“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

A Sermon Preached on The Fourth Sunday after Trinity
at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
July 14, 2019 11:00 am

One of the nice things about living in a small village in Crete is that we have the opportunity of getting to know our neighbours. I know by name the folks on either side of the house in Gavalohori, and the folks I meet along the roads all seem to know me. This is such a difference from any decent sized city where people are anonymous and our relationships are so often merely transactional, where a bank teller is indistinguishable from an ATM. In multidimensional relationships we know people as living, breathing human beings, and we go beyond the instrumental. We get together not just to achieve ends, but simply to enjoy each other’s presence. It was like this in the town I grew up in, in Quebec, and it was like this in the small island parish I worked in when I was in my thirties. The bank teller was not just a source of money, but the parent of a child who was friends with my kids, nd someone involved in the community choir with me, and I knew where she lived and who her parents were. It was like this back home for many of you, I know, and I imagine many of you live here in the villages of Apokoronas for just that reason.

Capernaum

Capernaum

It was the same in Jesus’s time. In the villages of Galilee everyone knew each other. But there were outsiders: the Greek-speaking settlers of the empire that were set up in the twons founded by Herod Antipas, Sepphoris and Tiberias. There were the people down from Jerusalem, the scribes and the pharisees sent by the Jewish rulers in Judea to ensure their influence over the peasants of Galilee. And it was one of those who approached Jesus in today’s gospel reading, a lawyer, not as we might understand a barrister or a solicitor, but someone trained in the Law of Moses as understood by the Pharisees.

Was it a serious question? “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “And who is my neighbor?” Was he trying to find out whether Jesus was orthodox? Was he trying to find a way to trap Jesus? We do not know. Jesus responds by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

 

But what is most interesting is how, at the end, Jesus turns the question around from, “Who is my neighbour?”, to “What kind of neighbour are you?” And just as the two commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor are connected, so the lawyer’s failure to know who his neighbor is, suggests that he did not really know who his God was, either. In the parable Jesus suggests:

  • True neighbourliness jumps in the ditch to be with the wounded.
  • True neighbourliness is sacrificial, offering to pay the cost without expectation of recompense.
  • A true neighbor is not valued in terms of money, but by what they will do from compassion and concern.
  • A true neighbor breaches the apparently major difference between a Samaritan and a Jew.
  • A true neighbor lets go of their positions of privilege – even if they are a priest or a Levite – to help another.
  • In the end, a true neighbor is someone like Jesus, who in his self-giving discloses to us the nature of God.

 

We are not always good neighbours, of course. The power of darkness and the kingdom of this world is so very seductive. It tells us that the other is dirty and diseased and will distract us from our real work or God. It fills us with fear of our neighbours, so that we no longer see a common bond but rather something different and alien from us.

The worst situation is when the ways of the world overcome otherwise good people, so that they think they are doing God’s work when in fact they are simply justifying abuse and even genocide with theology.

  • My dissertation on the Indian Residential Schools deals with just this issue, and names seven ways in which Christian theologies were used to justify the taking of land and power from indigenous peoples and then used again to try and eradicate them through assimilation or death.
  • We submit to the idol of nationalism, fearing our neighbours rather than getting to know them, much less helping.
  • We become more focused on our own security and comfort rather than the needs of others, or deny that we have any responsibility towards anyone else. The heresy of libertarianism raises the value of property and self so high that the other is nothing but a threat.

Of course, some Christians are like this. They follow a gospel that is all about fear. Jesus is not like this. As the American pastor John Pavlovitz recently said, his Jesus is

  • the one who touched the hand of the leper,
  • the one who fed a starving hillside multitude
  • the one whose family fled political genocide soon after he was born,
  • the one who said he and the forgotten prisoner were one in the same,
  • the one who dined with both priest and with prostitute,
  • the one who lived off the kindness of those he met as he traveled,
  • the one who said our neighbors and enemies, deserve the same love we give our families and ourselves,
  • the one who preached the scandalous goodness of a despised Samaritan.

