A Parable for the Church

Despite our ongoing fascination with it, Jesus didn’t talk much about the institution of the church.  In fact, the only reference to church in the Gospels comes in Matthew’s account.  In chapter 15, Jesus tells Peter he will be the rock upon which he will build his church.  In chapter 18, the word occurs several times as Jesus explains how to handle a fellow Christian, literally a brother, who sins against you.  In the Greek, it appears only three times (16:18, and twice in 18:17) while in the NRSV, the word occurs five times.  Still, it is worth noting that Matthew’s Gospel shows an affinity toward the church that would bloom out of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  It is helpful as we read other portions of Matthew’s Gospel to recall that it was written with the Church in mind.

Which brings me to the Gospel lesson for Sunday.  As parable season rolls on, Jesus channels his inner Joachim Jeremias by offering a doozy of an allegorical interpretation on the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.  It is tempting to read this parable and think of the individual: how each of us has within our own hearts some good wheat mixed in with some uncontrolled weeds, but that isn’t what Jesus has in mind as he tells this parable.  Instead, as Jesus explains the parable, he has a much wider perspective.  He tells this story about a world in which there is good and there is evil.  As his explanation comes to a close, Jesus says that after the weeds – stumbling-blocks and doers of evil, are carried off to the unquenchable fire, what will be left is a pristine field of wheat that will “shine like the sun.”


In his allegory, Jesus explains that this wheat that will be left over are the righteous, literally those who conform to the standard of God and are thereby in right relationship with the Father, which with Matthew’s heart for the Church in mind, led me into the Catechism of our Book of Common Prayer and the answer to the question on the top of page 855, “What is the mission of the Church?”  “The mission of the Church is to restores all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”  That is to say, with apologies for mixing allegories, the reason the Church exists is to work the soil so that the wheat in our hearts chokes out the weeds.  The work of the Church is to help righteousness flourish in our hearts so that when the harvest times comes, there is a whole lot more wheat left shining like the sun than there is weeds burning in the furnace.

To be sure, the Church hasn’t always done a great job of this.  Often, weeds have been actively ignored, which in my flower beds means they grow wildly.  Sometimes, they are pulled up with haste, allowing their seeds to scatter and the roots to remain in tact, which only makes for more weeds a few weeks down the road.  Rarely, are the root causes of weeds addressed and the proper fertilization and watering for wheat utilized in order to facilitate abundant harvests.  All this to say, when I read this as a timely parable for the Church and a call to intentional discipleship training for an abundant harvest, I am quick to realize that we have a lot of work to do to facilitate healthy growth in restoring all people to unity, i.e. right relationship, with God.

Go, have no fear, take risks, and share the Good News – a sermon

You can hear this sermon on the Christ Church website, or read it here.

It was pointed out to me after last Sunday that thanks to a couple of baptisms and Vacation Bible School, I had escaped a pretty difficult Gospel passage for another three years.  Without thinking, I laughingly agreed, and gave the old “phew” sign.  Monday morning, I realized that I had breathed a sigh of relief just a little too soon.  Unfortunately for me, the Lectionary has split Jesus’ warning into three sections, the toughest of which we hear this morning.  If you’ll recall from last week, Jesus’ ministry has become increasingly successful.  He toured many of the cities and villages of Israel, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near, and the crowds continued to grow.  As Jesus looked at the throngs of hurting and helpless people who were following him, his heart was broken.  They were like sheep without a shepherd, and Jesus knew that for every one that had heard his message, there were hundreds of others who had yet to hear the Good News.

So, Jesus called together the twelve and commissioned them to go: cast out demons, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and proclaim that the Kingdom of heaven has come near.  Before they departed on their evangelistic expedition, Jesus offered a word of caution.  Well, actually, it’s more like eight hundred words of caution.  The task will not be easy.  There are plenty of people who do not want the Jesus Movement to take off, and many of them are in positions of power.  “You will be brought before councils, flogged in the synagogue, and dragged before governors and kings,” Jesus told them in last week’s Gospel, “but don’t worry, the Spirit will give you the words you need.”  “You will be hated by friends and family alike,” Jesus goes on to warn them, “but with God’s help, you will endure.”  His rhetoric heats up in this week’s passage.  Jesus reminds the disciples that “out there” they are calling him Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that is, Satan himself.  “What do you think it will be like for you,” Jesus asks, “as you take my message and help it to spread.”

