Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

St. Alban’s Church                                                   II Samuel 5: 105, 9-10

July 4, 2021                                                                Psalm 123

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost                                  II Corinthians 12: 2 – 10

Pastor Jim Stickney                                                  Mark 6: 1 – 13

 

I will not boast — except of my weaknesses.

 

When the flamboyant English author Oscar Wilde began his very successful visit

to America in 1882, he went through the New York Customs House. He was asked

if he had anything to declare. He said, “I have nothing to declare, except my genius!”

 

Some of us might recall the portrayal of Mozart in the play (and movie) Amadeus,

when Mozart speaks about how he sees himself in relation to other composers.

At one point he comes right out with it and says that he’s simply the best.

He’s reprimanded that others could take offense at his lacking the customary humility,

but by hindsight we don’t mind words about Mozart claiming to the the best.

 

This morning I’m considering this tension between showing humility & taking pride.

Some of us may be following the riders in the world’s most famous cycling event,

the Tour de France. More of us will be watching parts of the summer Olympics,

postponed from last year and held in Japan — a celebration of the world’s best.

We expect these winners to take their places on the podium and accept their medals,

(or yellow jerseys). Yet we also expect them not to trash talk about those who lost.

 

There are a few human beings who obviously excel at their chosen fields of endeavor,

and we cut a lot of slack to someone who’s obviously brilliant, especially

if such a person can display a little of the common touch and stay grounded.

 

But for ordinary people, what we want to hear is that they’re not the best.

In fact, something in us wants to cut huge egos down to size — especially enemies.

Just as we admire true excellence, so we can’t abide phonies, frauds, or pretenders.

This is why St. Paul declares, I will not boast — except of my weaknesses.

 

When it comes to spiritual things, we want our religious leaders to display humility.

We assume that someone who is given the privilege of preaching in a church

also shares in human weakness, and does not remain silent during the Confession!

 

         I will not boast — except of my weaknesses. St. Paul utters this gem of a guideline

only after he speaks of some extraordinary spiritual experiences (perhaps “mystical”).

He refers in the third person to someone caught up into the third heaven.

That person — most likely the writer Paul himself — was in Paradise, and heard things

that can’t be told, of experiences that can’t be trapped in mere human words.

 

It might seem quite a stretch for us to see Jesus described as weak or powerless.

And yet, in the Gospel story chosen for today, we hear Mark tell us,

                   “He could do no deed of power [in his hometown], except that he laid his hands

                   on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

 

Jesus could not do much for people who had seen him grow up, for they knew him —

both too well and not well enough. His Good News couldn’t get past their history.

It didn’t matter that he preached well in their synagogue — that only made them feel

somehow inferior to this person to whom they had once been superior.

 

Did Jesus go back and make a special campaign to get them to change their minds?

Perhaps to our surprise, we hear: Then he went about among the villages, teaching.

He gave witness to who he was and what he could do, and then he left his home town.

 

I will not boast — except of my weaknesses.

 

Some parishioners were born in other countries, and chose to come here.

But most were born in this country, and like you, I said the pledge of allegiance

and was taught that ours was the best country in the world — that other countries

looked up to us as the best example of human freedom. Sure, we had some problems,

but thanks to active citizens, we could vote to change policies and solve problems.

 

But on this Independence Day, we have to admit that our pride has been challenged.

Despite advanced technology, we had more Covid deaths than any other country.

The murder of George Floyd revealed even more the realities of racism among us.

And on January 6th, our own fellow countrymen staged an insurrection.

We have to admit that our nation has been humbled.

 

Recall that St. Paul is careful to mention “a thorn in his side.” This character defect,

this constant irritant, kept him from being too proud about his lofty visions.

We all carry around with us our own personal “thorn in our side,” some reminder

of our frailty — despite our other gifts. As our country strives to better itself,

we know that simply chanting “USA! USA!” won’t get us very far. What will help

is our telling the truth about the thorns in the side of our country.

Honest examination of our shortcomings is the first step in correcting them.

 

One advantage of this Zoom format is that I can show you small photos

that would not be visible from a pulpit. Here’s one I took from our deck on Flag Day:

Our church’s flag and our country’s flag flying side by side.

 

Now, our church’s Hymnal places the National Songs on the very last pages.

In fact, the last song in the Hymnal is “O say can you see.”

A more singable national song is there, known as “America the Beautiful,”

Each of its three verses asks that God shed grace upon our country.

 

In particular, the second verse implores God to assist us overcome our weaknesses:

America, America, God mend thine every flaw —

confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.

 

I will not boast — except of my weaknesses.

 

Mark 5: 21-43

Mark 5: 21-43

St. Alban’s June 27. 2021 service

Mary D.

What strikes me in reading this gospel is the absolute trust that the woman with the hemorrhage and Jarius show in Jesus. They have no doubt that he can heal the woman, and also Jairus’ daughter. The woman trusts that if she can just touch his cloak, she will be healed of her affliction. And Jairus pleads with Jesus in the assurance that if He lays his hands on his daughter, she will be made well, and live.

The depth of trust and faith that these two have is truly remarkable – and enviable. How often have we been called upon to “take a leap of faith”? And how often have I, and perhaps others, been found wanting in that leap? It takes enormous courage to open oneself to that depth of trust – and faith. How often do we tell ourselves that we “just can’t do it”, or that “it won’t matter what I say, do, or think”? How can we open ourselves to the work of the Spirit, and trust that the outcome will be what was meant to be – whether or not it was what we desired or expected? We will need to learn to be open to hearing the Spirit in our hearts, and listening intently to hear that voice over the clamor of everyday life. We can begin by committing ourselves to walking in the way of Jesus, through the good, easier times and the more challenging, harder times. This will require us to look into ourselves and identify those thoughts and actions that separate us from our fellows, and from Jesus. Then we must be willing to change, and accept the consequences of those changes. The changes may be difficult, and unpopular, but we must “stay the course” and continue on the path set out by Jesus. We can help one another in this with our support, love for one another, and mutual prayer.

Also striking is the fact that these two people were not “followers of Jesus”, but an unclean woman and a leader in the temple. They must have been very desperate, very courageous, and also very moved to trust that Jesus could give the help they asked for. Perhaps they had heard of other miracles that Jesus had done, and were open to asking for the help they needed. They persisted, and were rewarded for their faith. We also need to persist in the face of adversity, and not give up or give in to doubts or despair.

