Sunday, June 24, 2018
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
June 24, 2018
7 Proper B
When I was a child, our grandfather would take us down to the pond near his house and teach us how to skip stones across the water. First, we had to choose a stone that was the right size, fairly flat, and as smooth as possible. Then he showed us how to use the correct angle and the perfect spin to send the stone skipping across the water. At first, we could only get the stones to skip once or twice before sinking. But with some practice, we could get three or four skips across the water. Our goal was always to get the stone to the other side of the pond, but that never happened.
We hear about another stone this morning. This stone was a small stone cast by a small boy at a great foe. Clearly, David had to have the ability to choose the right stone, the ability to aim accurately, and the strength to land the stone in the right place. Perhaps David had honed his slingshot skills while protecting his sheep from the lions and bears. David tells Saul that he has killed lions and bears, and declares his trust that the God who saved him from the lion and the bear would also save him from the great Philistine. David’s confidence in his own skills and in the God who had kept him safe in the past gave him the courage to take on Goliath.
Courage is perhaps understandably lacking in the disciples this morning. The disciples and Jesus are crossing the lake when a great windstorm produces such huge waves that the disciples are afraid the boat will be swamped, and they will all drown. Jesus is asleep in the boat, apparently unconcerned about the impending disaster. The disciples wake Jesus up and say "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Jesus wakes up and says to the wind and waves "Peace, be still." And the wind and waves calm. Then Jesus says to the disciples "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And the disciples say to each other "Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?"
I find it interesting that Jesus says "Why are you afraid?" rather than "There is nothing to be afraid of." The difference is huge. The storm is truly fierce. Drowning is a real possibility. There is clearly something to fear. The question is why the disciples fear.
The disciples are professional fishermen when Jesus calls them. They have spent a lot of time on the water. At this point, they are probably much better at catching fish than they are at being disciples. So, in theory at least, they have the skills to read the wind and waves and know how to handle this situation, or, better yet avoid the danger in the first place. But in their fear, they forget. Unlike David, who uses his skills and his trust in God to give him the courage to face a fearsome situation, the disciples forget their skills and do not realize that they are with Jesus, who has power over the wind and waves. The disciples are paralyzed by their fear and can do nothing in the face of great adversity.
David summoned his skill, his courage, and his trust in God to confront Goliath. His skill happened to be with a stone and a slingshot. This week, we have seen other kinds of stones thrown. We have heard verbal stones thrown with judgement and rancor against people whose views are different from our own, and seen stones cast in a terrible ways against people whose backgrounds or life situations we cannot begin to imagine. Courage is required to tackle the difficult challenges that face our country with some measure of grace. The issue of immigration, as with the issue of gun control and other divisive issues, are very complicated issues with no clear or simple solution. We can easily feel as small as David before Goliath-like issues, or as unable to deal with those issue as the disciples were to deal with the storm.
However, in the reading from 2 Corinthians, Paul gives us the stones we are to use in the face of such great challenges. Paul wrote of his own challenges of “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” which he met with the stones of “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.” These are the stones God has given to use as we work to solve the challenges we face, whether personal challenges, global challenges, or anything in between. These are the stones we are called to practice skipping across the water over and over again, until our skills are perfected. These are the stones we have been given to use as we practice keeping our baptismal promise to seek and serve Christ in all people, to work for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being. David used his well practiced skills, and his trust in the God who had always kept him safe to give him the courage to do what seemed impossible. God calls us to our well practiced skills, and our trust in God, so that we have the courage to be the people God calls us to be as we face the daunting challenges of our day.