 

The love of God works in us to give us faith, and it is so great that it cannot help but continue to pour out of us.

We hear the words of the psalm:

3 Save the weak and the orphan; * defend the humble and needy;
4 Rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked.

And our faith, inspired by love, responds with works of love, and through these works we come to know eternal life, the divine life, a Christ-shaped life, in this very broken and fragile world.

As we heard from Colosians, it bears fruit among us from the day we heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.

So, as Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” – may we hear and be doers of the word.

 

 

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Until the Apocalypse

A Sermon Preached on The Third Sunday after Trinity
The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
July 7, 2019 11:00 am

peter_christ_paul_fresco-678x380

I have two pieces of good news about the coming Apocalypse (and when I say Apocalypse, I mean it as a good thing, the Christian Apocalypse, which is the revealing of Jesus as the Son of God in his return to Earth, and his establishment of the kingdom of God – not the various other types of apocalypses, such as global warming, nuclear disaster, Brexit, Trump, or anything written in the “Left Behind” series).

First, when the Son of Man comes in power and glory and the Kingdom of God is established, there will be no need of preaching, because everyone in the kingdom will already know God and will not need to have anything explained to them. There will simply be praise. Yay!

Second, for much the same reason, there will be no need of evangelism. Again, there will simply be praise.

But we’re not there yet. Until then, we will need evangelism and preaching.

So how do we do it?

ApocalypseiPhone-580x358

How not to be before or during the Apocalypse

First, the simpler the implementation the better. There is a blessing in having buildings and paid staff, but that is not the essence of church. The essence of church is people entering into relationships with other people, and into a relationship with God in Christ.

When the Communists took power in China in 1949 one of the first things they dd was force all the foreign missionaries out. There was great concern across North America and Europe that the Communists would try to destroy the Christian faith in China, and, indeed, many were persecuted, and Mao Tse-Tung and the Communist Party sought to erradicate all religion, including Buddhism, Taoism, and traditional Chinese religions grounded in Confuscius. When China began to open up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the western world was astonished to find that not only had some Christians persevered, but they had thrived. They did not have buildings and clergy as we would know them, but they did meet in small groups in private homes. Whenever the churches got too big for the house, tempting attention from the Communist authorities, they would split up. Thus, over time, the Christian communities, without seminaries or General Synods or parsonages or endowments, slowly grew, so that they were more in the 1980s than in 1949. Some estimates put the Christian population in China at up to 80,000,000 people.

So, while having a priest, these buildings, and a car is all helpful to the mission of the gospel, those are not the things that make up the gospel. Proclaiming the kingdom of God is.

Second, real evangelism deals with the evil in the world.

  • There are wolves out there who would attack the lambs of God.
  • Satan has fallen like lightening from heaven, but is active here on earth in the lies told by the powerful, in the comfort so many have with oppression and violence, and that tells us that we just need to take care of ourselves and not pay attention to the needs of others.
  • The powers of evil tell us that there is no hope, and that creation is doomed, whereas we proclaim a new creation beginning with Jesus and acting is us, the body of Christ.
  • The powers of evil tell us that there is nothing but cold chaotic matter with no rhyme or reason to human life, whereas we celebrate the world transfigured by the Spirit and the offering of Jesus in the world, no matter how much that world rejects him.

Finally, we work in pairs, or larger groups. I’ve never really understood why clergy are sent singly into parishes and congregations – I’ve always preferred working as part of a team. In a sense, with the ordination last week, we have returned to a biblical model. As laity, too, we need each other when witnessing to the gospel in word and in deed.

So, as we enter these summer months, let us not just rest and be complacent, but may we consider the tasks before us. May we work together, keeping the gospel simple and straight forward, and not shrink from facing up to the evil that would thwart us.

As Jesus has done, and as the disciples did, so may we continue.

