Remembering on Memorial Day

Our nation observes Memorial Day today, although traditionally it was observed on May 30 until 1971. Thankfully our family did not lose anybody to war, although my grandfathers and dad fought in World War I and II respectively. So in addition to remembering those brave men and women who fought and died to preserve our country’s freedom, I have made this weekend a time for both remembering those in my family who have died and honoring them.

Since they are no longer living, I have decided that on my watch their graves will be well kept and in good repair. So my wife and I go out and trim around the tombstones, rake the graves, clean them up, and put flowers on them for the summer. Doing so is a way for me to continue to honor them, both for being such a good family and for their service to our country.

IMG_6312It also reminds me of how fleeting and transient this mortal life is. When I was a kid, we’d spend Memorial Day at the lake at my grandparents Shaffer’s cottage with my extended family. It was a grand time and I have great memories of those halcyon days. Now I only have their graves to visit and I confess I liked it a whole lot better when I was able to be with them at the lake. In fact, for whatever reason I miss them more keenly this year than I ever have. It seems grief never takes a holiday.

So Memorial Day is a bittersweet time for me and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in feeling this way about it. Honestly, if I did not have the hope of God’s promised new creation with its promise of newly embodied life, the total restoration of God’s beautiful creation, and the abolition of evil and death, I don’t think I could visit the cemetery, let alone maintain my family’s graves, because it would just be too painful. But thankfully I do have the hope of new creation, and when it comes I won’t have to be separated from my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles ever again. Who knows? There might even be a lake where we can gather to celebrate all that God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. I look forward to that day more than I can tell you. But in the meantime, as long as I am able, I will continue to honor my family, in part, by caring for their grave sites. It is the least I can do considering all they did and sacrificed for me.

May you too find ways to honor and love your loved ones, especially if you are blessed enough to have them still be living.

A Prayer for Memorial Day

Adapted from here:

Eternal God,
Creator of years, of centuries,
Lord of whatever is beyond time,
Maker of all species and master of all history —
How shall we speak to you
from our smallness and inconsequence?
Except that you have called us to worship you in spirit and in truth;
You have dignified us with loves and loyalties;
You have lifted us up with your loving-kindnesses.
Therefore we are bold to come before you without groveling
(though we sometimes feel that low)
and without fear
(though we are often anxious).
We sing with spirit and pray with courage
because you have dignified us;
You have redeemed us from the aimlessness
of things going meaninglessly well.

God, lift the hearts of those
for whom this holiday is not just diversion,
but painful memory and continued deprivation.
Bless those whose dear ones have died
needlessly, wastefully (as it seems)
in accident or misadventure.
We remember with compassion and thanksgiving those who have died
serving this country in times of war.

We all must come to bereavement and separation,
when all the answers we are offered
fail the question death asks of each of us.
But we believe that you will provide for us
as others have been provided with the fulfillment of
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”
because we believe that you have raised Jesus our Lord from the dead
and conquered death itself,
and that you have given us the privilege
of sharing in his risen life as his followers,
both now and for all eternity.
We offer our prayers and thanksgiving
in Jesus our risen Lord’s name. Amen.

Fr. Ron Feister: Dry Bones No More

Sermon delivered on Pentecost Sunday B, May 24, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Ezekiel 37.1-14; Canticle based on Ezekiel 36.24-26, 28b; Acts 2.1-21; John 15.26-27, 16.4b-15.

In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The story from Ezekiel has always been one of my favorites. Perhaps this stems from an old song I learned in my childhood but probably because it is so rich in images. The prophet is in the middle of a valley that is just full of bones – he is walking around through these bone and they are not just any bones but the bones of fallen warriors. It is a desert place, a place with little if any life. The bones are dried out and picked clean by the scavengers. God asks the question, can these bones live? The obvious answer is No, but the prophet being a prophet is wise enough to turn the question back to God as he says only you O God know. The Lord then commands the prophet to speak for Him, to prophesy in God’s name. At first the bones start to knit together and then muscle and flesh attach to the bones. Still the bones do not have life. They have no breath within them. Once again the prophet is commanded to speak forth for the Lord this time calling forth the “breath” from the four winds. As the breath came into the bones, they stood up and lived. God then instructs the prophet that this was vision for the prophet of how God’s people, the House of Israel, who had been decimated by war and had many taken into exile, would again be restored. They will be a people in whom God’s spirit dwells.

This story assures me that no matter how bleak our situation, the “breath of God” is there to renew us, to strengthen us, and if necessary, bring us to new life. But why might, you ask, do we have this story in our readings for Pentecost? The answer is to be found in our reading from the Book of Acts. The disciples have just a short while ago seen their master and friend crucified. Then they experienced the Risen Lord, only to have him depart from them. They are in many ways like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley. They have knitted together, they have put on some muscle or courage and yet they do not have any real life in them. They are as powerless as the dry bones until the very “breath of God” —we know it better as the Holy Spirit comes upon then with such power that it can be compared to the rush of a violent wind. With this in—filling of the Holy Spirit, they, like the dry bones, are able to stand up. They are strengthened in their faith. These disciples cannot and will not restrain themselves in sharing the message and person of Jesus Christ.

So strong is the power of the Spirit that the human limitation of language is for a time no longer a hindrance to the spread of the Good News. People from all over the world would pass through Jerusalem, with many different languages, and yet all heard the message in their own language. When people are filled with the Holy Spirit there is life. With the Spirit there is Power and even miracles.

As we become part of the Church though the Sacrament of Baptism and later are strengthened by the Confirmation we each receive this in-filling of the Holy Spirit. This means that we also have the fullness of life. Not just the ability to exist but the power to live a full life in Christ.

As I have often pointed out and will continue to point out it is obvious that this is a community that is not made up of dry bones. Where the Holy Spirit is there are found the fruit of the Spirit – love, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This fruit grows very well in the rich soil of this Church. It can be seen in its many ministries and the way that it takes care of both its members and those outside its doors. But the Holy Spirit does not want to only see the fruit blossoming forth but wants the members of this Church to experience, to enjoy, the many Gifts of the Spirit. Some of these Gifts are ones that we are all familiar with, not the least of which is the sacrament of Holy Eucharist by which are spiritual bones and flesh are being continually renewed and energized. The Scriptures and the Bible studies through which we grow into a closer relationship with God through understanding the journey of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments and in a sense have the chance to walk along with Jesus and are thus able to better travel through our own faith journey.