Monday, June 18, 2018
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
June 17, 2018
6 Proper B
In 2014, a Cincinnati restaurant owner realized that every day hundreds of pounds of perfectly good food were going to waste in local restaurants and groceries. Grocery stores were throwing out produce with slight blemishes and restaurants were throwing out food that had been prepared but never served. The restaurant owner was Suzy DeYoung, a gourmet chef who owned a French bistro in the city. Rather than throw out the food she had prepared but never served, Suzi began using that food to create great meals for people in Cincinnati who are food insecure. Eventually, Suzy transitioned from her life as a restaurant owner and French chef to launch La Soupe, an organization dedicated to rescuing perishable food from grocery stores and restaurants and creating delicious healthy meals to serve at soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Today, La Soupe rescues about 5000 pounds of perishable food each week and creates meals for 2000 people. Through La Soupe, local chefs also teach low income high school students how to create delicious soups from rescued produce. Each student receives a crock-pot and ingredients to take home so they can cook for their families. A ministry that began with one person rescuing fruits and vegetables to serve a few hungry people has become a force in Cincinnati where a large group of volunteers use perfectly good food that would otherwise go to the landfill to feed literally thousands of people each week.
This morning, we hear Jesus say "The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how." Then Jesus says "The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs." These two parables point to something of the mystery of the Kingdom of God. When Jesus began his ministry, his first words were "The Kingdom of God has arrived, repent and believe in the good news." These parables tell us that the Kingdom of God is growing in our midst, starting from something so small as to perhaps look useless and eventually becoming so large that all the birds of the air can make nests there.
However, these parables also make the emerging Kingdom of God seem effortless. The seed just sprouts and grows and all of a sudden, there is a harvest and the planter does not know how. Or what starts as the tiniest of seeds just becomes the greatest of all shrubs. Poof! Just like that. But when we go about the work God has given us to do, working to make the fullness of the Kingdom of God a more present reality in our own world, that work does not happen without effort. Whether we’re working with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for low income families, or serving dinner at Welcome Table or Family Promise, or teaching Vacation Bible School to help our children learn how to serve, or whatever we do to work for justice and peace in the world around us, a great deal of work is required by a large number of people. Certainly the work of La Soupe does not happen without a lot of effort. That work may be joyful, wonderful work, but the effort required is still work. If the Kingdom of God is supposed to just grow in our midst the way a seed grows into a plant, why does cultivating the Kingdom of God require so much effort?
When Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God has arrived, he did not just sit back and watch the show. Jesus himself put in an awful lot of hours preaching, teaching, praying, feeding, healing and otherwise going about the work of growing the Kingdom of God. That is our first clue that perhaps these parables are not about the Kingdom just magically emerging in our midst. The second clue is that Jesus consistently taught in parables, not to state the seemingly obvious, but to get us to look beyond appearances and think deeply about the mystery that is the Kingdom of God. If these two parables are not about God’s kingdom growing in our midst without any effort on our part, what are the parables saying to us?
In our reading from I Samuel this morning, we hear the story of a small boy who will become a great King. God’s choice of David is a surprising choice. First, God sends Samuel off to find Jesse the Bethlehemite because God has chosen a king from among Jesse’s sons. Jesse’s grandmother was Ruth, a Moabite so not a pure Israelite, making anyone from her family a surprising choice for a king of Israel. Secondly, when Samuel sees the oldest son, who would be the obvious choice from among the sons, God says "Do not look on his appearance, or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord does not see as mortals see. They look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." Eventually 7 of Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel and God does not chose any of them. Jesse has one more son, the very youngest, but that son is out tending the sheep. David, the least likely son from an unlikely family, is anointed king in the presence of his brothers, and, we are told, "the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward."
The story of David might also make us think that something great comes from something very small with no effort. However, David may have become a great king, but as we will see over the next few weeks, David’s success did not come without effort and did come despite some significant failures. So there is more to the story of David than simply someone small becoming someone great.
The parable of the mustard seed and the story of the call of David remind us that God will take what we have to offer, even when we believe our offering is too small to make a difference and use our offering to help bring about the Kingdom of God. When we think that the time we have to offer is not enough to matter, or the money we can give won’t make a difference, or our one vote, or phone call or letter to our representatives in Congress will be a drop in the bucket of protest, we are called to remember the mustard seed, or the little boy who became a great King, or how some kale and potatoes became an abundance for hungry people in Cincinnati. When we trust God with what we have, no matter the size, the gospel tells us that God can do more than we could ask or imagine.