Consistently throughout these dire warnings about the struggle that is to come, Jesus pauses to offer the word that God always offers in moments of anxiety and struggle, “Have no fear.”  The work will not be easy.  There will be pain.  There will be broken relationships.  There will be rumors and innuendo.  There might even be a call to die, but despite all that, Jesus says, “have no fear, for even if they kill your body, they cannot touch your soul… Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

When Jesus talked about giving up one’s life and that “one’s foes will be members of one’s own household,” he was dead serious.  To give up one’s faith in the Jewish tradition and follow Jesus was akin to walking away from one’s family.  The same was true of Pagan Gentiles who converted.  In a world where men followed in the family business and sons took care of their aging parents, this was a significant issue.  To disrupt the religious, political, and economic status quo was the threaten the stability of the whole region, and governments are not fond of instability.  It was not safe to be a disciple of Jesus.  In fact, for the first three hundred or so years of Christianity, there was an almost constant, real threat of death, and so these words of comfort were of crucial importance.

Hearing a similar chunk of Matthew 10, this Thursday, the Church remembered Saint Alban, the first British Christian for whom we have a name.  Alban lived just outside of modern day London during the third century.  He was a pagan when he met a priest who was fleeing the most recent wave of Roman persecution.  For reasons that will forever be unknown, Alban decided to hide the priest in his home.  For several days, they had nothing to do but talk with each other.  Over time, Alban was so impressed by the faith of the priest, that he became a Christian.  When soldiers got word that the priest was hiding at Alban’s home, they came to arrest him, but Alban quickly donned the priest’s cloak and gave himself up instead.  Alban was tortured in hopes that he would renounce his faith, but when he withstood the flogging with patience and joy, the judge ordered him beheaded.


As Alban and his executioners made their way to the hill where he was to be killed, they came upon a fast-flowing river.  The bridge was so clogged with onlookers that the execution party couldn’t cross the river, but the excited new convert was so ready to lose his life for the sake of the Gospel that he “raised his eyes to heaven and the river dried up.”  The first executioner, amazed by the miracle, put down his sword and offered to be killed in Alban’s place.  Ultimately, both men were beheaded atop a hill that now bears his name.  Legend has it that as he made the fatal blow, the second executioner’s eyes popped out and dropped to the ground along with Alban’s head, which then rolled down the hill and a spring of fresh water burst forth from the ground at its final resting place.  Martyrdom stories tend to get embellished over time, but even if all the details aren’t exactly true, the reality is that for Alban and thousands of others like him, following Jesus in those early days of Christianity was a life-threatening endeavor that they willingly took on buoyed by the assurance of Jesus in passages like this one.

From the comfort of our mortgage free building that sits in the heart of the Bible Belt, and is filled with relatively comfortable, middle class, “mainline” American Christians, this message doesn’t have the same impact.  In fact, it can be downright difficult to begin to make sense of it.  When I hear these warnings about persecution, I can’t help but wonder if I can even consider myself a disciple.  Life as a 21st century American Christian just seems too easy.  What are we to do with a text like this?   I think the answer is two-fold.  First, these words from Jesus should call to mind the millions of Christians outside of our safe little American bubble who face the threat of death every day.  These words from Jesus remind us to pray with fervor for the Coptic Christians in Egypt and Iraq, for Anglicans in Sudan, and for Christians around the globe who are under the real threat of violence for their faith in Jesus.

Secondly, I think these words of warning should inspire us to evangelistic action.  In a country where there is no actual threat to our faith, but where the face of Christianity is often closed-minded, abusive, or worse yet, a self-seeking get-rich-quick scheme, to not speak God’s word of love for the world God created is to fail to live up to the expectations Jesus has for us.  Instead of choosing to love father and mother more than Jesus, many Episcopalians have decided to love polite society or our own comfort more than him.  When we choose the easy route, we fail to take up our cross and follow him.  When we ignore the call to proclaim the Kingdom of God in word and deed, we deny Christ before others, and, tough as it might be to hear, Jesus promises that he will deny us in the same way.