Another wonderful gift for which with which we are blessed is the gift of songs, hymns, and inspired music that help us turn our hearts and minds to the Lord. What set of bones can remain unmoved when touched by such joyous sound.

There are other gifts that we hear about in the Scriptures that we are familiar with although the form of them may have changed from time to time. There is the gift of apostleship seen most clearly in the Office of the Bishop whose duty it is to insure that the apostolic faith is held firm, there are those called to be prophets, members of the faithful, who not unlike Ezekiel, are called to speak the Word of God to both call to repentance and to encourage in times of despair. There are numerous Christian writers who have and are using this gift for the betterment of the Church. There is the gift of pastoral care. This gift is primarily found in the service provided by the clergy but it is also a gift shared by those in lay church leadership. The gift of teaching, not just doing it because it has to be done by someone, but because the teachers have hearts for sharing a knowledge of God especially to the young.

All these are gifts of the Holy Spirit with which we are comfortable and accustomed, but there are other gifts which the Holy Spirit has made present to the Church which are not part of our usual experience. One of those is the gift of Tongues – a strange name for a spiritual gift if you ask me. One form of Tongues is the speaking or praying in a foreign language not known by the speaker but understood by the listener. An example of this is found in the reading from Acts. This appears to be a special gift that occurs only sporadically. Another form of Tongues is the praying with various sounds that do not make up normal words. The Spirit prompts the one using this gift to pray either quietly or out loud – sometimes in a form of singing, depending on how the gift is being used. Many believers who have experienced this gift will use this as a form or type of personal prayer. Many of us who do intercessory prayer will find ourselves praying this way. There is also the occasion when someone will pray in such sounds for the purpose of prompting another to be free to share a word of the Lord. (Share my personal experience with Tongues.)

There are other word Gifts as well. Among these are Words of Wisdom which are spoken to give a revelation of Divine purpose – they may concern a person or thing. The Word so spoken often makes known God’s purpose to the one he is going to use and brings as assurance. There is the giving of a Word of Knowledge. Words of Knowledge are words spoken by someone that share some small portion of God’s knowledge in order to meet a human need.

Some of the purposes of such a Word of Knowledge are to reveal a persons true identity, help overcome some doubt in another’s mind or to reveal a person’s need for Christ or maybe simply to reveal a lost item.

There is the gift of Prophesy. It is a gift that is as real today as it was in the time of Ezekiel. Prophesy, in the Holy Spirit sense is not fortune telling or the fore telling of the future. It is God’s way of speaking through a person in a particular situation. In some cases the person will say something like : “I feel that God would say” and other times the person, like Ezekiel, will be lead to say “I the Lord…” This may seem strange at first, but it is not much different than the hymn or song writer who speaks for God through the lyrics of the song like “Here I am Lord” in which the composer first talk about directly hearing God and then voices God’s word or direction and encouragement.

A gift given to whole church, but exercised in a specially powerful way by some, is the gift of healing of diseases and injuries. The Church has always been encouraged to pray for healing the elders of the church are even commanded to anoint the sick and pray for the forgiveness of any sin. In the gift of Healing an individual or group is blessed one to make present God’s healing touch in a very powerful and effective way. ( Personal Sharing)

This Gift has the effect of bringing deliverance to the sick and oppressed, causing people to see that Jesus has both the power to forgive sin and to heal and in a very human way to show that Jesus is still alive.

There is the Gift of Miracles, which while rare, allows a person to manifest God’s glory in a supernatural way. There is the Gift of Faith in which some one has the ability to demonstrate in their lives a faith that exceeds and human expectation.

There is the Gift of Tears and Gift of Holy Laughter (or Giggles). By now you an see the picture. At Pentecost, God gave his gift of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit continues to give an almost endless supply of gifts to both the Church collectively and to individuals, but why now do we reflect on these and other gifts. It is because like Ezekiel we are walking around in a desert. A society in which many people, some of whom even attend church, have been stripped of all of their hope and many of their values. They are like dry bones. The Lord gives to the Church these gifts so that it, giving witness to the presence of the Risen Lord, can speak for the Lord and say to those who will listen: “I will put my Spirit in You and you shall live.” No longer will you be dry bones. Amen

Christ is Risen, Alleluia. In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Remembering John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience

John WesleyToday marks the 277th anniversary of Fr. John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience, in which his heart was “strangely warmed” and which changed the course of the Methodist movement forever. Appropriately it falls on Pentecost Sunday this year. I was a Methodist for the first 50 years of my life and am proud of that heritage. It is a sad testimony to the human condition that Wesley’s followers eventually split from the Church of England. But that does not take away the fact that Wesley and his movement came from the great umbrella that is the Anglican Tradition and we are the better for it.

Wednesday, May 24, [1738]. I think it was about five this morning, that I opened my Testament on those words, “There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature.” ( 2 Peter 1:4.) Just as I went out, I opened it again on those words, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” In the afternoon I was asked to go to St. Paul’s. The anthem was, “Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? For there is mercy with thee; therefore shalt thou be feared. O Israel, trust in the Lord: For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all his sins.” In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate-Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there, what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, “This cannot be faith; for where is thy joy?” Then was I taught, that peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation: But that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth them, according to the counsels of his own will. After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations; but cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror.

—John Wesley, Journal

An Account of How Pentecost Was Celebrated in the 4th Century

From here.

But on the fiftieth day, that is, the Lord’s Day, when the people have a very great deal to go through, everything that is customary is done from the first cockcrow onwards; vigil is kept in the Anastasis, and the bishop reads the passage from the Gospel that is always read on the Lord’s Day, namely, the account of the Lord’s Resurrection, and afterwards everything customary is done in the Anastasis [the cross], just as throughout the whole year. But when morning is come, all the people proceed to the great church, that is, to the martyrium [the church], and all things usual are done there; the priests preach and then the bishop, and all things that are prescribed are done, the oblation being made, as is customary on the Lord’s Day, only the same dismissal in the martyrium is hastened, in order that it may be made before the third hour.

