Our rector is the Reverend Raisin Horn.
A treasured possession
What would it be like to hear Jesus say, “You are my treasured possession”? Would you believe him? These words are from today’s Old Testament reading as Jesus restores the nation of Israel, who has been like sheep without a shepherd to lead them. Jesus then pours compassion upon his people and sends his disciples out in his name.
Our summer readings now focus on the disciples and on discipleship – what following Jesus really means. Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean we get three months off from doing the work Jesus sends us out to do. The disciples didn’t get time off, either.
Jesus’ great compassion for his people stands out clearly in the readings today. Compassion motivates Jesus’ teaching, preaching, and healings. Compassion leads him to name and send out twelve apostles, granting them authority to proclaim good news, cast out unclean spirits, cleanse lepers, and cure sickness. The apostles become Jesus’ laborers in the field. The Lord of the harvest equips them for all they are sent out to do.
Really? With that impossible-sounding job description for a disciple, I imagine the twelve felt overwhelming doubt. Wouldn’t we have that same doubt? Who except Jesus could fulfill all these expectations?
The portion of the gospel we hear today is the only place in Matthew’s gospel that the word “apostles” is used instead of the word “disciples.” “Apostle” means one who is sent. Today we hear the very moment that Jesus sends the twelve out.
For he sends them out in mission, because he has compassion upon the needs of the people. The word “compassion” means more than feeling sympathy for the suffering of others. Compassion is the actual response to seeing those needs. It means taking action.
Jesus promises that the apostles will be given what they need, saying: “Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
But following Jesus comes at a cost, and he doesn’t hesitate to tell it to them straight, warning of coming persecutions. He says, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents.” This means they will be treated as Jesus was treated, not what we’d call good news of the gospel.
This is one of the times it seems God has a sense of humor, that a reading about children rising against parents comes up today – of all days – on Father’s Day. And next week it doesn’t get any better.
Followers of Jesus often get into trouble with their families, who expect love and time and attention, and rightly so. There’s tension for us in the church too, lay leaders and clergy both, between commitment to church and prayer life, and family commitments and expectations. This tension always has been part of religious history. But it doesn’t sound appealing that becoming disciples can cause serious divisions at home and with those we love. So it’s easy to back away, or think that because we’re ordinary people, we’re not the special ones, the ones God wants. But the real truth of the gospel is that Jesus desires us as we are, with our brokenness and imperfections – not ever because we are, or are not, important.
Two points worth comment today is that, first, the gospel sounds as though Jesus ignores ministry to the Gentiles. He tells the disciples, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Church historians suggest that what’s happening at this time is that Jesus sent his followers out at two different times. As one writer explains, he sent them “first to the Jews when he was in Galilee, and the second to all nations after his resurrection…Historians have suggested that perhaps the two missions reflect two separate efforts in the early church to bring the gospel first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, for which Peter is called ‘the apostle to the Jews’ and Paul ‘the apostle to the Gentiles.’
…Both are valid and important, for all are God’s children… the first mission demonstrates God’s covenant faithfulness to his chosen people while the second is a sign of God’s inclusive love to all nations.”1
A second question arising in this gospel is why Jesus tells the apostles to travel lightly. He warns of dangers ahead, yet bids them “take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff.”
Jesus, calling them God’s laborers in the field, believes that “God will provide for them through the generosity of the people who accept their good news about the kingdom of heaven.”2 God will protect them, Jesus says; if that is not so in one town, they are to move on to another.
Could you and I do that – leave everything we usually depend on behind? It’s normal to be skeptical. Everything in our culture warns us to be wary rather than rely on the goodness and kindness of strangers. Jesus’ message is counter-cultural and always has been. God’s people are, always, treasured possessions. You are God’s treasured possession. Believe it.
The generosity hoped for in the gospel calls us to the holy work of being kind, generous, and responding to others with compassion.