Another thing that strikes me is the fact that the healing of the woman was very “public”, in that it took place in the midst of the crowd. And Jesus tells the woman that her faith has made her well (has saved her), and to go in peace. Contrasting with this, Jesus allows only three disciples to go with him to the home where the daughter is lying. And he clears the house of all but the three and the mother and father. This is quite a departure from the public healing just performed. He then takes the child by the hand and bids her to get up. After she arises, Jesus tells the select onlookers to get her some food, and not to let anyone know about this. Thus, we too can go about our lives as we have also been saved.

In closing, these two miracles give us much to think about – and are a reminder that a “lively faith” can indeed change lives.
Amen

Reflection on Samuel

In today’s reading from Samuel, the Israelites ask for a “king to govern us, like other nations.” Samuel hears this request, and tells God, and both Samuel and God agree it is a bad idea.
God tells Samuel to tell the Israelites about all the things they will give up for a king. When you read this list, it sounds kind of crazy that the Israelites actually want a king.
God warns the Israelites that the king is going to “take your sons” for commanders, and chariot drivers, and people to run before the chariots. So, God is warning the Israelites that this king is going to determine where many of the younger men are for much of the year.
And God warns that the king is going to “take your daughters” to be perfumers, and cooks, and bakers for the royal court. So, the women of working age won’t be producing for the family, or the local community, but for the king.
If the king is going to take sons and daughters, and tell them where to work and what to do, the king is going to disturb expectations of being a parent, and a child, and a worker.
God further warns that the king is going to change the relationship between the Israelites and the land. God warns the Israelites that the king is to take a lot of the good land away from them. The king will take “the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers.” What do we know about vineyards and olive orchards? They take a long time to be productive. Those who sew do not always stay long enough to reap. The courtiers are going to take the things that other people have worked long and hard to establish.
And God warns that the king is going to take the animals and people that the Israelites use to get work done. The king is going to take the “male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work.” The Israelites are presumably used to commanding the work of the male and female slaves, and the donkeys and cattle, but they are going to lose that control.
God further warns that the king is also going to take one-tenth of their flocks, and, most ominously, “you shall be his slaves.” We know that this comes after the exodus from Egypt—the Israelites have spent a great deal of time getting out of being slaves.
Why would they ever agree to be slaves again? Why would they agree to this kind of abuse of authority?

But if we look earlier in the book of Samuel, we see that there have been other, less formal attempts at getting authority figures for the Israelites, and those authority figures have abused their power, too.
We have Eli, the priest at Shiloh. Eli exercises authority properly, but his sons do not. We learn that Eli’s sons are taking more than their share of the sacrifices at the tabernacle. And they are also having relations with the women who gather at the tabernacle. Eli himself may be righteous, but his sons are abusing their authority. So Eli brings up Samuel at Shiloh. And as we know, Samuel becomes a prophet, and a judge. Samuel is good, but his sons become judges also and do not follow his ways. They take bribes and pervert justice. So, Samuel himself may be righteous, but his sons are abusing their authority.

The Israelites may be willing to take on the burdens of having an established king because at least they will know what their obligations are. They’ve already been living with people taking too much of their sacrifices and their women and their money… but on the sly or by surprise. Maybe they just want to know what the cost is up front.

On reflection the Israelites are coming together to make a social contract. They are saying that they will give certain things and get a king in return. They are deciding what balance they want between being left to fend for themselves versus giving things up for the sake of other people, even other people they may not know or even like.

This is an old piece of scripture, but we are still working through these issues it raises. Certainly, we’ve had an extended conversation in the last ten years in this country about what we owe the national government and what it owes us. What the power of the President should be, and what his obligations should be. That’s still with us, but it is a political conversation.

But this is also the assigned reading for the second Sunday after Pentecost, a time when we reflect on the formation of the early church. This season seems particularly rich because we, as a community of St. Alban’s, are somewhat in transition in a process of formation or re-formation.

So, what is the connection between this reading from Samuel and the early church? There are likely several, but to me, I think of how before his death Jesus said that he had a kingdom, but it was not of this world. He said if it was of this world, his followers would be fighting for it, but since it is not of this world, his followers were not. So, in the Samuel reading, God tells the people what they owe a temporal king, a king of this world.

What can the reading tell us about what we owe Jesus, a king who is not of this world? One way to answer that is to say we owe time and treasure, to both a king of this world and a king not of this world.

Another answer is that we are expected, as a community, to determine how our relationship with God will affect our relationship with each other. How much will we contribute of our time and treasure? How will it affect how we work, how we parent? How will it affect how we treat the earth, and the animals over whom we exercise authority? How will it affect our relationships with our bosses, and with those over whom we exercise authority?

I certainly don’t have all the answers to these questions, but this season gives us the opportunity to think about them and incorporate them into our work as we prepare to eventually come back together in person.

TRINITY SUNDAY

TRINITY SUNDAY

Steve Hitchcock

May 30, 2021 

Isaiah 6:1-8

Canticle 13

Romans 8:12-17

JOHN 3:1-17

 

Some of you may recall that a couple of years ago a bishop from another diocese visited St. Alban’s.  He preached on Trinity Sunday and explained that somewhat esoteric doctrine, so I’m not going to attempt to do that today.

Things aren’t going back to the way they were.

Rather, I’d like to try to exorcise the demon – more a quandary – from the trip Jan and I made to Mendocino two weeks ago.   For at least ten years, we’ve visited that lovely little town every February.  We were fortunate to do so last year – just weeks before we were all locked down.  This year, we delayed our trip until late May.

I’m probably the only one who was completely surprised that Mendocino isn’t the same wonderful vacation spot as in years past.  We’ve been vaccinated, virus cases are at record low levels, and it’s Spring.  But restaurants aren’t serving inside.  Others have closed permanently.  And, instead of February fog and drizzle, high winds make hiking a frustrating exercise.  Two weeks later, I’m still in a funk.

This minor – and obviously petty – setback has led me to conclude that things are not going to go back to the way they were.  Not soon and probably not ever.  The days ahead are going to be filled with struggles at the personal level. Our neighborhoods and cities will be challenged by homelessness and congestion.  Because of post-Census jerrymandering, Congress will likely be even more opposed to the interests of the majority of voters.  The Middle East and all the other places of international conflict will make this a dangerous world.