And when the dismissal has been made at the martyrium, all the people, to a man, escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, [so that] they are in Sion when the third hour is fully come. And on their arrival there the passage from the Acts of the Apostles is read where the Spirit came down so that all tongues [were heard and all men] understood the things that were being spoken, and the dismissal takes place afterwards in due course For the priests read there from the Acts of the Apostles concerning the selfsame thing, because that is the place in Sion—there is another church there now—where once, after the Lord’s Passion, the multitude was gathered together with the Apostles, and where this was done, as we have said above. Afterwards the dismissal takes place in due course, and the oblation is made there. Then, that the people may be dismissed, the archdeacon raises his voice, and says: “Let us all be ready to day in Eleona, in the Imbomon [place of the Ascension], directly after the sixth hour.”

So all the people return, each to his house, to rest themselves, and immediately after breakfast they ascend the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, each as he can, so that there is no Christian left in the city who does not go. When, therefore, they have gone up the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, they first enter the Imbomon, that is, the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, and the bishops and the priests take their seat there, and likewise all the people. Lessons are read there with hymns interspersed, antiphons too are said suitable to the day and the place, also the prayers which are interspersed have likewise similar references. The passage from the Gospel is also read where it speaks of the Lord’s Ascension, also that from the Acts of the Apostles which tells of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven after His Resurrection. And when this is over, the catechumens and then the faithful are blessed, and they come down thence, it being already the ninth hour, and go with hymns to that church which is in Eleona, wherein is the cave where the Lord was wont to sit and teach His Apostles. And as it is already past the tenth hour when they arrive, lucernare takes place there; prayer is made, and the catechumens and likewise the faithful are blessed.

And then all the people to a man descend thence with the bishop, saying hymns and antiphons suitable to that day, and so come very slowly to the martyrium. It is already night when they reach the gate of the city, and about two hundred church candles are provided for the use of the people. And as it is agood distance from the gate to the great church, that is, the martyrium, they arrive about the second hour of the night, for they go the whole way very slowly lest the people should be weary from being afoot. And when the great gates are opened, which face towards the market-place, all the people enter the martyrium with hymns and with the bishop. And when they have entered the church, hymns are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; after which they go again with hymns to the Anastasis, where on their arrival hymns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; this is likewise done at the Cross. Lastly, all the Christian people to a man escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, and when they are come there, suitable lessons are read, psalrns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and the faithful are blessed, and the dismissal takes place. And after the dismissal all approach the bishop’s hand, and then every one returns to his house about midnight. Thus very great fatigue is endured on that day, for vigil is kept at the Anastasis from the first cockcrow, and there is no pause from that time onward throughout the whole day, but the whole celebration (of the Feast) lasts so long that it is midnight when every one returns home after the dismissal has taken place at Sion.

—Egeria, Abbess (late 4th century), The Pilgrimage of Egeria85-90

Ross Douthat: Churches Need to do a Better Job by the Poor

Spot on. See what you think.

“Over the last 30 years,” Harvard’s Robert Putnam told The Washington Post, “most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they’ve been using all their resources for. … It’s been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.”

President Barack Obama’s version, delivered when he shared a stage with Putnam at Georgetown University, was nuanced but similar in thrust: “Despite great caring and concern,” the president remarked, when churches pick “the defining issue” that’s “really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians,” fighting poverty is often seen as merely “nice to have” compared to “an issue like abortion.”

It would be too kind to call these comments wrong; they were ridiculous. Not only because (as Putnam acknowledged) believers give abundantly to charity, but because institutionally the churches of America use “all their resources” in ways that completely belie the idea that they’re obsessed with culture war.

As Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard pointed out, “Even the most generous estimates of the resources devoted to pro-life causes and organizations defending traditional marriage are just a few hundred million dollars.” Whereas the budgets of American religious charities and schools and hospitals and other nonprofits are tabulated in the tens of billions.

…No, to actually save the critique, you have to transform it completely. There is a case that churches are failing poorer Americans. But the problem isn’t how they spend money or play politics. It’s a more basic failure to reach out, integrate and keep them in the pews.

Read it all.

Never Deserted

Sermon delivered on Ascension Sunday, Easter 7B, May 17, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 1.15-26; Psalm 1.1-6; 1 John 5.9-13; John 17.6-19.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is Ascension Sunday, the Sunday after Ascension Day when we celebrate our Lord’s return to heaven or God’s space. Hear Luke describe it now in his gospel account:

Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “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. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. —Luke 24.44-51

So what is the Ascension all about? Why would the eleven surviving apostles return to Jerusalem rejoicing and praising God in the Temple every day? After all, this event signaled to them that Jesus’ appearances were going to stop permanently. Why wouldn’t they be sad over this? And why should we who live almost two thousand years later care if Jesus ascended into heaven? It is these questions that I want us to look at this morning.

In our gospel lesson, we see Jesus expressing concern for his disciples’ future and welfare. This passage is part of his so-called high priestly prayer in which Jesus acknowledged that his disciples would need his continuing help once he left them. They had work to do, just like we as Jesus’ disciples today have work to do, and given that the world was fundamentally opposed to the gospel message Jesus commanded them and us to proclaim, Jesus knew this work could be dangerous. Like the Good Shepherd that Jesus proclaimed himself to be (John 10.1-18), or like a good parent who watches over his children as they grow up, Jesus knew they were going to need his help and protection, even in his absence, if they were to get the job done.

Jesus also knew that his impending death would be devastating to his disciples. Just like we feel lost when we lose a loved one to death, so Jesus understood that his disciples would likewise feel lost and despondent, something to which all the gospel accounts bear witness. Of course, Jesus’ resurrection would turn their sorrow into joy, just as it has the power to turn our sorrow into joy, but what about afterwards? What would happen after Jesus’ resurrection appearances stopped?

