Monday, May 05, 2014

Easter 3 A: Standing Still and Looking Sad

Sermon  20140504
St. John’s Church, Downtown Yonkers
Easter 3 a

Luke 24:13-25

In the name of the Father….

When Jesus meets the disciples on the road to Emmaus he asks the disciples what they had been discussing walking along the way.  The text says, “They stood still looking sad”.  They were walking forward, but they stood still and looked sad.  After their astonishment that Jesus did not already know the disturbing events they told him the whole story, and in the midst of their speech they said, “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.”

What did the redemption of Israel mean to the disciples?  What exactly were they hoping for?  The reality is the disciples held on to the very same hopes, ideas, and agenda that they had before they ever met Jesus.  Their expectations were unaffected even after listening to the teachings of Jesus for three years.  They never allowed his words to challenge their expectations, their ideas, their desire, and their image of goodness.  His disciples are still focused on their own vision, their own expectations, and their assumptions of what is good.  They were standing still.

The disciples were not bad people.  The problem with our broken world is not just with bad people.  Our problem is when good people withdraw; when they cease to engage;  when they cease to allow others into their hearts; when we allow our ideas to be fixed, and rigid.  When we think we are good people, we are often closed to outside voices and other people.  The saints teach us that whenever we think we are good people, beware.  We might have taken a break from the work of growing in faith, and being open to God, and we are in a perilous place whether we realize it or not.

As long as our hearts are closed both to other people and to ideas other than our own we will stand still and we will be sad.

God does not simply give us what we hope for.  God is not a wish fulfiller.  God gives us what will exceed our imagination.  God gives us what will well up in us to eternal life.  We still hold on to futile dreams and hopes and expectations, but Jesus wants us to follow him along a better path.   It is said that Steve Jobs was a successful inventor at Apple because he did not ask people what they wanted, he used his creativity to figure out the very thing they did not yet know they wanted.  God has greater knowledge of our true spiritual needs than we do.

Jesus walks with them and opens for them the scriptures.  He shows them that their reading of scripture had been shallow.  They had not paid attention deeply.  The expectations they had were not the expectations he had tried to create in them through his teaching.   And now, in order to recognize him, their hearts must be open.

The life of blessing is not the life of comfort, it is a hard life, but one focused on love, peace, compassion, mercy, openness and welcome.  And that hard life, the one where no good deed goes unpunished, that is the life of blessing.

Jesus asks us to live a life of the beatitudes, being poor in spirit, meek, to mourn for sorrow, to have mercy, to be peacemakers, to hunger and thirst for a world where all are reconciled to God and all truly care and serve one another.  He asks us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit those who are sick and in prison, he asks us to reach out to those others cast out, and to have patience with each other, to turn the other cheek, forgiving one another.  He asks us not to think highly of ourselves and not to think others are less worthy.  He asks us to give God the opportunity to use our lives and bodies to serve the people all around us.

The problem is that when we are so fixed on our own expectations we cannot even see the resurrection right before us.  The disciples are listening to Jesus.  He is right in front of them.  God incarnate is right in front of them.  Something stirs.  They even reflect later,  “Were not our hearts burning within us”.  But they did not recognize him.  The most wonderful person and the most wonderful event in the history of the universe was right in their presence, talking to them, and they did not see it.

When did they recognize him?  They recognized him in the Eucharist.  When they remembered him in the words this is my body, this is my blood; when they realized that Jesus is the one who shows us life; when they remembered that Jesus is the one who asks us not to live for ourselves, but to live for him, and to meet him in the face of every human being.  They recognized him when they remembered him saying, “I am your strength, I am your sustenance, I am what gives you life: take eat”   He will feed us with his very body, with his very life.  He IS our HOPE.  He will send us what we need to embrace the life of the beatitudes.

The disciples knew the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  And at that point they realized a life with him as their true friend, and a life like his, is what their heart truly desires.  That is the redemption of Israel.  That is the redemption of the fallen universe. Everything else pales in comparison to Jesus, his friendship, his love.

