the road

faith, jesus, and a conversation on the road

Month: April, 2016

a revelation for all

a sermon for the fourth sunday of easter on revelation 7:9-17, delivered at the 5:30pm service

In this season of Eastertide, we are constantly reminded of the actions of Christ, the mission that has been left for us to fulfill, and we are also reminded of the promise that has been left for us. When we hear from the Revelation of John, we are reminded of the promise that has been left for us, and the work that comes in that promise. We are reminded that the work of Christ in this world is not done, that we are responsible for insuring that it continues, and that we will have our reward in Heaven if we do the the work of the movement that Christ has laid the groundwork for. It is particularly important during this season of Easter that we remember that Christ’s salvation is for all, that our victory through Christ does not mean we get a pass on the hard stuff in this life, that it is only through Christ that we can experience the salvation that has been promised to us.

When we talk of Christ’s salvation, it is tempting to narrow the scope of that salvation. It is tempting to label some as in and others as out, because we want to know that we ourselves have that salvation, and we don’t want to be associated with those who we judge as not meeting the required standard, as living a life that is other than that of a follower of Christ. We judge, because we cannot imagine sharing our salvation with them. But, we are reminded today that salvation is for all people. We hear today that there was a “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands “ This vision of the end times counts among the gathered faithful, the great multitude, peoples from all tribes, languages, experiences, backgrounds, colors, and any other label we have used to mark someone as other. At the end, we are all one in the great multitude before the throne of the Lamb. At the end, there are no others, there exists only the faithful. And, this gathering of the faithful are determined by God, they are not determined by our own definitions of who is or isn’t or couldn’t possibly be faithful. The clear message then, a message that we have continually failed to grasp for nearly two millennia here in the Church and in our society, is that we should make this reality of the great multitude here and now. We shouldn’t be waiting for the end of times before we’re willing to be joined together with people from all ends of creation. We shouldn’t be waiting for the end of times to recognize the faithfulness of all who proclaim the Good News of Christ. We shouldn’t be waiting for the end of times to recognize the faithfulness of all who proclaim the truth of God, Christian or not. We shouldn’t be waiting for the end of times to treat every piece of creation with love and respect, not the least of which should include treating fellow human beings as beloved.

This is hard. It is hard work to treat all of our neighbors as beloved children of God, particularly when they’re just the worst. We all have people in our lives, either currently or in the past, that rub us the wrong way. We have people in our lives that have actively harmed us. We have people in our lives that attack us, because of who we are, or what we believe, or how we believe it. And, the reality is, this is part of the human experience. Part of being in and of creation is that we will experience conflict in this life. Oftentimes, those who we are in conflict with, see us much the same way we see them. I know I personally have butted heads with people in the past. I wonder why they can’t see things my way. I wonder why they don’t feel the same way I feel, understanding how important this thing is over the thing they want. I wonder, and in wondering I should realize that of course they can’t and don’t because they are not me. In wondering, I should realize that they wonder the same things about me. But, it’s hard to remember this. It is hard to remember, particularly when emotions get involved, that, at the end, we are all ultimately one, and our bickering and frustrations will be moot.

We are all one in Christ, and through Christ’s victory we are promised eternal salvation for our own faith and work in the mission of Christ. However, this victory also does not mean that we will live a life of ease. Christ’s victory through death is predicated on suffering, rejection, and a violent death. This is the reality of our salvation. This is the price that was paid for us. And, this is the price that we must be willing to pay as well. The great multitude before the throne today is dressed in robes who have made them white through washing them in the blood of the lamb. The imagery here is striking. Robes, soaked, scrubbed, rinsed in the deep, thick scarlet of the blood of the lamb, come out dazzling white. Our purity, our salvation, is built upon the death of the lamb, the sacrificial blood that has been spilt for us. It is our responsibility to live into that reality. To live into the sense that our faith in God, our salvation, includes suffering, rejection, death. That our own experience of life will include suffering, rejection, death. That salvation is experienced through our death and new life in the heavenly kingdom.