If we think this through carefully, we realize how high the stakes were (and are). Without the right care and support, without the Lord really being present to his disciples, like us, they were in danger of losing all hope and faith. Sure, Jesus’ resurrection had convinced them he had not only survived death but had come out through the other side. But Jesus also made it clear to them that his resurrection appearances were temporary. That is why he spent so much time teaching them about himself after he appeared to them and that is why he prayed his prayer for them and us on the night before he was crucified. He wanted his disciples, both then and now, to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was alive and that he would be with them always (cf. Matthew 28.20b), but in a fundamentally different way. And so Jesus prayed that his followers would not be taken out of the world, but rather that God would protect us from the evil one. When Jesus talks about the world in this context, he is not talking about the created order. After all, he had come to rescue the created order (including us) from the ravages of evil, sin, and death. Instead, the world Jesus was referring to is the realm of the dark powers and principalities who have usurped God’s rightful rule over his created order and who remain violently opposed to Jesus’ rule and the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. If the disciples were convinced that Jesus was good to his prayer, if they were convinced that he would be with them even after his resurrection appearances stopped, they would have the needed power to do their work and their joy would be complete as they did so on his behalf.

Why? Because as John reminds us in our epistle lesson, Jesus is the key to having eternal life as well as to the creation being reclaimed and restored. This is what makes our work as Christians so vitally important. Contrary to the popular belief today that all religions are basically alike and that there are many paths to God, our epistle lesson, along with the rest of the NT, is adamant that eternal life and access to God the Father is available to us only in and through Jesus. We don’t have just the testimony of the apostles that this is true. We have the testimony of God himself. As Jesus said at the beginning of his high priestly prayer:

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17.1-3).

Again, if we think about it, this should make sense to us. When human sin entered the world it brought about God’s curse and death (Genesis 3.1-19). And as the history of the OT makes clear, sinful mortals (you and me) cannot come into the presence of the holy and perfect God and expect to live (see, e.g., Exodus 19.21, 33.20). That is why God gave Moses the sacrificial system that would allow God to dwell with his sinful people Israel as God led them out of Egypt to the promised land. You can read more about this in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

And of course Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1.29) by his blood shed for us on the cross. Whereas the OT sacrifices were temporary and had to be repeated because those who offered them were sinful just like the people on whose behalf they were offered, Jesus was sinless and so his sacrifice was perfect and once for all (Hebrews 9.12-15, 10.10-14). Jesus’ death on our behalf thus made it possible for us to enter into God’s presence and live. This is why Jesus is the only way to the Father. And as we have seen, when God raised Jesus from the dead, God ushered in the birth of his promised new world, the new heavens and earth, giving us a foretaste of the day when we too will be raised from the dead and given the privilege to live in God’s direct presence when heaven and earth are fused together in a new creation, all because of Jesus’ blood shed for us on the cross. This is the Good News of Easter that we have been celebrating these past seven weeks, and this is why only in Jesus do we have eternal life. We can stake our very lives and future on it because we have God’s word that it is true. This is why Jesus needed to open his disciples’ minds to the Scriptures. If they were going to proclaim the gospel, they had to understand that the whole OT had been pointing to the reality of his saving death and resurrection. Without that knowledge there could be no real gospel, no real hope, no real joy, because as we all know, we live in a world that is simultaneously beautiful and ugly, marred by human sin and the power of evil.

All this, of course, applies to us who live as Jesus’ disciples two thousand years later. If we claim to love God at all, we must love all God’s human creatures and want them to share in the gift of eternal life that is ours by God’s love and grace in and through Jesus. This gift should never puff us up and make us want to think we are somehow more deserving or morally better than those who do not know or believe in Jesus. That is pride, the very antithesis of love, and if that is our reaction we must repent of this wickedness and ask God to both forgive and humble us, even as we ask him to set our hearts on fire for others so that we dare love them enough to proclaim the gospel to them, risking scorn and opposition or worse. And like the first disciples, if we are not convinced that Jesus is alive and available to us, if we are not convinced Jesus has the power to finish the job he started with his death and resurrection, we will have no hope, no joy, and no power.

All this brings us back to the Ascension. The Ascension promises us that the fully human Jesus is in the very presence of God the Father, foreshadowing the day when we too will get the privilege of living in God’s direct presence. Humanity has been exalted and restored and we dare have the audacious hope that where our Lord is, so will we be (cf. Philippians 1.23). But the Ascension is more than this because as the NT writers all proclaimed, when Jesus ascended into heaven or God’s space, he sat down at God’s right hand, NT code that proclaims God has made Jesus Lord over all creation to rule until the victory over evil that God won on the cross is consummated and all God’s enemies have been fully vanquished (Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; Colossians 3.1; Hebrews 1.3, 8.1, 10.12, 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22). That, BTW, is what the punchline of the book of Revelation is all about.

This is a tall order for us to believe at times because we see so many things go desperately wrong in our world. Loved ones die, sickness interrupts and sometimes destroys our lives, wars are incessant, injustice seems to rule the day rather than justice, and suffering goes on, apparently unabated. We see this and wonder where God is in it all and what kind of Lord Jesus really is. When we get to this point—and all of us will—we must pay attention to our NT lesson where Luke tells us how the eleven chose Judas’ replacement. Think about it. Jesus’ disciples had come to believe that he really was God’s promised anointed one, the Messiah, who would rescue Israel and the world from all that bedevils it. They believed this based on the mighty acts of power Jesus demonstrated during his earthly ministry as well as his teaching. But then it all came crashing down. Not only was Jesus executed as a criminal by the hated Romans, the very people Jesus was supposed to vanquish, but now there were no longer twelve apostles to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, a theme I do not have time to develop. Long story short: God’s will had apparently been thwarted.

But the operative word is apparently. Based on their limited power of discernment and incomplete human knowledge, the disciples initially thought that they were wrong about Jesus and that evil had won the day. Not so, says the story of Acts, because after Jesus’ resurrection appearances to the disciples and his instructions for them to stay in the city while they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples realized that things aren’t always as they appear to be. Yes, Judas had betrayed Jesus and had subsequently committed suicide. But not even his treachery nor the power of the corrupt religious establishment in Jerusalem nor the power of the Romans could sidetrack God’s plan to redeem and heal his world through Jesus his Messiah. God had used Jesus’ crucifixion to defeat the dark powers and atone for the sins of Israel and the world, thus laying the foundation for the coming of God’s promised new world. In fact, part of Jesus’ teaching about himself in the Scriptures was meant to show the disciples that this was precisely how God’s redemption and the defeat of evil was supposed to happen, unexpected and shocking as that was for his disciples (and remains for many of us today).