I’ll end with a prayer from priest and writer Brendan Manning’s book, Dear Abba, given to each person who attended Friday evening’s Revival here at Christ Church. Manning writes of compassion, saying:
Dear Abba, I’m afraid far too many of my moments of compassion are nothing more than the warm fuzzies, experiences I can manage and keep at a safe arm’s length. These illusions of compassion can fool my friends and neighbors, but not You. When I consider this day, I don’t know if my heart was torn up about anything, my gut wrenched by another’s pain, or the deepest parts of me hurled to the surface for all to see. I know it’s a dangerous request to make, but teach me compassion so that others might take notice and be drawn to Your beautiful heart.”3
1 John Y. H. Yieh, Conversations with scripture: the gospel of Matthew (New York: Morehouse Publishing; 2012), 56.
2 Ibid., 57.
3 Brendan Manning, Dear Abba: morning and evening prayer (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.; 2013), 17.
Easter Day April 16, 2017 John 20:1-18
I have seen the Lord
It’s hard to keep big news to yourself. What is the first thing you want to do when you see or hear something surprising or extraordinary? If you’re like many of us, you’re excited and want to tell someone right away.
When our first granddaughter was born, the phone call announcing her birth and her name became our own flurry of calls to those we wanted to share in our joy. We couldn’t wait.
Twice now, I’ve had the honor of serving as a deputy from Iowa to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church at the time of the election of a new Presiding Bishop. Waiting with thousands of other Episcopalians and guests for the name of the elected bishop to be spoken aloud, we could hear a pin drop – the anticipation was that intense.
Both times, when the new Presiding Bishops’ names were announced, a cry of overwhelming excitement went up from the crowd, followed by sustained applause. The House went wild. And the first thing so many did was make calls and send texts, because we couldn’t keep the news to ourselves a minute longer.
I wonder if that’s what it was like for Mary Magdalene that first Easter morning. She went to the tomb alone. She saw the stone removed, Jesus’s body gone. She urgently needed to tell someone. So she ran.
She ran to Simon Peter and to the unnamed one called “the other disciple” whom Jesus loved, believed to have been John the Evangelist. She told them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb.”
Then the disciples Peter and John ran, too. There’s a great deal of running in this gospel! John was faster, so he arrived first to find the abandoned linen grave clothes. Peter went boldly straight into the tomb, and then they knew Jesus’ body was not simply gone, but risen. They began to understand that Jesus had fulfilled the scriptures, rising from the dead on that third day.
I wish I could transport all of you to Paris just for the morning, so you could see the oil-on-canvas painting by Swiss artist Eugene Burnand. His painting is entitled “The disciples Peter and John running to the sepulchre on the morning of the resurrection” and hangs in a museum near the River Seine. The colors and movement capture the frenzy and surprise of that first Easter. It is the perfect work of art for this gospel and for this day.
The painter was a deeply religious man who brilliantly interpreted the two disciples, Peter and John in their robes, running with hair flying behind them and eyes wide with fear and mystery all at once.
They ran because Mary Magdalene first ran to them. The gospel writers each painted different pictures of that Easter morning. In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene appears, but no other women are present as they are in the other accounts. We hear of no earthquake or terrified guards, as in Matthew’s version.
In the gospel of John we are given something unique. It comes within the conversation between the risen Christ and Mary Magdalene, who weeps because she does not know where they have taken her Lord.
And then Jesus suddenly stands before her, where no one had been standing before. Is he the gardener, as she supposes? But when Jesus speaks her name, saying, “MARY!” she knows this voice and knows this is no gardener, but her beloved Lord and teacher.
Jesus tells her he soon will ascend to God the Father. We hear the announcement of his ascension to heaven only in John’s gospel. Mary Magdalene is the first witness to this sign of Jesus’ fully divine being.
Because he soon will ascend into heaven, Jesus promises to send his Holy Spirit – the Advocate, the Paraclete, the Comforter. Throughout John’s writing he emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit. We are rich in spirit and in mystery in this gospel.
Through his words to Mary, “Go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father,” Jesus has just made Mary a disciple. He has told her to “Go” and to “Say,” sending her out to tell others the good news of his resurrection. Go. Tell.
