Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sermon for Year C Easter 3

Ananias, I need you…

Saul, still breathing threats and murder…
That is the way our scripture reading
from the Acts of the Apostles begins today..
Saul, still breathing threats and murder…
Not just THINKING threats and murder…
but BREATHING threats and murder.

Our breath
comes from the deepest part of our being.
Saul is a man who is so filled with hate, so consumed by anger--
his mind, his body, his very soul
have one goal:
kill anyone and everyone who dares to follow Jesus.

Saul, still breathing threats and murder…
sets out for Damascus.
And everything changes.
There’s a blinding light—
literally a BLINDING light—
and Saul falls to the ground—

If you travel to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Wilkesboro
you can see a magnificent fresco of this event,
painted by artist Ben Long in the nathex of the church.
Saul is knocked off his horse onto the ground
and everyone is engulfed in an almost nuclear flash of light.

And just in case Saul doesn’t get the message of who is in charge
Jesus speaks to him.
Yes, directly to him.
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you?” asks Saul.

“Jesus. It’s me—Jesus. And I’m talking to you!”

And Saul is left helpless.
Being helpless is not a comfortable place or position
for someone who likes to control everyone.
Suddenly Saul, the big bad bossman, is left helpless.

And Jesus calls to another man.
Jesus says,
“Ananias, I want you to get up
and go find a man who is named Saul.”

Now Ananias wants to be a good and obedient disciple,
but being asked to go and purposefully seek out this man,
the infamous Saul?!??
Jesus might as well have told Ananias
I want you to put your head in an angry lion’s mouth.

“Uh, Lord, I’ve heard about this man. This Saul.
He’s a bad man, Jesus.
Saul is evil and he has done evil things,” says Ananias.

But Jesus is insistent.
“Ananias, I need you to go to Saul.”

And Ananias goes and lays his hands on Saul—
not to harm Saul, but to heal him.
And Saul’s sight is restored.
He gets up, he is baptized, he has something to eat
and he is changed forever.

No longer would Saul breathe threats and murder—
instead Saul will breathe invitation
to share the amazing grace of God.

Saul becomes Paul.
A follower of Jesus.
Now as terrifying as that experience on the Damascus Road
must have been for Saul,
there are definitely some of us
who wish that Jesus would be so clear, so direct,
with us.

Those dramatic, shattering, everything-changes-immediately conversions
still happen—to some people.
But for many,
the conversion, the transformation
of our hearts and minds into believers and followers
is slow, gradual
inch by inch, minute by minute, day by day.
One baby step at a time.

For many of us there is no blinding light
or being dramatically knocked off our “high horse.”

There are just ordinary days, ordinary people and ordinary experiences.
Very often our transformation
happens through people much like Ananias.

Faithful people who love God and trust God.
Faithful people who show up.
People who answer the call to follow Jesus
by reaching out to those around them each day,
by offering kindness and compassion,
by practicing patience,
by loving others as God loves us.
Faithful people who show up and keep on loving us,
without judgment, without conditions, without reservation.

Ananias went to Saul and laid his hands upon him.
He laid his hands upon this man
who had taken part in the stoning to death of Stephen.
He laid his hands upon this man
who arrested, and most likely murdered, men and women,
simply because they were followers of Jesus.

God needs ordinary Christians like Ananias,
ordinatry people
who demonstrate the extraordinary power of forgiveness and love.

This season of Easter is a time to give thanks
for those who have been Ananias to us.

Those who have come and laid their hands upon us
when we needed it the most but could ask for it the least.

Those who have loved us when we knew we did not in any way
deserve to be loved.

Those who do not remind us of all our past mistakes
but instead,
reach out and turn our faces toward the future.

Ananias is the face God wears in this world.
Every ordinary day.

Our true conversion happens
when we move beyond waiting
for miracles on the Damascus road,
when we move even beyond receiving those
who act as Ananias to us.

Our true conversion happens
when we ourselves get up, go out,
love and serve—
when we ourselves
become the Ananias to others.

When we stop breathing fear and hatred,
discontent and skepticism
and we begin to breathe in and breathe out
the love and peace of God,
a love and peace
which passes all understanding
a love and peace
that changes us,
and changes the world around us.

Sermon for Easter Day 2010

Christ has risen

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!

The tomb is empty.
The world has been turned upside down.
Christ is risen.
Happy, happy Easter Day!

Even our church looks different today.
We have left Lent—that is for sure and certain.
Now there are flowers and brass and silver.
We are decked out in festival white vestments.
Penelope Carscaddon’s powerful Stations of the Cross paintings—
Packed away until next Lent.