Sunday, May 27, 2018
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
May 27, 2018
My brother, sister, and I have been going through thousands of family photos lately. My sister has done the bulk of the work, sorting photos into piles, packing them up and sending them off to various friends and relatives. I fear that we will soon be like the people who grow vast quantities of zucchini and drop the vegetable off on peoples’ porches, ring the bell and run. We’ll just be dealing in photos, not zucchini. But those photos remind us of the larger story to which we belong and all the people with whom we are connected. We remember grandparents and aunts and uncles and the impact they had on our lives. We remember our connection with relatives who came before us and died long before we were born, but whose traits we continue to carry. We remember family gatherings where we played with cousins we rarely saw, or neighborhood picnics that brought a diversity of people together for a shared meal. Stories are part of the way we make sense of who we are in this world, and photos tell wonderful stories.
Scripture also tells such stories. In the liturgical year, we have traveled through Advent as we prepared for the arrival of the Christ child. Epiphany is next with the arrival of the Magi to meet the child Jesus and the season following in which we hear about the early ministry of Jesus. Then we journey through Lent in preparation for Easter, the glorious celebration of the resurrection which lasts 50 days until Pentecost. Last Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost and marked the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. So, now our story includes God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, or God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer and today we arrive at Trinity Sunday. On Trinity Sunday, we proclaim our belief in one God in three persons as revealed in Scripture.
If Scripture would just explain how one God can be three persons, then perhaps we could actually understand the Trinity. But nowhere in Scripture do we find an explanation for the way one God can simultaneously be Father and Son and Holy Spirit, or as Augustine put it, Lover, Beloved, and Love. What Scripture does give us are stories, and this morning we hear two great ones. We hear the story of Isaiah’s vision in the temple, complete with special effects worthy of George Lucas. God’s presence is huge, awesome, and perhaps somewhat frightening. At the end of the story, God asks “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” And Isaiah replies “Here I am, send me.” Our reading ends with those lovely words, but truth in preaching requires me to tell you that what comes next is not pleasant. What God is sending Isaiah to do is tell God’s people how far they have strayed from being the people God made them to be and preach their impending destruction.
We also hear the story of Nicodemus this morning. Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night trying to figure out who Jesus is. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to see the Kingdom of God, he must be born from above by water and the Spirit. In contrast to Isaiah’s language where God is huge and awesome, Jesus uses the intimate language of childbirth to describe our relationship to God. Nicodemus never does get a straight answer to his question, but in this story we do get a reference to God, Jesus, and the Spirit, along with perhaps the most well-known passage of Scripture: ““For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Our stories this morning are just a small sample of the stories of Scripture that tell us about our God who, by God’s very nature, has always been in relationship as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit even before creation, and about the God who is both distant and near. God may be other worldly in Isaiah, but God needs Isaiah to deliver God’s message to the people. God needed Isaiah just as God needs us to do God’s work in the world. The reading from Romans is not a story as Paul was not much of a story-teller. But Paul reminds us that the Spirit working within us allows us to call God “Abba” and makes us children of God, to be in relationship with God in that familial way. And the story of Nicodemus, as confusing as that story might be, gives us a picture of the intimate relationship God wants with us and God’s desire that we be in relationship with God forever. In the creation story in Genesis 1, we are told that humans are made in the image of the God. On Trinity Sunday, we are reminded that the God in whose image we are made has been in relationship since before creation. By our very nature, we are created to live in relationship with God and each other in a way that makes us one as the three parts of the Trinity are one.
Into this story and this relationship, Violet Harvey will be baptized this morning. The story of God and God’s people becomes Violet’s story, and we, as Violet’s church, will promise to help Violent make sense of that story. Violet will learn about the way God calls us to be in relationship with God and the whole human family by the way we keep the Baptismal Covenant we renew this morning. When we continue in the breaking of bread and the prayers, when we repent and return when we sin, when we proclaim the gospel in word and action, work for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being, we live like people who know we made in the image of God who is relationship. The way we live our lives tells Violet and the world the story of the God who makes us one as the God in whose image we are made is one.
