Sunday, April 23, 2017

Second Easter

John 20: 19-23

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing you may have life in his name.”

Good morning, and grace and peace as we open into the adventure of Eastertide!  The four gospels lead us in an orderly and solemn procession, step by step through Holy Week.  But the sun comes up on Easter morning and suddenly it’s like fireworks exploding overhead all at once in the sky, light and movement all over the place, in wild and unexpected patterns, surprise after surprise after surprise.

The disciples come to the tomb and find it empty.  The women come to the tomb and meet an angel, or angels.  Mary meets him in the garden.  Two old friends suddenly find themselves in his company as they walk home to Emmaus.  He’s there suddenly there with them in the Upper Room, despite locked doors.  Twice, as we hear this morning.  Or they seem him by the Sea of Galilee, on the shore near the very spot he had first called Peter and Andrew and James and John to join him in this new ministry.  '

In First Corinthians 15 Paul tells of other Easter meetings, some not recorded in the gospels: “that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time . . . then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles . . . .”  The sky had gone dark.  And then suddenly everywhere things are happening, exploding with light and sound.  Easter.

The Church year devotes 50 days to the season, Easter Day to Whitsunday and Pentecost-- in the same sacred pattern given in Scripture of the 50 days between the night of Passover and the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai.  And we need those seven weeks to hear the stories, to allow them to rest in our hearts and imaginations.  Most of the time the basket of Easter Eggs and Candies will disappear after a day or two, but we’re going to take our time.  Not to rush.   Taste and see that the Lord is good.  Just to savor it all.

This gathering in the Upper Room on the evening of Easter Sunday in the first part of our reading from John 20--and I’m just going to be looking at the first part of this, verses 19-23.  What a wild moment.  It probably felt like there wasn’t enough oxygen in the room.  Hard to breathe.  Cleopas and his companion must have just returned from Emmaus, rushing in to tell the other disciples they’re strange and really incomprehensible story how they had seen Jesus on their way home to Emmaus, and then all at once, right there, there he is, himself.  Jesus.

The room falls silent.  “Eirene umin”  John’s Greek.  Probably “Shalom, shalom.”  His familiar greeting.  Peace be with you.  And they can’t believe their eyes and ears.  We picture this.  He lifts up his hands to show them his scars, pulls up his shirt to show where the Roman soldier’s spear had pierced his side.  They can’t believe what they are seeing, and yet, can there be any doubt?   He’s right here.

And then he speaks.  “Eirene umin.”  Shalom, shalom.  Peace.  Peace.   And then three things happen, as John tells in these verses.  Three words.

“As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”  The apostolic commission.  Back in their earlier journey to Jerusalem he had sent them on ahead, two by two.  And on the Mount of the Ascension he would send them again.  “Go ye into all the world.”    It’s a recurring theme of these Easter meetings with Jesus.  We remember how at the Transfiguration Peter had wanted to build three shelters on the mountaintop.  He didn’t want to leave, to go down the mountain and back to the world of conflict and strife.  Just to bask in the glory of the Father, the brilliance of the Son, the embrace of the Spirit.  But that’s not what Jesus had for them.  They took a breath, and then headed back down the mountain.  And so for Easter.  Lord, we would stay here with you.  Remember what he said to Mary in the Garden.  “Don’t hold on to me here, but go tell the others.”  And here again, “as the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”  Getting ready for Pentecost.

And then the second word, also all about Pentecost.  “he breathed on the them, and said to them, receive the Holy Spirit.”  A foreshadowing of what would soon happen in that same Upper Room, when the 50 days had passed, and the Spirit would rush in with the rushing sound of the wind and rest over them like tongues of fire and fill them with the energy that would power their proclamation to the ends of the earth.

And then finally, he turns to them.  This third word.   “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The Sadducees and Pharisees were absolutely correct when in their astonishment they raised their objection to Jesus.  Preaching, teaching, healing.  That’s one thing.  But: “Only God can forgive sins.”  They’re absolutely correct.  They just didn’t know who it was who was standing before them.  So in this word the whole mystery of the Cross is established in the new reality of Easter.  That as Christ has taken on himself every sin, every dark power, the whole weight of the Prince of this World, and with his death has accomplished a total victory, so now that power of mercy, the triumph of blessing, is expressed fully and completely in his living Body, the Church.  The whole company of faithful.  As we stand at his Cross and offer him our brokenness, we are incorporated into his resurrection.  New birth, new life.  This is how his mercy is to be made known.  This is why he sends us out.   For the same reason the Son was sent from the Father.  Blessing, grace and forgiveness. 