And now we feast our eyes upon flowers and fruit and all abundance,
beautifully painted by another artist in our congregation,
Ann Warren.

Welcome happy morning!
We come together this morning to celebrate resurrection—
hope and promise and possibilities,
new life in Christ.

Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb in the dark of the morning
and sees that the stone at the tomb’s entrance has been rolled away.
She is terrified and runs to get Peter
and then the other disciples arrive.
And they are completely baffled.
The disciples leave her and go back to their homes.
But Mary stays.
Mary Magdalene stays and weeps.

Was it not enough to lose her beloved friend Jesus—
has someone now come and stolen his body as well?
She weeps.
From fear, from anger, from exhaustion, from heartbreak,
she weeps.
Until she looks up and sees two angels.
(I guess that would make any of us stop crying!)

And then she turns around and there is Jesus.
only at first she thinks he is the gardener—
remember, the tomb is in a garden—
it’s why we celebrate Easter and other Sundays
with flowers in the church.
Mary sees a man and she doesn’t recognize him
until he speaks her name.
And then she knows.
She knows.

I want to tell you a legend about Mary Magdalene and Easter eggs.
And I also want to tell you a story that happened just a few years ago—
also about Easter eggs.

Here is the legend first:

After Jesus ascended into heaven,
Mary Magdalene traveled to see the Emperor of Rome.
Some say she wanted to give him a piece of her mind
about how poorly Pilate handled Jesus’ trial.
But regardless,
when she sees Tiberius Caesar,
Her first words to him are “Christ has risen.”
To which Caesar scoffs and responds,
Pointing to a white boiled egg on his breakfast table,
“Christ has no more risen than that egg is red!”
which of course, at that point,
the white egg immediately turned blood red.
Even today in the Orthodox church,
eggs for Easter are always dyed red.

If you look in the Weinhauer Chapel this morning
before you head over to lunch—
and I hope you will
because the chapel is glorious—
breathtakingly beautiful with flowers and plants.

You will also see there
a small icon of Mary Magdalene—
and as is the case in many of her icons--
Mary Magdalene is holding an egg.
Christ has risen!

Now for the other Easter egg story.

You know egg hunts are a lot of fun.
Some of us even remember pre-plastic Easter egg hunts—
When the eggs were all hard boiled and hand dyed.
But there’s nothing wrong with plastic eggs filled with chocolate!

We will have an Easter egg hunt here at St. John’s today after lunch.
It’s for children—
but you get to decide if you are still a child.
So don’t be shy!

The hiding and hunting and finding of eggs is fun!
Plain and simple fun!

This story was shared with me a number of years ago
about a little girl named Helen who was three years old
when this story happened.
Now after church,
(their church did not have a lunch and an egg hunt)
Helen went home with her mother and father
and friends and family gathered at their house for a wonderful lunch
After lunch,
The eggs were hidden and the children shrieked with delight
hunting for and finding the eggs.

Helen loved the hunt and the finding so much,
that she didn’t want to get immediately involved
in the opening of the eggs
or eating of the chocolate and other treats inside.

She insisted that they hide and hunt and find the eggs
over and over and over.
And the children loved this!
It was a truly glorious and joy-filled Easter day!

But about three days later,
at breakfast with her mother and father,
Helen asked a question.

“I don’t understand,” said Helen.
“What do Easter eggs have to do with Jesus?”
Now I guess her parents didn’t know the legend about Mary Magdalene,
so they were just silent.
They weren’t sure what to say.
They weren’t sure they knew
what Easter eggs had to do with Jesus.

But before they could even attempt an answer,
Helen said,
“I don’t even care
because I don’t even like Jesus any more.”

Now her mother and father really were speechless.
But Helen kept talking,
“I don’t like Jesus because he died.”

Helen’s mother and father still could not speak.
But Helen—are you getting the picture that Helen is a talkative child?!!!—
Helen kept on talking.

“But maybe Jesus can just live in my heart now—
sort of like my Grammie who died
and I don’t ever get to see her any more either.”

Maybe Jesus can just live in my heart now.

Even at age three,
Helen understood resurrection.
Those we love
living on in our hearts.
Those we love
Still very much a part of our lives.

Easter is also about us,
alive and held and treasured in God’s heart.
For ever and ever.

iWhen you receive the bread and wine of communion this Easter morning—
and you are all welcome to receive communion this morning--
When you receive the bread and wine this morning,
you will not hear the ordinary familiar words.

No body of Christ or bread of heaven.
No blood of Christ or cup of salvation.