 

 

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Spring Cleaning and the Ordination of Deacons

A Sermon Preached by the Reverend Christine Saccali,
Deacon of the Anglican Church of St. Paul, Athens, Greece
(Diocese in Europe, Church of England)
at
the Ordination of Julia Bradshaw to the Diaconate
by the Right Reverend David Hamid, Suffragan Bishop in Europe
on Sunday the 30th of June, 2019, The Second Sunday after Trinity
at the Anglican Parish of St. Thomas, Kefalas, Apokoronas, Crete, Greece.

Texts for the liturgy were: 1 Samuel 3.1-10, Psalm 119.1-6, Acts 6.1-7, and Matthew 25.31-46.

 

I speak in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is an enormous pleasure, privilege and a time bursting with pride to be present with you all here today and to be invited to preach at the ordination of Julia to the Distinctive Diaconate. Indeed it is such a day of joy and jubilation due to the fact that I feel as if my ministry and that of St Thomas here in Kefalas has been intertwined along with that of Julia’s path. Also, Registrar, folks gathered here – this could also be a historic occasion in the Diocese in Europe since we have three distinctive deacons present – Deacon Frances, myself, and Julia to be ordained today.

Forgive me if I introduce myself to those whom I don’t already know and I hope to chat with you all later over refreshments. Next month is my fortieth anniversary of being in Greece. I am married to a Greek and we have one married son and a granddaughter.I was present at Frances’ ordination in Cologne just over 10 years ago [Frances Hillier is the Suffragan Bishop’s Chaplain and Personal Assistant, and was present at the ordination, serving as the deacon of the mass]. I was ordained in St Paul’s Athens three years ago on the feast of St Thomas 3rd July, the patronal festival of this church, by Bishop David; Julia was there to support me and Frances preached a sermon that I remember well all about the calling of a deacon, based on scripture. As a Reader and active in ministry I was present during a consultation in Pendeli monastery in the mid noughties when Tony Lane stood up and said “I will build a church” – this very church, and the then Archdeacon of the East was rather taken aback, I seem to remember. Here we are today in that church – your church, St Thomas. Tony your vision was mighty and we thank you for that, dear friends, and wish you and Suzanne all the best in the UK.

I attended Tony’s licensing as reader here, on a day or rather overnight boat trip rather like the voyage acting Archdeacon Adele [Keham] undertook to get here today. Tony’s Deaconing was in Izmir by Bishop David when we were attending Archdeaconry Synod there. I had the honour to be Bishop’s Chaplain for Tony’s priesting here again by Bishop David. I recall it all well and the priests and their spouses who were subsequently appointed. But today is not about me or the history of this church although some of the latter may explain Julia’s emerging vocation to the Diaconate among you the congregation and the wider community. And let it be clear there can be no ordination without a community to emerge from. The word in Greek koinonia is one and the same for communion and community after all, to embrace and serve. It is a two way and liminal process so deacons can then take the gospel message out into the world.

Deacon Frances follows my ministry in the church and I have been closely following what Julia has been up to, in a supportive way I hope. But let us remember that all of us disciples here have a calling and a collaborative ministry as the body of Christ wherever we serve.For we do not follow each other as Master but we follow our Lord Jesus Christ wherever he calls us, and there may be a persistent call running through your life, a holy niggle as I call it, just as we heard in the passage from 1 Samuel. And it may mean leaving family and friends to devote yourself to that call. Certainly it means having good support structures around you as you care for others, as, in order to do that you must try to practice self care.