My friend Wes Hill, who teaches New Testament, wrote an article recently to review the new book by Rod Dreher called “The Benedict Option.”  A bit of what he had to stay really stood out for me:  He says, “the beauty of holiness isn’t about us always Getting It Right.  It’s about us striving for holiness while not covering our sin, not lying about our lives.  It’s about us seeking always, again and again, to live lives of repentance and dependence on forgiving love . . . .  “. . . Bare ‘morality,’” he says, “shorn of its rationale and distinctive motivations, isn’t our primary Christian gift to the world.  But there is one distinctive thing we have to offer.  There is only one place in the world where you can hear words of absolution that assure us that God in Christ is a God of prodigal mercy . . . .” 

That place is right here.  In the circle of his church, his Body, those who have beheld his glory, received grace upon grace.  Who have stood at the foot of the Cross, who have laid down the burden of sin before him, and now are filled to overflowing, made one Body with him, one Body, that he might dwell in us, and we in him.  Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.  “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” If the world thinks that’s beyond you, it’s just because they don’t know who it is that is standing before them: who you are now, who you have become.”   You in me, I in you, just as I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.  Very members incorporate in the mystical Body.  Through faith in the work of his Cross.

That’s Easter.   Real Easter.  And we are just invited to take some deep breaths and let it begin to sink in. 

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing you may have life in his name.”

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

Sermon for Good Friday
Passion Gospel of St. John
The Rev. Daniel J. Isadore

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fifth in Lent, Passion

Sermon by the Rev. Daniel J. Isadore
Assistant Priest of St. Andrew's Church
John 11: The Return to Bethany and the Raising of Lazarus

Monday, March 27, 2017

Fourth in Lent, Laetare

We weren't able to manage an audio file of this  sermon, but we do have the written text.

Sermon by the Rev. Dean Byrom
 Pastoral Assistant of St. Andrew's Church
John 9: 1-41

 The Siloam Reservoir

“The Placebo Effect”

        Do you have something that’s ailing you?  I have just the cure for you!  A small dab of mud will definitely get you to feeling better.  You don’t believe that?  Pity.  If you did believe it, you’d probably feel much better.  You might even be cured.

        It’s not magic.  It’s the placebo effect – the mysterious ability of our bodies to sometimes heal what ails us, if only we believe. 

        Placebo in Latin means “I shall please”.  In medical research, placebo refers to a pharmacologically inactive substance – like a sugar pill – or a phony medical procedure that is administered as a control in testing the effectiveness of a drug or a course of treatment.

        Walter Brown, clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University, is at the forefront of research into the placebo effect.  He and others are trying to learn why about 30 to 40 percent of the people who suffer from conditions ranging from asthma to high blood pressure to depression actually benefit from taking a placebo.

        In the ninth chapter of “John”, a man born blind receives sight.  Jesus puts mud on the man’s eyes, tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam, and when he comes back he is able to see.
        At first, the man says that he doesn’t know who Jesus is.  Then he says that Jesus is a prophet.  Finally, he stands before Jesus and says, “Lord, I believe.”  Although he never figures out just how Jesus has healed him, he knows that if Jesus were not from God, He couldn’t have done anything.

        Call it the Messiah Effect – the mysterious ability of people to be healed, if only they come into contact with Jesus.  But, at the same time, it is a placebo effect, because a mud – and – spit poultice plays an important part in this miraculous healing.

        What a strange and wonderful story this is!  Jesus refuses to put the label of “sinner” on either the blind man or his parents, but says that “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

        With such an introduction, one might think that Jesus would go on to treat this man with courtesy and respect, but He does exactly the opposite.  He treats him like dirt.  Jesus spits on the ground and makes mud with His saliva; then He spreads the mud on the man’s eyes.