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
May 20, 2018
When I was growing up, my family spent the summers sailing on Lake Maumelle, just outside of Little Rock. We started off with a Sunfish, a small sailboat with one sail and not much between us and the water. Most summer afternoons, the 5 of us would pile into our old Volkswagen Beetle, with the rudder sticking out the sunroof since there is not room in a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle for 5 people and a rudder, and off we would go, pulling the boat on a trailer behind us.
Sailing, I quickly learned, is all about the wind. Since there is not one thing we can do to make more wind, less wind, or wind from another direction, we had to learn to work with the wind. The best ride, of course, was when we wanted to go in the same direction as a nice strong wind. All you have to do is let the sail out to catch the wind and away you go. Stopping is little hard to do without winding up in the water, but practice makes perfect. The hardest work was when we wanted to sail into the wind. That requires setting the sail as closely as possible to the direction of the wind and using the weight of our bodies to keep the boat tilted at the most effective angle. That was a lot of work, but it was also a thrilling ride. Then, of course, there were the times when the wind completely abandoned us. That is why we always took a paddle with us. Sailboats were not designed to be paddled, however, so getting around with no wind was a lot of work and no fun.
On this Pentecost morning, we hear about wind of another sort as a great rushing wind fills the room and tongues of fire land on the disciples. This year, Pentecost falls at the end of a weekend that has seen both deep grief and great joy. On Friday, we witnessed yet another school shooting, this time in Texas. This time, 10 people were killed and another 10 were wounded. While Columbine and Sandy Hook seemed to draw us together in grief and the desire to do something to keep our children safe, now school shootings seem to move us further apart. If we cannot agree about keeping our children safe, what can we possibly agree on? In the face of division and inertia, sometimes I feel like the wind has abandoned us and we are left paddling a sailboat upstream with no help.
On the other hand, I like many people, got up early yesterday morning to watch the fairy tale wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Two people in love, a great liturgy, wonderful music and a spectacular sermon are worth getting out of bed for in my book. A wedding often brings people together, but this royal wedding brought people together from all over the globe. Throngs of people lined the streets to see the newly married couple and to rejoice in their love for each other. Millions more watched the wedding on television. The love Meghan and Harry have for each other shone in their faces, which were as bright as the sunshine that radiated on the day. All seemed right with the world for a few brief moments, as if the whole world was sailing with the wind at our backs.
Our Presiding Bishop began his sermon at the wedding with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which reminded us that real love is no fairy tale. He said "We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. But love, love is the only way." The wind and fire that the disciples experienced on Pentecost was the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the power of love. The power of the Holy Spirit that gave the disciples the ability to speak in many languages so that everyone heard the gospel in their native language was the power of love that binds us together as one human family. That love is easy to see at an event like a royal wedding. That love is less easy to see as we deal time and again, or perhaps more accurately fail to deal time and again, with the challenges of our time.
In the gospel reading, we hear Jesus promise the disciples that after he is gone, he will send the Advocate. Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus said “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” Then Jesus says “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” What Jesus has said to his followers is that they are to abide in Jesus’ love. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will be with the disciples and us forever, to remind us to abide in God’s love.
At the end of Bishop Curry’s sermon yesterday, he quoted the 20th century Jesuit Roman Catholic priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who said that fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history. Curry went on to quote de Chardin as saying that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire. Actually, Pentecost calls us to the reality that we do not have to discover fire. On Pentecost, fire and wind discovered us, and gave us the power to conquer all challenges with love. Pentecost calls us to claim power of the wind that never abandons us and the power of the fire that can never be extinguished and go forth in the name of love to make God’s difference in the world. God is not going to change the world for us. Pentecost is God’s declaration that God is going to change the world with us.