Ordinary Time

It’s fitting, then, that the Prayer Book notes that Trinity Sunday is the First Sunday after Pentecost.  Today is the beginning of what we call “ordinary time” in the church year.  Interestingly next Sunday, the Second Sunday after Pentecost, is the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time.  The date of Easter determines how many Sundays after Pentecost we have.  Curiously, we work backwards from Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday after Pentecost usually in late November, and then we cut out any Sundays at the beginning of the Pentecost season.

And, because this is the year of Mark’s Gospel – which is half the length of the other Gospels – in the middle of the summer we have the “Season of Bread.”  For five Sundays in July and August, we will read sections of John’s Bread of Life discourse in chapter six.  All along, we’ll be reading sequentially from the Old Testament and from Paul’s epistles.  Even Barbara Metcalf will find it hard to find any connections among the three Scripture readings.

What a hodgepodge all this is, one confusing and sometimes frustrating mess.

Of course, all this liturgical and lectionary disarray reflects “ordinary” life.  Our day-to-day existence is one step forward, two steps backward.  In some ways, aging and illness are the best we can hope for – fearing the worst, violence and tragedy.  In this so-called ordinary time, talking about God’s love seems insufficient if not delusional.

Born again – by dying with Christ

That’s why today’s Gospel – echoed by our second reading from Romans – is such good news.  We are given the promise that we can be born again.  A fresh start.  A new beginning.

Jesus makes this outrageous claim in response to a question from Nicodemus, who comes in the dark of night.  It’s important that it is Nicodemus, a religious leader, who asks the question of Jesus.  Nicodemus is a person with knowledge and authority descended from Moses, the great prophet who led the Exodus from Egypt to the promised land.  He represents the best human effort to shape society and inspire good living.

Nicodemus’ question reveals his skepticism that we can be born again.  His question may also reflect doubt that we need to born anew.  Isn’t it enough to be a religious leader whose is preserving and continuing the great heritage of Moses?

Jesus’ response is that “Yes, we can be born again.” But it will take a new Moses and a new Exodus.  And what makes Jesus the new Moses is dying is the way to be born again.

During the Exodus, Moses lifted up the serpent on a cross as the antidote for those Israelites who were dying from snake bites in the Wilderness.  So, too, Jesus, lifted on the cross is the way God rescues us from death and gives new life.

Significantly, in chapter 19, it is Nicodemus who helps Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus down from the cross and prepare him for burial.  Nicodemus literally participates in Jesus’ death.

Baptism and Eucharist – where the Spirt blows and breathes

John wanted his first readers – and us today – to join Nicodemus and participate in Jesus’ death.  Today’s Gospel suggests how that is possible.

Our reading today is just a few verses away from the wedding in Cana in chapter two and a prelude to Jesus’ meeting the woman at the well in chapter four.  These stories remind us that it is through baptism and in the Eucharist that we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection.   The huge amount of water, wine, and bread gushing through John’s Gospel is a metaphor for the abundance of God’s grace we experience as a beloved community gathered around baptism and the Eucharist.

What makes it possible for us to experience this abundant life today – to be transformed by water, bread, and wine – is indeed Pentecost and the gift of the Spirit.

In John’s Gospel, there is no Ascension 40 days after Easter, nor a Pentecost 50 days later.  John wanted his first readers – and us today – to keep both the Ascension and Pentecost closely connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Indeed, in John, the crucifixion is depicted as a type of resurrection as Jesus re-joins the Father who, in the crucifixion, gives God’s own life in death.  Right after the Resurrection, Jesus meets Mary Magdalene in the burial garden.  Jesus tells her that she can’t touch him because he hasn’t ascended to the Father.

Then, in chapter 20, Jesus appears to the disciples in the locked room and Pentecost takes place right there.  Jesus invites Thomas to touch his crucifixion wounds.  Then the ascended Jesus – breathes his Spirit on the disciples.

In all of this, the Spirit – that third person of the Trinity – is present.  Last week, Kathleen Van Sickle reminded us that the Spirit is a wind that blows where it will.  And the wind is something heard, and speech is a form of breathing.  And what we hear, as the Spirit breathes and blows, are the words of the Risen Christ.

Our commission for Ordinary Time

After his resurrection, Jesus doesn’t take the disciples with him, but rather leaves them to live their ordinary existence.  Indeed, the Risen Christ breathes on his disciples and commissions them – and us today – to engage with the world, to keep talking about him and about the new life we are living.  In other words, to love one another.

So, yes, we are stuck in ordinary time, but today’s Gospel and Epistle remind us that we have an extraordinary family.  Our baptism is our adoption into a new family with a parent and a brother who literally sacrifice everything to keep us together.   And we experience that self-renewing love today and every time we gather – even by Zoom.  Hearing scriptures, praying, singing, and – yes – talking with each other helps us begin again.

So, our post-covid world will be both uncertain and ordinary.  But each day and each week will also be an opportunity to be born again, to start over, to build new connections in our new family, and to invite others to join us in this beloved community.  Amen.

 

Easter 7

Easter 7

May 16, 2021

Barbara M.

Several weeks ago when I went to write “reflection” on my calendar, I was intrigued that it overlapped with the beginning of “Shavuot,” clearly a Jewish observance but not a word I knew. And May16th came right after the Muslim`Idul Fitr. So here was the last Sunday of the seven weeks of Easter – Ascension Sunday, the Sunday that falls between Christ’s rise in glory to the heavens and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. What a week. What a happy confluence.

No surprise about Ascension Sunday and Shavuot once I found out that that was Pentecost. That `Idul Fitr is now, however, is by chance since in the Islamic lunar calendar dates move backward 10 or 12 days each year.

A word about these Muslim and Jewish festivals. `Idul Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting, particularly hard when, as now, the days are long since the pious abstain, even from water, from dawn to dusk. You can imagine how joyously believers greet the appearance of the new moon. There are gifts, and feasting and prayer so well attended that in many cities there are outdoor fields to accommodate the numbers. Why Ramazan? It is the month that commemorates the revelation of God’s infallible and unchanging word in the Qur’an, God’s presence, in the world, with one of the last nights of the month a night of particular blessing, perhaps a time when the angels inscribe each person’s fate for the year to come. The pious stay awake all night. There is an ethical dimension to the fast, making palpable a person’s dependence on God’s gifts and grace, and bringing home the everyday deprivation of the poor.