The word “Go!” is the very word our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry loves to use everywhere he preaches, at churches and convention centers all over the world. “Go,” he challenges us, in humble service to love and care for our neighbors as ourselves.
Go, and make good on the promises we make when we become baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So it is fitting that on celebrations of the Eucharist on Easter Day, we pray together The Baptismal Covenant. We renew the vows we make at our baptism, as we are buried with Christ into his death and raised with him to newness of life.
Near the end of these vows, we say we will pattern our lives in the way of Jesus, knowing we depend upon God’s grace, and all we do is done only with God’s help.
This morning as we renew our vows together, listen especially to what we promise:
to resist evil,
to return to the Lord,
to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God,
to seek and serve Christ in all persons,
and to strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being.
Does one of these most stand out for you?
If it does, I challenge you to run with it. Run with the urgency of this gospel, to love God and neighbor through the power of the risen Christ.
All this running brings to mind what peace activist and author William Sloane Coffin once wrote, saying:
“God’s love is a long distance runner. Love has a longer wind than any other contestant in the race.”
Like Mary Magdalene, like Simon Peter and John, may we run to tell someone the glad news that Christ has left his grave clothes behind, and opened the gate of new life to us, his beloved children.
Friends in Christ, know that you are deeply loved and valued by the God who made you, the One who has risen and will ascend to heaven, sending down his life-giving, life-changing Spirit. So go now, and tell someone that Christ is alive, and our work of sharing God’s immeasurable love has begun. Alleluia. Christ is risen!
5 Lent, Year A April 2, 2017 Ezekiel 37:1-14 John 11:1-45
The raising of Lazarus
A friend once said that today’s readings might sound strange if you didn’t know the stories passed down through generations in the Church. A valley full of dry bones? A gospel with a dead man wrapped in strips of cloth, suddenly come to life from a tomb? She said it sounds more like preparing for Halloween than Holy Week and Easter. (M.D. Younger, Lutheran Theological Seminary)
The Halloween reference seems not entirely out of place here, because things are going to get a lot scarier as Jesus soon walks the road to his betrayal, crucifixion, and death on a cross.
In today’s gospel describing the raising of Lazarus, we hear the seventh and last of Jesus’ signs that show his divine nature. Within these 45 verses, there’s a moment especially beautiful and moving.
Martha and Mary say to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus sees their brother Lazarus, Jesus weeps with sorrow – for Lazarus was his friend.
So in the midst of this long account, Jesus shows us again that he, like us, is fully human. He is acquainted with grief. He knows our times of sorrow and stands with us in those times. Then, in the dramatic scene when Jesus calls Lazarus out from the tomb and restores him to life, Jesus shows that he is fully divine.
To some, this passage may bring confusion. It may sound as though Lazarus was raised from the dead, or resurrected, as Jesus will be on Easter Day. But Lazarus instead is unbound from death’s grip. Only Jesus is resurrected. Only Jesus tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
When we pray the burial liturgy in our Book of Common Prayer, the prayers of the people mention Lazarus. The line begins, “You wept at the grave of Lazarus, your friend; comfort us in our sorrow.” (BCP, p. 497)
It brings us comfort knowing that Jesus, too, was stricken by grief, and felt the profound loss we all experience in life – times that sorrow brings us to our knees when there simply is nowhere else to go.
As in last Sunday’s gospel when Jesus restored sight to the blind man, this last sign of raising Lazarus brings us closer to the end of Jesus’ public ministry. Next week, Palm Sunday, Jesus rides triumphantly on a donkey into a crowd that spreads cloaks and palm branches on the road as they shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
The raising of Lazarus foreshadows Jesus’ death and resurrection on the third day. Unbinding Lazarus and setting him free is the final sign of God’s presence revealed in Jesus, the great revelation of Jesus’ whole purpose on earth, to bring everlasting life.