They did not get what they had wanted… they got something else that was more than they were able to imagine.  That same hour they got up and went to Jerusalem and told the disciples about their encounter.  This was for them the first moment of a changed life and they had to go tell someone.  They got up and went to Jerusalem.   They are no longer standing still.  They are no longer sad.

What shall we do?  What do we want Jesus to do in our lives? What are the assumptions we make about our lives that Jesus wants to challenge? Where do our hearts need cracking open? What beatitude is Jesus asking us to embrace? We can delay joy, we can delay love, we can delay life as long as we want to.  We can stand still and be sad.   But do we want to?

Or we can give in.  We can say “yes” to Jesus in new and more wonderful ways in our life.  It will come at a cost, true, but the cost will seem like so much nothing compared to the greatness of saying yes to Jesus.  The cost is irrelevant when we feel our hearts warmed.  The cost seems so small when we recognize Jesus, as we greet him, as we love him with all our hearts, and as we take his love into our world.   And I do not need to tell you, brothers and sisters, do I, how the world longs so very much to know his healing, his compassion, his love.

In the name of the Father…

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sermon, January 26, 2014: Jesus says, "Follow me."

Sermon 20140126
St. John’s Church, Downtown Yonkers
Epiphany 3 A

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23
Psalm 27:1, 5-13

Jesus said to his disciples, “Follow me.”

So you are working hard at your job, in the middle of a project, or just closing up for the day, and along comes someone who says, “Come, follow me.”  What are you likely to do?  Well, it depends, doesn’t it?  Do you know this person? What kind of reputation does this person have?  Who is this person?  What is this person likely to ask you to do?

The disciples who left their nets to follow Jesus must have had some knowledge of Jesus.  They certainly knew of Jesus, his reputation as an incredible Rabbi, a healer, a teacher with authority unlike the others to this point.  If we look at our reading from last week they also knew that John the Baptist was pretty convinced he was the “Lamb of God”.  And they had perhaps even spent time with Jesus in his home.  They even thought he might be the Messiah, the one who was to come, and to fulfill the promises of God, something longed for for over 400 years.  Maybe, just maybe, that had hoped he would come and ask them to follow him.

The disciples saw in Jesus something they had longed for, something they deeply desired, something they hoped would heal their souls.

Yesterday was the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.  He had persecuted Christians, but in that persecution he also came to learn the message of Christ.  This process prepared him to encounter a vision of Christ on the road to Emmaus.  He came even while persecuting Christians to understand that Christ offered the hope of satisfying his deep spiritual longing for connection to God and to humanity, for a restored earth, for a better way.  He came to say that he counted all things as rubbish, compared to the surpassing knowledge of his Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why the Apostles would leave their old lives behind to follow Christ.  They saw in him hope for their own healing, their own spiritual lives, for their relationships, hope that their lives actually mattered.

The situation we find ourselves in is that Jesus actually issues this same call to us, “Follow me”

And that puts us in the place of saying why should I follow?  What about Jesus makes me want to follow him?  What do I know about Jesus that attracts me to him?  Does the life Jesus show me offer me hope that I can be healed?  That my spiritual needs can be met?  That my relationship with God and with other people can be better?  That my life can actually matter?  Do we see in Jesus something that we long for?

It is not possible to answer this question if we spend no time with Jesus.  If we only half pay attention during the reading of the Gospel; if we neglect reading the Gospels; in our prayer life if we neglect praying and placing ourselves in the presence of God and asking to meet God in Christ; if we neglect our spiritual lives, if we neglect quieting our mind so that we can meet God in the still small voice, in the quiet, how can we know that Jesus offers us the satisfaction of longing?