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
May 13, 2018
7 Easter B
The day after Ash Wednesday, I spent the whole day in the Cleveland Airport waiting for a flight to Chicago. My very early morning flight had been cancelled by the time I got home from church Ash Wednesday evening which did not break my heart, and I was able to rebook a late morning flight easily. However, I did not expect to get to the airport on Thursday morning and find that flight cancelled, and then the next flight cancelled, and then the next flight cancelled, all due to weather in Chicago. The terminal was packed with people waiting to hear about a seat on the next available flight. I was amazed by the patience of the people waiting, and the sense that we were all in this wait together. People chatted with strangers, commiserated with people they did not know, and generally tried to maintain good humor in aggravating circumstances. This was the day after the shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida and I do believe the mood was a little more patient than the mood might have been, because as one weary traveler put it “If this delay is the worst thing we have to deal with, we are doing pretty well.”
Today is the Sunday between the Feast of the Ascension last Thursday, the day we celebrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven, and the Feast of Pentecost next Sunday when we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, transforming them into the apostles who would take the gospel out into the world. The ten days between Ascension and Pentecost were days of waiting for the disciples who had no clue what Jesus meant when, just before he ascended, he said “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The disciples are waiting for something powerful to happen even if they do not know what, exactly, they are waiting for.
The disciples teach us a bit this morning about how to wait faithfully, whether we are waiting for something fairly inconsequential like my flight to Chicago, or for something more consequential like a diagnosis, or for a baby to be born, or a wedding or a funeral, and as we wait and watch for the places where God is working powerfully in our lives now. First, the disciples were waiting together. Waiting is hard work, whether we are waiting for something joyful or something challenging, and sometimes God’s action in our lives is hard to see. The disciples are also together in the gospel reading when Jesus prays for them and reminds them to whom they belong. Jesus prays “I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.” Remembering to whom we belong gives us patience and courage while we wait, and our remembering is best done with others who also remember.
Secondly, the disciples were not paralyzed by their wait. There was work to do, as God was calling the disciples to act even as they waiting for God to act. A 12th disciple was needed to replace Judas so that the number of disciples would be complete again. The criteria for the 12th disciple were that the person be someone who had accompanied the disciples as they followed Jesus during his earthly ministry, and that the person already be witnessing to the resurrection. The believers prayed and cast lots, and Matthias was chosen as the 12th disciple. The disciples’ time of waiting was a time of prayer that led to action that prepared them for the future.
And that is the third thing the disciples teach us about waiting. Waiting is a time for prayer and discerning what God is calling us to do while we wait. Jesus was waiting for the crucifixion he knew was coming when he prayed for his disciples in the gospel reading. The disciples had a decision to make in the reading from Acts and they prayed and asked God who God had chosen to take Judas’s place. Prayer is central to this time of waiting and reminds us that God is acting in our lives now even as we wait for God to act in the future.
We are all waiting for something, watching for God to do something powerful in our midst. God calls us to be a community of faith where we wait together, pray together, and work together in the midst of our wait, always remembering that we belong to God, and that God is acting even as we wait for God to act. We need each other as we wait for whatever powerful thing God is about to do in our lives as individuals and in our life together. Into this community of faith, we will baptize Grace Andrews this morning. She will hear the words “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” Grace belongs to God. In the baptismal covenant which her parents and godparents will make on her behalf and which all of us will renew, we will promise to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers, and to repent and return whenever we fall into sin. In other words, we promise to come together as the Body of Christ to pray and worship, and we promise to stay together. We also promise to proclaim the gospel in word and deed, to work for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being. All of those actions require prayerful work. The baptismal covenant describes what a waiting, watchful community of faith looks like. This is the community of faith into which Grace and all of us are baptized, and this is what God calls us to do and be while we wait and watch, both as individuals and as a church, for God to work powerfully in our lives.