What are we to make of the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones? “The Lord set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.” This vision comes with the promise that Israel will be brought to life again through the breath of the Holy Spirit. As if they are slow to understand, the people of Israel are assured three times that through Ezekiel’s vision and the power of the Spirit, they will know the Lord.
The wind, or breath, is the symbol for the Spirit that enters those dry bones and breathes new life where there was none. It is through the power of that Spirit that babies and adults are baptized, that we are confirmed, and that we are forgiven for sin when we say the confession. Remember the words of the prayer book, when the priest says, “and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life.”
This power is not to be taken lightly. On this Sunday, when we hold our Annual Meeting immediately after the service, the lessons call us to remember how powerful it is to confront that life-giving Holy Spirit, a mystery we will not fully understand until the day we see God face-to-face.
I believe it is the power of that same Spirit that brings us together to new ministry in this place. Many priests I know from around the corners of the Episcopal Church use the Annual Meeting Sunday to give a “state of the parish” address rather than preach on the readings. As you can tell, I have not done that. The lessons are too important to let them go unconsidered.
But the lessons do speak to us at Christ Church as we wrap up the first four weeks of ministry and worship together. We may hear about dry bones and wonder what such a reading means for us as God’s faithful congregation in Clinton, Iowa.
Perhaps you have been “bone tired” at times during the interim period between rectors – especially if you chaired the Search Committee or were Senior Warden! Maybe you didn’t come to church for a while. Or maybe you became energized by the opportunities for lay leadership during the past year. With any change, there is loss, there is wondering, and it can be hard not knowing what lies ahead.
In the congregational survey that most of you completed, your results showed that compared to other churches, you expressed three unusually strong goals.
Those goals included deepening a sense of connection to God and one another through strong worship; working together for social and institutional change to better reflect the kingdom of God; and expanding outreach ministries to those living on the margins of this community.
Though on the grids of energy and satisfaction, the parish scored low, your spiritual vitality score was over 90% — you can believe I took notice of that! This is a highly positive sign and bodes well for the future. I walked into Christ Church for the first time and experienced overwhelmingly a deep sense of prayer, as though those prayers over the years have soaked into all the rooms in this house of God.
I experienced in the people I first met here a hunger for more learning, more ways to be together, and a lively prayerful presence shows this as a place whose people love God and want to love their neighbor more.
The outstanding program of the Northend Outreach Ministries brings people together to serve others. What else can we do together to refresh and build upon this ministry which already runs well?
I hope that we will share ideas and possibilities, and that every person is heard and every thought fairly considered. We can find new ways to serve those outside our church doors. Those churches that look outside themselves are the ones that best succeed and grow.
It has been four weeks since I joined you, and I still have much to learn and experience. The month of March has felt like juggling a great many balls in the air. It takes time for anyone new to know the ways a community lives its common life together. For that, I will need your help.
Tell me your stories, those of disappointments and of success. Be patient and gentle with one another as we all try to remember that humans are imperfect, and people take time if we are doing God’s work right.
In the weeks ahead, wonder with me, and ask yourself these questions:
What is binding you now? Like the story of Lazarus, from what can you ask Jesus to be unbound? Do you need to forgive someone, or be forgiven yourself? What will help set you free into newness of life, where the Spirit breathes upon you like a ferocious wind unlike you’ve ever heard before?
How can we all, as the worshiping community that is Christ Church, help you be all that God calls you to, and all that you wish to be?
Now let us go out and do the work which God has given us to do, knowing that we do it all only through the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the wild, life-giving Spirit.
3 Lent, Year A March 19, 2017 Exodus 17:1-7 John 4:5-42
Have you noticed that the gospel reading has gotten longer and longer these Sundays in Lent? The lectionary for today does not permit shortcuts, omitting verses when a reading is long. I wonder if that’s because Jesus is telling us there are no shortcuts to a life of faith – especially in Lent.
Today’s Old Testament lesson and the gospel reading give us parallel stories about the gift of water.