This is why we are to take hope, even in Jesus’ ostensible absence, because God knows the hearts of everyone and has the power to use even our brokenness to accomplish his will. What appears to be hopeless situations or the triumph of evil is not what it appears because Jesus is Lord and the dark powers are not. God knows how to use even the evil we commit, intentionally or otherwise, to bring about his kingdom on earth as in heaven. And astonishing as it may seem, God calls those of us who follow the risen and ascended Jesus, i.e., his Church, to be an integral part of proclaiming God’s love and rescue of the world in and through Jesus, both in word and by how we live our lives, lives that are patterned after our Lord Jesus. Even when we get it wrong or it looks like we have failed, even when it looks like the Christian faith is in full retreat and we are defeated, we must never lose heart or hope because God knows the hearts of all people and transcends even our mistakes and failures, as well as the evil of his enemies, to bring about the kingdom. Judas had betrayed his Lord, but God knew who the disciples should pick as his replacement. Peter had denied his Lord on the night of his arrest and acted like a coward. But God knew Peter’s heart and so Jesus reinstated Peter and Peter did not disappoint. Likewise with us. Whatever it is in your life right now that brings you disappointment, grief, hurt, or sorrow, remember this lesson from Acts. And remember that Jesus is Lord.

But why did Jesus have to ascend to the Father to do all this? Why couldn’t he just remain with us in his resurrected state? After all, that would be much more comforting to us. The Bible does not give us the answer to these questions but there are a couple of reasonable explanations. First, if Jesus remained in this world in his resurrected body, he could not be with all of his people everywhere at the same time in the way he can be with us in the power of the Spirit whom he promised to send. Just like we ascend into heaven each week in sacramental time and space to be with Jesus at the eucharist, so Jesus must be with all his people as we live out our lives, and he can only do that in the power of the Spirit as long as heaven and earth remain essentially separate dimensions. To be sure, Jesus remains powerfully present with us in the eucharist, but the fact is we cannot partake of the eucharist 24/7. For Jesus to be with his entire body always to the end of the age, he must be present with us in the power of the Spirit.

Second, Jesus had to ascend into heaven so that we could learn to grow up. As we have seen, Jesus calls us to be his kingdom workers and if we are to do that to the best of our ability, we must learn to grow up in Christ (cf. Ephesians 4.9-16). Any good parent knows that the job of raising children is to make them independent, and as parents we cannot help our kids learn to be independent and make good decisions if we hover over them all the time and make their decisions for them. We have to teach them when they are young and then gradually give them the freedom to make their own choices, even when we disagree with what they choose. Otherwise, our kids will never learn to grow up and we will never know if they truly have learned the core values we taught them while they were young. Is this messy? You bet it is. But love must allow the beloved the freedom necessary to make their own choices and to love freely in return. To do otherwise takes away the very basis that makes love possible in the first place.

Just so with God and us as Christians. God in his wisdom wants us to grow up so that we can learn to truly love him. God wants us to grow up so that we can use our minds to learn how to search the Scriptures diligently and become mature Christians so that God can use us even more effectively as his faithful kingdom workers. Is this messy and hard? Of course it is. Will we make mistakes? Of course we will. But nothing worthwhile in this life ever comes easy, our faith and Christian maturity included. But because God knows our hearts and we know that God loves us and wants the best for us because of what he has done for us in and through Jesus, we can have the confidence that despite the messiness in learning to grow up as Christians, we can proclaim the Good News of his Son Jesus Christ in word and deed to a world that desperately needs to hear it, all the while trusting that God’s will be done, sometimes in spite of us.

To be sure, there will be uncertainty and ambiguity as we live out our lives for Christ. But uncertainty and ambiguity should never translate into powerlessness and joylessness. To the contrary. We have the power of our Lord Jesus available to us at all times in and through the presence of the Holy Spirit. That is why we are never abandoned. So let us never lose heart or hope or wring our hands in despair as Christians because we know that Jesus is our risen and ascended Lord who has defeated the dark powers, even the power of death, and who now rules over the cosmos. And during those times when Jesus’ lordship is not obvious to us, let us remember that it is obvious to God the Father who knows our hearts and who by his love has retaken his world in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Son. We have God’s very testimony that this is true, which means that we really do have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen and ascended! The Lord is risen and ascended indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Easy Obedience

Sermon delivered on Easter 6B, Sunday, May 10, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you would prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 10.44-48; Psalm 98.1-10; 1 John 5.1-6; John 15.9-17.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Based on our lectionary readings these past two Sundays, it would be easy for us to forget we are still in the midst of the 50 days of Easter. But the fact is that Jesus himself only hung around his disciples long enough to convince them he was really alive and prepare them for the day he would ascend back into God’s space (heaven) and send the Holy Spirit so that he could be present with them in a new, more permanent way. This is critically important for us to remember and appropriate because as our readings indicate, even without Jesus’ physical presence we have work to do, and we are to do it as people who have a real Easter hope. But what does that look like? This is what I want us to look at briefly this morning.

Last week Fr. Feister talked about Jesus being the vine and us being the branches. Our Lord encouraged us to abide in him so that it will go well for us, now and in the future. Both our gospel and epistle lessons this morning continue to flesh out what abiding in Jesus means. If we are to abide in Jesus, i.e., if we want to have a real relationship with him, we are to obey his commands, especially his command for us to love both God and each other. Simply put, the extent we are willing to obey God’s commands is indicative of the extent we love the God who revealed himself supremely in Jesus of Nazareth. If you want to know what loving God and others looks like, start by looking at how well you obey his commands.