Shavuot, too, celebrates God’s word, again, God’s presence, in the world, in this case with the receipt of the Torah, and, above all, the gift of the ten commandments to Moses. Tonight there will be people keeping a night-long vigil, now to study the Torah. Tomorrow the faithful gather for prayer and there is the joy of sharing special food. Torah and Qur’an alike are symbols of mutual love and bond between God and his people. In ancient Israel, Shavuot was one of the three great pilgrimages to Jerusalem, which brings us to where we’ll be next Sunday at this time.

That brings us back to our festival, the Easter resurrection that we’ve been celebrating, thinking about, reflecting on all these past weeks. Easter is not, of course, the revelation of any text, but it converges with those revelations in affirming God’s presence in the midst of human life and guiding us to its meaning. Easter shows us the reality of God’s presence in the Incarnation, and it is the Ascension that confirms at once Christ’s glory and his presence in the world unbound by bodily form. At Easter, the disciples looked for Jesus in the wrong place: he wasn’t in the tomb. He was easy to mistake, taken for a stranger, a gardener. In the Ascension, the disciples were off course again:

“… suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” They were again looking in the wrong place.

During the 40 days of Eastertide, Jesus appeared, his “tour of faith” as Chantip called it, when the disciples tried to explain to a seeming stranger what had happened in Jerusalem and broke bread with him; he appeared when they were gathered in his name and he was suddenly in their midst; he was there when they were hungry on the beach and shared a meal of fish. And the Jesus after the Ascension is present in the same way – easy to miss – he may be mistaken for a stranger – but then his presence becomes real in talk and shared bread and times of loving communication.

Love has been the theme of our lessons these recent weeks, when we have heard Jesus’s final words to his disciples, that include the organic, living image of the vine, of ourselves as branches, corporal and incorporated into the ground of our being. “Abide in me, abide in my love…love one another as I have loved you,” and, so incorporated, bear fruit. In today’s lesson, we hear Jesus’ words of protection to his Father for his disciples – “Guard them,” “protect them,” “let them be one.” This is the prayer that we hear Paul praying over and over for the new followers. These are the prayers any loving parent would pray for their children — guard them, protect them, let them get along with each other, love one another. “Love” has been the joyous word of this season, in these gospel readings and over and over again in John’s first epistle.

There is love in many stories of second chances. I think Thomas doubted that Jesus came back not because he was dubious about resurrection – Pharisees, lots of people at the time I think believed that –I think he doubted that Jesus came back to them. Why to them when they had denied him, had run away? Peter often stumbled — putting his foot in it – or putting his foot in and sinking – but most of all denying Jesus at the end. But, as Jim Stickney chorused on Easter Day, “Christ died not to make us good but to make us alive.” And what life Peter found. In the stories of Acts we’ve been hearing he is the fearless orator, the healer, the evangelist inside the jail, the branch rooted in love. And in our story today, the body of the disciples, rent by the tragedy of Judas, now has its second chance, its body repaired, with God’s grace — and Mathias joins their number.

Our reflections in Eastertide have pondered what that love means, how to realize it, and we have circled around the differences, knowing that what each of us is capable of varies. We have contemplated evangelism in many forms; chances to help a neighbor, from garbage pails to sandwiches; acting with love even if the feeling has not yet caught up with the act. That love comes as it did when Jesus walked the earth. Sharing bread. Gathering in love. Pondering the scriptures. This last can be hard. But we discuss them and do our best. It was conversation that made Jesus real on the road to Emmaus; and conversation that made him real between Philip and the Ethiopian. The eunuch, and one can be sure Philip, too, went on their way rejoicing.

And so convergence in all these three great traditions, of the conviction of Divine presence in the world. In emphasizing the resonance in all three, it’s important to skirt the implication that they are all the same or at the other extreme to make one’s own better than the others. But they do share, not only audacious notion of the intersection of the divine, the transcendent, with the human. And from that confidence in God’s love, they embrace a vision of generosity, justice, and compassion — love – called for in human relations. Love is there in the joyous encounters and gifts of the feasts. It is there in the Muslim tradition of “fitrana,” charitable gifts that are traditional on Idu’l Fitr.

And they are there in the scripture to be pondered during Shavuot in the story appointed for this day, none other than the book of Ruth. (Talk about convergence. The Bible reading group led by Larry – by chance? — has just read the book of Ruth out loud). I’ll close with reading a few lines from a rabbi’s recent sermon for Shavu’ot with lessons on love for us all.i In her words:

“Some of the deepest truth of Shavuot lie in the unabashedly human tale we read on this sacred holiday….The classical midrash on the Book of Ruth tells us that the entire point of the book is to teach gemilut hasadim, acts of lovingkindness and generosity.” The story in brief: a famine forces a family into exile, all the men of the family die, Ruth and Naomi, her mother-in-law, are left alone, and Ruth defies convention to stay with Naomi, to protect and serve her. In their vulnerable state, Naomi and Ruth, a foreigner, return to Naomi’s home and find kindness and generosity. Notably from an older, remote kinsman, Boaz, who lives up to his society’s standard of generosity to allow gleaning, and then, in a further exercise of compassion, offers Ruth the best that the society can provide a woman in that time, the protection of marriage.The story is a model of lovingkindness and generosity for peoples who have received just that from God. It is a call to the love we can strive to demonstrate individually in daily life. It is also a call, the rabbi reminds us, as best we can, to be clear-eyed and active about the standards and practices of the societies we live in and the many forms of injustice in which we are complicit. In this year of calendrical convergence, let us celebrate and seek the Ascended Christ who abides with us in the world.

Rabbi, Sharon Kleinbaum, “Celebrating the Torah of Economic Justice and Compassion,” Shavuot 5775, at https://ajws-americanjewishwo.netdna-ssl.com/wp- content/uploads/2015/05/cc_shavuot_5775.pdf Accessed 5/15/21.

