or, would you prefer to sneer it all away while you sit comfortably in your pew, juggling your books, singing unsingable hymns, waiting for Jesus to return in a nice, orderly way?  My goal is always to push people toward the former, but I know that part of my job is ministering to the latter.  Maybe that’s why I like Peter’s speech so much.  He breaks down that divide.  More on that later.

Just Love Jesus – A Sermon

You can listen here, or read on below.

I know that the first page of the bulletin says, “The Sixth Sunday of Easter.”  I know that I’m wearing a white stole and surrounded by white altar hangings.  I know that we’ll say and sing plenty of Alleluias during the course of our time together this morning.  I know that everything we’re doing screams EASTER SEASON and JOY OF THE RESURRECTION, but I need you to forget all of that for a few minutes.  For, you see, there are scant few post-resurrection stories available in the Gospels.  For some unknown reason, the Lectionary refuses to give them all to us in the course of a year, so that here in Year C, we only had three weeks of actual Easter in Easter season.  The pickings are so slim, in fact, that here, at the tail end of Easter Season, we find ourselves in the second of three straight weeks of lessons from Jesus’ last Supper!

So, if you could, please ignore everything around you that might make you think that Jesus is resurrected from the dead and place yourselves back in the midst of Holy Week.  Settle in to the upper room, prepared for the Passover Feast by Jesus’ disciples.  It is late in the evening.  Dinner was served several hours ago.  In the midst of supper, Jesus had done the unthinkable: he got up from the table, tied a towel around himself and washed his disciples’ feet!  Judas Iscariot has already left the room; off to do God knows what, and Jesus has launched into a sermon to beat all others.  It begins with the lesson we heard last week, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another… By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Jesus has foretold Peter’s three-fold denial.  He has uttered several of his famous lines: “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.”  “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” And “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works than I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” Among them.

Have you forgotten all the Easter trappings?  Are you settled into the scene?  Do you get where we are in the story?  Good.  Now, can you take stock of how you feel?  Or, how the disciples must have felt?  Things are really getting hairy.  Jesus sounds like he’s going away for good.  This has all the makings of a great farewell speech.  He tells them, again and again to not let their hearts be troubled, but troubled hearts are exactly what the disciples are dealing with at this point.  They don’t want Jesus to go away, so they invoke a classic four-year-old stall tactic, they ask lots of questions.  Peter wants to know where Jesus is off to.  Thomas wants directions on how to get there.  Philip hopes that maybe Jesus can just show them the Father; then everything will be OK.  Today’s passage begins just after another question, this time from the lips of Judas, not Iscariot, who asks Jesus, “How is it that after you leave, you will be able to reveal yourself to us, but the world won’t be able to see you?”

This is a great question.  It is, perhaps, the key question of faith.  How is it that we can know the presence of Jesus even when he isn’t present?  How is it that, even now, some can know him so intimately as to count him as their best friend, and some refuse to even know him at all?  Jesus’ answer is as beautiful as it is impossibly simple, “Just love me.”  Here’s how it works.

Those who love Jesus can’t help but follow his commandments: they will love one another, they will wash one another’s feet, and they will serve the world in his name.  And, it just so happens, that God loves to hang out where people are loving one another in acts of service with joy and humility.  God loves it so much, Jesus says, that he’ll go ahead and build his house right in the middle of it.  As the old hymn we sang a few weeks ago says, “Where true charity and love dwell, God himself is there.”[1]  On the other hand, those who don’t love Jesus, won’t follow his commandments.  They won’t live lives of self-giving love and charity.  They won’t serve others with joy and humility.  And, because God prefers to spend his time in places of love and joy, He won’t be visible to those who follow the selfish teachings of the world.  Eugene Peterson, in his translation, The Message, sums up this word from Jesus quite nicely, “A loveless world… is a sightless world. If anyone loves me, he will carefully keep my word and my Father will love him—we’ll move right into the neighborhood!”[2]  Which, you might remember, is exactly how John describes what Jesus did in the Incarnation in his great Prologue, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”[3]

It is a great cosmic circle of love.  God came to earth to abide with us.  He invites us, in return, to become disciples of love and abide with him; an activity which God will support through the indwelling of a friend, a counselor, an advocate, intercessor, helper, and guide.  The Holy Spirit will be the one who whispers words of encouragement in our ear when the going gets tough.  The Holy Spirit will be the one who gently (and sometimes not so gently) reminds us that loving God and loving neighbor are commandments and not suggestions for “your best life now.”  The Holy Spirit will help us sort through all the religious stuff that can bog us down in order to find the way, the truth, and the life.  The Holy Spirit will be the bringer of peace: not as in the absence of conflict, but the gift of peace even in the midst of conflict.

In that upper room, as the darkness of that particular night became more and more apparent to the disciples, they needed these words of comfort and encouragement from Jesus.  Little did they know how much they would need it over the next few days, but I can imagine Judas, Philip and the gang, huddled up on Holy Saturday saying, “Remember how he told us to follow his word?  I wonder what he meant by that?”  I can just see Thomas, after the rest of the disciples had seen Jesus, pondering just how he might get a portion of that peace that Jesus promised to leave behind for them.  I bet Peter breathed in deeply as Jesus offered the Holy Spirit to his disciples on that first Easter night.

I bet most of us can relate as well.  When the unexpected diagnosis comes from the oncologist, peace can be hard to find.  When children have financial struggles it can lead us to wonder where that promised companion is.  It can be really hard to see the face of God in the world around us: a world that at times seems so unloving and so cold.  Most of us understand the fear that the disciples felt as it became clear that Jesus was getting ready to leave for good.  Most of us have felt the absence of God in our lives.  Most of us have spent plenty of time in a Maundy Thursday world.

The Good News, for us and for the disciples, is that we can’t stay there.  Today isn’t Maundy Thursday.  It’s the Sixth Sunday of Easter!  Today is one more in a long and never ending series of celebrations of resurrection.  As the Burial Office says, “even at the grave, we make our song, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”  The promise for the disciples, looking square into the face of a future without Jesus, is that if they follow his word: if they love God and love their neighbor as themselves; then through the power of the Holy Spirit, the incarnation will be in them.  Emmanuel, God with us, who took on flesh, who became incarnate, who moved into the neighborhood at Christmas will do the same thing in and through and for every disciple, who, living in the Spirit of God, seeks to do his will with love and charity.  The promise is secured, “God pours into us our love for him, and in loving him, we obtain his promises.”  Alleluia!  Amen.

[1] The Hymnal 1982 #606.

[2] John 14:23-24 (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

[3] John 1:14 (MSG)