And in our epistle lesson, John tells us that obeying Jesus’ commands is not burdensome, echoing our Lord’s words in our gospel lesson about obedience bringing us joy, and we want to say to John, “Really? You’re kidding, right?” First of all, we live in an age that emphasizes individualism and the right to do our own thing. So commands to obey someone else, even if that someone is God, don’t generally sit well with us. Second, even if we are willing to try to obey God’s commands and thus show that we love him, it’s hard. Of course it is easy (or at least easier) to obey Jesus’ command to love others when those persons are lovable (like me). But what about those who are less lovable or with whom we disagree or who irritate us to no end? Most of the time we’d rather punch them in the mouth or demonize them rather than love and/or forgive them. We are this way because we are inherently hostile to and alienated from God and being the good pastor he was, John surely knew this. So why would he say obeying God is not a burden?

Because we do not love entirely on our own power or strength. If that were the case, this world would collapse into total chaos and anarchy. No, we love because God loved us first and did what was necessary in and through Jesus to end our alienation from him. And we love in the power of the Spirit as our NT lesson wonderfully attests. The Spirit empowers us to love, giving us the ability to love both God and others, thus enabling us to obey our Lord’s primary command to love God and each other. And as we learn more about the nature and character of God in the power of the Spirit, we learn to love God more perfectly. This, in turn, makes our love less burdensome because we learn to develop the needed humility to understand that God really is in charge, not us (cf. Psalm 119). This is not unlike how we learn to love our beloved. As we get to know them better and see their beauty and character at a deeper level, it becomes easier for us to love them. Likewise with God, but only if we have the God-given wisdom and humility to appreciate and love what is revealed to us.

This is why Jesus could tell us that as we learn to obey God by loving him, we find a joy in doing so that simply is not there when we are hostile to God. Don’t misunderstand. None of us gets this right all the time or loves God perfectly, the way God loves us in and through Jesus. But that does not mean we are unable to experience real joy and contentment as we learn to love God in the power of the Spirit. And as we learn to love God by obeying him, our ability to love each other also increases correspondingly. As John tells us, everyone who loves the parent (God) loves the child (fellow believers). Put the opposite way, if God means little to us, people will become worthless to us as well, and our love for them will die out.

In other words, we are not given this power to love so that we can sit around a campfire and sing Kumbaya as we gaze at our navels. As our Lord reminds us in our gospel lesson, when he calls us to be his people, it means he has work for us to do. We are to bear fruit for Jesus by embodying his great love for all people, even if they reject that love and those of us who share it. And we cannot hope to love others as Jesus calls us to love them if we do not first learn to love God by obeying him.

But even here we have help because Jesus promises that we can come to him anytime in prayer and ask for the resources we need to assist us in this fruit-bearing work. When I was a young man, I used to read passages like this as an invitation to be selfish. Oh boy! I can ask God for anything I want and he’ll give it to me (O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?). And then I wondered why God never answered my prayers. This, of course, was hopelessly flawed thinking because I ignored the context in which Jesus made this promise and instead made it all about me. But what Jesus has in mind here is much more wonderful. He promises that if we ask for the spiritual resources needed to help us embody his love for others, especially his enemies, he will give us what we need (not what we think we need) to get the job done so that we can bear the fruit of his love to the world. Listen if you have the humility to hear.

This is one of the reasons why John has the apparent audacity to claim that whoever is born of God, i.e., whoever is a Christian, conquers the world. Again we want to question John’s sanity. What about the Christians being slaughtered throughout the world? What about the erosion of Christian values in our culture? At a level closer to home, what about our work at Worthington Christian? We go there to visit but nothing seems to change. People still get old and sick and eventually die. Doesn’t look like there’s much conquering going on, especially by Christians. So what are you talking about, John?

Back comes the answer. The water and the blood. Just as God used Jesus’ death to defeat the dark powers and rulers who have usurped God’s rightful rule of his world and corrupted it (cf. Col 2.15; John 16.33), so God uses our work to add to that victory every time we embody Jesus’ great love for others. Now Jesus’ victory over the dark powers is not always self-evident, not even to his first disciples. They needed the resurrection to help them see and understand. And so do we because without the resurrection, it would be utterly impossible for us to even consider the NT’s claim that in and through the death of Jesus, evil has been defeated so that we see our work on his behalf as anything but futile.

What then are we to think when we see Christians being slaughtered throughout the world? Jesus is risen! Death is defeated! What are we to think when suffering or sickness or any other kind of evil befalls us or our loved ones? Jesus is risen! Evil is defeated and the victory won! What are we to say to our detractors who twist around Jesus’ words and ask what good is eternal redemption if it costs us temporal benefits (cf. Matthew 16.26)? Jesus is risen and God is using his victory over the dark powers to redeem his world right now through us whenever we make known Jesus’ great love for his world and its people, even when expressing that love is personally costly! No room for sorrow or hand-wringing or embarrassment here. Rejoice and be glad! This must be our response in the face of evil and persecution. Otherwise, our faith is useless.

We believe all this because the Spirit testifies to the truthfulness of the story. That is why we believe that on the cross of Christ God has defeated evil. That is why we believe the resurrection really happened and that the new creation will one day come in full. God the Spirit testifies to us that it is true and consequently we have a choice to make. We can choose to believe God or call God a liar. For you see, unlike the world that proclaims truth is in the eyes of the beholder, God the Spirit testifies to us that there is one Truth and we all must decide if we will abide in that Truth as well as in Christ’s love.

When we say yes to both, we should never get tired or discouraged in doing Jesus’ work and trust that it will bear fruit. Because Jesus has overcome the world (John 16.33), we have confidence that every time we are faithful to him and love him by obeying his commands, he will use us to help advance the kingdom, bit by bit, inch by inch, even when it is not at all evident to us. So, for example, when we visit Faith Mission to feed the hungry or go to Worthington Christian to visit the infirm and lonely, we know our Lord is using us to help bring about the kingdom. Yes, hunger still exists. Yes, there are still lonely old people all over the place. But we take heart and hope because in his death Jesus has overcome the dark powers who rule God’s world and by his resurrection has ushered in the beginning of God’s new world, a world that will be devoid of evil and death and every kind of sorrow or loneliness or alienation. This is why Easter matters and this is why we must always hold our Easter hope in the front of our minds as we go about the business of loving God and each other.

