Sermon for June 4, 2017 Day of Pentecost

Based on Gospel Reading: John 20:19-23

In this Gospel reading Jesus says twice “Peace be with you.” After the first announcing of the peace, Jesus proves who He is in a material way, that is, showing them the experience of being crucified. Verification made them joyful. Then, again, Jesus said to them “Peace be with you,” with the follow-on statement of “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And then he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Today is Pentecost! It is the annual celebration and remembrance of the activation of the Holy Spirit. Jesus placed the Holy Spirit on the collected body of those gathered, the newly formed Church. We witness the same thing in Acts 2 where Peter defends the “Church” as they speak in the various languages of the listeners. We here at St Paul’s ask volunteers who can read Joel’s words to read them aloud, simultaneously, as it is recorded in the Act’s passage. With several people reading in Spanish, German, Biblical Greek (me) and our Lector reading English at the same time, it is quite confusing, as that first Pentecost might have been. I have found that Church is often confusing and disturbing when it does the work it is supposed to do. That is, to come together and pardon and forgive sins.

Jesus goes on to close the selected Gospel reading wherein he says, “If you (The Church) forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Sins can be a stain on a person, but sometimes that person has no help because they are not members of a church. How much more serious it is if a Church refuses to let go of or forgive sins? Jesus is addressing the group, the forming Church. The language of Jesus is plural in any language as in the “Our Father.” In the Greek we have the term “mou” that would be a word more closely to “Y’all” or you all, as opposed to the singular “you.” Jesus is addressing His Church, not a single individual.

We are the Church today! Perhaps the most important part of the church is the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about peace through forgiveness and pardon. The peace of Christ working through the church brings about forgiveness. Forgiveness re-members us together. Being re-membered we are made whole. I want to share with you two occasions where Churches forgave those who used violence on them to the point of deaths.

The most recent forgiveness comes from the Charleston church shooting (also known as the Charleston church massacre) which was a mass shooting, that took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, on the evening of June 17, 2015. During a prayer service, nine people (including the senior pastor, state senator Clementa C. Pinckney) were killed by gunman Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist. [Taken from an on line source] The congregants of Emanuel forgave Roof. Perhaps not individuals, but the church as a whole did.

Another case took place in Nickel Mines, Pa., Oct. 2, 2006 — A dairy truck driver, apparently nursing a 20-year-old grudge, walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse and systematically tried to execute the girls there, killing four and wounding seven before killing himself. [Taken from an on line source] The people of the local Amish Church publically forgave the man and attended his funeral and comforted his wife. Perhaps some of the Amish parents were not on board with this forgiveness but the Church was. This was especially sad as they were young school girls, youth.

Today is Youth Sunday for us. Being re-membered we teach our children to forgive so that our children will have both a Church and, most especially, faith. Jesus shows us that the ability to forgive comes through His peace which he freely gives His to Church. We may have in our Church those who find it hard to forgive those who have victimized them. But they remain members of a church that does forgive them. This “Peace which passes all understanding” will indeed keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge of God and of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Forgiving is who we are, it is what it means to be Christian. Our youth need to know this. We pass on to them our legacy of forgiveness. We teach them that Jesus even forgave those that nailed him to the cross. Real peace is impossible without forgiveness and forgiveness is impossible without peace. They go hand in hand.

I need to say that our youth may not always stay in church as they approach the time that they will make the decisions about whether or not they will attend. The best we can do is plant the seed and pray. I was brought up in a Catholic School in Nashville, Tennessee. The mark that the Sisters of that school made on my heart and soul would call me back to a liturgical church later in life. They planted the seed of faith, hope, love and peace that has now blossomed and I am thankful. This is my prayer for our children, that they are taught and shown the Eucharist through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion and that it becomes a mark on their hearts and souls such that they too, even if they drift away, will be called back to the familiar of the family, and be thankful.