If it weren’t for the faithfulness of those early disciples, who withstood persecution and proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord, we wouldn’t be here today.  It is our responsibility, then, as committed, albeit comfortable, disciples of Jesus, to continue to share the Good News that the kingdom of heaven has come near, to share a message of God’s love and grace in a world that hears mostly of God’s anger and vengeance, and to show that following Jesus doesn’t mean condemning those who are different from us, but rather, embracing the reality that God loves everyone, no exceptions.  In a world full of vitriol and strife, the message of hope, grace, and love that we have to offer is too important not to share.  So, go, have no fear, take a risk, and tell out the Good News that the kingdom of heaven has come near.  Amen.

Looking for wiggle room

The good news is that soon there will be an Associate Rector here at Christ Church.  The bad news is that she won’t arrive in time to preach this Sunday’s really difficult Gospel lesson.  I should have looked at the Lectionary more closely while negotiating her start date.  Yesterday, I was able to use our Vacation Bible School curriculum to deftly avoid the whole “Go nowhere among the Gentiles” and everybody’s Father’s Day favorite “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.”  It seems that this Sunday, I’m stuck preaching the hard stuff.

I suppose you can’t blame me, though, for looking for some wiggle room in Jesus’ continued difficult teaching to the disciples turned Apostles who are preparing for their first missionary journey.  To be fair, Jesus is doing exactly what any good leader should be doing.  He is preparing his disciples for the hardship they are going to experience.  Certainly, they have seen the mixed reaction to Jesus during their time with him.  Only a fool would think that taking his message out would mean being welcomed with open arms and joyful acceptance.  Still, rather than sending them out with false hope, Jesus offers a clear warning that the message of the Kingdom of God is going to be unpopular with some; and that difficultly might start in one’s own family.


You too can put all your family in debt in order to buy an ill-fitting suit

Like a college student selling Cutco knives, the disciples would logically begin their evangelistic tour with family members.  It would make sense that one’s family, those who have seen what a difference Jesus made in their life, would be open to the Good News of God’s saving love in Christ.  However, like the Cutco knife example, there are likely just as many hard feelings and a begrudging sense of obligation.  These disciples had dropped everything to follow Jesus.  Imagine being Peter’s wife’s family.  Sure, Jesus had healed their matriarch, but what about the wife (and children?) left behind that they had to take care of.  Or, what about the other son’s of Zebedee?  Losing two members of the family fishing crew couldn’t have been an easy thing to overcome.  Even Matthew, the “author” of this Gospel, must have worried about how he might go home to a family that was no longer able to live comfortably off his tax collections.

It is no wonder that Jesus spent so much of this time dealing with family dynamics.  Surely, he knew how difficult it would be for the twelve to share with family the story of God’s Kingdom when it seemed like it had left them all behind.  Now, how does this preach in 21st century America when the more likely version of this story is the children of devout church members who will never darken the door of a church again?  I’m still working that out.  Like I said, I’m looking for some wiggle room this week.  Unfortunately, I’ve not found it yet.

Our Apostolic Tradition – a sermon

You can listen to this sermon on the Christ Church website.

While I was in seminary, I stumbled upon a sweet summertime gig.  Every summer, the seminary would hire a couple of students to support the maintenance department during their busy season.  I applied and got the job.  On my first day of work, I went into the office of Dave Mutscheller, the Facilities Director, and got my assignment.  Because I had experience working for a construction company, they put me with Mr. Wayne who would be running several excavation projects that summer.  Mind you, my experience at the construction company was 99% behind a desk and 1% that time I drove the lead escort vehicle for an oversized load.  I had exactly zero hours of experience in the field, and I left Dave’s office pretty sure that I was in way over my head.  I met Mr. Wayne who handed me a grease gun and told me to grease the fittings on the old New Holland farm tractor the seminary used to dig ditches.  Now, I knew for sure I was in serious trouble.  As the summer went on, Wayne discipled me in the stuff they probably thought I knew before I got hired.  I learned how to set a catch basin, how to cement pipe, how to shoot grade, and even how to operate that old New Holland tractor.