And don’t doubt that the path to ordination is a tough call – just to go through selection on a diocesan and national Church of England panels and then study for three years going back and forth between darkest Norfolk and this sunny Isle of Crete is a huge commitment, challenge and undertaking. And I am just talking about the travelling, let alone the academic and spiritual side.Sometimes I think the only thing in common between ERMC [Eastern Region Ministry Course], the college where most ordinands from Europe train, is the capital E at the beginning of each title although in our case we also belong to the Archdeaconry of the East, don’t forget, Capital E. Seriously Julia, I admire you tremendously for the resources you have found within you to pursue and support your calling. You will need to draw on these admirable qualities as you go forward into your ministry and life to flourish with all God’s given potential in you as a deacon. I would like to remind you that you have remarkable attributes of resilience and practical talents that will be required in your diaconal ministry. So do not neglect the dusting. Yes, I did say dusting. Deacon Frances, I think you may have missed out on one aspect of a description of a deacon’s role. That is diakono the verb to minister in Greek is originally from diaskono which lies at the root of the word skonizo to dust. We deacons need to dust within and without and give our spiritual selves a good spring clean and bring that freshness and light to Christ’s church as we minister.

So, Julia, enjoy this day, remember the charge given to you yesterday by Bishop David, the words of the ordinal and store it up in your heart and stick the words on your fridge or above your desk to always remind you of your calling and job description. There is more training and travel to follow but we will not dwell on that now. You have Bruce as your training incumbent at your side who is so supportive of the deacon’s role. Learn to lean on his wisdom.And going forward in your ordained ministry may you always be open to where God and the Holy Spirit are leading you.

Matthew 25 sets out some of the marginalized places where a deacon is to be found on the edges often pushing at boundaries and furthering God’s kingdom on earth. I know you have already identified some local initiatives of which you may feel called to be a part of during your curacy.But be prepared to be called by some surprising names in your ministry. I have become and am known as Deacon Chris but I have also but been called Rev, reverend, sister, mother all good things but the most startling and unusual epithet came from the lady in the coffee shop which we frequent over the road from St Paul’s Athens and where a lot of my ministry takes place after services. She is Armenian and upon seeing my clerical collar, which she noticed for the first time, she exclaimed in Greek : “Ah den ixera egines patera.” “Oh, I didn’t know you had become a Holy Father.” Now I know ordination confers many things but that was jaw dropping”

Above all, Julia, enjoy your ministry as a clerk in Holy Orders. Enjoy learning what new surprises God has in store for you, keep yourself focused on Christ and listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Keep your humour and wits about you as your call deepens and may God be with you and in this place where you are called. AMEN

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We are the New Jerusalem

A sermon preached on The Sixth Sunday of Easter at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete, on May 26, 2019 11:00 am.
Readings may be found here.

If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.  Acts 16.15

Where is home for you?

Is it the place you were born?  Was it where you were raised, too? Or is it the country you come from – England, Wales, Ireland, the United States, or Canada? Is home the city you last lived in – say, Liverpool, or Norwich? Is it a county, like Lancashire? Or is it here, in Greece, in Crete?

Of course, for some people, it is the case, as a song that came out a few years ago said,

Home is wherever I’m with you.

The Home of God

In today’s gospel, we are told that God’s home is with us. Jesus says in the gospel reading,

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

When God makes us a divine home, we are transformed as a community, and as individuals. What does it look like?

New Jerusalem

The Chapel of New Jerusalem, Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

The clue is in Revelation 21 and 22. While this might be read literally, and I have seen stained glass windows that do just that, the best way to read this passage is metaphorically. As you probably know from living in Greece, a μεταφορά is a transport truck, or that cart in airports that you put your luggage on – it takes your stuff and carries it from one place to another. So it is with words – a metaphor transports you into a deeper meaning from where you begin.

We know these last two chapters of the Bible are largely metaphorical because at one point (Revelation 21.1) it states, “and the sea was no more.” For the land-lubber Jews the sea represented the violence of chaos, and the absence of chaos in that verse suggests that the terror of the ocean is no more.

So when God dwells with us, we are that New Jerusalem. When God through the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we become the Body of Christ, a new and different incarnation of the Word from that which walked on earth. We are the new creation, transformed by grace.

  • We are the New Jerusalem, beautiful, as if a bride on her wedding day.
  • we are a city centered on the divine, for the Temple is the Father and the Son, and its light is not a sun but the Lamb of God.
  • The gates of the New Jerusalem are always open, and the whole world comes to that city.
  • It is described as being massive, far larger than any existing city, suggesting a generosity of forgiveness by God.
  • There is nothing unclean in it, suggesting that it is pure and without sin, even as Christ was.
  • The river flows from the throne, gives life.
  • The tree of life is there, bountiful in every season.
  • And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.