I wonder what attracted the disciples the most?  I suspect it was that Jesus knew and cared for each of them for who they were.  We have stories of his meeting disciples and showing that he knew them sometimes better than they knew themselves.  I suspect it was that Jesus was a forgiving person.  He welcomed all, sinner and righteous person.  He knew their struggles and wanted to encourage them to take the next step in love no matter where they were starting from.  He did not put up with judgmental holier-than-thou behavior.  Jesus sympathized with people in their suffering, healing their illness, weeping with them in their grief, asking them, “what do you want?”  And he healed them.  Jesus inspired them.  He taught them with authority and they were amazed by his teaching because of its wisdom, but also because it was so surprising.  But this teaching did not come from nowhere.  We often fail to note that Jesus was a serious student.  He knows the scriptures through and through; that was not by magic.  That was from years of study.  And Jesus’ communion with God did not happen by divine intervention; he spent hours in prayer, often going off alone to pray

With some reflection, it certainly would seem that Jesus is attractive because he is the very message he preaches.  He asks us to love God and love neighbor, and we see in his life someone who truly does love God and love neighbor.

When he asks us to follow him, that is exactly what he asks us to do: to also become people who love God and neighbor.  I will make you fishers of people, he says.

And there is a paradox in the call to follow him.  We think our healing will come from paying attention to ourselves, seeking our needs, finding meaning in our lives.  But Jesus tells us the healing will come from learning to be people who love God and love neighbor.  Yes we focus on ourselves, but we focus on our selves capable of loving and serving others.  And the way to learn that is to actually do it.

It is not just enough to follow behind Jesus and watch him be Jesus.  Following Jesus means learning to do, and actually doing what he does.  To follow him means we learn to know and care for people and that we do not judge or discriminate between people. 

This week we celebrated also the feast of St. Francis de Sales.  He was a Roman Catholic bishop in Geneva, Switzerland, and he was famous for his love of the people in his neighborhood.  Someone asked him, “Don’t you find your life of service to the poor and needy a task?”  And he replied, “Yes, it does require effort, and it can be tiring and hard, but it brings a deep healing and joy that there is no other way to know.” 

Also while addressing this question he pointed out that everyone has the ability to love and care for others.  We are not all the same, we do not all have the same gifts, but all of us do have gifts that we can use in the service of God and of neighbor.   He points out that a bishop loves God by caring for the priests and people in his diocese, a monk by saying his prayers, working to support the monastery, and welcoming visitors who need a quiet place to renew.  He says a father loves by providing for his children, teaching them about Jesus, and being a good neighbor to those in his neighborhood.  A tradesman serves God by doing fair business, being charitable, making a difference in his neighborhood. 

As you know, I often visit nursing homes to celebrate the Eucharist where I often suggest to the residents that they can have a ministry of prayer for the world, for their fellow residents, for the staff.  I suggest to them that they can serve God and neighbor by caring and understanding one another.

Jesus called the disciples to leave all and follow him.  He intended to groom them to go out and change the world.  But Jesus does not call all to be leaders and missionaries in the church.  He calls many of us to be mindful of the ways we can follow him right where we are.

Where are the places in your life where you can follow Christ?  What can you do at your home with the people you see every day?  Maybe there are places we need healing in order to be able to love?  Are we actively asking God to heal us, or to show us a way?  Maybe we are unsure of our spiritual gifts?  Are we exploring, asking God to help us find the gifts we have to follow Christ, to love and serve God and my neighbor?

How can you learn to love God and neighbor more in this parish church?  Sure, our community needs to repair this building.  Sure, this community needs to raise money with penny socials and renting the parish hall.  Sure this parish needs people to coordinate fixing the pipes.  But we do all of those things so that every person in this room, and those who did not make it this morning, can actually love God and neighbor by service and putting it into practice in their daily lives.  The bishop told the vestry last week that when someone comes to this church it is important that the see this as a place where their spiritual needs can be meet.  We are the ones who God will help do this, if we will venture out to do it.  Yes, it might seem uncomfortable, or strange, or even challenging, but God also offers to give us the wisdom and the strength to accomplish his will if we will just say yes.  If we will put down whatever nets are holding us back, entangling us,our set ways.  Like the disciples we must put down somethings in order to answer the call.

Jesus says to us, “Follow me.  And we say, ”Yes,  Jesus, we follow.”