One Friday, about mid-way through the summer, we were digging a new French drain behind a professor’s house, when at lunch, Wayne told me he was leaving early and that I should be able to finish digging and laying the drain by the end of the day.  Terror swept over me as I recalled the story from two summers earlier when Wayne dug up an unmarked, underground six-inch electric line in the middle of a field.  Breathing deeply, I hopped on that old blue tractor, and thought to myself, I have no business digging this drain, but if Mr. Wayne trusts me, I can do it.  It wasn’t the straightest ditch you’ve ever seen and we had to backfill with more stone than Dave would have liked, but it got done, and nobody got hurt and nothing got broken in the process.  Mr. Wayne had discipled me as far as he could, it was time to try it on my own.

In two of our lessons for this morning, we find the disciples in exactly the same spot.  Our Gospel lesson comes from the tail end of the long farewell discourse that Kellie mentioned last week.  After several years of day-by-day discipleship, Jesus and his disciples are together for one final meal before his death.  After washing their feet to show them what being his disciple should look like, Jesus spends three chapters giving them final instructions.  He gives them a new commandment, that they love one another.  He assures them that through him, they know the way to the Father.  He promises them the Holy Spirit who will come to guide them into all truth.  And finally, he prays for them.  His prayer isn’t so that God will know what to do with the disciples when he is gone, but rather so his disciples will know that even when he is gone, he has not left them abandoned.  Through the Spirit, the disciples will carry on the work of Jesus in his absence.  After years of discipleship, it was time for them to try it on their own.

Terror swept over them, and when the time came for Jesus to be arrested and crucified, they failed spectacularly.  Peter denied ever knowing Jesus while nine of the other ten disciples fled in fear.  By Easter evening, it was clear the disciples needed a bit more in the way of discipleship.  On Easter 2, we heard the story of Jesus entering the upper room late on that first Easter day.  Despite having heard the news of his resurrection from Mary Magdalene, the disciples were huddled behind locked doors in fear.  Jesus entered and offered his disciples peace.  He breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, knowing they needed it then more than ever.  For forty days, he continued to disciple them, this time not merely as their Rabbi, but as their risen Savior.  On the fortieth day, as our Acts lesson describes, Jesus once again gathered them together.  Aware that it was time for him to leave them again, he prepared one final discipleship lesson, when the group spoke up and asked a question.

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  After years of following him around the countryside.  After the fear and sadness of his crucifixion.  After the panic, joy, and disbelief of his resurrection.  After forty days of intense discipleship, it seems they still didn’t quite get it.  “It is not for you to know how it all will happen,” Jesus tells them, “but when the Spirit comes in power and might, you will have what you need to go out and tell the Good News from here to the end of the earth.”  And with that, despite much evidence to the contrary, Jesus had discipled them all he could on earth.  It was time for them to try it on their own.  As the book of Acts unfolds, we hear stories of the power of the Spirit that allowed these ordinary men and women to do miracles, to preach the Good News, to nurture new disciples, to stand up to oppression and persecution, and to grow the church from the 120 Jesus left behind to thousands of disciples around the known world within a couple of decades.  Like my French drain, it didn’t always happen in a straight line, and maybe it required more heaping a helping of the Holy Spirit than God might have wanted, but they were faithful to their teacher and they did the work entrusted to their care.

Some two-thousand years later, we are the recipients of that ongoing pattern of discipleship.  We take our place in the Apostolic Tradition by way of having the faith once shown to the Apostles by Jesus patterned to us by our parents, clergy, Sunday school teachers, and elders.  Throughout history, one generation of disciples has raised up another, teaching them what it means to love God and love our neighbor, showing them what compassionate service looks like, recounting the stories of God’s saving grace in the person of Jesus Christ, and baptizing new believers in water and the Spirit in the name of the Triune God.