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
May 6, 2018
6 Easter B
Once a month, a group of us from Christ Church gather at a local restaurant for Pub Theology. The evening is open to anyone who is available that night for fellowship and conversation around a theological topic. Our topics have run the gamut from “Where do we find the Promised Land” to “How do you keep holy the sabbath?” to this week’s question “What does it mean to be Easter people?” But before we order our food or begin our conversation, we pray the beautiful and ancient evening service of compline. In my humble opinion, compline contains one of the most beautiful prayers in our prayer book. The words to the prayer are: “Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work or watch or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for your love’s sake. Amen.” I always think of those who work around the clock in hospitals or in public safety, those who are sick, or persecuted or oppressed, and people in war-torn parts of the world. But in addition to praying for those in any need or trouble, this prayer also asks God to shield the joyous. Why would the joyous show up on a list with the weary, the dying, the suffering, and the afflicted? From what do the joyous need to be shielded?
I am reminded of that prayer this morning when I hear Jesus say “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Then Jesus goes on to tell the disciples “This is my commandment-that you love one another as I have loved you.” Like last week, our gospel reading comes from what is called the Farewell Discourse, an extended section of John’s gospel where Jesus prepares the disciples for his death. In John’s gospel, Jesus is completely aware of his impending crucifixion. Jesus does not ask God to take this cup from him, as Jesus does in the other gospels. Instead, Jesus prays for his disciples, and when they go to the garden, Jesus basically goes to turn himself in to those who seek his death.
Despite knowing all that is to happen to himself and to the disciples, Jesus tells the disciples that they are to love one another as he has loved them so that his joy may be in them and their joy may be complete. Clearly, joy is not the absence of hardship or suffering, nor is it the kind of joy that wears off after a while, like chocolate joy, sunshine joy, or even holding a baby joy or spending time with loved ones joy. If Jesus’ joy is to be in the disciples, that joy must have something to do with being connected to Jesus. But what?
Jesus also says to the disciples “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer because the servant does not know what the master is doing. But I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” What Jesus has told them, and prepared them for over these several chapters, is that he is leaving them. Jesus is not calling the disciples friends in a casual, “let’s do lunch” sort of way. Jesus is calling the disciples his friends in the deepest sense of the word. The disciples are the people with whom Jesus can bare his soul and be vulnerable. Jesus can speak to the disciples about abiding in his love, not as a master demands his servant do something, but as a friend implores someone to do what is best for them. The disciples are now connected to Jesus in a new way, as trusted friends rather than as servants.
The joy Jesus wants for his disciples is the joy of being fully connected to Jesus. That joy is not the absence of pain or suffering, but instead is a joy that makes us vulnerable to both God and the world as Jesus was willing to be vulnerable. Jesus’ joy is a joy that takes risks for the gospel as Jesus did. We see Peter, one of the disciples, taking a risk for the gospel this morning in the reading from Acts as he orders the baptism of all on whom the Spirit has fallen, whether they are Jew or Gentile. While that action may seem fairly obvious to us, the baptism of Gentiles was a bold and risky move at the time. Up until that point, baptism was only for Jews who were followers of Jesus. What barriers do we need to tear down so that others can experience the joy of being connected to Jesus? What risks is God calling us to take for the sake of the gospel? Where is God calling us to allow ourselves to be vulnerable? The joy of Jesus does the gospel work of breaking down barriers so that everyone can experience that joy.
And so, we ask God to shield the joyous. As people whose joy is complete because we are connected to Jesus, we know that our joy is not simply for our own benefit. That joy motivates us and sends us out into the world. In asking God to shield the joyous, we ask God to keep the joyous safe as we make ourselves vulnerable to others in the sharing of our faith. We ask God to protect the joyous as we take risks for the sake of the gospel. We ask God to be our defense as we break down barriers that separate us from each other and from God. We ask God to be our shield as we engage the joyous but sometimes costly work of being Jesus’ friends.
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Episcopal Church
April 29, 2018
5 Easter B
The first house Don and I purchased had a lovely back yard that was a lot like I imagine an English garden might be. There were beautiful flowers, along with a cherry tree, pear tree, and an apple tree. Right smack in the middle of the yard there was a grape arbor. The grape arbor came down quickly before the forces of little boys throwing footballs, frisbees, and each other brought the arbor down. But we kept the other trees and they bore much fruit as long as we lived in that house.