We are tasked with the work of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to creation, here and now. We are tasked with the work of breaking down the barriers that currently keeps the great multitude separated. We are tasked with moving creation, altering the accepted human experience, from putting up with the bad parts because it’s just part of being human, to coexisting in a world where all are equal, all are loved and respected, for that is the reality that God has shown us as it will be in the Kingdom. This is hard work, but we must be reassured in doing that work, for God promises that when we take on this work, when we subject ourselves to suffering through ridicule at best and personal attacks at worst, when we subject ourselves to rejection from those whom we call our closest family and friends for making an unpopular stand when that stand brings us closer to acceptance of all, if we ever have to subject ourselves to death to protect others, God promises that we “will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This is the reality of our faith. This is the reality of the mission and movement of Christ that we are called to live into. That salvation exists for all. That our victory through Christ is predicated not just on Christ’s suffering, rejection, death, but that our own experience of faith can and often will include these experiences as well. We cannot sit idly by, comfortable, but uninspired to act. We cannot sit on our hands and hope that our faith alone is good enough to get us into that great multitude. We have to do the real work of Christ that we claim our faith from. We have to do the real work of being a Christian here and now. We have to be the people that creates the reality of the great multitude here and now, instead of waiting, continuing (either through action or inaction) to promote the separation of all peoples. When we come together, when we accept the reality of our faith, then we can do the hard work of the Christ movement that has been left for us. When we come together and accept the reality of our faith, we become one in Christ, we receive the support of God in our work, we are assured of our eternal salvation. Amen.

receiving Christ through Thomas

a sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Easter, John 20:19-31

Breath is a common and important device used throughout our Holy scriptures. The breath of God moves across creation, creating life, restoring life, marking the presence of the creator God. When Jesus breathes on the gathered disciples today, he does so to pass on something important, something that is beyond what they have yet to receive, experiencing the physical presence and touch of the risen Lord, and being entrusted to carry on the mission that lies before them. But, Thomas isn’t there. Thomas misses out on this opportunity to touch and feel and receive a physical gift from Jesus Christ as he breathes over the gathered group. Thomas, one who has been seen interacting with Jesus on multiple occasions throughout the ministry, misses his chance to greet the risen Lord. All Thomas wants is what everyone else has received. What Thomas gets, enables us to carry on the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Jesus breathed on the disciples saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” What a remarkable gift that has been given. Here is the resurrected Lord, here is their teacher, their friend, and he is breathing on them. He is giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is giving them the ability to go out and continue this mission, to change the world, to insure that this life, this sacrifice is not like any others before or after. Jesus puts forth a simple model for the disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” With the power of the Holy Spirit, the disciples are well equipped to live into this mission. With the power of the Holy Spirit, breathed into them, the disciples can be confident in this mission, they have the power of God, they have the reassurance of their risen Lord, given to them in person, that they will be the forgivers of sin, the retainers of sin, that they will continue this mission forward.

And that’s great for the disciples and all, but what about us? How are we supposed to live into the mission of Christ, if we don’t have that same physical experience that has been gifted to the disciples. This question is why the importance of Apostolic succession has been so important in the Catholic and Anglican Church traditions. For if you can draw a physical link from person-­to-­person, bishop-­to-­priest, bishop­-to­-the laity through confirmation, or even priest­-to-­laity through baptism, and trace that physical link all the way back to the disciples, then it’s as if that physical touch of Christ has traced all the way through the generations. In many ways that physical connection helps lend a certain assurance to our work, a certain confidence that the work we do for Christ has been ordained by Christ through history and tradition. But, that connection through the history of the Church only goes so far. Particularly because we did not get to experience Jesus, receive the physical blessing directly from the risen Lord. So the question then is, is there something else, something beyond this physical realm that we can hold onto to know, truly, that the work we are doing for Christ has been ordained by Him, that the work we are doing is the work of Christ.