Lest we think that discipleship training is only the purview of the clergy, our baptismal liturgy makes it clear that we all have a part to play in this ongoing Apostolic Tradition of discipleship.  This morning, we will welcome into the household of God two new members.  It would be easy enough to leave the discipleship work for these two young children to their parents, grandparents, and godparents.  Or, we could just rely on their being raised in the church and hand responsibility over to their priests, deacons, Sunday school teachers, Christian Education Directors, and youth leaders.  But I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus had in mind when he told his ragtag group of disciples that it would be up to the Spirit and them to spread the Good News of his saving grace.  It certainly isn’t what our Prayer Book teaches when it asks of the congregation gathered, on behalf of the Church universal, to “do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ.”[1]

It is the job of all Christians to disciple the next generation in the model of Jesus.  We teach through our words: not only in what we say, but in the way we talk to our families, our friends, and total strangers.  We teach through our actions: through the way we care for those in need, where we donate our money, how we vote, even what car we drive.  We teach through our love: caring for all those whom God has put in our lives.  We teach by living the example of Jesus Christ: telling and showing the Good News that God loves everybody, no exceptions.  And one day, we will come to the point where we will have discipled them enough and they will have to try it on their own, through the power of the Spirit, taking their place in the Apostolic Tradition.  Like the disciples’ story, theirs’ won’t always be perfect, but thankfully God is good at forgiveness.  Empowered by the Spirit, today and every day, we each take our place in the long line of Christians discipling new disciples to the honor and glory of God.  Amen.

[1] 1979 BCP, 303.

What does abundance look like?

In 2010, the marketing team for DirecTV was hitting on all cylinders.  Back in those heady days, before Millennials ruined television with their tiny home, young-eyes-can-see-a-cell-phone-screen-streaming, cable cutting ways the war for our cable dollar between DirecTV, Dish Network, and your local cable monopoly was at an all time high, and TV ads where where the most compelling battles were waged.  One campaign, which was particularly ridiculous was the “Opulence, I haz it” ad in which a Russian sounding man strolled the gilded hallways of his mansion, surrounded by beautiful Russian looking models, soliloquizing on the joys of thrifty opulence and kissing a tiny giraffe.  Here, watch it for yourself.

I hate to admit it, but for the last seven years, anytime I hear Jesus talk about “abundant life,” my first thought is the “Opulence, I haz it” guy.  He, and the people from whom he stands in as a caricature, are, I’m afraid to say, the prevailing cultural image of “abundant life” for 21st century Americans.  Is this what Jesus had in mind when he told the Pharisees that he came to bring life abundant?

Of course not.

So, what does abundant life look like?  I think we find our answer in the idealistic narrative of the early Jerusalem Church in Sunday’s lesson from Acts.  After the mass conversion of 3,000 on Pentecost Day, those who were left behind in Jerusalem got about the business of being the Church.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  The first thing to note is that abundant living in Christ is only done in community.  There is no I in church, and the only way we can truly live out our Christian vocation is through the pattern of regular gathering with other disciples.

It is in those gathering where we can teach one another, enjoy one another’s company, share meals (real and symbolic), and pray for the needs of the world.  Like owning a tiny toy giraffe, abundant life can be messy at times.  Human beings being what we are, relationships aren’t always perfect.  In three chapters’ time, the perfect community described by Luke in Acts 2 will be torn apart by the fear of scarcity and lies of Ananias and Sapphira.  Rifts happen, and we have to work at forgiveness and reconciliation, but there again, those things can only happen when we are committed to being together: to living in community.

As the Church began to expand beyond Jerusalem, the importance of Christians meeting together with regularity grew exponentially.  The young Church needed to develop leaders, needed to work out what discipleship looked like, needed to understand what difference Jesus really made in their lives, and the only way to accomplish those things was to be together, to pray together, to learn together, to break bread together, and to celebrate God’ grace together.

What is abundant life?  Do I haz opulence?  I have faith, and I have community, so I must be pretty darn close.