And so we have a list of characteristics of what happens when the divine makes us home.

  • Healing
  • Bountiful
  • Life-giving
  • Pure
  • Generous
  • Forgiving
  • Open and inclusive
  • Beautiful
  • Centered on the Divine

As the gospel would remind us, all of this is due to love – the love of God we know in creation, in Christ, and in the reflected love of those around us. Jesus leaves us with a peace, which is not simply the absence of violence or conflict, but the creative and recreative love of God which overcomes violence and death by love.

Has God Made us a New Jerusalem?

So, is this us? Does God make God’s home with us? Have we invited God to be with us, even as Lydia invited Paul and his companions to come to her home?

Perhaps we need to do an inventory of ourselves at St. Thomas, Kefalas, and look at the ways we are healing, bountiful, life-giving, pure, generous, forgiving, open and inclusive, beautiful, and centered on the Divine.

  • Is this an issue for our next church council meeting?
  • As we prepare to welcome Bishop David Hamid in a month’s time to ordain Julia Bradshaw to be a deacon in the church, how will her ministry in the diaconate assist us to be that divine home?
  • For that matter, how does having me here as a priest or presbyter help?
  • How does your ministry as the baptised people of God make us a New Jerusalem?

As we work this out and prepare in our souls and bodies a home for the divine, as the Psalm today says,

May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

 

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The Glory of Love

A sermon preached on The Fifth Sunday of Easter at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete, on May 19, 2019 at 11:00 am.
Readings may be found here – we used the Psalm, Revelation, and the Gospel according to John, but not Acts.

Titles

I never used to give titles to my sermons. Giving the titles always seemed to me to give them greater importance that they deserved. Part of it is that I usually write them in 24 hours before the service. Other people would ask me, sometimes weeks in advance, for the title, and I never knew what to do.

However, now that I have been posting my sermons on my blog, I’ve had to come up with titles. And today, it’s “The Glory of Love”. Now, that sounds rather clichéd, like some sort of pop song. And, indeed, there was a song with that name back in 1986 with that name by Peter Cetera, the lead singer of Chicago, right after he went solo:

I am a man who would fight for your honor,
I’ll be the hero you’re dreaming of.
We’ll live forever, knowing together
that we did it all for the glory of love.

Takes you back three decades, doesn’t it? I apologise if this gives you an earworm, sort of.

Glory and Love

The two words come from the very short gospel reading this morning. In Greek the word for the verb “to glorify” is δοξάζω and the word here for the verb “to love» is αγαπάω, and the corresponding nouns are αγάπη and δόξα.

What I find striking is how things move quickly here.

  1. First, Judas goes out to betray Jesus.
  2. Next, Jesus says that he, the Son of Man, has been glorified, and that God has been glorified in him.
  3. Third, he informs the disciples that where he is going they cannot follow.
  4. Finally, he tells the disciples,

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

What the heck is going on here?

Okay, Let’s start there and try to parse this.

First Judas leaves, and then Jesus declares that he has been glorified, and God in him.

  • Jesus in the Gospel according to John is always in control of what is happening. It may look like Judas, the Sanhedrin, and Pilate are all acting to destroy Jesus, but in fact Jesus and God in him is the one who wills what is happening, both as a human and as the incarnate Word.
  • The eternal Word of God has assumed all the attributes of a human being, except sin, and having accepted the lowliness of a simple Galilean Jew, he is now ready to suffer with humanity as the wicked and corrupt powers of the world seek to kill him.
  • But, as the one without sin, Jesus is going to a place that his disciples or anyone else can go – to offer, as both human and divine, to pass through death. When the infinite encounters that epitome of finitude death, it appears, again, that finitude overcomes the Word made flesh, that darkness overcomes light. But the light shines in the darkness, and is not put out, but shines even more brightly from the cross and in the resurrection.