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Reflection for May 2, 2021

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Lawrence DiCostanzo

Acts 8:26-40

1 John 4:7-21

John 4:7-21

Psalm 22:24-30

My grandchildren love the Tales from the Arabian Nights.  And I do too.  If one can fall in love with a fictional character, I am entranced by Scheherazade who tells every one of the Tales.    As you know, she invented and spun out her stories and stories inside of stories to delay, night after night, the possibility that she’d be killed in the morning.  Yet, she was always so calm and self possessed — for one thousand and one nights!  And what stories!  Bright-colored wonders – caves filled with jewels, the dry valleys of serpents and diamonds, genies in lamps and jars, flying horses, magic carpets, brave men and brave and clever women.  My grandchildren are spellbound.

Today’s passage from Acts has some of the same trappings.  A wild place.  An exotic Ethiopian man, rich and important, probably with great clothes. His carriage with a smooth enough ride to allow him to read. There have to be great horses.  A stranger joins him, and changes his life.  The stranger is whisked away.  It is almost as if God would like the message of the Kingdom to entertain and entrance us.

But there is a big difference between the Tales from the Arabian Nights and today’s passage from Acts.  In her own story, Scheherazade won through to a good life.  She reached her Sabbath.  The Ethiopian man has not.  And neither have we because, like the Ethiopian man, we are living in a “time between” – the time between the Resurrection and the time before we feel the impact of the full Kingdom.  For me, the challenge of the story from Acts is how to live in this in-between time with its mixture of joy, sorrow, hope and death.

Let’s look at the characters in the story.

The first is Philip.  This Philip is not the Apostle Philip.  Rather, he is a man whom the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem designated to “serve at table”.   In this way, the Apostles could share the workload and spend their energies in prayer and preaching.  One of Philip’s colleagues was Stephen, the first martyr.  (Acts 6:1-6)

After Stephen was stoned to death, Philip ran away to Samaria because a persecution started.  That is where Philip seems to have discovered his golden tongue.  Because of him, many, many people in Samaria accepted baptism and, as Acts says, were filled with joy.  Philip’s converts even included a famous magician named Simon.  (Acts 8:1-24)

An angel told Philip to leave Samaria and go to a wilderness road where he meets the Ethiopian.  In their encounter, Philip spreads joy to this receptive man.  Spreading joy seems to be Philip’s gift.

While the Ethiopian goes on his way rejoicing, Philip is magically whisked away to a town called Azotus, which used to be Ashdod, one of the big towns of the old-time Philistine enemies of Israel.  From there he goes all the way up the coast to Caesarea, the headquarters of Roman government.  I think he may be the evangelist whom St. Paul visited in Caesarea.  (Acts 21:8).  So, it’s evident that Philip continued to spread joy.

The second character is the Ethiopian.  He holds a high position as royal treasurer in his home country.  He’s on leave to go up to Jerusalem, and he meets Philip on his way home.  He is an open-hearted and courteous man.  Although he is a real person, he is also a stand-in for people who are outsiders.  He is not a Hebrew.  He is a gentile.  He is a searcher, but he is a stranger from a land far away.  In a way, because he is a eunuch, he has no gender.  As a eunuch, he belongs to a class whom the Law of Moses values as less  (Leviticus 21:20; Deuteronomy 23:1). He is an outsider.  Luke values outsiders, witness the Good Samaritan, the Samartian leper who was the only one of ten who turned back to thank Jesus for his healing, witness Zacchaeus the rich tax collector, the short guy who climbed a tree so he could see Jesus.

Although he doesn’t appear in person, there is a third character.  He is the Prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah saw a great deal of sorrow and suffering.  He saw the “ten lost tribes” disappear when Assyria conquered the north of Israel.  He was present when the Assyrians attacked Jerusalem in the southern part of Israel.  Isaiah himself may have been executed.

Isaiah wrote a song of intense hope combined with intense sorrow.  It is called The Song of the Suffering Servant.  The Ethiopian was reading from this song when he and Philip met.  Philip, with the sense that prophecies were being fulfilled, explained the passage as referring to Jesus.  The delighted Ethiopian descends to some pond or puddle to be baptized immediately and goes on his way rejoicing.  (Maybe, he founds the church in Ethiopia that Barbara Metcalf talked about in a reflection she gave us a while ago.)

What do I learn from this story and these characters?

First, the example of Philip tells me to recognize the universalism and diversity of the Kingdom.  Philip has an affinity for outsiders – Samaritans, Ethiopians, eunuchs, pagans who might have lived in Ashdod, and certainly Romans in Caesarea.  No one is excluded from the Gospel message – Ethiopian, rich, poor, of color, white, Episcopalian, or evangelical.  Part of being an evangelist like Philip is simply being aware that nobody’s heart can be ignored because every heart can flower.

The Ethiopian tells me how the Gospel liberates and rejoices us.  This is a man with many cares on a long journey.  He is reading an intensely tragic portion of scripture.  Yet, he goes on his way rejoicing.  How could he do that after reading the sad passage from Isaiah?  It’s simple.  As Philip tells him, this sad Scripture has been fulfilled.  And he accepts this.  We are exactly in the same place.

But Isaiah reminds me of the question “what next?”  I mean, Creation is not fully in the Kingdom, and we have not reached our final Sabbath.  The rejoicing Ethiopian will still have to go home and read the equivalent of all the emails that have piled up in his absence.  And there is worse.  Sorrow and tears and fear are obviously not banished from our world.  The passage from Isaiah is still living prophecy, a poetry that speaks over and over of the same thing.  For example, I read in the papers that an immigrant alliance held a memorial in honor of the martyred Archbishop Romero.  And another part of the Song of the Suffering Servant was recited.  “He was pierced for our transgressions.  He was crushed for our iniquities.  The punishment that brought us peace was on him.”

Ultimately, the story of the Ethiopian speaks to me about the virtue of Hope.  Hope and rejoicing do go together.  But so do Hope and suffering.  We live in a climate of Hope.  We’re not like Scheherazade who reached her Sabbath.  We still live in the earlier part of the Tales of the Arabian nights.  Hope is what gives us the strength and refreshment to read the papers and not despair.  It makes us pray “Thy Kingdom come.”  It makes us grab for the essence of the Kingdom to come.  We bring out our neighbor’s garbage cans.  We assist the homeless.  We instruct ourselves about justice.  We turn the world upside-down and make the effort to love our neighbor and our enemy.  And that’s it.  It’s just what the Ethiopian had to do.