Sermon: Have you heard the Good News?

After some website delays, you can now listen to the audio on the Christ Church website, or read along here.

Do you remember the first time you heard the Good News that God loves you?  Having basically grown up in the church, I can’t identify the precise moment when I first heard those words, but I do have early memories.  I remember one Vacation Bible School: the theme was some sort of undersea adventure, and inside a giant blown up plastic tube that was painted to look like the ocean, we sang “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  I remember another VBS, sitting the pews at St. Thomas Episcopal Church singing, “If I were a butterfly,” and thanking God for “making me me.”  I remember Sunday school classes and sermons and confirmation classes that all, in their own way, showed me the love of God.  I also remember those stories, sermons, and lessons that reminded me of God’s judgment as well.  I remember the story of Adam and Eve: how they had eaten of the tree of good and evil and were punished.  I remember hearing the story of Noah: how God had become so disappointed with the world that God decided to start over by flooding it, killing nearly every living thing.  Some of those stories are difficult for us adults to understand, let alone children, but they, like the numerous stories of God’s love, are important for us to hear.  The fullness of God’s story is a story of God’s hope for a full and perfect relationship with humankind, our ongoing ability to screw that up spectacularly, the repercussions of broken relationship, and God’s loving work to restore the hope of a full and perfect relationship.

It is right in the middle of that ongoing pattern that we find ourselves in the lesson from the Acts of the Apostles this Third Sunday of Easter.  Each Easter season, instead of reading from the Hebrew Bible, we read selections from Acts.  In Year A, we spend three weeks on Peter’s Pentecost sermon.  Last week, it was a pretty in-depth exegetical study of the prophet Joel.  This week we hear a summation of Peter’s sermon and the crux of salvation history.  Because of God’s passionate desire for right relationship, God the Father sent God the Son in the person of Jesus.  Although humanity killed Jesus, God raised him to his rightful place as Lord and Messiah.  Peter preached this sermon to a fairly significant crowd.  It was the Day of Pentecost, a Jewish festival that occurs fifty days after the Passover during which they remember the gift of the Law and offer God the first fruits of the grain harvest.  Jerusalem was teeming with spiritual tourists.  Jews from around the known world were gathered to offer their first fruits in hopes of a successful harvest when the city was brought into confusion by a loud noise like a rushing wind, and a cacophony of voices, each speaking in a different language.  Every visitor for blocks heard the Good News of God’s mighty acts in their own native tongue.  Thousands packed in tightly around the disciples’ house to see what was happening.

There, amidst an increasingly raucous crowd, Peter shared the Good News of God’s love.  They were cut to the heart by his message.  They had never heard such preaching.  Sure, like many generations before them, the crowd gathered had hoped for the Messiah.  They had prayed that God would restore the fortunes of Zion.  They longed to find right relationship with God, but few of them really expected anything to change.  Yet here, on this Pentecost Day, something was different.  This word from Peter was like a word straight from God’s own lips.  This word was both judgment and love.  It cut them to the very core, and they pleaded with Peter and the rest, “Brothers, what should we do?”

As it turns out, the proper response to God’s love is actually quite simple: “repent and be baptized.”  Repent is a ten-cent church word that has lost much of its meaning over time.  After years of only hearing it from television preachers and street corner evangelists, repentance has come to mean something like “feeling guilty because you’re a wretched mess of a sinner,” but that isn’t exactly what Peter meant when he told the crowd to metanoio.  The first step toward right relationship with God is to change your mind, to change your direction, to change your focus, and ultimately, to change your actions.  That’s what repentance is all about.  It has very little to do with feeling guilty or sad, and everything to do with turning away from the old life of sin and turning toward life eternal in right relationship with God.  You can feel sorry for doing something, and go right on doing it.  What God desires is a transformed life.  “After that,” Peter says, “then you should be baptized in the name of Jesus so that your sins can be washed away and receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.”  That’s it.  Repent and be baptized.  Eventually, this two fold action of repentance and baptism was made symbolic in the baptismal liturgy itself.  Immediately before being immersed, the new Christians would face west, the direction of the sunset and gathering darkness, and be asked three times to renounce Satan and the forces of evil.  They would then turn to face east, the direction of the sun rise and the return of the light of the world, and three times would proclaim their faith in Jesus Christ.  To this day, the liturgy for Holy Baptism mirrors that ancient rite, which makes today is a perfect day for a baptism.