But on this day, on this Easter morning.
today, when I place the bread in your hands I will say:
Christ has risen.

And you can say
The Lord is risen indeed
Or you can say ALLELUIA!
or you can say AMEN!
Or you can just smile!

And the same when you receive the chalice.

Christ has risen.
The Lord is risen indeed!
Welcome, Happy Morning!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Sermon for the Easter Vigil

Stepping into the story

The Great Vigil of Easter is all about story.

We act out the story of the light of Christ coming into the world
as we light the first fire of Easter
and process the Paschal candle into the Church.
The story of the light of Christ coming into a dark and hurting world.
Our world.

We light our own small candles from the Christ candle
because for each of us,
in ways small and large,
our own story
has been set afire by the story of Jesus Christ.

We sit and listen to stories--
the creation, the flood,
the crossing of the Red Sea,
the dry bones.

The story of the people of God.
Our story.

And tonight Robin Lynn Holt will be baptized.
Baptized into the Church of God.
Officially welcomed as a child of God—
an already much loved member of this parish, St. John’s.

As with all of us, Robin has her own life story,
but tonight her story changes.
She will make her promises to God.
She will be baptized by water and anointed with oil.
Tonight Robin will be marked as Christ’s own for ever.

Tonight all our stories are woven together as God’s people—
past, present and future.

We have made it through the 40 days of Lent and Holy Week.
We have arrived at the threshold—Easter.
Resurrection. New life.

Easter is not about a one day event.
Easter is about how we choose to live our lives.
Easter is about living as transformed people of Christ.

Easter is about putting all our eggs in a basket called hope.
Easter is opening our eyes to resurrection moments that confront us every day.

How do we live in this broken, battered world as Easter people?
With God’s help.
With God’s love.
A love made visible to us every single day
When we love one another.

Easter is our story, our way of life.

I remember many years ago when Tom and I lived in Memphis.
A friend of ours at our church suffered from severe heart disease.
He needed a transplant.
It did not look as if that would happen.

But at a time when it was almost too late,
it did happen.
Our friend Ted received a new heart.
Everyone in our church
was ecstatic with joy.
We felt that our prayers, and especially the prayers for Ted’s family,
had truly been answered.

But a few months later.
the transplant began to fail.
Prayers went up and out and around.
But Ted’s new heart was failing
And Ted was dying.

I remember being at the hospital
and stepping on the elevator with Ted’s wife, Jo
and their children.

There were so many heavy hearts that day,
but I shall never forget the words Jo said to their adult children,
as they held hands in that elevator and rode up to see Ted,
she said,

“Remember, children! We are Easter people!”

We are Easter people.
It does not mean that we live protected sheltered happy go lucky lives.
Like everyone else in the world
our lives harbor edges, if not deep pools, of sadness and suffering.

But what it does mean is
that regardless of whether we live or die,
we are God’s beloved children—always.
Being Easter people means we live our lives
knowing that life is stronger than death,
hope is always stronger than fear,
and nothing is stronger than the love of God.

Some young friends of mine who are now in seminary
went to El Salvador this year during their spring break.
There was a celebration there to honor and remember
Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Oscar Romero was a fearless defender of the poor and the persecuted.
He was an outspoken man
in a country where speaking out
was not the way to live a long life.
Oscar Romero was assassinated 30 years ago.
He was killed as he stood at the altar celebrating the Eucharist.

But you see, Oscar Romero’s story did not end there.
Because the Easter people of El Salvador
and in other parts of the world
stepped in, stepped up, spoke out
and continued to fight for those
who had no one to fight for them.

My friends sent me some photographs of their time in El Salvador--
thousands of people all wearing t-shirts
that said “Romero Vive”.
Romero lives.
The story of God’s people goes on.

Bishop Martin Barahona,
a dear friend of a dear friend of mine,
currently serves as the Episcopal Bishop of El Salvador.
Days before the Romero Vive celebration began
there was an assassination attempt on Bishop Barahona’s life.
He escaped unharmed--
and he refused to be intimidated.
He marched in the streets in his purple bishop’s cassock.
Romero Vive.
Romero lives.
How is that possible when Oscar Romero was killed 30 years ago?

We must not forget another outspoken man,
another man whose heart belonged to the poor and the suffering
and those pushed to the edges of society.
A man named Jesus was crucified, assassinated,
almost 2000 years ago.

Jesus lives.
Jesus vive.
Christ is risen in us
so that we might live as Easter people.
People of hope and purpose and love.
People who can offer hope and purpose and love to others.
We are Easter people.
We are marked as Christ’s own for ever.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!