April 25 Reflection-St. Mark, or Why We Are All Evangelists

Robin D’Oyen

April 25, 2021

 Reflection – St. Mark, or Why We Are All Evangelists

I am a historian. Unashamedly so. I am curious by nature and I always like to approach things by investigating their origin. This is always my starting point to Biblical studies; examining the historical perspective first. Who is the speaker? Who is the audience? What is the context of the interaction, and what does it say to how we should encounter God?

Today is celebrated as the Feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist, traditionally celebrated as the author of the Gospel that bears his name, the Gospel that scholars widely agree today is the oldest of all four Gospels although it appears as the second one in the New Testament. It’s fitting that we are able to celebrate our service today, on this Fourth Sunday in the Season of Easter as we continue to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord; for this is, after all, Mark’s year. This is Year B in our Liturgical Calendar, which means that we will delve deeper into this particular Gospel over the course of this year, sharing in the Evangelist’s witnessing of the life of Jesus.

Who was Mark? Like many of the early figures in the history of the Church there is not much hard, literary evidence that can tell us definitively who he was. Depending upon the sources or tradition you rely on, he could be one or even three separate persons, which makes him somewhat shadowy of a figure. Tradition states that he was a companion at some point of Peter; that at some point he began to write down the account of Jesus’ life that would become the basis of the Gospel that today bears his name; that he was sent with Barnabas to act as a missionary in Cyprus and other areas; that he founded the Church in Alexandria in Egypt and was later martyred there. As fascinating as all this may be, however, we need today to consider one important aspect of his life that gave him the title that is most commonly associated with his name: Evangelism. For Mark is, after all, known as Mark the Evangelist.

An Evangelist. Who, or what exactly, is an evangelist? Over the years as I delved deeper into the Bible and I studied and learned more about my faith there were certain terms and words that I initially struggled with. This was one of them, until I realized that I was conflating the words ‘EVANGELISM’ and ‘EVANGELIST’ with its cousin ‘EVANGELICAL’ … a totally different word that, without going off track and into too much detail is, for me personally, a word or term that has been tainted, sullied, and demeaned. However, let’s circle back:- so who is an ‘evangelist?’ An evangelist is, first and foremost, a WITNESS to the life of Jesus. They are meant to preach the word of the Gospel, thereby sharing the message and teachings of Jesus, and evangelism, the noun, is therefore the act of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. (As an aside, from its original Greek and Latin word, we also get the word ‘Angel’, or Messenger of Good News.)

This act of evangelism or witnessing is intertwined with our everyday duties as Christians under the Great Commission as given us by our Lord: to preach the Good News to all about the Kingdom, and to call upon others to become disciples. Indeed, the Great Commission requires us ALL to be evangelists to our faith. Seen in this light virtually all stories and readings from the Bible are about evangelism. Our first reading, of Peter’s confrontation with the Sanhedrin, is a powerful example of witnessing. Here we have the foremost disciple and leader of the apostles after Jesus’ ascension proclaiming before the authority of the council the power and nature of Jesus. Peter’s witness is even more powerful bearing in mind that he himself was a firsthand witness to all the things he stated. The reading from the First Letter of John goes in a slightly different direction but here John implores us to implement physical action and not mere thought, and by doing so we live in the Father and thereby become part of the Kingdom just as He likewise dwells in us. This is also a powerful act of witnessing, of evangelism. Finally, the reading from John’s Gospel closes the circle by giving us an insight into Jesus as the Good Shepherd and his love for us all as His sheep. By the mention of the sheep that do not belong to the flock that He must also bring into the flock, the writer of the Gospel indirectly introduces us to the Great Commission and challenges us to do what the Master requires us to do. (Second aside:- the writers of the four Gospels are also commonly known as the Four Evangelists.)

But what does evangelism, or witnessing look like to us today, right now, in 2021, where we sit? My personal experience in my early years of my walk in Faith used to be mixed with a bit of Imposter’s Syndrome. I have never, ever invited anyone to come to Church, or gone out to recruit people to Church, or been part of a Bible study for the purpose of converting anybody. In my early days of a Christian, being exposed to other denominations and churches who rely heavily on such methods, I thought that this was the one of the yardsticks upon which a Christian was measured. As I matured in my walk in Faith, however, two things began to shape and inform my view: one of the Rules of St. Francis, and Paul’s teachings in Ephesians. “Preach the Gospel everyday, and if necessary, use words” is wrongly attributed to Francis, but part of the Rule DOES state that “let all the Brothers preach by their deeds.” Your actions, in other words, can speak as loudly, if not more loudly, than words. Paul’s writing in the Letter to the Ephesians stated that “the gifts He gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” In other words, we all have very unique gifts that equip us to witness in our own unique ways.

What is an evangelist? They take many forms, as myriad and unique as grains of sand on a shore. An evangelist can witness or share in many different ways.

EASTER 3

Third Sunday of Easter

April 18, 2021

Chanthip Phongkhamsavath

Good morning.  It was a nice reminder this week when I saw an email from Becky mentioning that it still Easter.  So often the anticipation during Lent and the joy of being able to say Alleluia again on Easter Sunday makes the rest of the Easter season a little less exciting.  It’s almost a similar feeling during Christmas time when in the lead up to Christmas Day, radio stations often play Christmas songs after Thanksgiving then they stop after Christmas Day.  However, in Church it’s just the beginning of the celebration and we don’t start singing Christmas hymns till Christmas Eve, then for several weeks after.  That’s really the time when we know the good news has arrived and the celebration of hope begins and continues.

That hope is renewed during this Easter season, after Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead.  During this time Jesus does what I think of as the tour of faith.  Affirming for those, that what he preached has truly come to be and giving them the power through knowledge and faith confirmed, to share the message.

I was thinking about that message and what it came down to in terms of Jesus’ role.  In the Gospel he reminds the disciples around him as they doubted that, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

He knew and told the disciples of what was to come and they did not believe him until it was completed.

Have you ever been in a place where your friend told you of a plan and you listened but didn’t necessarily believe it would come true? Have you ever made a plan and weren’t even sure yourself if you would be able to go through with it?

I wonder what Jesus thought as God said something along the lines of – you are my beloved and part of myself, I also love these people, but they need a little help to be redeemed so I am going to send you as my messenger to suffer alongside them, to be prosecuted and put to death.  Then I will raise you from the dead so you can go back to them and show them through this ultimate sacrifice that their sins have been forgiven.  In writing this out I am even a little skeptical of whether Jesus just looked at God in amazement or disbelief.