Our newest Christian is Christopher James Chaffin [who will be baptized at 10 o’clock this morning]. He isn’t even two months old yet, but I’d be willing to bet that he has already heard the Good News that God loves him more times than we can count.  He’s experienced the love of God through the care of his parents, Justin and Jamie, and his siblings Meredith and Benjamin, his extended family, and the people of Christ Church.  In a few minutes, [it’ll happen at the later service, but you still have a part in this] we will join with his parents and Godparents in promising that we will do all in our power to support Christopher in his life in Christ.  We, the people of Christ Church, on behalf of all Christians, will promise to make sure Christopher knows that God loves him both in word and action.

There isn’t much that a less than two-month old baby gets to decide on his own.  His days are basically made up of automatic bodily functions and being carried from one place to another.  He is not in need of repentance… yet.  Likewise, there isn’t much sin that needs to be washed away from Christopher… yet.  But it will come.  When Christopher does begin trying to walk in his own path, it’ll be his family: nuclear, extended, and church that will be here to remind him of the right pathway to God.

What will come true today is the final promise of Peter to the crowd gathered to hear that Pentecost sermon.  Christopher James Chaffin will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit this morning.  The Spirit will work alongside the rest of us to remind him of God’s unending love.  The Spirit will convict him when he begins to stray the wrong way.  The Spirit will help him to repent by making right choices and walking toward God’s love.  And the Spirit will do the work of fulfilling our prayer for Christopher this day, that he might be given “an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love [God], and the gift of joy and wonder in all [God’s] works.”

Some of us are blessed to remember the first time we heard the Good News that God loves us, but for many of us, that news has been a part of our lives since before we ever existed.  Christopher Chaffin is blessed in knowing God’s love every day of his life, and we are blessed to be a part of sharing that love with him.  He won’t always do the right thing.  God’s redemption story will be just as true for him as it is for me and you, but in the end, the only truth that really matters is that God loves him, God loves you, and God wants to be in perfect relationship with all of us.  So, repent, remember your baptism, receive the forgiveness of sins, and lean into the gift of the Spirit for discernment, courage, love, joy, and wonder.  Amen.

In remembrance of me

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There are a lot of ways to understand what is happening in the Eucharist.  Transubstantiation, Transignification, Real Presence, Memorialism, Receptionism, and the list goes on.  This theological murkiness has occurred, in part, because Jesus wasn’t all that specific in what he meant when he said, “this is my body,” “this is my blood,” and “do this in remembrance of me.”  Depending on one’s tradition, one or more of these phrases (or even the words within them) can be given undue influence.

In our Gospel lesson for Sunday, as well as the Collect for Easter 3, we are put to mind that, for Luke, the common meal of Christians, commonly called the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, and the Great Thanksgiving, among other options, is about anamnesis: the remembering of an event based on past experience.  Cleopas and the unnamed disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread because four days earlier, they had seen him do the exact same thing.  Not that blessing and breaking bread was uncommon in 1st century Jewish life, but that this blessing, this breaking, was different.  It was the blessing of their Rabbi, now their risen Lord, who had commanded them to break bread and share the cup in remembrance of him.

Two thousand years removed from that first Last Supper, we who are people of broken bread don’t have the recollection of the past event to draw on for ourselves.  What we do have, however, is the unbroken history of bread being broken from a Thursday evening in first century Jerusalem all the way up to today.  Our remembrance, our anamnesis, is based on the shared experience of generations of believers.  We remember because we have been told the story by those who have been told the story… by those who lived the story.  When we pray that our eyes might be open, we are asking God to tap us into the ongoing unveiling of the story, that we might take our place in remembering and sharing the good news of the risen Lord.