Thomas is our confidence, Thomas is the creator of the experience through which we can know Christ, even without that physical touch, that physical connection. Thomas, grieving the loss of his friend, has the added grief thrown onto him that he has missed the appearance of the risen Christ. The sense of loss he was already feeling is compounded because he has missed the resurrection. So, Thomas responds the only way he can in order to not completely lose it, he doubts the story of the other disciples. Not out of distrust, not out of a lack of faith, but out of a place of deep grief. Setting himself up to be deeply misunderstood by those who will read his story, Thomas does the only thing he can to hold onto his last gasp of sanity. For, if he has truly missed the risen Lord, missed the opportunity to receive the Holy Spirit, to be emboldened in carrying on this mission, then his reality will be shattered, he will be lost, he will be the doubting Thomas he has come to be known as. But he doesn’t allow himself to go down that path. He takes the only option before him, to deny, and hope that he hasn’t truly missed his only chance at encountering the risen Lord.

Can you imagine then his absolute joy when Christ appears again? We really don’t have to imagine, for Thomas’ response sums it up quite nicely, “My lord and my God!” Thomas responds to the words of Jesus Christ today, responds to the opportunity that has been granted him, responds to the fear and anguish that has racked him for the past week, and responds in a way that shows his faith, that shows his closeness and bond to this mission, and the relief that he will be able to continue in this mission. But, he does not receive the Holy Spirit, he does not receive that physical touch of Christ, so what makes this event special for Thomas, where do we draw our inspiration out of this moment?

When Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” He is not chastising Thomas, he is blessing us, for we have not seen and yet have come to believe. Thomas himself is blessed because his supposed doubt was due to the faith he had and the fear that he may be left behind. But, Christ uses Thomas to let us all know that the physical touch of Christ is not what is necessary to carry out the mission that is before us. Christ, through Thomas, shows us that all we need is a deep belief, the knowledge of Christ, the recognition of our lord and our God, and to know that Christ is with us, even as we move further and further away from his physical presence in this world. Thomas’ recognition of Christ, without the physical evidence (not to mention the physical gift) that has already been shared with the other disciples, shows us that we can and must recognize Christ through the voice of Christ, not solely through the physical touch of Christ.

When we recognize this presence of Christ in our world, in our lives, that the word of Christ is constantly with us, constantly supporting us, constantly engaging us and making us move deeper into faith, deeper into belief, then we know that the work of Christ that is before us is not just accomplishable, but it is our duty as followers of Christ, for it has been entrusted to us, just as the voice of Christ has been entrusted to our use in grounding our faith. Thus, through the example of Thomas, we are called to take up the mantle of the disciples and continue on the mission of Christ, particularly in forgiving sins.

Forgiveness serves as a grounding principle of our faith, and we often find ourselves with chances to forgive, but time and time again we fail to take the opportunity, we fail to live into our mission. True, we come here to seek forgiveness, for things done and left undone, for our trespasses and those who trespass against us, but we are often here to selfishly seek forgiveness for ourselves, we rarely come here seeking forgiveness for or from others. We fail to seek forgiveness for and from others, because it is hard. It is hard to admit sin, and it is even harder to speak for yourself when sin is done against you or those you love. We try so hard to get ourselves right with God, that we forget that our call as followers of Christ is to facilitate the ability for others to get right with God. As followers we must seek forgiveness, but more importantly we have to create forgiveness for those who do not know they can have it. Often, those who sin, act much like Thomas, doubling down on their current situation, because they are terrified that what they have done or not done has forever kept them from experiencing Christ. But, just as Thomas shows us in his declaration of faith, if we have received the word of God, then we can bring that word of God forth and forgive and create opportunities for forgiveness. If we have faith to declare “My lord and my God!” then we definitely have the faith to declare “My lord and my God, forgive me, help me to forgive them, help them find the forgiveness they need.”

If we can do this, then we can breath with the breath of God, we can be the physical presence of Christ in this world, we can be that physical reality that the disciples enjoyed, and that Thomas has enabled for us by receiving the presence of Christ through word only. Saint Thomas’ faith was never intended to be up for consideration. Thomas’ doubt that is mentioned by Christ, is not a doubt of faith, it’s a doubt of fear that he may have missed Christ. When Christ tells him do not doubt but believe, Thomas responds with praise and adoration, because that fear has been removed, and our own trepidation should be removed for through the experience of Thomas we are given the assurance that “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Amen.