The previous owners had harvested the fruit and done a lot of canning. My strength is baking, not canning, and involves chocolate, not apples or pears. The trees required little care to produce copious amounts of fruit, which was generally enjoyed by the birds either before or after it fell off the tree. Our stewardship of the trees was not optimal, to say the least, but the trees were undaunted and continued to bear much fruit, simply because that is what fruit trees do.
This morning, we eavesdrop on a tender conversation between Jesus and his disciples just before his death. In what is called the Farewell Discourse, Jesus talks with the disciples about how they are to live as his disciples once Jesus in no longer with them. Jesus uses the word “abide” 8 times in this passage, which gives us some clue as to how Jesus wants his disciples to live. The disciples are to abide in Jesus and let Jesus abide in them, so that they will bear much fruit for the gospel, just as branches abide in a vine and cannot bear fruit apart from the vine. This is a lovely metaphor for the Christian life, calling us to be attached to Jesus so that we can be Jesus’ disciples and do Jesus’ work in the world. Jesus is clear that apart from him, we will not be nourished and we will not bear fruit.
The reading from 1 John helps us understand what abiding in Jesus looks like by calling us to abide in God’s love. Then 1 John tells us a bit about God’s love. First, God’s love is life giving. “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” The point of sending God’s only Son was so that we might have life. Secondly, God’s love is self-sacrificing. God sent God’s only Son-the heart of God’s heart-to give us life. Thirdly, God’s love is a free gift. There are no strings attached. There is nothing in 1 John that tells us what we must do to earn that gift. We love because we are loved, not in order to be loved. We are called to respond to the life giving love of God by loving our brothers and sisters with that same life-giving, self-sacrificing, no strings attached love. If we say we have love, and hate our brothers and sisters, or as last week’s reading said, ignore those in need when we ourselves have plenty, we are lying. How can we love God, who we have not seen, if we do not love our brothers and sisters who we have seen? 1 John paints a clear picture of what it means to abide in God’s love and as people who are attached to the vine.
The story from Acts give us a clear example of what happens when we abide in God’s love and bear fruit that will last. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch demonstrate life-giving, self-sacrificing, no strings attached love for a total stranger. An angel of the Lord gives Philip directions that will take Philip to an Ethiopian eunuch who had come to Jerusalem to worship. As an Ethiopian and a eunuch, the man was something of a double outsider, even if he was in charge of the entire royal treasury. The Ethiopian invites Philip to sit in the chariot with him, which is an act of hospitality. Philip interprets the scriptures for him, proclaiming the good news of God in Jesus and ultimately baptizing the Ethiopian before being snatched away. Philip’s love for God was demonstrated in his openness to the angel of the Lord who told him to travel a wilderness road for no apparent reason, his care and acceptance of the Ethiopian, and his sudden departure after baptizing the Ethiopian that left no room for any praise or credit for Philip. The Ethiopian’s love for God was demonstrated in his openness to hearing God speak through the scriptures, Philip, and the Spirit, which led him to be baptized. The love Philip and the Ethiopian had for God spilled over into life-giving, self-sacrificing, no strings attached acts of love for a complete stranger. This passage reminds us that we never know who we might encounter who is thirsty for the Good News, that sharing the Good News is not always convenient, and that lives can be changed when we are willing to take a risk to bear fruit for the gospel.
The trees in our backyard so long ago bore fruit because that is what fruit trees do. The apples, pears, and cherries were produced, not for the tree to use, but to either to be used as food for others or to produce more fruit. Jesus tells us this morning that when we abide in him, when our branches are firmly attached to the vine, we live with live-giving, self-sacrificing, no strings attached love that will naturally bear fruit. The fruit may or may not be the fruit we want to produce or think we need to produce. But the fruit that comes from abiding in God’s love will be the fruit God calls us to bear. And like Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, that love will take us places we never imagined we would go, to encounter people we never thought of meeting via roads we never dreamed of traveling.