Today our children will come to us after the Prayers of the People from their time in Sunday school and invite us to have peace with the words, “May the peace of the Lord be always with you.” I pray you respond with, “And also with you,” with enthusiasm.

Jesus said, “ Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ”Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The Church was not brought into being to retain sins but rather to forgive sins as did Jesus. Jesus gifts us with the Holy Spirit in His Peace so that we, His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, may be sent out into the world spreading His peace and modeling forgiveness. Amen.

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Sermon for June 18, 2017

Based on Gospel Reading: Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

Jesus sends the twelve out, without extra provisions, as lambs into the midst of wolves to their own kind, Israelites. We know from the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew that the Resurrected Jesus sends out his apostles telling them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20). But for now in this early part of Matthew Jesus restricts them to their own. Even today it is harder to teach the Gospel to folks who know you, than to people who know neither you nor the Gospel.

Following our Baptismal Covenant we affirm that “we will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, with God’s help.” (BCP 305) The word Gospel is Greek for Good News. Jesus’ Good News is “The Kingdom of God has come near.” I remember in Seminary we were taught to say “The Reign of God has come near.” This latter proclamation rids itself of gender bias. Either way, the Good news has come near!

People still need to hear Good News. Although there may be some reluctance to hear it from familiar voices we must do as Jesus says. Jesus prepares us for such an occasion by letting us know that if what we have to say is not welcomed, shake the metaphorical dust off our shoes and move on. I feel that such a shaking off is not a dismissal of the reluctant listener but rather a physical way of closing the encounter and preparing for the next. We move on.

So what is in the Good News message of “The Reign of God has come near!?” For me it means that more and more the love of God is encompassing our world. And while the secular news too often reports to the contrary, you and I are called to live as children of the light. We are to live as citizens of the Reign of God right now, where we are. We are not to return evil for evil. We are not to spend time trying to bring misery upon others. As we live out our Gospel lives we are example setters even for those who know us, or think they know us.

If we are not living this Gospel ideal, we need to change, and change now. Be seen in prayer, be seen giving to the needy, be seen not retaliating with violence even against unjust laws or victimization. We can and should hold people and governments responsible for unjust acts but not with evil or vindictive motivations. And Jesus says we don’t need a lot of material provisions to do this. However, he says, we must be careful.

We are to spread the Gospel in our community and in doing so hope for favorable results. But be prepared for unfavorable responses should such happen. Even with this do not let unfavorable responses hinder or halt your spreading of the Good News. We move on.

Before we begin, let us examine the beginning of our journey. The Good News that we want to take to our community must begin in our homes, with our families. In my previous career I spent a few years working with clinical social workers with military men who had been substantiated as domestic violence perpetrators. Our homes are supposed to be safe havens from anything that might scare us. Home is the last place we or any of our family should feel unsafe. Home should be that place where every member, the youngest to the oldest, has a voice and decisions are made based on the welfare of all concerned. Good News should be demonstrated in the home, but perhaps it doesn’t start even there.

When we open our Episcopal service we pray what we call the “Collect for Purity.” It goes like this, “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen. Our Good News starts in our hearts. The Reign of God starts in our hearts. And sometimes, I know for me at least, our hearts need adjusting. We can’t adjust our own hearts but we must want to. We pray to God to “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts.” This whole Reign of God coming near begins in the individual’s heart. From there we begin the journey starting with our families. And yes, they are familiar, very familiar. As we live out our Reign of God in the home it spreads like a love contagion that changes those with whom we come in contact.

We don’t go out to others with an ax to grind. We go as citizens of the Reign of God, loving our neighbor as our self. In our several interactions of doing good we profess the Good News about how good God is, and yes, all the time. So I’m going to close with a few poetic words:

The Reign of God, Now?
I want to get there, but how?
Jesus says that it has come near,
How long before it comes right here?
No worries, no fights,
We all enjoy one another’s delights.
The love we have and share at home,
Soon spread around our earthly dome.
The Reign of God now?
Come let’s pray and ask God how.

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