So how do we do this? During Eastertide, it’s pretty easy. But what about a month from now? Six months from now? John has one of the answers for us when he talks about the water and the blood. As we have just seen, this can allude to Jesus’ death and its role in reclaiming God’s world from the dark powers. But it can also allude to partaking in the sacraments. While the reference to water clearly refers to baptism, I want to focus on the eucharist because in it Jesus is really and powerfully present to us to nourish and sustain us. When we feast on his body and blood each week, we literally consume Jesus and make him present to us, not unlike how he is present to us in the fellowship of his people or when we read and submit ourselves to his word in Scripture or in the power of the Spirit. Whenever Jesus is present with us, whether it is in the power of the Spirit or in the eucharist or in Scripture or in our fellowship or in worship, it cannot help but change us so that we become more like him. And as we become more like him, we learn to obey him and our ability to love him and each other increases and becomes easier. I do not suggest that this is straightforward or automatic. For most of us there are significant bumps and detours along the way because we are so radically broken. But we take heart because Jesus has overcome our brokenness and loves us even more radically than we are broken. Contrast this specific and tangible answer (Incarnation, the sacraments, the Church, the Truth) to the world’s problems with the vacuous spirituality that shifts our attention away from God in Christ and tries to help people cope with the way things are rather than offer them a real hope and solution to overcome the world, not just cope with it. This is part of what it means for us to bear fruit—to convey in a winsome and wholesome manner the power of our Easter hope and all that surrounds it that we’ve just talked about.

We can also help keep Easter in the forefront of our minds by reminding ourselves and each other that we are resurrection people who do this work together and who have a real future and a hope because of the power of God. Here we can take our cue from the psalms. As our psalm lesson reminds us, God has made known his salvation in Jesus and is coming to set the world to rights so that all creation can clap its metaphorical hands and sing for joy. But life isn’t always joyous and hopeful, and so we must keep reminding ourselves that God is more powerful than the evil that sometimes afflicts us and our world, and that God is at work fulfilling his promise to bring healing and restoration to our world and us. We do this by remembering God’s mighty acts in history. Hear the psalmist:

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God? — Psalm 77.1-13

In this passage we hear the psalmist lament over the evil that has beset him. The remedy? He would remember the mighty acts of God on behalf of his people, acts that would remind him that the Lord God is indeed the Almighty and that not even the dark powers that seem so prevalent can prevail. For Christians, our recounting of the mighty deeds of God must start and end with the death and resurrection of Jesus because they remind us that God has defeated evil, that our present is lived out under God’s power and care, that our future is God’s new world, and that not even death can separate us from God’s great love in Jesus Christ our Lord. If God is able to call this vast creation into existence out of nothing, if God can raise Jesus from the dead and usher in the birth of his new world, what in our lives can be too hard for God to help us overcome if we remain faithful to him and show our love for him by obeying his commands? Doing so will not only give us strength to weather the storms of life, it is also our ticket to real peace and joy because we know that God will use our love, costly as it can be, to help bring about what he originally established in Jesus’ death and resurrection. And we are fools if we fail to take hold of the power that is ours to be Jesus’ people to the world in the ways we have just seen. This is how the world gets conquered, not through armies or who has the biggest stick or the loudest voice. Unlikely as this seems to us at times, we believe it nevertheless because the Spirit testifies to its truthfulness and we are people of the Spirit who embrace God’s truth, the Good News of Jesus Christ that is ours, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fr. Ron Feister: A Vineyard of Love

Sermon delivered on Easter 5B, Sunday, May 3, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you would prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 8.26-40; Psalm 22.24-30; 1 John 4.7-21; John 15.1-8.

In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In last week’s Gospel, we heard Jesus describing himself as the Good Shepherd. He portrays himself as the Shepherd to whom the sheep belong, compared to someone who is a mere hired hand, with no personal interest in the sheep, in so doing Jesus is using a reference which can easily be understood by the people of his time and culture. He assures his listeners that like the good shepherd he will not abandon the flock when hard times and dangers come. This is a message that the early church needed to take to heart after Jesus appeared to have been taken from them in his crucifixion. The Risen Christ appears to his disciples after his death, in fulfillment of this promise. The wolves will come but Jesus, the Risen Lord will stand by them and not abandoned them. His disciples all were familiar with the role of the shepherd and while they may not have been shepherds themselves, they understood the importance of that r ole both economically and socially.

InToday’s Gospel, Jesus present himself in the image of the grape vine and his Father as the owner of the Vineyard, the grape grower. Again, Jesus is drawing from the experiences and understandings of the common person. If the Shepherd was a well-known and important profession in the time of Jesus, basically indispensable, so were those who provided the grapes. The vineyards provide grapes as table fruit. They also provided grapes for wine in its many forms and uses. Wine was used as a common table drink, it was used in making vinegar for both flavoring and preservation. It was often used as a form of disinfectant to clean wounds. Wine also played a significant role within the Jewish religious practices both in the home and at the Temple. In the first public miracle of Jesus, he turns water into wine so that a couple’s wedding celebration will continue and be remembered with joy and not disappointment or embarrassment. Even people not in the grape growing business understood something about grape growing so we can see and appreciate why Jesus would use this symbolic way of describing himself.

I grow grapes myself and thus I can very much appreciate much of this Gospel in a special way. Jesus says that he is the vine, the true vine, that is rooted in the Father. When you first plant grapes, the plant looks like a beaten, dried-out stick with no life. The shoot needs to be planted deep in the soil. This causes me to reflect on how the Body of Jesus must have looked as it was taken down fro the cross and carried to the tomb. It too was beaten and dried out. It had no life, but while his Body was planted within deep within the earth, Jesus always remained deeply rooted in the Father. Planted in the fall, the grape plant retains its death-like appearance until in the Spring when it takes on its vibrant nature. On Easter the Lord arose from his death and shown forth in his most vibrant glory. Over time the grape stem begins to become a grape vine. But before, it grows very much, the grape grower needs to immediately prune the stem so that the grape plant will have the most fruitful shape and energy and so that it will not in its first years be trying to produce fruit that I can not support.