Imagine yourself in first century Samaria. You would have seen something extraordinary: Jesus, sitting at Jacob’s well. He’s thirsty – really thirsty, because unlike you and me he walks everywhere he goes. He gets dusty, hot, and weary along the way. He meets a Samaritan woman and speaks to her, saying “Give me a drink.”
This is extraordinary because Jesus broke two rules. A man did not start up a conversation with an unfamiliar woman, and a Jew did not keep company with a Samaritan.
The source of trouble between Jews and Samaritans involved a disagreement about where to worship – I know many of you not only can imagine that, but have lived through a serious and difficult dispute about worship. These disputes divide and can hurt people, and are hard to resolve even when everyone tries to be careful. But people take time, and it takes time to adjust to anything new in worship.
It may help to remember that even in the first century, people of faith disagreed over worship. And somehow, God saw them through it. Healing took place. Healing still can take place, even years later, with God’s grace and through the regular sharing of bread and wine at the altar.
In the gospel reading today, we learn that Samaritans worshipped at a shrine on Mt. Gerazim instead of the preferred Jewish site, the Jerusalem temple. From there, their division grew deeper.
Jesus arrives in Samaria by a road Jews did not normally take. Jesus crosses boundaries. He carries no bucket, even though he’s come to a well. He asks the unnamed woman for water and she asks him why he, a Jew, would ask her for water.
As Jesus so often did, he answers a question by turning it around. He tells her that if she knew who he was, she would have asked him for a drink, for he is living water.
Not only that, but this man she’d never seen before already knows about her five husbands, as if he can see right through her! Clearly, this was no ordinary conversation and Jesus was no ordinary Jew. She, too, questions him about the dispute over where to worship God.
When she realizes who he is – the Messiah, the one they’ve waited for – she runs off to the village to ask her people if this truly can be him. She runs with such haste that she leaves her jar of water behind.
And yes, this truly is the Messiah. In the gospel of John, Jesus keeps telling us who he is: “I am the bread of life,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the vine,” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” and now Jesus says he is living water.
In today’s reading from Exodus we hear how the quarrelsome people of Israel are at their wits’ end from being without water. Moses cries out to the Lord on their behalf, and God commands Moses to strike the rock so that water flows out to the thirsty ones.
The question, “Is the Lord among us or not?” gets a clear answer with the sudden appearance of flowing water, restoring their trust in God.
In both lessons, God provides the gift of water, necessary for life. We learn that even quarrelsome people are given gracious gifts from God. For who among us could claim to be free from quarrels and impatience?
The images of water remind us of our baptism and the promises we make through our Baptismal Covenant. The Samaritan woman offers water, but the water Jesus gives is the water of everlasting life so life-giving that we cannot yet even imagine it.
How do we, here in Clinton, listen to this story knowing we are a city on a river that helps define who we are and where we are?
This week, the story of the Samaritan woman made me wonder. I wondered why Jesus took a different road when he went to the well. He crossed boundaries into a land where a Jew would normally not go. He knew all about the woman at the well and her past life. He knew he would offer her the grace of living water.
Jesus met the Samaritan woman where she was. I think we learn in this gospel today that Jesus also meets us where we are, whether we are ready and open to receive him or not.
We, too, are thirsty. We thirst for the word of God, for Jesus to show his presence in our lives. Sometimes the path is hard. Life deals us hardship, sorrow, loss, and we may find it hard to pray. At these times especially it is important to have our faith community surround us, praying for us until we can pray again ourselves.
Jesus appears to us through other people in our faith life. Jesus lavishes the gift of our faith community, of other people, around us – as he does with living water.
That’s why it makes a difference that you are here today. Your presence matters in this place. We don’t always know how what we do or what we say will affect another person, or change that person’s day for the better.
Perhaps someone here in this church received a kind or encouraging word or a prayer from you today. Because of your kindness and compassion another beloved child of God receives grace upon grace.
We are the body of Christ together. God shows up through us.
Where are the hard places in your life, right here and right now, where you most need Jesus to show up? Where do you need to ask Jesus to meet you?
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