All of this is an action of love.

  • The Word becomes flesh to shine among us because of love.
  • Jesus calls the Twelve and forms them into disciples because of love.
  • Jesus turns the water into wine, feeds the five thousand, heals the man born blind, and raises Lazarus from the dead, because of Love.
  • Jesus challenges the evil forces that possess individuals, and drives them out, because of love.
  • And Jesus willingly goes to death on a cross, like a slave, because of love.
  • And his resurrection to new life is a sign of God’s love.
  • And his resurrection is the beginning of the remaking of the world into a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem – because of love.
  • God will dwell with humans, and will wipe every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more – because of love.

That’s why the conversation shifts to the giving of the new commandment, to love one another as Christ has loved us. It’s because everything flows from love, and the glory of God is love made manifest in Jesus Christ.

We are to share in that glory. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are now Christ’s body in the world. What Christ has done we are now called to do.

We may not have to die as he died, for that is a sacrifice once offered and which was, as the Prayer Book says, is “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.”

A Calling to Show the Glory of Love

So what are we called to do?

  • Love God, and love our neighbor.
  • Proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the world, baptizing and making disciples, teaching them everything Jesus has taught us.
  • Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, minister to the sick, visit the imprisoned.
  • Seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
  • Sometimes, be led to places you do not want to go.
  • Feed my sheep, feed my lambs.

There are many examples in the lives of modern saints of this love:

Listen, then to these so familiar words: ““I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

How will you – how will we – show forth the glory of love?

 

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Baaaaaa!

A sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter atThe Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete, May 12, 2019 11:00 am.
Readings may be found here – we read Acts, the Psalm, and the gospel, but not the Revelation passage.

7abb71cb01347a9699816721276a214aToday is Good Shepherd Sunday. In the Fourth Sunday of Easter the psalm is always the 23rd, and the gospel is a passage that refers to Jesus as s shepherd. This makes us the sheep in this scenario. Baaa!

So what does this say about us, and about Jesus?

The 23rd Psalm

In the 23rd Psalm we hear the line, “He revives my soul.” As those of us who were in the psalm study in Lent may recall, this is a very spiritualized translation of the Hebrew. If I were to translate this I would make it, “He saves my neck.” The word translated as soul is nefesh, which was usually translated into the Greek as psyche. But a nefesh is something that has a windpipe and is capable of breath, and the Hebrews usually thought in concrete terms. So I would make this verse, “He saves my neck”. The “still waters” are the waters necessary for life, and the shepherd protects me from that which threatens me.

Thus, Jesus as the shepherd is the one who leads us to what gives us life, and protects us from evil, and saves us.

Jesus the Shepherd

Jesus in the gospel, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

We are in a relationship with Jesus.

  • We may have been brought up in that relationship since we were children, and have never known a time when we were not in that relationship.
  • We may have come into that relationship later, discovering that he has always been calling our name but we have only just heard it, and responded.
  • Perhaps the relationship isn’t what it might be. We’ve drifted away. But we will not be snatched out of his hand, and we reaches out again and again, and we respond in penitence and faith.
  • And it is not a relationship with some teacher from 2000 years ago. No, we believe that Jesus is risen from the dead and is present to us – in the face of friend and stranger, in the face of a believer, in the words of the scriptures made flesh and blood in the lives of the saints, in the miracles and gifts that flow from the Holy Spirit he sends upon us.

What is the power of this relationship? In Acts we hear of Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, who is raised from the dead by Peter. Presumably this is not the resurrection itself to life eternal, but something temporary, like Lazarus or the son of the widow of Nain. But, none the less, even as a sign, it speaks to the life giving power of Jesus at work in Tabitha through Peter and the faith of those who called him.

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Of course, we are the sheep.