This pruning process is done annually to ensure that the vines remain fruitful. Jesus tells his disciples that they have already received their initial pruning or cleansing by having heard the word that he spoke to them. We likewise, have heard the word of God preached to us in church and if lucky, in the home and definitely we “hear” the word of the Lord in the lives of those other Christians who give witness to it by the way they lead their lives of which their many examples in this Church family. The annual pruning is most often done in January and February, this is a time when the unproductive branches are removed and tossed into the fire. We as followers of Christ need to be aware that despite being initially prepared to serve with Jesus that there are parts of our lives that are non-productive. There are areas of sin that need to be removed and there are parts of our lives that while not sinful in themselves but do not help us to be fruitful and should we remove these we will have more energy and more vitality in which to serve. While this type of pruning can be done any time during the year, the Church has chosen the season of Lent, for most of us a time of the year not unlike the cold bleak season when the grapes are cut-back, but now that time of self-inspection and sacrifice is past.

Now is the time of Resurrection and renewal. Now is the time when we, rejoicing in the Good News of the Risen Lord are called to bear first blossoms and then fruit. We can only produce good quality fruit if we continue to remain attached to Jesus. In the case of the grape vine, those branches that are closest to the main vine are the branches that produce not only the most fruit but the best quality as well. So the closer we connect ourselves to Jesus through reading the Scriptures, receiving the Sacraments, and by Prayer the more fruitful we will be in bearing our fruit to the world. There is another characteristic of the grape vineyard that also helps the grape vine be fruitful and resistant to outside pressures. The branches of the grape vine interweave with each other and support each other. Each branch supporting those next to it. So it needs to be with God’s vineyard. Not only must we be attached to the true vine Jesus Christ, but we need to be intertwined with each other. We need to realize that we can only be our best when we are involved in supporting others. We also need to be willing to be supported by others when we are in need or distress. Fortunately again this Church family has showed itself as a vineyard of God in which the members, are well intertwined and are quick to respond to the needs of others.

So what then is this fruit that we are to produce? It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and which comes in many many forms but all from one source. We are called to be people in whom this fruit can be experienced by the people around us. As the wine at the wedding feast brought joy to the bride and groom and their guest, we are to be a source of joy. As a toast of the fruit of the vine often is a sign of people or counties making peace, we are to be a sign of the source of the only true peace – Jesus Christ. As wine was used as medicine to heal wounds, so we are called to help heal the wounds of this world by our kindness. As wine was used and understood to show God’s faithfulness in home and temple worship so we are called to show by our faithfulness that God still cares about the people of this world and especially of those who call upon his name.

As many wines grow richer with maturity, so we who have who have achieved a measure of human maturity are challenged to show the richness of God in our lives. The fruit we bear is not meant to be kept to ourselves. It is meant to feed the whole world. So we find in our first reading from Acts, that Philip the Apostle, not to be confused with our Father Philip, on hearing the Ethiopian reading from Isaiah about the Suffering Servant, is willing to share the good news of Jesus with him. This Ethiopian was not a Jew although obviously a respecter and student of the Jewish faith but still a foreigner. Philip was willing to take the time to share with the Ethiopian the whole of the Scriptures and in doing so to show how Jesus was the very fulfillment of those Scriptures. In doing this, Philip was letting the fruit of God’s Spirit, so abundant in his life, come into the life of another.

We also who are blessed by God’s fruitfulness in our lives must be willing to share that fruitfulness with others. If we were to sum up what the fruit we are to bear, it is in one word, love. In being part of the vine that is Jesus Christ, we are bound to the God of Love. This love is not something of mere emotion or sentimentality but rather is a love that is in action. It is a caring for our sisters and brothers. It is a compassion for those around us especially those in need be it physical or spiritual. It is a willingness to bring the the good news to foreigner and enemy as well as friend. Most fruit once picked from the branch begins after but a short time to wither and decay but the fruit that comes from the true vine of Jesus Christ remains fresh and nourishing. Of all God’s fruitful gifts the greatest of these are faith, hope and love and it is the fruit of love that will never pass away.

Christ is Risen. Alleluia, alleluia.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

An Early Account of Why We Offer the Peace Before the Eucharist

Notice the emphasis on the body. No gnosticism here!

When the bishop and the congregation have exchanged blessings, the bishop begins to give the Kiss of Peace, and the church herald, that is to say, the deacon, in a loud voice orders all the people to exchange the Kiss of Peace, following the bishop’s example. This kiss which all present exchange constitutes a kind of profession of the unity and charity that exists among them. Each of us gives the Kiss of Peace to the person next  to us, and so in effect gives it to the whole assembly, because this act is an acknowledgement that we have all become the single body of Christ our Lord, and so must preserve with one another that harmony that exists among the limbs of a body, loving one another equally, supporting and helping one another, regarding the individual’s needs as concerns of the community, sympathizing with one another’s sorrows and sharing in one another’s joys.

The new birth that we underwent at baptism is unique for this reason, that it joins us into a natural unity; and so we all share the same food when we partake of the same body and the same blood, for we have been linked in the unity of baptism. St. Paul says: “Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the same loaf. This is why before we approach the sacrament of the liturgy we are required to observe the custom of giving the Kiss of Peace, as a profession of unity and mutual charity. It would certainly not be right for those who form a single body, the body of the Church, to entertain hatred toward a brother or sister in the faith, who has shared the same birth so as to become a member of the same body, and whom we believe to be a member of Christ our Lord just as we are, and to share the same food at the spiritual table. Our Lord said: “Every one who is angry with his brother [or sister] without cause shall be liable to judgment.” This ceremony, then, is not only a profession of charity, but a reminder to us to lay aside all unholy enmity, if we feel that our cause of complaint against one of our brothers or sisters in the faith is not just. After our Lord had forbidden any unjust anger, he offered the following remedy to sinners of every kind: “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother [or sister] has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother [or sister], and then come and offer your gift.” He tells the sinner to seek immediately every means of reconciliation with the one offended, and not to presume to make an offering until amends are made to the one wronged and the sinner has done all that is possible to placate the offended person; for we all make the offering by the agency of the bishop.

Theodore, Bishop of Mopsuestia [d. 428], Baptismal Homily, 4.39-40