This happens I’m sure in our daily lives as well.  This past December, I started working for Leadership Public Schools a network of three urban charter high schools and for months, really over a year now, they have been operating in a distance learning environment.  There had not been much thought that we would reopen our schools for any type of in person instruction this school year.  Even a month ago when the Governor and Legislature approved funds to incentivize in person instruction this school year, I was skeptical that it would actually encourage or even be enough for us to move forward.

Except after careful thought about our high school students, especially those struggling with online access and other issues, we looked at what it would take to reopen.  And we looked at the funds the Governor made available to provide incentives to bring staff back and so a plan was developed to do exactly what a month ago we were so skeptical about doing – bringing students back to campus.  We made a plan and we are in the middle of implementing it and I am still in disbelief some days that it is going to really happen.  However, with each day we are getting closer to this coming Tuesday when some of our students will be back on campus.  We are doing just as the Governor and Legislature had planned – to provide enough of an incentive to encourage schools to reopen for in person instruction.  There were many political motives that went into the Governor’s plan, yet all that aside, it is working, it pushed enough schools to seriously consider and move forward.  Although we may not know the outcome and in truth there will be many more months and years of work to address the needs of our students it was a plan that worked.

Even though we were not in total ignorance of the plan, it took the actual passage of the legislation to seriously consider it.  It’s almost similar to the first reading when Peter addressed the Israelites and acknowledged, “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”

Even before Jesus’ arrival the prophets had already known a Messiah was coming and that he would suffer.  And without fully knowing it, they did exactly would God foretold, they prosecuted Jesus and made him suffer.  And through that act, what was written came to be, and in Jesus’ death and resurrection our sins were redeemed.  It was God’s plan all along and despite telling it, and being a part of it, there was still doubt.  And so, Jesus after raising from the dead has to remind the disciples again that this was always the plan.

Even when we sometimes doubt the outcome of a plan, we can still continue to hope and plan for it to be completed.  And even when we sometimes don’t fully comprehend what has been laid before us, it is something wonderous to think that despite our human nature to sin, God was still willing to craft a way for us to be redeemed.

In this Easter season as we are reminded of the sacrifice and resurrection, let us also continue to remember it is through that resurrection and our faith in that plan that our sins are forgiven.  What great love it must be to create an avenue that would forgive God’s people of their sins.  To find a way to redeem those who may not have even thought about or possibly wanted to be redeemed.  For those who saw Jesus come to life again still doubted, what great love it is to give those who believe and who did not actually see the plan come to completion, the same redemption.  For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son.

That was God’s plan all along.  That Jesus would die and rise, so that we can all rise again.  Despite our sins God loves us so much he created a plan so that we could be forgiven.  Even when we may doubt ourselves or the world around us, as long as we believe and have faith, what was foretold had been done.  It was always God’s plan, he told us so and made it so.

Amen.

EASTER 2

EASTER 2

April 11, 2021

Sandy Burnett

I’ve always felt that Jesus chose his disciples as much for their weaknesses as their strengths, or perhaps because their weaknesses became strengths. St. Thomas, Doubting Thomas, is a prime example. I mean, at one time or another, we’ve all said “I’ll believe THAT when I see it.”

But, have we said it after 10 of our closest friends told us something?

I can’t imagine that Thomas thought the others were joking, given the precariousness of their situation. Perhaps he thought they’d been taken in by some impostor. Or perhaps he just couldn’t believe something so wonderful as Jesus’ resurrection could happen. He just couldn’t let himself go enough to believe in something that he so desperately desired.

Haven’t we all felt that we aren’t talented enough, smart enough, virtuous enough, or just plain worthy, to have our deepest desire granted? As Christians, we know that we’re completely unworthy of God’s love, yet we crave this gift of love, and we receive it, every moment of every day. But we often don’t believe it, especially when we are in the midst of tragedy, wondering how God could allow horrors to happen.

Like Thomas, we hear Christ’s gentle rebuke, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

At the time, I think only the men, and perhaps women, in that room believed in his resurrection because they saw the resurrected Jesus in person. Their great lifelong task would be to tell the rest of the world about it and to convince those who hadn’t seen, to believe.

How do we learn to believe? How do we know what we know? If there’s one thing our modern age has taught us, it is that what we see — or think we see — isn’t always the truth. Even back in the Dark Ages when I was being trained as a journalist, we knew that “eye witnesses” aren’t very reliable. Six people could offer six different versions of the same event, and none of them would necessarily be lying. An education in journalism trains you to be skeptic, to question almost everything. We are taught to  ask constantly “how do you know that?” We also are taught to be reporters, not arbiters of truth. We report that the mayor SAID the police department is incompetent, not that the police department IS incompetent. For that, we offer evidence or what we believe is proof: the crime statistics are unbelievable, the department is under federal investigation, etc.

Today, Doubting Thomas might have said, “Unless I see a DNA test that proves this living man is Jesus, I will not believe.”

This is where faith comes in. One simple definition of faith is confidence or trust in a person, thing or concept. In the context of religion, faith is belief in a god or in the doctrines or teachings of religion. Skeptics see faith simply as belief without evidence.

James W. Fowler, whose “Stages of Faith” is cited by Wikipedia, defines faith as an activity of trusting, committing and relating to the world based on a set of assumptions of how one is related to others and the world.

Fowler suggests that there are six stages of faith that a believer may experience, although he or she also can get stuck at any one of the levels. They are:

  1. a stage of confusion and high impressionability through stories and rituals. This roughly coincides with the pre-school period.
  2. a stage where provided information is accepted in order to conform with social norms, roughly the school-going period of development.
  3. a stage where acquired faith is concreted in a belief system where people, usually adolescents, come to associate with authority in individuals or groups that represent their beliefs.
  4. In early adulthood, the person critically analyzes their faith. Disillusion or strengthening of faith happens at this stage.
  5. Next, they realize the limits of logic and, facing the realities of life, accept that life is a mystery and often return to the sacred stories and symbols of a faith system. Fowler calls this a “negotiated settling in life,” which usually occurs in middle age.
  6. Finally comes the stage of universalizing faith, an enlightenment where the person comes out of all the existing systems of faith and loves life with universal principles of compassion and love and in service to others for upliftment, without worries and doubt. Fowler says you usually are aged 45 and up when this happens.