Sheep are gregarious and stick together, are easily herded. Contrary to what some think, they are not stupid. I remember back in Canada building a fence to keep them out of our yard. They really like the flowers and grass in our garden. Problem was, the fence was loose between the fence posts. The sheep just rolled under the wire of the fence, until we fixed the bottom of the fence with wood. Sheep are highly motivated by food, will follow a leader, and recognize the voices of each other and of shepherds.

Do we hear the voice of Jesus calling to us? Do we recognize that he is leading us to good food and refreshing water? Do we know of his protection and saving unto life? Baaa!

 

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Joy and the Cost of Following Jesus

A sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Easter at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete, May 5, 2019 11:00 am.

Readings for this Sunday: The Hebrew Bible Reading is Zephaniah 3.14-20. Psalm 30, Acts 9.1-20, and John 21:1-1 may be found here.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Are we a people of joy? Are we a people of dancing? From what I saw at our Orthodox Sunday church dinner last week at Κρητική Γωνιά, the answer has to yes, right?

 

So with Zephaniah, we

Sing aloud; shout! Rejoice and exult with all your heart.

With the psalmist, we observe that

Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

and we say to God,

You have turned our mourning into dancing;
you have taken off our sackcloth
and clothed us with joy,
so that our throats may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord our God, we will give thanks to you for ever.

So, yes, we are a people of joy!

But then there are the two stories today about calls. The call to Paul to be an apostle, and the call to Peter (more of a re-call, actually). What was their response? We do not know, except that they did respond to the call. But where those calls led are ominous.

Paul gives up everything he has – his standing among the elite of the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem. Over the years of his evangelism he suffers much, and then goes to Rome to die.

peter-icon-fisherman-iconPeter seems exasperated when Jesus asks him repeatedly, “Do you love me?” But, of course, the three-fold affirmation of love is to undo the three-fold denial on Good Friday morning. Then these words:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger,
you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished.
But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will fasten a belt around you
and take you where you do not wish to go.’
(He said this to indicate the kind of death
by which he would glorify God.)
After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

There is a paradoxical tension. We are filled with joy and exaltation at what God has done in Christ our Lord. But at the same time, following Jesus has its costs. We become like him as we point to justice, we suffer as Jesus did when the powerful are called out, and we are attacked when we point to the power and glory of God in the one who died on the cross. We are taken to places we do not wish to go, we are blinded by the light, and weighed down by the responsibilities we carry.

And yet, we dance, and we sing praises, and we proclaim Christ as our Lord

Because, as Desmond Tutu said,

Good is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours, through him who loves us.

When I go around visiting people I notice that many of you watch television news. I do not watch the news much, but I do read the papers, online. And, of course, the media will print and broadcast things that catch our attention. “If it bleeds it leads,” is the supposed maxim of low quality journalism, and so we hear about the latest knifing, the big fire, yet another gun attack in the States, a flood here, a cyclone there. Many of us become cynical about the self-serving and childish qualities of our political leaders. We begin to doubt the way things are going in the world.

MLK-Blog-Pic-1And yet, we know that in Christ there is victory, and that in God all things work to God’s purposes. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, in a 1954 sermon – very early in his civil rights work – said,

All I’m trying to say is, our world hinges on moral foundations.
God has made it so!
God has made the universe to be based on a moral law.
So long as man disobeys it he is revolting against God.
That’s what we need in the world today
—people who will stand for right and goodness.
But we’ve got to know the simple disciplines,
of being honest and loving and just with all humanity.
If we don’t learn it,
we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own powers.

This universe hinges on moral foundations. There is something in this universe that justifies [Thomas] Carlyle in saying,

No lie can live forever.

There is something in this universe that justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying,

Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.

There is something in this universe that justifies James Russell Lowell in saying,

Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.
With that scaffold sways the future.
Behind the dim unknown stands God,
Within the shadow keeping watch above his own.

So let us dance! Let us rejoice in the resurrection. Let is sing God’s praises. And then, let us be prepared to be taken to where we might not want to go. Let us follow Jesus.

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