        Note that He uses wet, sticky, soft, dirty earth.  He uses mud – a symbol of all that is degrading, such as when someone’s name is dragged “through the mud.”  Jesus puts this man in an awkward position.  In effect, Jesus may have been the first person to utter the humorous drinking toast – “Here’s mud in your eye” (hardly the sentiment you expect to hear from a teacher who is healing by the power of God.

        And yet, the man born blind believes.  He believes enough to follow the command of Jesus to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam,” and to stumble through the streets of Jerusalem wearing a ridiculous mask of mud.

        We don’t know exactly how far the man had to walk after receiving his mudpack in the eyes, but it could have been quite a hike.  “John” tells us that Jesus encountered the man after leaving the Temple, but he doesn’t reveal the precise location of their meeting. 

        If Jesus puts mud on the man’s eyes right outside the Temple compound, then the man had to walk at least 500 yards to the pool of Siloam – the length of five football fields!  That’s quite a distance for a blind man to cover, groping and stumbling and trying to ignore the jeers of the crowd:

        “Hey, filth – face!”
        “He’s got mud balls for eyeballs!”
        “What happened?  Kids play mud pies on your     noggin?”
        “Nice look!  Be glad you’re blind, boy!”

        So it’s not a pleasant walk.  It’s degrading, embarrassing, humiliating.  But the man has been in touch with Jesus, and for some reason he believes.  He believes that this teacher who calls himself “the light of the world” is somehow going to bring an end to his life – long darkness.

        Besides, what does he have to lose?  His pathetic progress down the dusty streets of Jerusalem would be mocked by some people whether he had mud on his face or not. 

        So he goes and washes – and comes back able to see.  The dirt and spit poultice opens his eyes, and he proceeds to testify that it was Jesus who had given him his vision.

        Standing before the Pharisees, he says, “He put mud on my eyes.  Then I washed, and now I see…. He is a prophet.”
When they counter that Jesus is a sinner, the man says “I do not know whether He is a sinner.  One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

        And the man asks the Pharisees mockingly.  “Do you also want to become His disciples?”  He might as well have said to these religious leaders: “Here’s mud in your eye!”

        Finally, face to face with the One who healed him, the man discovers that Jesus is none other than the Son of Man.

        “Lord, I believe,” he says, and he worships Jesus.  It is important to note that his healing comes BEFORE this statement of faith.  The man does not believe in Jesus prior to His touch, the man receives the touch and then believes.  The mudpack acts as a placebo, inspiring the man to trust that he will be healed.

        Does this sound crazy?  Whatever you do, don’t scoff at the power of the “powerless” placebo.  Don’t assume that dirt and spit had nothing to do with the healing of the blind man.  At the very least, it helped to focus his faith.

        What helps to focus our faith?  Sometimes it’s the unpleasant experiences that life throws at us.  In such circumstances, when we take even a small step of obedience, despite the uncertain path ahead, we discover that Christ Jesus is alive and active and working for health and wholeness.  There’s nothing magical about it, but it certainly is mysterious and miraculous.  The application of a “mudpack” can lead to the healing of our bodies, minds and spirits – if only we believe.

        The question is: What are the dirt – and – spit placebos that Christ Jesus would use to help us believe?  Surprising healing can happen when a person is in close touch with Jesus.
        Oddly enough, one of the placebos that can help us to be healed is pain itself.  Yes, pain.  Pain is as unwanted as a mud ball in the eye – physical, emotional or spiritual suffering, in ourselves and others.  We may want to deny this pain that threatens to disrupt our happiness and destroy our well-being, but we should not, because pain can be the megaphone that God uses to arouse a deaf world.

        So pain can be a placebo: a surprising bit of mud in the eye that reminds us that our true good is in another world, our real treasure is in Christ Jesus, and our ultimate dependence should be on God.

        Struggles in this life can take our eyes off worldly pleasures and give us a vision of the joy of God’s reign.  Financial problems can focus us on the priceless treasure of an investment with Christ Jesus.  Even illness can help us to see that health is much more than freedom from disease – it is rooted instead in a life-giving and eternal relationship with God.  Pain can have a placebo effect if it leads to reconciliation with the Lord.

        Surprising healing can happen when you listen for God’s Word, and when you move close enough to Jesus to get a mudpack placebo!

        In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017