I related to some of Fowler’s stages. I was a Sunday School dropout at 11 and wasn’t confirmed until I was 35. But, the stages don’t address HOW a person goes from one stage to the next, other than by aging or maturing. I think this is where one of my favorite words comes in, a word used in Baptism when we pray that God will give the candidate “an inquiring and discerning heart.” This is something I find at the root of my belief system. Jesus knew that very few people would see him in person and that his disciples would have the job of convincing people of his truth. He didn’t give the apostles magical powers to make everyone who heard them suddenly believe. He gave them the tools they needed to help others discern the truth.

In the reading from 1 John, John says’ We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” This word of life, this is what Jesus imparts to the Apostles and all of their followers have imparted to us. Jesus knew he had little time left on earth, but he told his followers that the Word — the Good News — will be what allows Christians to discern the truth. “We are writing these things to you so that our joy may be complete.” John says. The Word is the essence of this completeness. It is the Word that we have received through the Bible, and through our Christian family over the past 2000 years. that gives us our ability to discern.

But what of St. Thomas? A practicing Jew, he went on to found the tradition of Christianity in Southern India which marries many of the customs of Judaism, such as the Saturday Sabbath, with a belief in Christ. Thomas was reported to have been martyred by jealous Hindu priests in 72 AD. Today, there are about 6 million Saint Thomas Christians.

And of course, there are billions of all kinds of Christians throughout the world today. Do we believe because we’ve seen Jesus in person? No, but I think we’ve those who believe encounter Jesus in their hearts through His word. We discern the Living Christ not just by what we’ve been told, but by what we feel, by what makes sense to us, by what we discern. It’s not always easy to believe and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Our faith may be inconstant. But when we believe, the Word tells us that even in our vast unworthiness, we are loved.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday 2021

April 4, 2021

St. Alban’s Church

Pastor Jim Stickney

 

Christ did not die and rise from the dead only to make bad people into good people.   Christ died and rose to make dying people truly alive!

 

Today we celebrate the heart of Christian faith, that death is not the end of the story.

Today we rejoice that we share in the new life of Christ Jesus beyond death.

Today we proclaim our freedom from any fear of being imprisoned in this world

of such swift economic changes — we know where true joys are to be found.

 

Last Sunday we waved joyful palms to celebrate the easy way of being believers —

following Jesus in fair weather, when there’s a crowd cheering all of us on.

Then we shifted and became a mob crying for this one man to die for the people.

On Good Friday, in our own quiet way, we kept vigil for divinity seeming to die,

trying to be faithful, when bring a believer is the hardest thing to do.

And today we celebrate new life, risen life in which we all can share.

 

Christ did not die and rise from the dead only to make bad people into good people.

Christ died and rose to make dying people truly alive!

 

It’s a joy to be asked to return to St. Alban’s, where I spent most of my active ministry.

I must have preached close to 20 Easter sermons, and I must have used

a personal Easter story back then. I’m going to repeat it for you now — and for those

who were not members back then, it will be something new for you.

 

When I was about ten, I caught a bad cold just before Easter.  Mom and Dad debated,                             then decided I was old enough that they could just  leave me home alone

while they and the younger children went to church that Easter morning without me.

As an incentive, they gave me my Easter basket early before they left.

 

I remember feeling, not sick and abandoned, but happy that they trusted me.

I had a fine time alone on Easter, eating some candy, and finding a license plate

in my basket with “Jim” on it which I taped to my bicycle before they returned.

 

Most of all, I remember feeling that God was with me in my heart,

even though I wasn’t in church.  Not going to church that day helped me find God.

God took what could have been sadness for me, and transformed it.

 

That story takes on new meaning during this time of pandemic, when our leaders,

both in church and in society, are pleading with us to keep social distance.

And compared to last year, our churches have proved to be resilient and innovative —

just consider the new skills we’ve developed in order to sustain community.

We’ve accomplished a kind of resurrection right in the middle of a crisis.

 

Christ did not die and rise from the dead only to make bad people into good people.

Christ died and rose to make dying people truly alive!

 

I’d like to speak to our skeptical side for a moment, to the doubts within us.

Does the Bible try to trick us with clever rhetoric and exaggerated Easter claims?

It’s quite the opposite! The record of the Gospel writers is brutally honest.

No one claimed to see the moment of Resurrection. They weren’t even expecting it.

What they were expecting was to prepare a corpse for burial. That’s it!

 

Imagine a creepy scene in a horror movie. The music gets quiet for that tense moment

when someone turns a corner, opens a door, sees some dead body, and screams.

This morning’s Gospel story of Easter gives us the exact opposite of a horror movie.

The trauma, the horror and tragedy, was three days past, at the crucifixion.

 

Instead, a few women with ointments and perfumes are prepared to find that dead body.

What they weren’t ready for was the appearance of radiant angelic beings

posing a lovely rhetorical question to them: Why do you seek the living among the dead?

In his Easter message, Bishop Marc referred to this little group as a “pod.”

I rather like the idea of a small bubble of disciples now infected by faith in Jesus!

 

Yes, death will come for each of us, but death is no longer the final chapter of life.

And not only does that mean a new start in the life to come, but it also

breaks the cycle of despair and hopelessness in which so too people live lives

of quiet desperation — hungry for a fresh start, but unsure how to make it.

By our sharing in Christ’s risen life, we can always make a new start — right now!

 

Christ did not die and rise from the dead only to make bad people into good people.

Christ died and rose to make dying people truly alive!

 

It was difficult for the women who went to the tomb to open their hearts again

to the love they felt for Jesus. It’s difficult for us to break out of the tombs and traps

of our fond past memories, look around at the changed circumstances

of our life today, and find Jesus there. And yet, we’ve managed to stay faithful!

 

And in tough times, we know that we are invited to celebrate the true riches,

and hold fast to the realities that will not fluctuate like infection rates from Covid 19.

 

Some may try to paste last years leaves on the tree and then call that Spring.

Instead, look at your life this day! This moment Christ Jesus wants to live in you!

The new life just won’t be the same as the old — God intends to do a new thing.

 

Christ did not die and rise from the dead only to make bad people into good people.

Christ died and rose to make dying people truly alive!